Friday, March 30, 2012

Retrospective: Errant Story

Errant Story ended last week.  I've already written a Not-So-Wild Review on it, so go take a look, but I think I'll go over the ending a bit instead, then the epilogue.

The comic ended with a hell of a fight.  As I said in my full review, they really didn't get into too many fights, so when it ends on a big shebang like it did, it made the whole thing rather special.  The main cast all got their moments to shine as well.  Jon got to be useful while magic and time mages ran around making him look like he was powerless and standing still.  Plans were made, implemented and succeeded.  And Ian got beat down in a way that was unexpected but fitting and sad at the same time.

Two things stand out in that fight:  One is how Poe laid out how Ian's final end would come, and a careful reader (not me, I had to reread it) could pick up on what was coming, an almost literal Chekhov's gun, though I suspect that it should have popped up MUCH earlier to really count.  At the same time, though, it was a great way to do it and I appreciate it.  The second is that Ian's defeat actually combined two concepts Jon and Sarine used in their final fights.  I wrote in my review that I always fear characters having the same personalities, but it turned out they started thinking of solutions the same way.  I think it was because it wasn't grand or powerful, but simple and logical, and that won in the end.

Meji's speech to the elves is also one of the best moments of the comic for me.  It's a threat, a blatant one, but one that was tempered by the fact that she really didn't have any reason to kill all the elves, at least at that moment.  It's her maturity coming through at that moment, and showed she had most certainly grown form the little devil girl who wanted godlike power just to graduate.  Of course, she had already made the mages who ran her school look like fools by then, but it was solidified there.

The epilogue, though, proved that Errant Story was NOT Meji's story.  Or Ian's story.  It was Sarine's story.  She opened the comic, and she closed it.  She was tortured by the past, about a life she could save, a love she couldn't have, and finally, by the end, she found her peace.  Sarine was telling the story.  Thus the epilogue is perfect in it's nature and structure.  Epilogues are hard, as so many people have different ideas on how such things should end (see Battlestar Galactica), but I don't think anyone will complain about how Poe ended his comic.  I sure won't.

The future of Errant Story is, well, reruns. Which I think is a good thing.  I hope they get the Errant Tales stories going, but I can wait for now.  I'll still be reading Errant Story despite the reruns, after all 11 and a half years is a long time, and I kind of want to retread old ground.  Maybe I'll have something more to say on it in the future.  In the mean time, comics like Gunnerkrigg Court and Does Not Play Well With Others will have to take up the slack.

That said, there is a piece of good news this week:  No Rest for the Wicked is updating again.  One comic dies, and another rises again.  That's a good day in my eyes.

Until next time kiddies.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Post Hangover Wild Webcomic Review

Oh, it is the greatest mix up that you have ever seen, my father he was orange and my mother she was. . .


Yes, that's right, a new batch of reviews. Have you been missing them?  I know I have.  So what do I have for you?  Well, let's take a look.

226.  Skullkickers - With a title like that, you would expect a comic full of action and violence.  And you'd be right.  Skullkickers isn't really much more than that either, but it does it very, VERY well.  Most of the comics I review are side projects, either by students or actual artists trying to stretch their muscles.  This comic is a professional comic up and down.  It updates on time (since the beginning of the year) has multiple people working on it (an artist, a line artist, a colorer, a letterer!) and is just a very slick creation.  It's good, very good.  It's completely worth reading at this point and likely will remain so for the foreseeable future.  I highly recommend this and will be following it for a while.

227.  Makeshift Miracle - I didn't notice this at first, but now looking at it, Makeshift Miracle and Skullkickers share something in common:  The same creator, Jim Zub.  AKA:  Same level of quality, though not the same artwork or story.  If I didn't see the name on the comic, I wouldn't have noticed they were so similar.  Makeshift Miracle actually feels like a manga, which I don't read so that should say something.  It's quiet though, more internal than the visceral Skullkickers.  There's also a genuine mystery here and one I'm actually interested in seeing resolved.

228.  Anhedonia Blue - I debated with myself whether I should even bother reviewing this comic, as it's been dead since last year, and even then there wasn't much to it.  There is another comic by the same artist (I think) out there, and I may do that one later, but I'm pull comics from my future read lists, and this was one.  Alright, for what little is there, is it good?  Well, it's not bad, but it could be better. It's the classic "supernatural powers suddenly manifest" type stories, and it starts off well enough, but then slips down a bit.  Then the zombies show up, but they're not standard zombies. About that time, it starts getting interesting, and then stops.  I think the problem is direction, as in there really wasn't much to it start with, and it seemed kind of aimless.  Maybe there was a plan, but once it got to a point where the plan should come out, it stopped, so I don't know for sure.  Probably not worth the very small amount of effort to read, but if you want to see a comic aborted at an early stage, this would be a good example.

229.  Twilight Lady - Where Anhedonia Blue tried to do the secret supernatural power thing but stalled out, Twilight Lady pulls it off well.  Of course, it also has gone out of it's way to annoy me, for the button that says "first" does NOT take you to the first page of the comic, just of the current story.  Imagine my annoyance when I sat to write this review and discovered I had missed 90% of the comic.  The worst part?  The rest of the comic actually lowered my appreciation for the strip as well.  Not because I had to read it all, but because, well, it's not as good as the most current story (The Indwellers).  I think I'll need a whole article to go into detail why, but I suspect if I had read this comic from the very beginning, I wouldn't have liked it as much.  I will recommend the most current chapter, but only read the rest of the comic if you REALLY want to know what the backstory.

230.  Out at Home - And now for a comic that has nothing to do, at all, with the other comics.  This is a pure daily gag strip.  It would be just as much at home in the newspapers as on the web, though it would likely lose a bit of it's edge if it did.  It features a goofy, but well intentioned dad (who is also a filthy rich former baseball player), his two kids, their friends and a variety of wild hijinks.  It could almost be like a wacky animated sitcom on Fox (who would cancel it after a season, because that's what Fox does).  After the rather dark Twilight Lady, it was nice and refreshing, and I think will sit on my read list for some time to come.

Well, that's enough for this week.  If you missed it, Errant Story ended this week, so next week, retrospective time!  Until then kiddies.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Review Criteria

For a blog called the "Wild Webcomic Review," there haven't been a lot of wild webcomic reviews lately, has there?  Well, the reasons are many fold, but mostly because it takes time to read through full archives, and I've been really distracted as of late (Champions Online and Star Trek Online have eaten way at my time, stupid MMOs).  This week is more of the same, so today, I'll cover what I look for in a comic when I review it.  These are more guideline than a solid criteria, and I'll try to list out comics that either are an example or a counter example.

The first thing that stands out for my is the website.  If I have to dig deep to get to a comic, I really get turned off.  Confusing things, like the way Supermassive Blackhole A* was a comic built from videos are very annoying and unpleasant.  The worst thing is having broken archive links, like Count Your Sheep.  That was so frustrating that if the comic wasn't as good as it was, I likely would have slammed it hard.  The website should be easy to navigate, with the comic taking front and center, or if not front and center, it's one click away.  Organization of the site is as important as anything else.

The art comes up next usually.  This is harder to judge as the art style of comic can change radically between the first comic and the current comic.  College Roomies from Hell is a great example of this, so I don't judge a comic on the early art if I can avoid it.  I do look to see how the art evolved over the life span of the comic, however, and if it improves, I make note.  I look more for style fitting the comic theme and direction.  I also look for distinction.  I want to be able to tell which characters are which, which environments are which and so on.  Lack of distinction can confuse a comic for me, like Prophecy of the Circle, where I wasn't QUITE able to tell who was who.  As long as I can easily identify them, I'm usually happy.  That said, there is a line where bad or lazy art will drive me away.

Figuring out the point of the comic usually comes next, and that can change over time.  Drama, adventure, epic, daily jokes and experimental all can be used to describe the various comics I've read, and most comics fall into one or even several of those categories. More often than not one will evolve into another, like how Sluggy Freelance went from a daily joke strip into a long term adventure/drama piece and even now has some hints of being a bit of an epic going on.

Once I have the gist of the strip, I start looking at the story/humor of the piece and see if it stands up. Story based comics should draw me in, encourage me to read further and look toward the future as to where everything is going.  They also shouldn't throw in random asides without purpose and actually DO something rather than wander around.  Comics that are complete (a rarity) should show a full story, resolve points that SHOULD be resolved while leaving enough room for the reader to imagine the future.  I'm also looking for logic failures, poor explanations, bad set ups and Mary Sueisms, though I am willing to give on each of those if they're done in a way that isn't distracting.  Humorwise, I want the jokes to be consistently funny, well structured and natural by the universe that is created.  If they're at least funny, especially if it's funny. Failure to be funny can ruin a comic for me.

With the story and humor I look at characters.  I'm looking for good characterization where it's required, and consistency in character, as well as growth as the comic goes on, where it's required.  Not every comic character needs to grow or develop, so I take that into account.  If I don't see much development when there should be development, that's a strike against the comic.

Finally I take the comic as a whole into consideration.  Did the various elements work together well even if, individually, they weren't that great.  Then I compare them to other comics I've read that are similar and judge whether it's worth continuing to read it.  After, of course, I see if the comic is still updating.  That's happened a few times.

When I sit down to write the review, I try to see if other people would like it as I have tastes that are a little different than others (I like Hudson Hawk, for example).  That's harder than you would think, and comics that I find uninteresting often get longer reviews as I explore whether another reader might like them.

And that's about it.  So what's up for next week?  Well, maybe a new batch of reviews.  Maybe.  We'll see, until then kiddies.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Review: Friends With Boys

I've been holding off reading Friends With Boys mostly because of laziness.  Well, I have to get to it because the comic has gone to print on the 6th of March, so it won't be available as a pure webcomic after that date.  At the time of this writing, it's the 2nd of March, so I can read the whole thing.  After the 6th, you'll only get the first 16 or so pages and will have to buy the comic to read the rest.  There's only one problem with that:  Those 16 pages lie about what the comic is about.  Mostly.

Lie may be to strong a word.  It sets up two plots that seem to be the plot of the comic.  It seems to be a high school comic (of which there are so many the stars weep at their numbers) at first, then introduces a supernatural/mystery story at the end of those first 16 pages.  By the time the 206 page run is complete, neither of these plots are fully resolved, and what resolution they are given is very limited.  No the real plot of the story is something different, but before I get to that, let's talk about the rest of the comic.

The art is good.  Very good black and white, in fact, and definitely some of the best work Faith Erin Hicks has done and very much in her style.  Characters are distinctive, easy to identify, even if I did forget the names of the twins (for story reasons, however, you CAN tell them apart).  The backgrounds, especially the setting scenes featuring buildings and locations.  I really liked the school maps that show up, as they are both show off various scenes of high school life, while also showing hand drawn circles and marks that give some insight into Maggie's character.

Speaking of characters, I thought they were really well done.   There's a sense of realism with each one that is hard to get in a lot of comics.  They have insecurities, hobbies, habits and personalties.  Siblings act like siblings, friends like friends, high school jerks act like high school jerks.  That said, the jerks have reasons for being jerks (insecurities), and the siblings and family act like they do because of who they are and who they want to be.  In a sense, they're growing up, and in the process they make mistakes, decisions they regret and they look for some sense of absolution for them.

Which brings me back to the story.  As I said, those first 16 pages lie about what the comic is about.  The supernatural thing is essential to the story, but not the center of it.  High school is essential to the events as they play out, but not the center of it.  If anything, the story is rather mundane, which fits the place I am in my mind right now.  Simple incidents are played out that add up, but don't actual do much in the long run anyway.  There's not much of a grand confrontation at the end, mostly because there isn't a villain.  Even the "bully" type character isn't so much a bully in the classic sense.  He's a jerk, yes, but no more so than other people I've known.  That's kind of a relief, as he could easily be turned into one by a lesser story teller.

So what is the story about then?  Well, Faith has actually posted what SHE thinks it's about, and being the author of the story, I can't and won't disagree with her.  That said, I think it's also about family and how they change as we get older.  The relationships remain "the same" but change as time goes on.  That's why I say those early pages lie because you only get the briefest hint that the family isn't quite what it was before and that Maggie is only just starting to notice how different everything has become.  By the end, a new dynamic and understanding is formed and, well, everything is okay.

Now then, is the comic worth paying for?  For me, it would be if I had any extra cash (I am unemployed and poor).  Of course, I'm also a big fan of Faith's work, so I might be a touch biased.  Still, this is a good book and I'd love to have a copy on a shelf, and I don't really collect comics.  Is it worth it for anyone else?  That's harder for me to say.  This isn't a grand adventure or mystery or even a high school drama, so if you're looking for that, go elsewhere.  If you're looking for something smaller, more familiar, and more mundane, it might be worth it.  At the very least read the first 16 pages and see if the tone and pacing appeal to you, just keep in mind that the story presented in those 16 pages isn't the real story, but the real one is just a bit better.

Until next time kiddie.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wild Webcomic Reviews 160 - 164

Well, I was working on an article, but it's taking time, and this week I have to read and review Friends With Boys since it's going to full print next week.  So instead, old review time!

October 05, 2008

160. Head Trip - If you saw the thread about Twilight in the Media board (comment from the forum I originally posted this in), the comics I linked there came from this one (she's got a deviantart site as well). It's a fun little comic with geek humor and implied violence (never in panel). There's no overall story arc, but there is a subcomic within it that has a story (non-traditional superheroes would be the best way to describe it). The archives get a little spastic at one point, so have fun navigating it, but it's worth a quick look anyway.

TODAY - The "non-traditional superhero" storyline is still appears once in a while, and got reasonably darker.  The regular comics are just as oddly random as they originally were, and I still enjoy it.

161. Heart Shaped Skull - Remember Edwitch? Same kind of comic, only done a bit better. The main character is almost identical to the one in Edwitch, except that she's probably both more powerful and more socially isolated (by fear more than anything else). The art is actually better too, though more gothy. About the only thing that bugs me is that half the archives are unavailable because it's also a print comic collection (aka: you have to buy it). Doesn't mean you need them, it's easy enough to get into without them. I like it a lot more than I think I should. Doesn't matter. BTW, another with archive issues: Hitting the first page button takes you to the first page of the current chapter, so click "archive" instead and follow the dates for the actual archive. The fact that I didn't do this the first time through and didn't feel lost is a credit to the comic.

TODAY - The missing chapters were posted on the site, and they are excellent.  The whole comic, in fact, remains really, really good, and is completely worth a read through.  Go and read it already.

162. Blip - Ever think God is out to get you? What if He was, only you didn't know it? This is a comic about a young woman who is in that boat. K (her name) is a mistake, a blip on the radar of existance, and the only solution is to keep her down and out. Of course, her friends want her happy, the Devil wants her to cause the end of the world, and she just wants her dog to stop shitting on the floor. I'm kind of afraid she might learn about what's going on, because I think it would ruin it, but 100 strips in and it hasn't happened yet, so maybe things will go alright. We'll see.

TODAY - Injury has stalled this comic at the moment, but it still remains one of my favorite strips.  There are now over 1000 strips compared to the 100 I based the original review on, and the comic has not disappointed, and in fact even got better as time went on.  Hope the artist heals soon so we can have more of this comic.

163. Truck Bearing Kibble - It wants to be Perry Bible Fellowship. It DESPERATELY wants to be PBF. It has the elements: The great art, the weird concepts, the off beat jokes. Does it do it? Eh, not quite. There's a spark missing. It's not bad, by any means, but it isn't PBF. Of course considering PBF isn't updating much, if at all, it might be a decent replacement.

TODAY - Dead, has been for some time.  Worth a quick read through, but that's about it.

164. Our Time in Eden - I always manage to find these long, novel comics when they're very young (9th Elsewhere, Broken Mirror) and they all seem very good, and then something happens. Usually they just stop updating. I'm hoping this one doesn't suffer the same fate, as it is very interesting so far. Not actiony in any sense, but one of those that tries, and so far does a decent job, to be introspective to the characters. The first couple of chapters are pretty good so far, but it's another wait-and-see comic. Especially to see if it continues to update.

TODAY - Just discovered that this comic is updating regularly again after a hiatus, so I have to go back and catch up on it.  I like that feeling.

All for this week.  Next week, hopefully, I'll have a special review up.  Until then kiddies.