One of the earliest games I’d programmed, though, was some code available in a library book. It was a text based adventure game. I’ve never played Zork, but through cultural osmosis I can tell you it’s something like that. You could type things like “Go West” and get stunning replies like “You can’t go west.” I suppose I have no one to blame for these geographical limitations since I’m the guy who technically programmed them in.
Anyway, this particular game went something like this. Your Uncle Simon has just passed away. One day, you receive a mysterious letter in the mail. After doing some fetch-quest things, you end up activating a portal to another, fantastical world.
Mysterious packages seem de rigeur im adventure settings. It’s a somewhat humble way to receive a ticket to adventure without necessarily having the ambition to follow the hero’s path. Greatness is basically thrust upon you wrapped neatly in brown paper. It’s a gift that drives the hero of Falke’s webcomic, the superhero adventure Parallax.
The comic stars Lomax who —and I cannot stress this enough, get this simple fact burned in your mind, readers — is not a Pokemon. So put those pokeballs away children! (Oooh, timely! Come back next week when I start dropping the Harambe jokes.) He is in fact a 17-year-old boy. He has so little ambition that he goes into crisis mode when his Nintendo DS runs out of batteries. He’s terrible in his classes, he’s unmotivated, and he can’t change majors because of his parents. He also shows up to school like he only got two hours of sleep, and he’s jittery and mumbles when he talks. He’s the definition of a lazy slacker.
Just like all teenagers, amirite fellow old people?!?!!
Lomax is also a fan of an all-female superhero cartoon, whose members dress like the 80’s never died. I initially though might have been a Sailor Moon pastiche but is more likely an homage to Steven Universe. That would make this the second webcomic I’ve read since coming back that has done a Steven Universe reference. Nothing has made me feel more like and out-of-touch old man. (“I don’t get it,” says Lomax’s mom, which is the only true rational response from an adult.) Anyway, Lomax idolizes the Divine Knights and dreams of becoming one of them.
Lomax’s life changes when he meets a Physics teacher named Dan Rogers. Mr. Rogers takes an immediate interest in the young man. After an intimate discussion, he gives Lomax a gift and a small piece of paper with his phone number.
“You can talk to me whenever,” Mr. Rogers says after laughing coyly.
One night, Lomax has an intense dream where he’s running in the woods and confronted by naked, faceless men. It’s the sort of dream that gets his heart racing, one that awakens new possibilities that had yet to be explored. Hiding in a bathroom, he dials on a phone. “Mr. Rogers,” he says, “I need help.”
They meet at the school. Lomax is eager to discuss he dream, but he’s shushed. Even though there’s only one other person in the after school class, Mr. Rogers is not at ease with approaching this scared young man in front of witnesses. Instead, he wants to take Lomax to his house. Alone.
He offers Lomax some tea, which he definitely did not roofie. Then he asks Lomax if he could put on a blousey pink out fit. Yadda yadda yadda… next thing you know, Lomax is in the hospital, and Mr. Rogers — the last person who Lomax has been seen with — lies and tells his parents that he found Lomax in a ditch.
Now, you might think I’m playing up this angle for humor purposes, and you’d partially be correct. But Falke really plays this up to the point where I’m certain that it’s intentional. Mr. Rogers drives a 17-year-old boy alone to his house … and the expression on Lomax’s face is one of sheer terror. Even though he’s going along with it, Lomax describes Dan Rogers as creepy. Dan Rogers, too, is drawn with a permanent “come hither” expression on his face, and every scene with them together reads like a meet-cute.
Also, the teacher puts his strong, manly hands on Lomax. A lot. The character profile reads: “With a tendency to come on a bit too strong, Dan can be a bit intimidating even with the best of intentions.” That’s not coming on strong. That’s inappropriate touching between a teacher and a minor.
As it turns out, though, Dan Rogers is. Or looking for an illlicit dalliance … probably. For contained inside the present given to Lomax is pink-tinted piece of glass that flies up into your forehead that transforms him into … Lomax, But With Pink Hair! It’s like Greatest American Hero, only the teacher is the mentor and a student is the guy in tights and a cape. He also gets a Magical Girl transformation sequence, which is fancy.
Together, they battle the aforementioned naked dudes with featureless faces. They look like they came out of a Dr. Strange comic, and they secretly menace their unremarkable town. Lomax gains super strength and acrobatic agility, but he’s not totally invulnerable.
Lomax soon discovers he’s not the only eccentrically clad superperson running arround town. He and Mr. Rogers run into an older woman wearing Raven cosplay and Hot Topic booties. (It’s like: girl, you are way past the recommended age range to be rocking fishnets. Do that thing that you do, I’ll show you a new move. Check out the diggy-diggy-diggy-di-do.) Mr. Rogers tells her off, saving Lomax’s life. There’s backstory still being developed here, one of an organization devoted to making the world a better place through monster mayhem. Dan Rogers has a history with them, plus a mysterious ailment that seems to set off a ticking time bomb element.
Fortunately, they’re not alone. An unseen disembodied voice also aids Lomax. A mysterious woodland deity perhaps? In a very cinematic moment where Falke slows down time by giving every second a full page panel, Lomax gets a hot pink sword that does +2 damage against box headed creatures and innocent trees.
I enjoy Falke’s style, especially his color palette. The Divine Knights cartoon, for example, is set in a bright candy-colored world where their gaudy outfits complement the creamy backgrounds. Lomax operates in a darker, moodier world. It’s gloomy woods, abandoned buildings, and rainy streets. The Divine Knights live in a bubblegum world. Lomax’s world is closer to noir.
These settings directly contrast with his hot pink get up and the bright mark that shines from his forehead and his magic sword. The light from both just feels like it’s blinding. He stands out in every scene like a beacon. I love Falke’s depictions of light and shadows. The monsters — called Matterhorners, incidentally — are the same icy blue as the background. They blend in, which means that it’s extra horrifying when they start scampering toward you. Lomax, on the other hand, looks like a bright pink flower blossoming in a monochromatic pasture. It’s like a theory I read about Superman once: he dresses in bright colors because it makes it easier for people to trust him. Lomax is naturally a gloomy teenager, but when he puts on his superhero suit and bright pink ‘do, he’s unmistakably the hero.
Parallax moves at a brisk clip… sometimes a little too brisk. There’s a part in the webcomic where Lomax is laid up with injuries, and I felt that the switch back to monster hunting was a little jarring. However, I’ve read plenty of adventure comics by this point, and I’ve grown to appreciate creators who can get things off to a running start and keep the momentum going. Lomax has already had his share of victories and defeats, and his progression toward becoming a better fighter feels like a natural progression. Also, it’s kinda nice to have the hero have his butt handed to him sometimes. Just because you’re the hero of the story doesn’t mean you have to be an unstoppable juggernaut, you know?
Falke also does a great job quickly setting up the comic and heightening expectations over its weird mysteries. I want to see the answers he comes up with. What’s the mystical voice Lomax hears? Who is this strange organization that seems to be staffed by characters from Phoenix Wright? Who is Dan Rogers, really, and what’s up with his mystery condition? For all the uncomfortable interactions between Lomax and Dan Rogers, it does set up the sense that there’s something incredibly off and alien at play. Lomax doesn’t fit comfortably in the normal world… and neither does Mr. Rogers. For both, the day to day routine is all an act. Sometimes it takes a mysterious gift from a stranger to break you out of your shell. Being yourself is all about getting a pink piece of glass on your head and going medieval on bunch of naked dudes.