Friday, February 3, 2012

Not So Wild Review: Schlock Mercenary

Time for yet another not so wild review, and this time I cover a comic I keep calling the best overall webcomic on the internet today:


I spoken before on why I think it's the best overall, but I'll say it again.  "Overall" means it does every element of a comic more than well enough to compete with comics that are on the top of their field.  Oh, it's art isn't as good as Dresden Codak, few comics are that good.  It's humor isn't laugh out loud funny as Nobody Scores! can be.  The story isn't nearly as well built as Gunnerkrigg Court or Errant Story.  Yet these comics cannot easily be compared to each other without one looking vastly superior in their personal category.  Schlock can run with all of them and, more importantly, Schlock updates everyday of the week, without fail.  To my knowledge, Schlock has NEVER missed an update.  There are maybe a handful of comics that can lay claim to that title, and to do it as well as Schlock has done is hard to find and pinpoint.

So what makes this comic run with the big boys?  Let's find out.


Schlock Mercenary has perhaps one of the largest casts of any comic I read.  And I don't mean just a lot of secondary characters, nearly every one of these characters is nearly a main character and the main characters, especially Schlock himself, are often regulated to secondary roles.

This creates an interesting dynamic as you know who the main characters are (Schlock, Tagon, Kev etc) but they aren't always the focus.  They are usually involved, at least one of them is basically in every story, but the story isn't necessarily about them.  If anything, the comic is more about the cast rather than any small group of main characters.  "Secondary" characters get a lot of panel time, development and backstory, more than many comics even give main cast members.

Even more important though, is that characters die, a lot.  The number of cast members who have shuffled off this mortal coil is difficult to keep track of, though the one that sticks out the most is Tagon himself (he got better after time travel shenanigans).  Still, Tagon is one of the main characters so it's no surprise he came back, but most of the rest have not been so lucky.


What helps keep investment in this rather massive cast of characters is the art.  Each character is different in design, from augmented humans, to the giant elephant men, to Schlock's more unique design.  And I don't just mean the different aliens look different, ALL the characters look different.  They have different profiles which helps pick them out in a crowd.  Being able to figure out who is who, not just from uniforms but from the total package, draws the reader in and allows them to be more invested in the characters.

The backgrounds and other art are just as good.  The Sunday strips, in particular, are usually given far more attention and highlight the skill of the artist.  The designs are also consistent. with ships showing off their "annie" plants almost regardless of type, this is something that a sci fi fan, like myself, notices.  Yet while distinctive and often very good, it is relatively simple.  I suppose this helps production times (again, it's never missed an update) but it isn't going to do more than surpass all by the most well crafted strips.  It's not high art, is what I'm getting at, but it's more than serviceable, and actually very nice.


The stories in Schlock are all focused on Tagon's Toughs, the mercenary group Schlock belongs to and their adventures.  These scale quite a bit from relatively small contract missions, to galaxy spanning and changing wars.  The focus, though, is almost always on the Toughs, or events that relate directly to them.  The shifting scale of the stories means that you never quite know what's coming next and even when it gets there, it might go somewhere else you didn't expect.

The comic does follow the rule of funny:  If it's funny, absurd, goofy or just plain punny, it happens.  The stories themselves may not necessarily be funny, but nearly every strip has a joke, and if it doesn't, it might just be a set up for one a couple comics later.  From a character left crying in a hallway, unable to move, to awhile later, subverting a small warship to her charms and whims.  It's fun to read, and it keeps you engrossed in what comes next as much as anything.

The comic manages to balance the humor off with more dramatic moments a bit better than, say, Sluggy Freelance has done as of late.  Much of that comes because I don't think Schlock takes itself nearly as seriously, and when the main character is a sentient pile of poo, seriousness is already a distant dream.  The rest comes from knowing when to shift the gear over.  Sluggy is good at it, but I think Schlock is probably better.


Didn't I already say I think it's the best overall comic?  I think I did.  Whenever I think of a great comic, this is amongst the first ones I pick out.  It hits a nice balance of all the things that make a webcomic, from very good art, to very good story telling, and very good characters.  Nothing is excellent, except one thing:  It ALWAYS updates.  With my history of finding comics who die from hiatus or update once a month if not more, I find that a comic I can rely on to update not just when it's scheduled but every single day to be something of a rare and precious flower.  Any short comings the comic has, and it has very few, are made up almost entirely by it's continuous production.  I said early there are maybe a handful that pull it off, and that's just being cautious, I can't actually think of one.  The closest I think is Bob the Angry Flower, and even then there will be double posts if a missed week happens or is planned, and it's history is beyond the recent is spotty at best.  Schlock Mercenary may stand alone in this arena of being not only a very good comic, but one you know will be there the next day, even if you're not.

Well that's enough of that kiddies, next week, I think I'll get back to some newspaper comics.  Until then.


  1. You skipped some editing there, at least in the first paragraph. It's difficult to take critical opinions seriously if they're improperly expressed; first impressions are important. If I may...

    "I have spoken before" or "I spoke before" are the correct forms to use -- but in this medium it would be more appropriate to use "I have written" or "I wrote". Forms of "speak" are fine in a YouTube videoblog.

    Also, "it's" is reserved STRICTLY for "it is" or "it has". NEVER use "it's" for possession. Think of the other possessive pronouns: his, hers, yours, theirs. And so it is with the possessive pronoun for neutral-gender singular: "its". Apostrophe possessives are reserved for nouns.

    Lastly, reconsider the composition of the last sentence of that first paragraph. "There are maybe a handful of comics that can lay claim to that title, and to do it as well as Schlock has done is hard to find and pinpoint." Better you should use "and those that do it as well as Schlock has done are hard to find." The addition of "and pinpoint" is redundant. An alternative might be "and to do it as well as Schlock is a rare accomplishment."

  2. I should temper my remarks by including praise for the substance of your review (despite my criticism of its mechanics), and adding my agreement. I enjoy Schlock for most of the same reasons you state in your review,