Friday, September 24, 2010

A Not-So-Wild Review: Sluggy Freelance

Not so wild?  What is this about?  Well, since eventually I will run out of my old wild reviews, I think it's time to got a bit more in depth with some of these comics.  You know, actually REVIEW them for a change.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Anyway, I'm only going to do the ones I actively read, so this list will be much shorter.  And I'm going in order so the first comic is:


Sluggy was the first true webcomic I started reading, and I never stopped.  I like this comic, I like it a lot.  I like it so much that it is the last comic I read every day, and has been since I finished my 2 week archive dive (2 weeks because of a 56k modem).  So what makes it so good to me?  Well, let me try to relate it.


I suppose it's cliche to say that a good comic has good characters, but I'm not afraid of cliches.  Sluggy has some very well done characters.  The core characters of Torg and Riff play off well each other and grew from their more archetypal origins into reasonably complex yet still fun characters.  Perhaps only secondary comes the female stars of the comic, Zoey and Gwynn who have stories at least as complex as the guys.  And all this from a basic premise that simply threw them together for giggles.

Past them come the various secondary characters from Bun Bun the far to violent rabbit to Oasis the undying.  The cast is so large, in fact, that it's almost impossible to keep track of them all, their comings and going and their own stories.  While they are not, of course, as followed or detailed as the main cast, they are at least recognizable and can add a great deal to the story.

But don't think they started this way.  Sluggy is a 13 YEAR old comic, and much of this development came over these long years.  Many characters have fallen by the wayside in that time, and many more were resurrected in much more potent forms as the years went by.  Such is the long development of the comic.  Despite this, the characters always seem to maintain more than a hint of Sluggy's origins as a gag a day strip.


This is a funny comic.  It was born as one and continues to be one, despite the more serious dramatic moments.  Pete Abrams is one of the few artists I've seen that can so perfectly balance the hilarious and dramatic within the confines of a single storyline, or even a single strip in many cases.  Even as the comic explores the depths of personal depression, the destruction of entire worlds, or just the death of a single character, there's always a joke lurking nearby.

The stories aren't super wonderful, but just pretty damn good, and have gotten better as time has gone on.  The early ones were just set ups for a string of jokes (or worse, puns!) to fill out strips.  Later they did get deeper and more meaningful, delving into the characters.  Generally, they've been well done and actually damn good.  The issues start building up as the comic generates more and more backstory, and again, keeping track of past characters and plots can be nearly overwhelming.

Which isn't to say their haven't been slip ups.  Oceans Unmoving is a storyline that failed as a Sluggy story.  Not because it was a bad story, it was actually pretty good, but it wasn't Sluggy Freelance.  It was a failure because it didn't include any of the regular cast (outside of Bun Bun and Bun Bun, which you'll have to read to understand) and contained a more fantastic premise than had been attempted before, but mostly it relied on building a new group of characters and readers felt lost without Torg or Riff running around.

To his credit, Abrams picked up and this and ended the story as soon as possible and drew the readers back with the old cast in new clothes and new adventures.  I think had Oceans Unmoving been established as a separate comic from Sluggy Freelance itself, it would still be going on today, but as a part of Sluggy Freelance, it just didn't work.


A lot of comics start with crappy are and get better as time goes on, and Sluggy is no exception.  That said, even the early strips aren't that bad, especially for a web comic.  The characters were identifiable and well proportioned, which is odd praise but considering other comics at similar stages, it's actually high praise.

Yet the art didn't really come into it's own until probably the story Fire and Rain, which also happened to be around the time the comic broke away from the old newspaper comic conventions when it came to layout and schedule.  Today the art is still comic art, but much more detailed and full.  Strips no longer stick to a 3 or 4 panels, but get as large as they need to be to convey the story, show the art, or tell the joke.

I really rather enjoy the art, but it's not the best art I've seen for a comic.  It is more than serviceable though, adding that extra layer of realism most comics need to feel great.


Have I mentioned I really like Sluggy Freelance?  Because I do, and it stands out to me as one of the better comics on the net today.  Which isn't to say it's the best.  There are more than frequent moments when the comic falls to the filler gods or updates are delayed for random reasons (not that they aren't good reasons, they're just all over the map).  The stories sometimes don't quite hit their marks and again, the sheer size of the backstory is bound to bury even the die hard fans.

But when Sluggy gets it right, it gets it VERY right.  Other comics might have better art and stories, but Sluggy is a force of greatness at that moment that is hard to beat.  It would be nicer if the updates were a bit more steady though.  I say go read it, but get ready for a long read.

Well, that's the first long review.  Like it?  I hope so, because I'll be doing more in the future.  Until next week kiddies.

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