Category Archives: action webcomic
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.
Aaron Diaz’s Dresden Codak is a strange creature. It debuted back in 2005, back when webcomics were developing a reputation as the sophisticated alternative to their comic strip brethren. xkcd launched in the same year, and A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible not long before that. Perry Bible Fellowship was starting to gain a strong following. At the core of these comics as a brainy just-out-of-college mentality. The gags were still sometimes juvenile, but at its core were concepts and ideas that were smarter and more clever than ones on the Sunday Funnies. Except Marmaduke. That comic is pretty dang subversive.
And all of them, including xkcd sometimes, would surprise you by hitting you with some great looking art. It may be easy to forget, since a lot of art grads now know of webcomics as a great way to expand their portfolio, but aesthetically webcomic art was pretty dire. The medium, after all, was originally conceived as an amateur hobby where some folks got lucky despite the artistic merit, e.g. tons of pixel comics. As a result, comics like Dresden Codak were incredibly eye-catching in comparison.
Typical of early Dresden Codak is a comic like “Li’l Werner.” It’s a one-shot comic with no continuity baggage. Diaz is still experimenting with his art style: this time homaging the black-and-white cross-hatching of Edward Gorey. The strip hinges around a tongue-in-check parody of Aryan physics (the Nazi nationalist scientific movement to discredit Jewish scientists like Albert Einstein). There’s a sharped-toothed Philip Lenard recalling anti-Semitic caricatures, a tiny Heisenberg, and something about “current momentum.” I don’t pretend to know what the heck any of this is about. But it sounds smart and the multiple tiny Heisenbergs is a cute visual gag. It’s a lovely comic to introduce to your local Tesla fan.
In hero fiction, losing an appendage is never the end of the world. In fact, it is an opportunity for more adventure. A missing hand, for example, and be replaced by some sort of robot prothetics, like a claw that can crush through solid metal or a pop-up sword. As a child, who among us didn’t pretend to retract their hands into their long sweater sleeve, then pretend that what came out was a massive Gatling gun, poised to mow down the enemy forces that exist only in a child’s brutal imagination? PVC tubing or bendy straws may have been involved.
Hence, you have a host of super tough dudes who have amazing prosthetics. You’ve got Cable, a beefy mountain of a man who has one metal arm. Surprisingly, he doesn’t tip over or develop back pains. You’ve got Robocop, who’s sort of a jumble of replacement limbs, including a leg that awesomely contains a gun holster. Awesome robo-appendages can also be found on the ladies, such as Kimiko Ross from the webcomic Dresden Codak.
However, all those assume that the characters were born with functional arms and/or legs. What about characters who never had such a luxury? Maybe flippers hands or … perhaps … not even having arms at all? Where is the superhero for the handicapped… or rather, the handi-capable?
What’s that? Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a … plane that seems to be missing its wings! It’s Redd!
You’ve got to hand it to Andrew Hussie. They guy seems to go out of his way to be as alienating as possible. Just when it seems like the story’s gaining traction, he’s all, “Nuts to that sh*t. Time to roll with something that makes even less sense.” When MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck started, it bore a lot of similarities with its predecessor, Problem Sleuth, as a parody of an adventure game, complete with confusing inventory systems and glitchy controls. But then, all of the sudden, it became this complex world-building mythology, with multiple planets and a core system of light and darkness anchored by two planets with two moons.
And then Act 5 rolls around. Hussie introduces a bunch of abrasive new characters with orange horns that were so myriad that they seemed impossible to track. Oh yeah, and they’ve got their own alternative world and a complicated system of romance. Clearly, Hussie has disappeared straight up his own butt, right? Well, that maybe so… but the gamble paid off, and Homestuck became more popular than it ever had been before. At least with the costume stores supplying gray facepaint to all the troll cosplayers out there.
When we get to Act 6, then, the question isn’t, “So, what’s Hussie going to do to answer all these puzzles and mysteries?” It becomes more, “What sort of ridiculous bull is Hussie going to make up just to needlessly confuse and deliberately obfuscate the story even further?”
There are drawbacks to being this experimental, though. At some point, the mythology can get too top heavy, and the characters the readers learned to love over the course of the story get lost in the shuffle. Hey, Losties: remember Lost, Season 6? The experimental one that discarded the format, explored all new characters with a sideway universe where the cast had different adventures because they were living in a parallel world?
Battlin’ animals seem all the rage these days. And the more inappropriate, the better. Pokemon probably started the rage, what with its rats and lizards and … um … mimes all bread for battlin’. The trend has spread to webcomics as well. 2012, for example, saw the Eisner Award go to Battlepug, which, as its title suggests, is about a pug that battles. That, of course, is part of its humor. Who expects a pug to battle? They look like sad little children, more likely to be begging for handouts than to be bathed in the blood of war.
And cuddle unassuming animals are once again at the forefront in Bryan Fleming’s Battlecroc. That’s right, thouse friendly long-snouted fellows that Steve Irwin used to pal around with (until his unfortunate demise at the end of the frightening tail of the stingray) are portrayed as unlikely warriors in a world that hoas gone to the birds.
(That’s right. Again with the bird-bashing. Hasn’t the Angry Birds franchise done enough damage by portraying these feathered hacky-sacks as being in a permanent state of utmost surliness?)
Fantasy is rooted a little bit in actual history. Most of the time, this means the European Middle Ages. Knights in shining armor, kings and queens, towering castles, and legends of dragons and elves. King Arthur stuff. However, there are tons of challenges in setting things at a certain era. As fantasy writer Poul Anderson once elaborated in his essay “On Thud and Blunder,” “Beneath the magic, derring-do, and other glamour, an imaginary world has to work right. In particular, a pre-industrial society, which is what virtually all hf uses for a setting, differs from ours today in countless ways.”
One of the things that writers often do is just ignore the historical nuisances. Don’t worry about people’s hair not looking perfect; just assume that everyone has access to soap, mirrors, and plumbing. Pay no attention that there are no city lights; our heroes can travel by night just as easily as by day. One of the biggest historical running blocks are the roles of women. Joan of Arc aside, women in the Middle Ages were typically not trained to be warriors. It was dudes. But, since in these days it’s not in the writer’s or the reader’s best interest that the adventurers be one big sausage party, fantasy authors tend to either ignore or minimize male chauvinism. Lady warriors just show up dressed in trousers made for men, and the townspeople rarely bat an eye.
The limited opportunities for women, though, is the driving narrative in Ed Cho and Lee Cherolis’ Little Guardians. The story centers around two characters: Subira, an unassuming shopkeeper’s daughter who has great potential, and Idem, an unlucky boy who’s training to be the next Guardian.
(This is Part 2 of the massive Homestuck review. Click here for Part 1, covering Acts 1-4.)
I get it.
I totally get it. The appeal of the trolls, I mean.
When Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck started out, the characters could be best described as perhaps being tied to one personality trait. John is nerdy, Rose is gothy, Dave is cool, and Jade is sunny. They’re pleasant enough protagonists, but they’re pretty much video game heroes. Whether you’re Master Chief, the marine from Doom, Mario, Sonic, or the guy from BioShock, the main character is typically a stand-in for the player (or in this case, the reader). There has to be enough wiggle room for you to, in a way, become that character.
The trolls are different. I have a weird feeling that when Hussie started off Chapter 5, he was intentionally trying to tax the reader’s patience. We’ve been following the same four characters for four whole acts, when all of the sudden they disappear and are replaced by twelve all new characters that we hadn’t been invested in at all. Now, as an avid reader of fantasy novels, I’m pretty used to chapters where we abandon our main characters for long stretches to flesh out and establish new characters and communities. I have a feeling, though, that when this act came out, long time readers were throwing their hands up in disgust but about, say, the fifth troll introduction.
Yet, at the same time, the trolls ended up becoming the most visible symbol of Homestuck. I remember distinctly when the initial supporters (usually posting some variation of “Wake up, boy”) gave way to the cavalcade of troll fan art and cosplayers. I’d read some Homestuck before, though I’d stopped before even the end of Act 1. And I remember scratching my head, thinking, “Wait. This is the same webcomic?”
All the same, I totally get it.
(NOTE: The following review will compare Homestuck to friggin’ James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw. For readers with low tolerance for pompous malarkey, discretion is advised. Then again, PBS and Tor Books’ Mordecai Knode made the same comparison, so nyeh!)
It’s time once again to delve into the world of comics in the digital medium, where your eyes are bombarded not by inks and tree fibers but rather by the warm, embracing glow of an LCD monitor. There’s been a pretty big gap in my reviewing back catalogue, which for some reason includes something called Loviathan and something called Glam but for some reason doesn’t include the webcomic whose cosplayers overtook Emerald City Comic Con this year.
That’s right, readers: it’s time for yet another review of Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck!
Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Homestuck, or maybe you’ve heard about it in bits and pieces but really don’t know much about it, there’s one thing you should know right off the bat: it’s a very long webcomic. A VERY long webcomic. And deceptively so. As a result, I’m splitting this review into two segments. The first will reivew Acts 1-4, which focused mainly on the players of John, Rose, Dave, and Jade. (I will call these four “Pesterchums.” I don’t know if that’s the official term for them, but that’s how they appear categorized in their chatlogs.) The second will deal with Acts 5 and beyond, which seems to focus on the trolls.
Is this a fair dividing point? I think so. Back in the day (holy crap, this comic started back in 2009?) fans on the webcomic seemed to be split on how to take Act 5. The focus one trolls cause some to quit. On the other hand, trolls seems to be what maneuvered Homestuck to the big leagues. How much fan art is devoted to trolls vs. that which is devoted to the original crew? I’m guessing a million to one. As a result, my scholarlycomparison of trollspeak to Li’l Abner‘s cornpone dialects is going to have to wait until Part 2. Doesn’t that sound exciting?
… yeah, I didn’t think so either.