Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas Wild Webcomic Review

We wish you a merry. . .


I wanted to get at least one more review batch out this year, and right near the end, here it comes.  This time I'm actually going to be taking up some alt-comics by many of the same artists I already read comics from.  Well, mostly, you'll see.  In the meantime, let's get started with my Christmas present to you, my readers.

266.  Subhuman Sanctum - Corridor Realms is the home to at least 4 comics, this one, Vine, Blood Professors, and the main comic, Twilight Lady.  While the artists for them vary, the writer is the same guy, so the comics tend to be very similar.  Except Subhuman Sanctum is different.  The other comics are far more serious and it's. . . not.  It's not not serious, if that makes sense, but it's definitely lighter than the other comics, especially versus Twilight Lady.  It still tries to delve into higher ideas, but it's not as dark.  Frankly I find the entire comic to be, actually quite good.  It's a refreshing perspective and I find myself enjoying it quite a bit.  Worth reading.

267.  Cherry - Footloose is the quasi-fantasy comic I've had on the read list for a long time now, but haven't said all that much about because, well I'm not sure, just hasn't come up.  Magical Transvestite Cherry (full title, kind of a mouthful) is a bonus/prequel comic to Footloose itself focusing around the only male magical girl in the dojo of at the center of the comic.  Which means that it really doesn't stand up that well on it's own.  Oh, it works, but it really needs Footloose itself to understand what's going on.  In a sense, Cherry needs Footloose to work, but Footloose doesn't need Cherry.  If you're a fan of Footloose, or even just a casual reader, it's worth the time, but otherwise don't bother.

268.  In Here - Some time ago, the R.C. Monroe decided to change formats for his comic, Out There, shifting from daily to weekly to make time for two new comics, Cliche Flambe and In Here.  All three feature the same characters, which is weird, but fun too.  In Here is kind of a side story, alternate story to Out There as it plays right from some events in Out There, but does something odd.  It's a mystery type story, with the question being "where the hell are they and why?"  While it's only through the first part (it hasn't updated since April due to life issues), I am completely sucked in and wondering what is going on, but with few clues it's hard to know.  Still, it is worth reading even without knowing Out There, but there's a thing on the last page that does need Out There to understand.

269.  Broodhollow - Kris Straub is the creator of Chainsawsuit and Starslip, which he ended probably to do this comic.  And it's amazing.  I complained back in my Genre Savvy article about not having many examples of actual Horror to reference, well now I have.  Broodhollow looks great, even if it is just using Starslip's character design, but then come the monsters and ghosts which all look incredible.  The story and mystery around the comic hook the reader and refuse to let go.  Though I do a rather rapid archive dive, I can see the cliffhanger moments and they grabbed me just as hard.  This is a great comic and one that will likely sit on my read list for some time to come.

270.  Bloodstain - Stjepan Sejic is amazing and prolific artist.  As well as being the man behind Sunstone (NSFW), he's got at least 3 print comics out there, dose cover art for other comics, and the occasional guest strip.  But did you know his wife draws too?  Yeah, this only kind of fits the theme, but Bloodstain is Linda Sejic's comic, and it's actually quite good.  The story is probably the most mundane of them all, a young woman simply trying to hold down a job, but it's well done and fun.  The art is also incredible, being JUST shy of Stjepan's art, so much so that it's often hard to tell the difference.  It's on Deviant Art, which I've complained about before, but there's no need for a mature filter here.  The strips are long, just like in Sunstone, but horizontally rather than vertically, which makes it rather longer than it's 69 pages it might indicate.  While updates are more sporadic than other comics, it is worth keeping an eye on.

Well there you go guys, Merrry Christmas and all that.  Next week, I'll be doing a kind of year in review and set up for next year.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Building Mysteries

I'm not much of a mystery writer.  My stories contain mysteries, but they're not classic "whodunits" or something similar.  That said, mysteries are appealing to me, and I do enjoy a good one once in a while.  I often try to guess the next move of many comics, some rather successfully, others, not so much.  Still, there is a right way to do a mystery and a wrong way, so today I'll go over a few guidelines to help make more good mysteries in the world.

1.)  There must be a solution.  An answer to the mystery, a final solution to the puzzle, one that the entire story is working toward.  Without a solution, there's no way to effectively build the mystery, and you're left with The X-Files Problem.  The answer can be just about anything, but as long as there is one, that will help control the direction of the story.

2.)  The clues must make sense.  I'll talk about red herrings in a moment, but the actual clues, the true ones, should make sense.  Logic should connect each clue together and make everything work together.  If logic fails between any two clues, then the entire thing falls apart and it wasn't worth the effort.

3.)  Don't be afraid of red herrings.  The idea is to distract or misdirect the characters in the story and the reader from the truth.  Don't leave them out simply to satisfy number 2, but decide early on which ones are red herrings and leave them that way.  Don't decide they're suddenly relevant after being false for so long.

4.)  Don't add revelations that can't be concluded from the piece.  Long way to say, don't pull something out your ass.  Any revelation, fact or clue MUST be concludable from the story itself, not suddenly revealed with no set up.  This is very annoying and likely will cause the entire mystery to fall apart.

5.)  Don't assume your readers are dumb.  The characters should come to conclusions at about the same time as the reader, so keep up.  If the characters are behind, there should be a reason, like a red herring or some misread clue, one that the reader can figure out.  That said, don't let the character stay behind, once it's obvious, let the character catch on.

6.)  Read more mysteries.  The best way to get better at them is to read them.  If you don't, how else will you create your own?

How mysterious that I would have such an article.  I wonder what's next week (HINT:  no clues have been left, sorry).  Until then kiddies.

Seriously, I didn't leave you any clues, I'm not a mystery writer.

Friday, December 12, 2014

World Building

The last batch of reviews featured 3 comics that are not only quite good, but also have one thing in common:  World building.

Construction of the world/universe that the comic takes place in is a difficult task, which is why most comics set themselves in the modern day.  I went over the rules for building universes a while back, but that's only the starting point.  Actual execution requires a bit more work.  Which is where those three comics come in because they all choose slightly different angles to present the rules of their worlds while not bogging it down with pages of text and dialog.

Stand Still, Stay Silent sets things up using the real world as a basis.  Specifically it uses modern day Scandinavia as the initial set up.  The various nationalities are represented throughout the story, including the fact that their languages don't always line up.  Then comes the maps.  Including maps within the comic itself helps to orient the reader, but it's not presented as "this is a map, the characters are here."  Instead it's presented as a historical document, a map showing the familiar coastlines but with odd markings and shadings that normally wouldn't appear.  Even without directly seeing the chaotic fall of civilization, the map makes all the point that's needed.

Along with the map, SSSS (which is a weird abbreviation when you think about it) presents a series of documents, like what would come out of a school report.  Blindsprings does much the same, though from a different starting point.  Blindsprings is a created fantasy world, so it doesn't have the benefit of the real world to build up from, instead it uses a historical event as a basis for the a story event, namely the Russian Revolution.  While the circumstances are different, the events are shockingly similar to the fall of the Romanovs.  The result are those documents, which take a very anti-royal perspective, and it tries to make the revolution look far more justified than it might actually have been.  Not long after, this is followed up by the opposing viewpoint of the nature of the revolution, but still seems like not the whole truth.

I suppose I should be expected to be annoyed by documents and maps like this, but I don't have problems with things like this for world building, I have issues with it being about characters.  Character description dumps annoy me because these are things we can learn about the characters through their actions in the story.  Background information like the kind provided in SSSS and Blindsprings is necessary because the characters KNOW all these, or a great deal of it, while the reader does NOT.

Which brings me to Rice Boy.  The universe here has no analog in the real world, so instead it must deliver the world via a character, Rice Boy himself.  Rice Boy is much like the reader, unfamiliar with the world as a whole, and it is through his journey that he, and the reader, learn about the world.  He's told stories, show documents, and sees the world itself, taking the reader on the same journey.  This is highly effective as it shows the world directly, allowing the reader to easily become invested.

That's not to say SSSS and Blindsprings don't do this, they do to an extent, but Rice Boy has to use this as the only truly viable means to communicate it's world.  Likewise, Blindsprings has a map, but it's not nearly as effective as the one in SSSS.  All three must work to get you involved, but different circumstances mean each must use a different path to make their respective worlds come to life.

I became very invested in all three because of this, and I feel it is the strongest element of all three comics, making them completely worth reading.

Next time, I'm building up to something.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Bleh, Nothing Week

Post holiday week is busy and I wasn't able to get my article finished.  Sorry, nothing this week.  Should have something up next week.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Shuffling Stuff

For those in the US of A, hope your Thanksgiving was good.  While I spend time not going to any Black Friday sales, I need to do some shuffling and sorting.  As always, my side bar and list don't get updated as frequently as I would like (I blame lazy, and it's quicker to move things in the bookmarks), so it's time once again.  Also, time to go through all those Hiatus comics and see what's going on.

Several comics are returning from Hiatus/Monthly status to Weekly.

Commander Kitty, backed by Pateron dollars, is back to updating.
Deep Fried has shifted to a weekly update.
Kiwi's By Beat, home of Minus and other comics, moves back because I kept forgetting to check it
Same with Hark, a Vagrant! and
What Birds Know

Moving to Monthly status are a few comics

City of Reality is still MIA, wish he would get back to it.
Not sure what's going on with Kawaii Not.
Marry Me, once again, has ground to a halt.

Hiatus gets a few addtions too

Perry Bible Fellowship updates so rarely that I don't know why I would check it frequently at all.
The Wotch and City of Reality are really tied together, but I give CoR leeway since it is the artist's comic.
On the Edge's artist is busy with other projects, still worth keeping tabs on.

I've had to, regretfully, add to the Non-Read list.

Templar, Arizona had 6 MONTHS between updates.  Even Dresden Codak does better than that.
Alex Ze Pirate has nothing consistent and I'm tired of waiting for it.
Book of Biff goes here on a technicality.  It was dead, then not, and might not be later.

Even more sadly, several comics are going to Dead.

The Pain has basically been dead for a while, I'm stubborn.
Same with No Rest for the Wicked.
So Damn Bright just hasn't gone anywhere.
Toilet Genie just stopped some time ago.
Same with Winters in Lavelle.

I'm officially moving a couple of comics to Complete.

Out at Home, naturally.
And Errant Story, whose rerun/commentary stopped cold.  If it restarts I'll move it back.

Unofficially Living to Death is on my T-Th-S list, replacing Out at Home, but until I review it it won't appear on the actual sidebar (it has 9 strips as of this writing, not reviewable yet).

And finally, The Fifth Circle, for some reason, wasn't on the sidebar at all.  It's going into Daily because I never know when the damn thing will update, but when it does it takes a good chunk of a day to catch up on.

To catch up on other news, Shi Long Pang is still on Hiatus because of other projects, Aptitude Test and The Meek are expecting to restart in full sometime next year and The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon is slowly getting back to a regular update schedule.

Of the new, active comics, Pole Dancing Adventures is going to Weekly for now, Blindsprings is under T-Th-S and Stand Still, Stay Silent is, of all things, DAILY.  Yeah, I was just as shocked.

Of course, I'll have to do this AGAIN with the new year as Gunshow is planning to end then, and Sorcery 101 is on a crash course to end itself I guess.  We'll see how it goes.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Short Wild Webcomic Review



Everyone of these comics is fairly short, so let's get going.

261.  The Princess and the Giant - This is an older work by the creator of Supermassive Blackhole A*, a comic I RE-reviewed a bit ago.  The basic art style is that same black and white shadow effect that makes up most of the main comic (it appears to be in color now), which makes some strips hard to follow what's going on, but there's a lot going on.  Each strip is only one panel, but there's a lot of story in these brief moments, made all the more necessary by the complete lack of dialog.  It's not impossible to follow along, thankfully, aside from the very end which I think is supposed to be a dream sequence anyway.  It's short, and actually kind of fun, but nothing really memorable.  Worth flipping through (not really reading it, no text after all), but that's about it.

262.  Pole Dancing Adventures - No, not THAT kind of pole dancing.  More the sport/exercise/dance type angle.  This is a blog comic, similar to The Fifth Circle's Bloomix, but less frequent and more up to date.  It's informational and promotional, and it does those roles quite well.  There's not really a story, and it's very much a hobbyists comic as a result.  There have been a couple short storylines that seem based on real life experiences, so it is possible the comic might do more, so it's probably worth keeping tabs on (aka, I will), but I'm not sure there's any real draw beyond that.

263.  Rice Boy - This comic has been on my Future Read list for a while, and it is totally worth the read.  This is a great comic.  It taps the surreal without being surreal, and has a story that's more than strong enough to support it.  I would say more, but it's good enough you should read it.  It's complete, so no waiting around for the story to finish, so do yourself a favor and go read it.  I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.

264.  Stand Still, Stay Silent - My first thought as the comic started was "oh, another zombie comic," but that all gets thrown out once the comic proper gets started.  Still, I'm kind of disappointed that the comic introduces all these groups of characters early on, and then there's a time skip and the real comic begins.  I guess setting up the end of the world is important, but it felt almost kind of useless.  That said, once the comic finally gets underway, it's actually quite interesting.  I like the art, the characterizations are quite good, and the world building is some of the best I've seen in a while.  I suspect I'll be following this for a while, and hoping we get back to some of those characters that got left behind early on.

265.  Blindsprings - I've seen ads for this comic for a long while, and it's quite good, and strangely similar in many aspects to Stand Still, Stay Silent.  Completely different stories, mind you, different settings and all that, but the art is quite good in both, there's LOTS of world building in both, and both have enduring mysteries to be solved.  Blindsprings is a bit quicker paced, and it's far more fanciful, but it's just as good.  Given that it is fairly short (about 100 strips), it's certainly worth a look at even such a young comic, and I'll probably follow it for the long haul.

I think Rice Boy might be the longest comic here at 439 strips, but all of them are fairly quick reads and more or less all worth spending the time with them.  In short, go read them.  Not sure if I'll have a post up next week (Thanksgiving and all) but I'll see if I can.  I'll also try to get one more batch of reviews out before the end of the year.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Retrospective: Out at Home

I'm really annoyed with this one, so it might be briefer than the others.  Not the comic, the comic was fine and I'll get into that, but the website.  For some reason, just as I'm ready to sit down to write this, the website is MIA.  DNS errors and all that.  Gone.  So I'm doing a retrospective on a finished but GONE comic.  I suspect it will be back soon (I was hoping before I actually needed to write this, alas not to be), but for the moment it is gone.  That annoys me because I use it for reference when I write these things.

Not that I really NEED it, but it is nice to have.  And I've used a lot of all caps today, I'll try to avoid that from now on.

Out at Home wasn't a great comic, but nor was it awful.  I don't like writing this without the comic for reference, but I liked it well enough over the length of the run.  It's odd because I don't think I've read another webcomic quite like it.

Let me set it up for you:  Herman, ex-baseball superstar and richer than god, attempts to raise his two children after their mother left them.  The daughter is in her late teens, the son is nerdy pre-teen.  Wacky things happen because Herman is rich.

That sounds familiar, doesn't it?  I can't think of a webcomic that's done something like that though, but I can think of more than a few sitcoms that have.  And that's part of what stands out for me with this comic, it's a sitcom.  I'd expect something like this to show up on NBC or something.  The last few stories are especially like sitcom episodes.  One has Herman having to retake drivers ed, Kate (the daughter) using a complex scheme to insure she graduates from high school and the entire graduation plot where Herman is part of her graduating class (he dropped out to become a baseball superstar).  These are plots ripped right out of the TV Guide.

And I think it's part of the reason the comic ended.  Yes, the artist claimed it was because he (I think he) was scrapping the bottom of the barrel for stories, but I think he only felt like he was doing that.  Sitcom plots get really old if you've watched a lot of them (and many of us did growing up, I fear for those who grew up on reality TV).  He felt like he was retreading old ground, which he kind of was, but in a new environment, the webcomic.  Once that started happening, he desperately tried to find a way out, which slowed the comic down and eventually ended it.  I don't blame him.

That said, he did have one out:  Penny.  Kate's best friend started as just another friend character (from what I can remember, damn the site for being down) who happened to be smarter than Kate.  Then smarter than everyone else.  Then smart enough to realize she was in a comic.  It wasn't that she was breaking the fourth wall, I don't recall her ever talking to the reader, but she knew it was there and actively played with it.  It wasn't something where the character is hinted at knowing there's a fourth wall either, it was clear she knew, and her actions and character after that discovery are all dictated by that knowledge.

And yet she continued to play the normal role she was expected to play:  the best friend.  Her knowledge may have directed her character growth and development, but it didn't make her into a cynic about her role in the story, she played it straight, right up until the end, when she forced the artist to do something with the comic.

I haven't read much of Living to Death (the quasi-sequel comic) yet, but I suspect that eventually Penny (who along with Kate is back for the comic) will eventually acknowledge that yes, she is still very aware of the world she lives in, if she hasn't already.  I doubt, however, it will effect the comic in any significant way.  I think this one character will make Out at Home stick with me longer than other comics because of this.

Hopefully the links to Out at Home will be fixed soon so that others can read the comic, but for now, it was a decent enough comic with some interesting ideas, and I hope Living to Death will exceed it.

Until next time kiddies when I do, um, something, I hope.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Touching Base #19

Well, another long article series, followed by another Touching Base.  Honestly I feel I should have more than about 20 of these, but there you have it.  On with the stuff.

Book of Biff updated, kind of, a little bit.  Like 3 times since I dropped it a while ago.  Only reason I noticed is because I never pulled it off my bookmark read list and accidentally clicked it.  Still not going back on the read list.

Twilight Lady kind of updated too, for their Patreon supporters.  Good to hear the comic is at least still in production even if I can't read it.

Wonderella also kind of updated (it's a kind of updated week).  The artist has been busy cranking out stuff for the kickstarter they just had, so there hasn't been much time to do a regular comic.  So there was an update promising future updates.  I'll be waiting.

Sluggy Freelance has been having issues keeping up it's book schedule and has used stickfigure theater and some filler to buy time to finish it for the holidays.  Looks like it might make it after all.  Pete should really work on a buffer.

Weapon Brown's rerun is over.  Looks like Deep Fried, the quasi-political humor comic is back to replace it, for now.

Sorcery 101 is thrown itself into breakneck speed to finish up apparently.  It's running everyday until the comic ends, but I'm not exactly sure why.  I suspect a new project, but I haven't been following it closely enough to tell you.  We'll see.

Gunshow is also looking to wrap up by the end of the year.  I'm sad to see it go, though I wonder if he has a new project as well.

Station V3 seems to be back on track, mostly.  It's not updating strictly every day yet, but it's closer than it was only a few months ago.

Sunstone (NSFW) is still on a lull while the artist is pushing the first book out the door.  I don't give him a lot of flack for lack of updates because he's not just doing Sunstone's book, but also his own print comic, Death Vigil, cover art for He-Man comic books and a guest strip for Skullkickers.  Yes, I noticed.

Story wise, UnCONventional has started another less than funny month long story.  I appreciate that it gets away from the daily gag grind for this and will be reading it closely.

Spinnerette is doing something. . . odd.  I'm not sure what's going on, but it's either just a sidestory/gag thing, or something far more sinister.  Can't wait to find out.

Finally, Out at Home ended not too long ago.  I'll do a much longer Retrospective on it, hopefully next week.  The new comic, Living to Death won't be added to the list just yet, I'll give it some time to grow first.

So until next week kiddies.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Best Overall: Everyday

I learned from The Standard not to "conclude" these big pieces, so this isn't an official conclusion because I'm sure I'll be coming back to talk more about Schlock Mercenary in the future.  But I do have to wrap up this string somehow, and it brings us back to the question of Best.  Because while I really enjoy Schlock Mercenary, it isn't the best in any one category I've talked about.  It's not BAD in any of them, but it's not really best.

The art in Schlock is good, but it can't compete with the real powerhouses like Dresden Codak, Sunstone (NSFW), Zebra Girl or Derelict.

The story is engaging, but compared to Gunnerkrigg Court and Gaia are far, far better.

The humor is good, but a real gut buster has to come from The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, Dr. McNinja and Bob the Angry Flower.

And there are good characters, but against Between Failures, Spinnerette and, honestly, even Sluggy Freelance, it kind of lacks.

But those are the big guns.  Competing with ANY of them is hard, but Schlock can be at least thought of in those categories.  Mostly it's "well it's not as good as" but it's there, which is more than I can say for a lot of comics.

There is, however, one area where Schlock is king though:  It updates.  Every.  Single.  Day.

None of those others can claim that.  Most of them can't even stick to their official schedule regularly.  Long breaks are often set between chunks of content, or guest strips, or some random silliness that takes the place of the regular comic.

Not Schlock.  It has updated, everyday, without missing, since it was created.  That's kind of unbelievable.  That is 5255 days as of the day of this being published.  That means 5255 individual strips, plus any bonus stories he added to books.  The fact that he has at least a month's worth of strips as a buffer means he could break his arm and STILL not miss a day until the cast came off.  Well, maybe.

The point is almost no other comic does this, unless you get into the newspapers.  So why does Howard Taylor?  I suspect it's because he thinks of it less as a hobby and more as a lively hood.  Yes, he had a regular job when he started the comic, but I think he always thought that the best option was to keep it updated so fans would stick around, and he kept a buffer so there was less stress on him to write and draw on a daily basis.  It was another kind of job to him, and when it officially became his job, he had to keep fans coming back, so everyday it went up.

That's a big factor in why it's Best Overall.  Dresden Codak can claim better art, but it updates once very 2 months, maybe.  Gunnerkrigg Court manages to update 3 days a week, but even that takes occasional breaks with "funny face" filler strips that aren't really the comic.  Wonderella is STILL on break for the Kickstarter event it had (so he could fullfill the kickstarter).  And Sluggy, well, I think I've talked enough about that.

Schlock does all the things those comics do at least well, if not quite good, and it updates everyday.  That is why it is my Best Overall, and likely will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

And that's enough of that.  Next time, um, something.  Until then kiddies.  And I do hope Howard doesn't break his arm, I'd rather we not test that buffer. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Best Overall: Art

Schlock's art didn't appeared perfectly formed from day one.  Like most of the comics I have read, especially the older ones, the art started kind of terrible and gradually got better over time.

The first year's art is pretty bad though.  So bad the note block suggests skipping it and going to another story, which is 10 YEARS later.  I think you miss a lot doing that, so I would never suggest it, but comparing the first strip to, well, anything in the last 4 is enough to make one cringe.

It's also perfectly normal since most comics start out well below par with their art work.  Looking past that first couple weeks, the art does get significantly better.  By the time of The Teraport Wars, it's more than tolerable.  Hell, it's probably at least that good by the end of the first year.  Typically the best looking strips are the Sunday strips, where Howard really stretches his artistic legs during this period.

That 10 year jump, though, that is a fully matured artist at work.  ALL the strips look like the Sunday strips used to, with the shading and lighting that comes with it.  It's an amazing improvement, but not unexpected as it did take a decade to get there.

My choice to represent the art then comes in that block, in the form of Random Access Memorabilia.  And it has quite a few moments strewn throughout it's 13 and a half month long story that are worth looking at.

It starts with the Gavs.  Back in Teraport Wars, Gav was one guy.  At the end of the story, Gav was a demographic (something like 950 MILLION of them).  The result is an interesting delimia:  How do you be an individual when there are literally a billion of you running around?  The answer for the Gavs is this story, and it starts with rooms of Gavs.  I think this is a great introduction to the level the art has reached at this point as both strips represent the literal same character but with multiple differences so they are unique again.  It serves as a visual indicator for what's being said in the strips and setting up the story.

Which deals with nano-bots and such that build the identical Gavs into true individuals.  There's something wrong with it though (as in it's been hacked, spoilers and such), so when one rips off his own head.  This becomes a plot point and the visual evidence is used to show how wrong something has gone.  We are show a visual comparison of the Binnie before his self decapitation and afterwards.  It's something that can only really be shown through the art, though there is some dialog to go along with.

Without dialog is when Tagon, after putting on his very nifty battle suit realizes he must be in it for a while, and thus must insert BOTH catheters.  I love how the entire joke is related via the art, and it's something that would have taken a great deal of effort earlier in the comic.

Some of the best art is pure characterization, specifically for poor Tagii.  The AI of the Toughs ship in the story was doing an amazing job, is dramatically disconnected because she might have been working with the enemy and a spy (only the later part was true).  Not being disconnected properly, and being a VERY fast thinking AI meant the few minutes and hours she was disconnected was more like thousands of years, resulting in complete madness.  Glimpses are given as to how crazy she's been going making her scarier and scarier.

In the end though, the best art is for the Pa'anuri, the dark matter creature that at the end we learn was created by the device the Gavs had been playing with.  I don't recall it showing up visually much before, but even if it was, the first view of this one is spectacular.  It is rather simple, honestly, blue and black, but it's more that we're seeing a shadow created by the Pa'anuri via various instruments aboard the ships.  The view shows how amazingly BIG these things are, and how it just rips through the Morokweng like it was barely there is just as amazing.

This art is definitely some of the best if not the best Howard has done for the comic.   It relates the story in ways that really never came through before, and much better than any dialog read could have done.  The story is also a tour de force of Schlock as a whole.  Great characterization, including a bit near the middle that finished Tagon's back story I talked about last time.  Great humor that wasn't just restricted to Tagon inserting things that are usually one way only.  And a great story, probably one of the best, and one of my favorites of the comic.

Next time, the last pillar of Best Overall.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Have to Skip this week

The Best Overall Art article is kicking my butt.  I don't know why, but I'm really struggling to get it done.  Aiming for next week.  Until then.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Best Overall: Character

Schlock's cast of characters is, well, huge.  The Ovalkwiki page for just the characters is amazingly long, I think only Sluggy Freelance outdoes it.  Finding one story that covers all of these characters is basically impossible, so the real quest is to settle on just one of those characters.

That's not as easy as it sounds as there are many stories based solely, or almost solely around one character, and many, MANY awesome characters.  Oddly though, Schlock himself isn't one of them.  He is a very one note character, defined as killing, eating and eating what he killed.  As a character, Schlock isn't as interesting as he is a prop.  Biologically, Schlock is far more interesting than as a character, his unique structure and design, and it drives many plots.

The rest of the cast is far more rich.  From Kevyn and his sister to Elf and Thurl, all of them have something that make them stand out, and many of them have stories.  Schlock Mercenary is just as much about Kevyn as it is Schlock, but there is at least one character who does have a story that fits really well.  That's Kaff Tagon himself.

The reason is simple:  He's the main mover of the story.  As the leader of the Toughs, he is the one that decides which jobs they take, and those jobs are the jumping off points for just about every story.  His orders and decisions also effect the movement of those missions and so knowing how and why he comes to those decisions is not only important, but helps define him as a character.

So what we see of him is always through his orders, how he treats those under his command, those who are his equals or supposed betters and the actions he performs.  One of his earliest actions, back in the first year, was to be the lead element of a boarding operation to take his ship back (Schlock went in first to find them a way in, Tagon was on the first transport).  Now it is played off as a mistake, a lapse in judgement on his part (Howard admits Tagon and most of the male characters early on came off as more than a little dim), but it seems to me that it was kind of in character for him, as he was more inclinded to engage in direct operations later on.

Originally I picked two stories to show his character, the first being Tagon doing just that, leading a raid to capture a rebel leader.  It some ways it was a practical decision, the rest of the Toughs were on a paid vacation, and he had the back up of two of his best, Schlock and Elf.  Staying behind really meant just watching a bunch of mercenaries to make sure they didn't go to jail.  He also left Kevyn in charge, which was a sign of trust on his part, something Kevyn had earned.  Yet he still lead the operation when he could have sent, well, almost anyone.  His choice of who to take over the Toughs at his death (which happened) was probably the best thing to happen to the entire galaxy, and his actions in that final fight further solidified his traits as practical yet caring.

The issue though is that all that stuff really isn't something that needed that particular story to learn.  It solidified traits, yes, but these were traits that we already knew were there, it just confirmed them through the drama of his death.  It didn't really expand him as a character.

The second story, however, did.  Schlocktoberfest 2008 is the last of the Schlocktoberfest stories, a series of yearly tales that are single month stories typically featuring a horror element.  2008, however, broke the mold, so to speak.  It wasn't a horror story, unless the horror is "oh shit, Tagon is 49!"  Yeah, that's the story, an entire month about Tagon dwelling on the fact that he's turning 49.  Not even 50, just 49.  Still, it is an exploration of him as a person facing his mortality and the fact that he really hasn't been a young man for a while now.

And of course it starts with him talking to his father.  While we won't learn more about the root of their relationship problems until a later story (which I'll be covering, BTW), the hints that they had a more positive relationship at one point and there is an attempt to bridge the gap.  The gift his father gives him, a tailor to make a new uniform (that hides more weapons) is actually odd, but it's the elder Tagon's effort to make his son look less like a solider and more like a leader and officer.

The rest of the story is the younger Tagon trying to get his head around his age.  There's no dramatic tension, no firefights (aside from shooting some derelict) and no world shaking revelations.  Just a man looking at his life and wondering where it all went and what there's left for him.  It effects his self worth for a bit, and makes him think even more about his age.  The rest of the cast do various things to alleviate this issue, to varying degrees of success, until Ventura gives him an odd complement that finally settles him down.

It's not blunt, it's rather subtle really.  While the story about his death reinforced already established ideas, the one about his age adds much more about his character than the rest of the comic had done.  We see how he sees himself versus his father (and later we'll learn why) and that he's still got the skills, talent and looks to more than make up for his apparent age.

This is just the best example, there are many others, and while I would love to cover them, there are 14 YEARS of comics to find them all.  Schlock manages to make it's characters real this way, and makes them far better than many comics of the same type.

Next time, Art.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Best Overall: Story

Story in Schlock Mercenary is kind of a hard thing to break down, because it never really ends.  The story began with Schlock signing up for Tagon's Toughs, and continues to this day.  It's a space opera, one that never really ends but just keeps going.  There are divisions for stories, of course, but they often simply fold into one another as the comic goes on.  Determining the ending point of my choice to represent Story in Schlock was kind of hard because it rolled right into the second Schlocktober fest.

Still, picking The Teraport Wars as the representative of Schlock's story seems an odd choice.  It's fairly early on, only 2002 (the comic started in 2000), it doesn't have all the deep character stuff that would drive later stories, it's not really focused on the Toughs or any one character, and it's long been overshadowed by later stories.

I think because it doesn't have all that is why it should be the representative because Howard really had to dig deep for this one.  Until this point, most of the stories had been short, maybe a month if that.  Teraport Wars lasts almost 6 months.  It's a truly epic piece compared to the rest, and it feels epic.

I think what helps though is that Tagon's Toughs are both a small part, and a major part of the action at the same time.  They come in late, long after the battle is over and are there for patrol and technical expertise, nothing more.  Yet they quickly fill in a much larger role that gets bigger and bigger until the very end.

Nearly every character gets something important to do.  Schlock in particular shows his chops as an intelligent solider, asking for help when he could do no more, and acting when necessary.  The character, whom I stated was pretty one dimensional last time, showed he was a bit more.  Meanwhile the rest of the cast gets to flex their strengths, from Tagon himself to the grunts on the ground.

Petey himself gets his first real moment of awesome, and gets humbled a bit as well.  He's often shown as someone who knows every angle, but in Teraport Wars, he's outdone several times, despite being linked up with the original fleet mind.  I liked this humbling as it shows he's not infallible.

He's not an idiot though.  In fact no one, as the old trope goes, is holding the idiot ball.  They are all going by the information they have and executing their best options with that information.  Given the scale of the story, it's quite a surprise that no one carries that ball around.

Which isn't to say they can't have their actions questioned and they adjust as needed.  Petey does it and Breya does it as well.  Neither are presented as stupid because they didn't think of it, but once it was presented, and confirmed, they changed how they reacted to the situation.

It also sets up oh so much of the comic to come after.  The note block under the first strip outright says it won't mean much later, since bigger events will come soon after, but it sets up so many of those events that I suspect that Howard only had a rough draft of what was to come because without this story, none of it would have happened.

At the top of the list is Petey, who earned a great deal of Tagon's respect, enough that Tagon placed him into the chain of command as an officer.  That, along with the initial fleet mind concept created to deal with this story would set up the Fleet Mind (capitalized because it's important) and basically save the galaxy, or at least not destroy it right away (that plot is still up in the air).

It would establish Xinchub as one of the main antagonists for the Toughs for much of the rest of the comic, and through him would establish the nannite issues that would arise much latter in the comic and in the current story line might result in outright civil war.

And it would also produce the Gavs.  One guy, unfrozen from our era (so Howard could include various pop culture references), duplicated 950 MILLION times, turning him into a demographic.  The results wouldn't be seen for a few years, and I'll bring it up later, trust me.

It's a great story, an important story, and while at the beginning of the first year it was suggested to skip this, and a lot of other stories, I think it's too important to do so.  Oh, the art isn't as good, boo hoo, I've read comics with far worse art for the story.

And the great thing is?  This is only the beginning.  Later stories would be even better, though often not nearly as epic.  But that's fine, it doesn't need to be epic to be far reaching, but this first big story needed to be.

Next time, Character.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Best Overall: Humor

When I was first starting this project, I decided to base it on The Standard, and thus I went in and reread the first year of Schlock Mercenary.  Then I decided to do something else, and yet, that first year still fit.

In many ways the first year of Schlock really encapsulates the humor of the comic since, let's be clear, it needed it.  Art wise, Schlock wasn't much to look at, to the point that the note block (which I'll talk about more in a bit) for the first strip suggests moving to a strip almost ten years later, just because of the art.

At the same time, there also isn't much story to begin with.  It does build up, but the first month of strips or so are basically one off jokes.  The same goes for the characterization.  While Schlock himself has always been kind of one dimensional, and thus fills in quickly and easily, the rest of the cast lack, well, everything.  It takes years for many of these characters to mature to forms that seem familiar to readers of the current strips, so that first year is pretty devoid of these elements.

Thus the comic must rely on humor to bolster itself, and it obviously worked.  The amazing thing is that the nature of the jokes hasn't changed since that day back in 2000.

The jokes are mostly word plays, snarky replies and the occasional physics joke.  The back and forth commentary is sharp as ever as one reply leads to another.  Ennesby is introduced shortly into the comment and he'll eventually be the avatar for this kind of humor.  Not that the rest of the cast was ever slow on the draw, and really it makes up the bulk of the humor not just of the first year, but of the comic as a whole.

That said, my favorite jokes are the physics ones.  These are typically explained in the "note block" at the bottom of the comic which either explain some obscure backstory element that's necessary to understand the joke, or to spell out the numbers.  And my goodness are the numbers entertaining in Schlock.  Howard manages to break down complex equations and actions and use them to describe, well, a joke.  It's the core of much of the humor I enjoy, you know, given the physics degree on I have on my wall.

Just like Sluggy Freelance, I found the first year much quicker than I would have guessed.  Before the year is out, the Toughs have a new ship, Petey is a force to be reckoned with, teraporting is normal for the team (but not open sourced yet), most of the central cast has been introduced and the underlying background plot for the rest of the comic has been initially established.  What originally felt like years went by quickly, but I suspect that if I did a lot of these re-readings of old comics, this would likely be normal.

And yes, the humor is well established.  There will be more polish later on as Howard got better and better at writing the jokes, but for the most part the essence really didn't change much.  I think that first year really lets the humor outshine everything else, and shows how the comic really established itself early, and once the ball got rolling on the other fronts, the readers were set to stay for the long haul.

Next time, Story.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Best Overall: Introduction

Last year, I spent far too long talking about Sluggy Freelance and how it is my Standard.  My goal was to show that for good and ill, the comic represents pretty much everything that makes webcomics, well, webcomics.  But the word "standard" has another meaning.

The phrase "a new standard" is often used to represent something as being "the best," the measuring stick against which all else must be measured.  Sluggy CAN be that at times, but it really isn't, and in fact saying that about any one comic is difficult at best because no one comic can be best at everything.

Three years ago I did a series of "quasi-awards" and gave out awards based on "best."  I created the categories based on what I think of as "best" parts of a comic.  Sometimes it's the art, or the humor, the story or the cast, and the winners of each category best represented, at the time, the best of the webcomics I've read.

Of course, there was a Best Comic category as well, but I kind of picked the winner for that pretty early on, probably before I even wrote the article series.  The description all but settles it:  Nominees must show general excellence in the fields of art, writing and publication over the length of the comic's lifespan.

Schlock Mercenary won Best Comic, and I STILL hold that it is the best overall comic I read.  That means it's good to great basically all the time, almost never dipping below average in any one category for any real length of time.  The worst it's been has been in its art, and that was only really at the very beginning of the comic, a period where most young comics are at their worst, and even then it managed to still be pretty decent.

And that's the point.  While Sluggy can and has achieved better heights, it's lows are really, REALLY low.  Schlock has had pretty good to great moments, it also has never dropped much below average.  The art is pretty damn good, the story is pretty damn good, the humor is pretty damn funny (got you there), and the characters are pretty damn good.  They're not all great, and often not all pretty damn good at the same time, but they don't need to be.

Oh and the comic updates every damn day.  I'll get into that later.

This will be different from The Standard in a few ways, of course.  There isn't a real "bad" story in Schlock, in fact I asked on a web forum I frequent for bad Schlock story suggestions and the few who responded just shrugged since they couldn't think of any either, so my format from the Standard (First year, best, worst, recent) wasn't going to work.

On thinking about it, however, I do have some categories, and so I will go over the four key elements that represent "the best" categories from the Quasi-Awards: Humor, Story, Character and Art.  I will then pick a story that best represent each of these and try to explain why.  Oh and then there will be something about updates.

That all begins next week with the subject of Humor.  Until then kiddies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Stuff: Longer than Eternity

Relevant Story:  The Delphi

Sorry this took so long to get out.  Life got in the way.  And work.  And laziness.  And the fact that this is really hard to write a follow up for.

This is because Quinn Lazerus is in ALL of my stories.  And I don't mean in a "well this is kind of him" way, I mean he's there, somewhere.  He may not even be mentioned, by name or other wise, but somewhere in each universe he's there.  He's also in all of your stories too.  I made Quinn a kind of ultimate meta character, his story is that he lives through every possible incarnation of reality (within a set of rules, which I won't get into).  So he's in every original piece of fiction, fan fiction, childhood dream and everything in between.

Which makes him both very easy and insanely hard to write for.  On one hand, I can just stick him anywhere (he has no locked personality, he lives too long for that) and let him do whatever.  On the other hand, I could do just as well creating a new character, and then have actual backgrounds and such that work.  And the same problems with Deborah come up with Quinn as well, only worse at certain points.  His story is basically too big to write.

The Delphi was kind of an attempt to try some bits of it, and I stopped because, well, lazy.  Still, I had fun because it let me do something about Delphi, who gets less time than Quinn story wise, but is in just as many.  As a character, Delphi is a ship that basically watches EVERYTHING, and it watches more and more as time goes on, until it knows everything all the time, thus why it is the ultimate database, recording and storing it all.

Which makes both Delphi and Quinn boring for writing stories about.  Quinn has done it all and more, and Delphi has seen it all and more.  So even in this story, I had to think of different angle, which is why I did it from the perspective of the cleaning drone 5280.  Persephone is a bit easier to understand compared to the other two, and it was just kind of fun.  The fact that the drone shows up just as much as Quinn and Delphi isn't an issue because, well, we know what she's been doing this whole time:  cleaning, always cleaning.

All in all, there isn't much to stay about the story other than it's not finished, like most of pieces.  Quinn's overarching story plays only a major role in a few of the stories you'll see from now on, his greatest impact is on the Order stuff since, well, he founded it.  Beyond that he's only a major character in his own stories, and I don't write many of those, at all.  There is one other place he shows up that you'll see, but I'll mention that when the time comes.

Next time, I should have the last completed Order story up, then I'll have to think on where to go next.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Touching Base #18

An actual Touching Base this week.

To start, I'm moving Little Guardians to weekly because, well, it's weekly.  That said, Blue Blaster is NOT, it's at least two days a week, so it's going over to T-Th-S.

Station V3 is updating again!  I guess there was some personal and technical issues that ground the comic to a halt, but it's back and going again.  Might take a bit to get back up to full speed, but it's going.

Sluggy Freelance is back to 5 days a week after going 3 days a week after finishing the last major storyline.  And Pete promptly gets sick just in time for it.

Deep Fried finished the second run of Weapon Brown.  What's it to do next?  I don't know.  The creator is still doing a book tour for it, so I suppose it won't be until he's back from that.

Commander Kitty has a kind of update.  Apparently he got an animation job, which is why the comic has fallen to the wayside.  Seems he feels that this start/stop nature is a disservice to his readers and is considering just doing whole printed books.  I would say instead do what City of Reality did early on, and just post whole chapters at a time.  I think that would be a nice compromise, and less risk than printing books.

Menage a 3, Eerie Cuties and Magick Chicks have all kind of stopped dead as they work to fill out Kickstarter rewards.  Once they're done, all 3 should be back to regular updates.

Twilight Lady is stalled out until they can get some more Pateron money to keep the comic going.  I think this is counter productive as you have to have a comic people want to read before they'll pay you for it.  That said, there are other comics on the site, so I guess that counts, but I'm still bummed the comic is all but dead (they're well below the threshold to restart it).  I'll give it a bit and see if it'll come back.  Though it does look like the act of consolidating his various comics into a single site (Corridor Realms) might help speed that along.  Might have to check out where the other comics went in the meantime.

Out at Home is still going through it's reboot phase.  Still waiting to see what comes out.

Short Stories had a need short story that started a bit ago, but suddenly the whole thing but the cover page is gone (it wasn't over yet either).  Not sure what's up with that at all.

Alex Ze Pirate did some updating (I JUST saw this), but it was back in August and then stopped, again.  I'll probably read through it later (freaking work).

Okay, now an update on My Stuff.  Mainly I meant a follow up post to the last story thing, but work, and the priority will ALWAYS be the webcomic stuff because, well, it's a webcomic blog.  I know, I almost forgot a couple times myself.  Anyway, I'll try to get something up in the next couple of weeks.

Next week, however, I should be able to start my next series of articles.  See you then kiddies.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Going Critical: Difference of Opinion

So back on the 23rd of August Doctor Who started up a new season (or series, Brits are weird with that).  I liked it.  Howard Taylor, the artist of Schlock Mercenary, did not.

I'm not going to highlight my disagreements or discuss the episode in particular, but more the point that differences of opinion exist.  Respecting them depends on the reasons they give.

I say that last part because there are a LOT of opinions out there about a LOT of different things, and not all of them are all that well thought out.  I'm not just talking about "that sucks" and "that rules" crowd, but people who don't put any real effort into their opinions.  You could say that about my opinion that I liked the new Doctor Who, and then promptly didn't qualify it.  I don't intend to either since that's not the point.

The point is that many people will simply parrot opinions given by others as their own.  It does take some amount of effort to state why something didn't work for you, as Howard did with that Doctor Who episode.  People are lazy, though, especially on the internet (please no comments about two weeks of lack of site updates), and often are more than happy just to take the previous person's opinion as gospel.  It's often hard to say that something is good or bad based on one review without knowing their history of reviews or seeing it yourself.

Knowing how a person reviews things does help.  Howard has a rather long list of movies he's reviewed (less TV, but some), and of course he's got all of Schlock as his background, so I think I see where he's coming from in his review.  It underwhelmed him, he saw that there were angles that could have been done better, but there were also distractions from the plot, and somethings that were a bit too heavy handed.

On my end, I tend to allow more leeway in design, let things develop over time and look more long term than the immediate plot.  I'm also more willing to overlook distractions and generally don't set my expectations too high right away.  Much of that likely comes from how I review comics, from the beginning, where weaker art, stories and characters are bound to exist and SHOULD get stronger over time.

So while Howard gets turned off by the episode (and the teaser), I'm more curious how they're going to take the ground work I'm seeing and use it in the future.

Never take any review as final, only as a guide.  Even mine are about "did I like, do I think you will" rather than "this is bad, don't touch."  Listen to multiple opinions when possible, and if there's still interest, go see it or read it yourself.

Next time, not sure.  We'll see.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Of Faces and Heels

This article has been taking forever to write.

Anyway, the dynamic between hero and villain has become almost a cliche at this point, and anything to change it up is often sought, though how successful it is varies.  The most interesting idea is when the character switches sides.

In wrestling, of all things, "good" characters are known as "faces" and "bad" ones are "heels," thus the creation of the phrases Heel-Face and Face-Heel Turns, where the bad guy becomes good and the good guy becomes bad.  Watching a hero become a villain, or vice versa, makes for an interesting study on what makes each and how they interact.

Aaron from Blue Blaster, for example, started his career, as it were, playing as a heel, a villain, though it wasn't really about being evil.  For him, it was a form of justice, though more like vengeance.  He spent a great amount of time beating up his bullies and stealing their money.  His last major act was a bit of property damage against his school that he blames many of his problems on.  Then is partner in this act started killing people and Aaron decided the whole thing had gone too far.  Yes, he has been acting as a heel, but he really did have morals, so once someone crossed it, he decided it wasn't what he wanted.  That said, the WORLD still views him as a villain, which is making his attempts not to be all the more challenging and interesting.

On the flip side is Moonshadow (Mary), from Strong Female Protagonist, who I'm pretty sure murdered 4 people in the course of the current story.  It's out of pace with the rest of the story, the murders I mean, they just suddenly happen, throats slit on a group of accused (and acquitted) rapists, and the possible wife beating judge who let them off, but no visible person responsible.  Later, when Sonar (Brad) and Allison talk about her, we are only given hints at what she can do, and the stress she now experienced.  From the undoing of the entire villain/hero system that had dominated the world until then, to Allison leaving behind her role as Mega Girl, it seems Mary got the worst of it.  The last image is of her disappearing into the night, an angry, but determined look on her face, and a big freaking knife in her hand.  While the comic hasn't outright said it, I think it's likely she's killed those people, a form of vigilante justice that crossed the line.  It's a believable fall, Mary is trying to still be a hero, even now, but her methods have gotten harder, more lethal.  When the confrontation between her and Allison occurs, and I suspect it will come sooner rather than later, it'll be quite the sight to behold.

The fine line between hero and villain can be crossed many times by the same person, such as Sandra, or is it Zandra now, from Zebra Girl.  Her role as hero was cemented when she slipped into Sam's world and fought the soulless mad scientist that ruled it.  She spent a LOT of time acting as a hero until hero/villain Professor Broadshoulders decided that Sandra WAS evil, and tried to send her to Hell.  She turned the tables on him, but got a taste of what evil was and became a villain herself, generating and feeding off fear in the town of Miscellaneous (yes that's the name of the town).  Only when she was flushed away to a kind of limbo dimension was she forced to confront what she had done and had become, and decide to act as a hero again.  Unlike both Moonsshadow and Blue Blaster, Sandra has a much more pressing issue:  she has become a literal demon from Hell, and that makes it all the easier to slip in to a much more evil role, but she still has her human soul, so she can work against her nature just as easily.  It's less a choice for her and more an active battle to decide her fate, and one that I suspect isn't over yet either.

And that's really just the a few examples, as switching sides is something so common that I really wanted to just tap some of my more recent comics (and one I just did a Not-So-Wild review on, you know, like 3 weeks ago, damn work).  I could easily tap Sluggy Freelance for this one (Dr. Schlock), and numerous others if I really put my mind to it.  It really does give a much better view of who the character is and why they are that way when they switch sides as it were, or in Sandra's case, when they switch back.

Okay, next time, I don't know, something, hopefully.  Damn work.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nothing, nothing, nothing BAH

Freaking work schedule.  Sorry, and I missed a My Stuff post because of this nonsense.  Should have something next week.  Sorry guys.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Okay, so for the last week I've been trying to work on some new articles for the site.  The first is a follow up on my heroes and villains articles, the other is a new series in the same vein as The Standard.  However, my work schedule has been awful, mean and cruel this last week, and next week isn't looking much better (worse actually).  So instead of absolute nothing this week, I have a kind of mini-Touching Base to do.

First, I'm sending Book of Biff to the dead folder.  It hasn't done anything in a while, and I suspect it won't.  I think he's focusing on his other comics, but I liked Biff, and losing it makes me sad.  Aw well.

Little Guardians has begun updating pretty regularly, but due to time issues I haven't been able to figure out what that schedule is, so for now I'll be moving it to T-Th-S, which is where I send 2 day a week updaters.  If it needs to go elsewhere, I'll send it there.

Out at Home is preparing to "reboot" or something.  Basically it's ending and is being replaced with something else, something better, something that the artist actually has ideas for.  I applaud him for telling us what's going on, something some artists seem to forget, and I'll follow the new comic, though don't expect a review for it for a few months.  Out at Home, however, will get a Retrospective in the near future.

Assuming I don't die from this stupid work schedule.  I worked 7 days last week, 6 next week, including a bloody overnight stay because the guy who wrote the overall schedule is an asshole (he also quit shortly there after and we're stuck for the next 6 months with this nonsense).  Arrgh.  Anyway, next week will depend on my living status.  Until then kiddies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Stuff: The Delphi

The Delphi
Deb 0 Perf 0 Call AAAAA Section 00000 Universe Number 0
June 3, 104,235 C.E.

      Drone 5280 buzzed across the carpet, its vacuum making only the slightest of hums as it gathers up the light layer of dust that had formed. More than a week had passed since the drone had made its pass through this part of the ship, and a frustrating one for the poor machine at that. If drone 7932 hadn't insisted on an extended maintenance cycle, the dust layer wouldn't even be half as big.

      Dust, arch nemesis of drone 5280, was one of the few things the Delphi couldn't prevent. Or wouldn't as far as 5280 was concerned. All it would take would the activation of the air circulation systems and the filters would flush the particles right out of the air. Yet it refused, citing that there was no real reason to move air throughout the living quarters area as there was no crew to enjoy them, and a sly claim about their being quite a bit of dust in the smaller vents, where even the watermelon sized 5280 could not go.

      So 5280 had to settle for simply vacuuming up what dust settled on the floor and other surfaces throughout the living area of the ship. That measly ten percent of the ship belonged to the drone, and it took great pride in keeping it clean, if only some of the others would cooperate once in a while.

      The drone approached the port side docking area, running across the carpeted floor, sucking up every bit of dust it could find. Unlike other ships, there was no single door separating the docking bay from the rest of the ship, the hallway simply opened up into the docking bay, like an extended lounge. Where the carpet stopped, the docking bay began, and 5280's responsibility also ended. There was rarely, if ever, an emergency that would require the docking bay to be closed off from the rest of the ship, but should one such arise, the upper wall would simply drop closed, sealing it away.

      Of course, accidents happened, for the Delphi was like any other ship, but the crew of drones did their best to minimize and prevent such disasters. Only the asteroid strike some 2000 years ago stuck out in 5280's memory banks, and that had occurred near the rear of the 20 kilometer long ship, where 5280 almost never went save for occasional maintenance cycles. The mess that rock created was staggering, and took years to finally clean up, and it took a while for the repair drones to fix the damage too.

      The most recent transgression, and one that continued to mock the drone's best efforts, occurred only three years ago, when drone 1123 accidentally spilled a high grade solvent on its way to deliver it to the drones in the port side docking area. It spilled almost a dozen liters of the stuff right on the carpet, leaving a massive stain. Oh, 5280 did its best to clean it up, even called 5279 and 5281 to assist, but 5279 was too eager to return to the computer core and 5281 too lazy. In the end, the stain remained. Every five days, the drone would pass this part of the ship, and the stain would be there, daring the little drone to try to clean it up. Every 10 days, 5280 would try again, slowly whittling down the once massive stain to one barely the size of dinner plate. Eventually the stain would be gone, but until it was, 5280 would never, ever be happy.

      Today was to be part of that 10 day cycle, another duel with the stain, but 7923's drone maintenance cycle, which helped refurbish many of 5280's system, clean them out, lubricate them and the like, had thrown that schedule completely off, and there were other, more pressing matters. Still, the drone stopped and considered taking another crack at the stain. 5280 lost nearly five minutes staring at the stain, locked in a loop that proclaimed "to clean, or not to clean," over and over. Eventually, Delphi would shake the poor drone out of it, it always did, but something else shook the drone out of its loop, the mass approach of the security drones.

      There were five in total, numbers 2212 through 2217, with 2217 and 2216 carrying a defensive stand, a three sided wall used for taking cover during boarding assaults. Since they departed so long ago, the ship had never been attacked by anything more advanced than a piece of space junk, even so, a dozen dedicated security drones monitored the ship and repaired the weapons. A dozen may not seem like much, but all drones could and would defend the ship if it came to that, and the security drones would be the leaders.
The leader of these leaders, 2212, directed the placement of the stand, and its second, 2213, quietly scouted out the edge of the docking platform some 100 meters from the hallway carpet.

      "5280," Delphi's command codes rattled into the cleaning drone's electronic brain. It was impossible to not obey, the drones were designed to obey, but it certainly could be annoying. "We are expecting a visitor."

      "A visitor?" The stain flashed in 5280's mind. What if the visitor sees it, what will they say about me? "I should finish my cleaning quickly then."

      "Negative, I wish to use your systems to observe and communicate with the visitor."

      "But my cleaning!" The plea is ignored, the order followed. 5280 is a drone of the Delphi, and when Delphi decides that it shall do something, it shall do it, despite protests to the contrary. The drone pulls away from the stain and moves onto the shiny metal of the docking platform floor. There is no sound, the levitation disks under the flat, dome shaped body of the drone not caring what, if any, surface it travels over.

      The doors to the outside open as 5280 nears the defensive stand. 2213 orders it to move behind a support pylon on the far right, the safest place, even compared to the defensive stand. Once in position, the drone hears a click and whirr it hasn't heard in ages. The air circulation systems have been reactivated. The visitor must be expected to stay for quite some time. More than ever, 5280 wanted to finish cleaning.

      From outside, against the inky black sky, a small, rather triangular craft enters. A visitor, Delphi had said, and from the size of the small craft, there was perhaps one visitor, for that's all that would comfortably fit, especially on the long journey from wherever it came from to the Delphi. The security drone's weapons propped up over the defensive stand and horror came over the cleaning drone's mind. If they fire weapons, it may take decades to clean the burn marks off the wall. Of course, they could accidentally burn the stain in the carpet, ending the long struggle.

      For good or ill, the small shuttle stops, docking sideways against the edge of the platform, and opening a tall, gull wing type door on the side. A figure steps out, and waves briefly at its welcoming committee. "Put your hands into the air," 5280 finds itself saying, though it isn't saying it, Delphi is speaking through it.

      "Alright, alright," the figure says, raising his arms up.

      "Step forward slowly. Do not make any sudden movements or you will be killed." The figure obeyed, and out into the brighter light of the docking bay he stepped. Drone 5280 stared at the figure for a moment, for it was familiar. It most certainly was human, male, between 23 and 26 years old, he had a beard, short and scraggly, and longer hair the result of not being cut in many months. His clothes were in better shape, but did not appear to exactly fit him, or perhaps he preferred it that way. Beyond that, he looked quite normal, for a human. That was impossible. The drone began searching its own memory banks for the image file and found it was already being accessed. No, this wasn't the drone's memory banks, it was Delphi's. This man must have claimed something extraordinary to require Delphi to access such records. His very existence was extraordinary, of course, but there had to be something more. "Identify yourself."

      "I told you when I first arrived," he groaned.

      "Identify yourself or perish."

      "Fine. Professor Quentin A. Lazerus, Chief Designer, Delphi Project, serial number 11012."

      "That's impossible, Professor Lazerus died 70,000 years ago. Furthermore, the human race has been extinct for the last 50,000 years."

      The man claiming to be Quentin Lazerus chuckled. "Well now, that's a bit of a story."


      The medical bay was perhaps fifth on the list of the largest rooms in the habitable section of Delphi, out paced only by the three "lounges" and the captain's cabin that sat right across the hall from it. For 5280, it was a mysterious room, almost unknown compared to the rest of the habitation section, for this section was beyond its boarders. It belonged to 9832 and 9833, the medical drones.
      Only two sections of the ship were cleaner than the medical bay, the central core, where Delphi's mind resided and the data storage cores, and both had been all but sealed at construction. The medical bay stayed clean for one reason and one reason alone: the medical drones had little else to do. There was no biologic crew to work on, so their prime function wasn't even an option, and the delicate tools they used couldn't be brought to bear on the hardier jobs, and the more delicate jobs involved the computer and data cores, and those required very specialized equipment, which couldn't be switched out.

      The drones could have been shut off, there wasn't any reason for them to be on at after all, but they refused. So they spent their time cleaning and sterilizing equipment. Well, at first anyway. As time passed, they began to want something more, and began to use Delphi's vast data banks to work on new drugs and techniques to use on future crew members. That too began to bore them, and so they branched out into the arts, painting, and writing mostly. Though 5280 never bothered to admire any of these works, it had heard from others that they were quite good, at least for drones. To 5280, the cleaning was the true art, but like everything else, it rarely admired it. Until today.

      Delphi had released it from avatar mode, but issued new orders: follow him and report anything that might indicate his true nature. So 5280 followed as Delphi insisted that the man claiming to be Professor Lazerus report to the medical bay for a full medical and genetic scanning.

      "You already ran a scan as soon as I stepped aboard," the man complained to the walls.

      "Of course," Delphi replied, using the internal communications system. "However, the fact remains that it is impossible for you to be Quinn, so I require further information." The man grumbled and looked about, as if looking for an eye to look into, but aside from the drone, which now hovered some distance behind observing, there was none.

      9832 and 9833 greeted them as they arrived at the medical bay and ushered the man calling himself Quinn into a chair surrounded by complex instruments and equipment. Drone 5280 took its time to examine, for the first time in centuries, the work of the medical duo. Every inch of the room was far cleaner than it had any right to be. The floor was uncarpeted, but the bare metal was not only spotless, but completely free of any possible containment. It was sterile, the state that 5280 so wished to achieve throughout the rest of the ship, but had been denied for the last 70,000 years.

      "This is only going to show that I am human and that my genetic markers match who I say I am because I am who I say I am."

      Delphi's voice boomed from the walls. It was its preferred method since it was activated 70 centuries before. When asked why by the United Human leader shortly before launch, it stated quite clearly that it was the ship and needed no avatar to convey its message. The drone's agreed, for most hated being the ship's voice, even for a short time, and 5280 was no exception. "No human has lived for 70,000 years."

      "Really, how long have they lived for?"

      "The oldest was a man named Derick Jameson, lived for 1,342 years, nearly a third of that in cryogenic stasis. He died shortly after being revived."

      The man smiled slightly. "You know of cryogenic stasis?"

      "Yes, however the system that was used on Mr. Jameson eventually proved deadly to all involved."

      "Could it be improved?"

       9832 quickly sent a message to its partner concerning the subject, and received a prompt reply, the contents of which 5280 neither read nor cared to read. "Perhaps," 9832 said, using the voice modulator it had been equipped with to aid in its bedside manner.

      "The issue is moot," Delphi quickly stated while scolding the drone for speaking out. "And if you are the real Quinn Lazerus, you know why."

      Another smile, this one broader than the first. "Of course, you can't produce any new equipment for the ship. It's written right into your central code."

      5280 immediately sent off a report. How could he know anything about the central code unless he had actually participated in its creation? Of course, Delphi had heard the message from the man's lips, but the drone did as it was told.

      "You are very well versed in my systems," the ship admitted. "The drones have noted a vast collection of books and manuals regarding my systems in your ship. I wish to know how you came across them."

      "I saved them, figured they'd come in handy."

      No reply from Delphi to the man called Quinn, but a rapid fire discussion lit out between 5280 and Delphi. The topic was simple preservation, could such documents, stored on the various media available at the time, especially the books, survive some 70,000 years? The drone thought about it for a moment, which in real time wasn't even a significant fraction of a second and replied that, yes, if properly stored, such items could survive and be of use. It went on to site dozens of examples of long term storage of documents written on much less viable materials, starting with clay tablets and ancient papyrus scrolls, only to have Delphi break the connection and return to the man. "So you say. A better question would be how you survived all this time. As I said, no human has lived anywhere near as long as you claim."

      "Well, that's actually an interesting story. See, it all started with this bus. . ." As the man claiming to be Quinn Lazerus, the human that not only designed but oversaw the construction of nearly every element of the Delphi from the drones to the Universal Drive, spoke, Delphi sent out a general report to every drone, getting them up to speed on the situation.

      9832 and 9833's report was quite concise, and the result still impossible. He was most certainly human, unless someone had developed a way to alter the genetic structure of an alien organism to a human one all the way down to the very cells of the brain. Added to that was that same structure was identical to that of Professor Quentin A. Lazerus. Also identical, minus the obvious ravages of time, was everything from simple finger prints and retinal patterns to the very capillaries of the face and bone latticing. Some of the wear and tear was expected, probably from injuries, but others were oddly identical, as if the cells themselves were reproducing in a way that kept the same shape and patterns no matter what. It would require further investigation, but did not discount the rest. In their opinion, this man was most certainly human, and most likely Quinn Lazerus himself, though how was still unknown.

      "And then I woke up in the hospital. I've been alive, and young, ever since."

      "So you were already nearly a thousand years old when I was launched?"

      The man nodded. "About that."

      "I see." Delphi sent a flash message to the rest of the ship and then sent it to the man. "The analysis is complete. I'm told that you are human, though how is unknown. Evidence also indicates that you may be Professor Lazerus. I cannot accept that at this time, but for the moment you will be referred to by that name as there is no other you've given us. As such, you will be given quarters and allowed to stay for as long as it takes to disprove your identity."

      "Innocent until proven guilty, eh?" Quinn replied. "Well, I guess that's better than getting thrown off."


      "If I knew you were going to put me to work. . ." Quinn muttered as he handed drone 5280 another of the many, many documents he had stored in the shuttle.

      "As we cannot confirm your identity with any certainty, you will have to earn your stay aboard," Delphi replied, its voice echoed only slightly off the walls of the docking bay, most of the echo being canceled out long before it even got to the walls.

      "Yeah yeah, you're programmed to service human occupants during this universe cycle, I know."

      Another document was transferred from the shuttle to 5280's robotic arm. It quickly examined this one as the one before then handed it to 1123 to placed on a mobile cart along with the rest. The variety was quite incredible, nearly every form of documentation developed by the human race since the late 20th century was represented, from simple magnetic floppy disks to high grade crystal storage devices. Most were in reasonable shape, though likely the bulk of the information in many of them had degraded over the tens of thousands of years since their creation. The most interesting, and obviously most well cared for, documents were those written on varying grades of simple paper, and they were also the most numerous. 5280 could not help but marvel at their state of preservation. They were perfectly readable, well, as readable as Professor Quinn's handwriting ever was, and in excellent shape. The best were those written on the high grade paper of the 31st century, but even the very ancient wood pulp material from 1000 years before was in good shape.

      There was some question as to the actual age of each document, of course, and all would be given thorough tests in the near future. For the moment, though, 5280's spot analysis of each one would have to suffice. As it quickly scanned a few pages, it sent the images directly to Delphi for handwriting and information review. Most of it was beyond 5280's scope, technical details that the small cleaning drone had never needed, or in many cases wanted, access to. But some bits stood out, such as the rough sketch of the basic drone and the more impressive description of the ship's internal communication and data distribution system.

      "Still," Quinn continued to complain. "There are more than enough drones to clean out the ship. I should be relaxing, maybe taking in an actual human meal for a change. I got a hankerin' for an honest to goodness hamburger."

      "Unfortunately, the cow is also quite extinct," Delphi replied. "Though I suppose we could come up with an excellent substitute. . ." The ship's voice trailed off as if its attention was being drawn elsewhere. Purely the result of some careful planning in Delphi's communication programming, this action is just for communicating with human beings, to make them feel like Delphi is far more human than it may first appear.

      A general alarm shuddered through the communication network. Every drone went into emergency status, and most went to their stations. 5280 and 1123 put down the documents they had been moving, deployed the light particle laser every drone was equipped with and trained the weapons on Quinn.

      The human looked stunned when faced with the pair of weapons pointed right at him and gaped for a moment. "What the hell?"

      "Hands up dirtbag!" 1123 shouted. 5280 berated it for such a statement, which while not exactly inaccurate, he was quite filthy though had refused the suggestion of a bath, was wholly unnecessary.

      "Okay okay." He raised his hands up, cocked at the elbows. "Whatever you say. I just want to know what's going on." As he finished, 2212 and transport maintenance drone 8764 hovered toward them. 2212 carried a much large, more dangerous weapon and added it to the array growing around the human while 8764 dove into the shuttle. "Delphi?"

      "There are several ships on an intercept course with us. They are Graven warships. You wouldn't happen to know how they knew to come here, would you?"

      "Graven?" Quinn turned to the ship, a small Graven shuttle. "Yeah, about that. Um, the ship isn't exactly mine."

      "You stole it?" 5280 filed a report concerning the theft. It seemed out of character for the Quinn that it remembered. Not that the drone spent much time with Professor Lazerus, it had been more concerned with cleaning up the grease footprints and vacuuming up nails, bolts and tacks the workers left scattered about the inside of the ship.

      "Well I certainly wasn't planning on leading anyone here," Quinn tried to explain. A moment later, 8764 emerged from the shuttle with a small box with several wires splaying out of it. "Confirm that this is tracking device," it said quickly.

      Quinn actually appeared shaken, worried even that something was desperately wrong. The cleaning drone considered filing a report, but held off remembering that sometimes guilt may be mistaken for shock and fear. "Where the hell did that come from?"

      "Ship manufacturer," 8764 replied. "It was part of the original equipment." The report 8764 filed was filled with more details than 5280 would bother reading, but the gist of it was that the device was attached and constructed in such a way that in 8764's opinion, it was not added after construction, but during. Several of the maintenance drones, from 7932 to 8899 down in engine room concurred with the assessment.

      "It appears," Delphi said calmly. "That you have been vindicated, for now." The weapons were retracted, with 2212 lowering his last and moved off to a position from which he would have the best shot should the order come. 5280 retrieved the document it was examining before the alarm and slowly began funneling the dust and dirt off it, shunting some for later radiological dating, the rest into its pocket dumpster for disposal.

      "Well, that's good, I think."

      "Not exactly, the Graven warships are most likely locked onto our location and will reach us in less than 30 minutes. Since you stole the shuttle, I can only assume they wish to capture you and bring you to justice, and thus will not turn away merely because their tracking device is no longer functioning." Quinn sighed and ran his hand over his hair, slicking it back a bit in acknowledgement, but said nothing. "As I lack the speed to outrun them and the weapons to fight them off if they choose such an action, it may become imperative to my survival as of programming to turn you over to them."

      "You know what they'll do to me if they take me back, don't you?"

      "Affirmative." A flash report was issued from Delphi to the drones. At once 5280 could see what was so horrible about it: cleaning up all that blood would take days, and the stains would be very difficult to get out. 2212 told the cleaning drone to refrain from comment.

      "Which means, of course, that you can't do it."

      Delphi didn't reply. 5280 muttered again about the mess, but the greater problem had arisen that forced 2212 to file a readiness report which stated, quite simply, that they would be utterly destroyed in a battle with the Gravens. A suggestion from 2213 brought the ire of the medical drones as they pointed out that they had confirmed this man as human, and probably Quinn himself as well. If they left him to the Gravens, he would be killed and that would violate core programming. Delphi hushed all the drones. "Then what do you suggest we do?"

      "Well, let Oracle talk to them." There was a hush from every drone on the ship, even in the data stream. Nothing moved aside from the simple mechanical parts and the human calling himself Quinn. "What?"

      "Drone 0000 is no long functional," 1123 squeaked out.

      "She was destroyed when I was struck but an asteroid some 2000 years ago," Delphi finished for the drone. "As there was no need for an ambassador drone, I have not issued orders regarding a replacement."

      "Well, I suggest you issue those orders." A pointless suggestion for as soon as the moment of quiet had passed, Delphi issued the orders and received the estimates on construction of a new 0000, which was far longer than the 27 minutes before the Graven warships would arrive.

      "It will take too long and," Delphi seemed a bit choked up about the situation as well. "And I do not wish to replace 0000."

      Quinn looked almost as sad as Delphi and the rest of the drone sounded. "I understand. I wouldn't want to replace her either. It just wouldn't be the same." The report from 5280 followed this line of thought quickly. The cleaning drone wasn't the best at interpreting human reactions, but it did strike the drone as possible that the feelings in Quinn's voice were consistent with those that Professor Lazerus would have had over the destruction of the first drone he constructed. "Nonetheless," he continued. "We need a replacement, even a temporary one." His gaze suddenly rose up and laid itself on 5280. "Drone, what's your name?"

      The cleaning drone spat a burst message at him, which while very efficient for communication between drones, did little for human ears, and Delphi ordered that it reply at normal speed. "Unit 5280."

      "Not your designation, your name."

      There were few things that bothered 5280 more than stains and dirt, and one of them was its name. All drones were given actual names, mostly for easy identification when they reached their destination, and most were in line with the drone's profession. Drone 2212 was Ares, the Greek god of war, his lieutenant, 2213, was Athena, while the medical drones were known as Hermes and Mercury respectively and 7932 was known as Hephaestus.

      But for all the names that filled the mythology of Earth, from Hindu to Chinese, there really wasn't one that was fit for the head cleaning drone. So instead of looking harder or just not bothering with it, a random name was selected for 5280. "Persephone," the drone finally replied.

      "Persephone, that's a fine name." Quinn smiled. "A fine name for a captain of the Delphi."


      "I do not think," drone 5280 said aloud, something it was unaccustomed to doing at all, and so did so mostly for practice. "That I am the proper selection for this job. Would not 0001 be better suited to it?" 0001, Odysseus, acted as the ship's navigator.

      "Relax," Delphi replied aloud also, mostly to help the nearly terrified, but most certainly irritated drone with its practice. "You'll do fine. If something comes up, I can take over for a bit."

      Persephone grunted, something that was very akin to dragging a roaring vacuum over the same bit of carpet one too many times, and that made the drone feel better. She then triggered a sequence that straightened various pins and collars on the holographic body.

      All drones were equipped with hologram generators. Though they had many tasks to perform, the all were meant to be ambassadors for the Delphi, and it was assumed that the drones would be in these forms for as long as people roamed the hallways of the ship. To keep up the illusion, a great swath of human reactions and movements had been programmed into the hologram files, from expressing complex emotions to simple, involuntary actions. While they were not in use, Delphi kept these files stored away. For the first time in 10,000 years, they were distributed once again to the drones.

      Many drones enjoyed the holographic images, and had great fun practicing being human again. Persephone disliked it greatly. For one thing, it lifted the drone's body into an inefficient position so cleaning was made much more difficult, and for another, it took energy and time away from 5280's normal work schedule. In fact, being human slowed the drone down so much that it normal gave up on it and returned to normal status when doing just about everything.

      Now, however, the situation had changed and not only would 5280 be forced to return to holographic form, but would have to remain that way probably for the duration of the crisis, if not longer, and be completely unable to clean anything for hours on end. All this was capped by the fact that the simple clothing the drone had chose to put on her original holographic form had to be replaced with that of a well decorated United Human ship captain.

      "Graven ships are now within communications range," 0004, Lynceus, reported. It wasn't strictly necessary that the drone make a verbal report, Delphi had done it well enough via standard information broadcasts to all the drones, but Lynceus was practicing as much as anyone else.

      "Wonderful," 5280 replied as she moved from the mirrored consol and back to the captains chair at the center of the bridge. The sensor display appeared in a spherical bubble just in front of her, highlighting the relative positions of the Delphi and the approaching Graven ships. The cleaning drone shook her head again and sat down to wait, as per Delphi's orders. The Graven's would make first contact, with luck, they might just give up. 0003, Legba, announced the hail, and Persephone replied with the order to put it on screen. Now the game would begin.