Friday, May 30, 2014

What Makes a Villain?

Okay, last time I reference Dreams of Stars for a while, because this past couple of weeks I finally let The Ritch 'arrd speak for himself for the first time in the story and he is the villain of the story, right?  I'll get to that, but I think it's time to tap the idea of what makes a good villain, and I think I can do it with four words.

Competence - Smart villains are usually considered far more dangerous than any other kind and for good reason.  If they can outthink the hero, who often is presented as a relatively normal person, then they can outthink us.  It also makes the villain seem actually plausible.  A bumbling fool who is evil is a lot less real than a suave billionaire who sets up the pieces so he always wins, even if the heroes somehow win.  The best example is from outside of webcomics in the form of David Xanatos from Disney's Gargoyles series.  He even has tropes named after him.  He almost always wins, even when he loses.  Within webcomics, the best example is Baron Wulfenbach from Girl Genius who is almost always the smartest man in the room, even when everyone else is a mad scientist.  Just trying to figure out what his plans are, even when he's apparently under a form of mind control, keep fans guessing, but we all know we're probably wrong and he's got something even better planned than we can come up with.

Motivation - Like any character, knowing WHY a villain is doing something is just as vital as what they're doing.  Motivation makes a villain feel more like a complete character, rather than a caricature.  A really good motivation will even make the audience feel for the villain, perhaps even root for them in the long run.  The best webcomic example I can think of at the moment is Ian from Errant Story.  His initial motivation is very noble:  Find a cure for his sister's heart condition.  When she dies, he kind of goes into full out grief/revenge mode blaming the elves (who are collectively a bunch of assholes in the universe) for the death and not helping and using his new god-like powers, goes off to wipe them out.  Comes pretty close to succeeding too.

Threat - The hero always wins is the core idea of most stories.  That said, a villain isn't going to be taken seriously unless there's a very good chance the hero will lose, and lose badly.  Threat shows directly how dangerous a villain is and that if the hero is to win, it's going to be one hell of a struggle.  Typically this is shown as a series of actions, often complete beatdowns of the hero, each one making the villain look stronger and stronger until it takes everything and more for the hero to eventually win.  Best webcomic example is the Cyber Augmented Legionnaire v 1N, aka CAL-v.1N from Weapon Brown.  From the moment of his introduction he is a flat out threat, killing for the sake of killing, and loving it (perhaps a bit too much in some cases).  His first round with Chuck was basically over before it even began, he knocked him out so quickly.  By the time the 3rd round came around, Chuck figured he'd probably get beat down again, but this time Huey X should shoot the bastard while he was distracted.  Still didn't work.  There is no question on how much of a threat CAL is in universe.

Presence - Villains are more than just what they do, they also are what they are perceived of being able to do.  Presence is more undefinable than the others as it's more a feeling the audience, and often the characters in story get when the villain enters the room, as it were.  There is rarely, if anything, to back up how badass the villain, just a feeling.  One look and everyone goes "shit just got real."  The absolute best example I can think of is, of all things, Darth Vader from the original Star Wars (you can take your fancy numbering system and stuff it).  Seriously, he did very, VERY little in the film, yet everyone took him to be a very serious threat.  It took another movie for that threat to fully manifest and it was everything, if not more, than what most people thought.  Then the prequels came along, but enough about that.  Boba Fett also had that badass presence based on almost nothing, and despite that is still viewed as pretty badass.  Best example in webcomics is, and I am serious here, K'Z'K from Sluggy Freelance.  At least, at first.  Presence holds up well, until the character has to actually do something, and until we actually see K'Z'K in action, he is pretty evil looking.  Then he says something and it all goes out the window.  His simple appearance isn't enough any more to instill that seriousness, but back in the day it was.  Still, he makes a pretty good example.

Now no villain has ONLY one of these.  Vader wouldn't be Vader if he didn't prove his level of threat in later films, Baron Wulfenbach as a strong motivation to do what he does, Ian has the power, and even K'Z'K eventually demonstrates his competence in building up through the current Sluggy storyline.

Though it also brings up another issue:  Are these all villains?  Vader, Cal and K'Z'K certainly wouldn't deny their role as villain but Wulfenbach, Ian and Xanatos might not.  Oh, they have all the trappings and would take the role as needed, but they aren't strictly villains.  It's why the terms "protagonist" and "antagonist" are used in the literary world rather than hero and villain.  All of them fit the antagonist role, easily.

So is Ritch 'arrd the villain of Dreams of Stars?  What do you think?

Anyway, until next time kiddies.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dreams of Stars Part 29

I had to split this next section so it would fit.  I'll finish it next week.

      “Right on time as always.” The man climbed out of the pool, dressed in only a set of trunks and dripping wet. He was still funny looking to Deborah, but now that she met him up close, she knew why. He was too normal. Far too normal looking, as perfectly normal looking as anyone could be, and that made him stand out. She thought on this a moment as he padded towards them over the stone floor tiles of the natatorium. Yes, that was it, he was just too normal looking. “It is good to see you again Lakinde.”

      “Don't call me that,” L’lorne said.

      “Oh?” Ritch 'arrd, as that was who the man was, looked at L’lorne curiously for a moment, then looked down at himself. “Terribly sorry, I'm not exactly dressed for this meeting.” He held one hand up to his shoulder, then swiped it down. Clothing folded out of nowhere and covered his body, the water, wicked away with the same brush. He now stood there in casual, but still quite professional clothing. He looked up at L’lorne again and frowned. “A block, I see. I had hoped you had gotten over that by now.” He shrugged. “Well anyway, I take it this must be Deborah Ignigus.” He bent down on one knee and held his hand out. “Pleasure to meet you.” Deborah did nothing. “I won't hurt you, I promise.”

      “You can trust him on that,” L’lorne said, never taking her eyes off her teacher and former lover.
Deborah hadn't considered that Ritch 'arrd would try to hurt her, but she wasn't sure she wanted to shake his hand, or even speak to him. It appeared, however, that she would have to do at least one of those, if not both, so she grabbed his hand with hers and they shook gently.

      “Well then, now that we're all acquainted, let us sit down and have a little talk, unless you want to get to the meat of the matter Lakinde?” L’lorne said nothing. “Very well then,” he gestured to his right, and upon turning Deborah saw three rather comfortable looking chairs and a table rising up out of the stone floor. Not through a hole in the floor, but through the floor itself, leaving the stone tiles intact as they finished raising up.

      They sat without taking their eyes off each other, with L’lorne and Ritch 'arrd sitting directly opposite of each other, forcing Deborah to take the third seat in between them. She suddenly felt as if she had been placed there on purpose, as a kind of prize or, more likely, a game piece. It had been obvious for a while now that L’lorne had intended to use her in this way, but only now did it begin to occur to her that perhaps Ritch 'arrd meant to do the same thing. Exactly how, though, seemed to elude her.

      “Would you like a drink?”

      “Um, yeah, a soda.” Deborah said this haltingly as three glasses rose up through the top of the table, as if they were growing out of the table.

      “I got it,” L’lorne said, and as the glasses finished growing in front of Deborah, a liquid began to fill without being poured from anything. A straw and ice formed as well and Deborah only after a moment of consideration, took the glass, afraid it would simply melt away in her hand.

      She took a careful sip and smiled. “Wow, that's better than the real thing.”

      “I was never a fan of that flavor,” Ritch 'arrd said. “I prefer the lime flavored one.” He turned to L’lorne. “Tea as usual Lakinde?”

      “Stop calling me that,” L’lorne said. She had a cup and saucer already in her hands, her own glass sitting quite unused on the table. Deborah couldn't remember when or where L’lorne had gotten the cup and saucer, but figured she had seen enough things created out of nowhere today, so she didn't bother questioning it.

      What she did question, more with a glance than anything else, was the name Ritch 'arrd kept using. “Lakinde?” she finally imitated.

      “Ah, I see, using the old name again are you,” Ritch 'arrd said to L’lorne. “I'm sorry Deborah, I imagine I was confusing you a bit. Unless she objects, would you care for me to explain it to you?” L’lorne said nothing and Deborah nodded, so Ritch 'arrd continued. “It all comes back to the structure of her name. You see, in her language, Lcorn L’lorne translates literally to 'she who dreams of stars.' Lovely name isn't it? And very true in her case. After a while, however, I decided she had done enough not to need to dream of stars anymore, so I gave her a new name. Lcorn Lakinde, she who is master of stars. And she very much is, wouldn't you say so?”

      L’lorne sipped at her drink, ignoring Ritch 'arrd's question. “Well anyway,” Ritch 'arrd continued. “I imagine you have many questions, even ones you don't know you have yet, so be my guest and ask away.”
Deborah shifted her jaw for a moment. She actually hadn't planned to ask any questions, she was just there to watch him and L’lorne duel with each other, so it was quite a surprise to her when one spilled out of her mouth. “Why did you kill my mother?”

      Ritch 'arrd's face took a down turn and frowned. “Yes, your mother. Allow me to say this,” and he looked right into Deborah's eyes. “I am very sorry about what happened to her. I know her loss hurt you very deeply, but there is nothing I can offer you to ease that pain except this apology.”

      Deborah listened to him carefully, watching his eyes, the movements of his mouth, the way his body shifted, when it did, and tried to determine if he was actually telling the truth. The apology wasn't enough, not yet. “Why?”

      “Why, that is the question isn't it?” Ritch 'arrd leaned back against his chair. “That would require me to tell you about my people first. May I?” Deborah nodded.

      “My people, long ago, before even Lakinde's universe was born, lived on a world only slightly unlike yours. It had far more water and far less land than this one, but the water it did have wasn't very deep in many places. As such, my people developed as an amphibious race, capable of breathing both water and air as required.” He held his hands up to his neck and pulled them back revealing several slits. “This nature,” he continued, recovering his gills with a gesture. “Allowed us to use the most of everything we had on our world. In time, we developed many of the same technologies and sciences as your people have developed, and more.

      “We also developed a great and beautiful culture, one based on the most important element of any civilization: The teacher. Ritch 'arrd is not my name, incidentally, but my title. I am The Ritch 'arrd, The Great Teacher of my people.”

      “Helps when you're the last one,” L’lorne said with a bit of venom.

      “I suppose it does, but I earned that title long before my people ceased to be. This,” he held out a pendant of the same twisted metal that L’lorne wore, only it was a pretzel shaped circle instead of a t shape. “Was given to me by the last Ritch 'arrd, when I had earned it. Lakinde has a proper title as well, one I had long ago as well. She is The Tar 'nisl. I never liked that when I was Tar 'nisl, so I never insisted that she go by it, but nonetheless, that is her title.

      “My people went on to own a glorious empire, one that long after it fell, when my people decided to escape the corporeal, still burned in the memory of the galaxy in which we lived. Your people were there as well, conquered by mine early in our history. It was believed then, and right up until the end by many, that we should help elevate all the species we dominated, so educating your race was the first thing we did.”

      “Second thing,” L’lorne said.

      Ritch 'arrd nodded slightly. “She's right. My people were a bit arrogant about themselves. They believed that our biology was superior to all others, and when they came across a species, the first thing we did, was to make their biology match ours.”

      “Mama,” Deborah said, remembering the creature her mother had been turned into by the scientists under Ritch 'arrd's direction.

      “They converted the entire species, and any who resisted were simply killed. Then they were reeducated, and became yet another branch of our great empire.” He partly smiled, then let it fade away. “I did not agree with the method, as it ignored the fact that we weren't perfect biologically, but I was not Ritch 'arrd then, nor even Tar 'nisl, so my opinion was ignored. When my people left the galaxy behind, their offspring continued on for a time, until it ran into a race more ruthless and advanced than even my people, and were wiped out for all time. They simply couldn't adapt any more.

      “By then I had joined the Order, and had long ago surpassed anything my people could have ever dreamed of. I spent a great deal of time looking for a student to share what I had learned with, and eventually, after many false starts and half successes, I came across Lakinde, which eventually led me here.”

      “To start all over again,” Deborah said, imagining an entire race of modified humans walking, or maybe swimming, around the world.

      “Actually, not quite,” Ritch 'arrd said. “My goal is not to convert your race into something like mine, though you did see several early attempts. No, I have a wider goal in mind.” He stood up passed his hand through the air. Above them a field of stars began to appear. “I came here because of Lakinde, of course, but I also saw where your people were going. Which wasn't very far, I'm afraid, too much in fighting and selfishness to truly accomplish something great. Right now, it will take your people a 1000 years to get to the stars, and in 10,000, they'll barely control a small corner of the galaxy.” As he spoke, the star field pulled back to an image of a galaxy and a small loop of green appeared over part of it.

      “I decided that while I was here, I would help your people actually achieve something great. So I've been changing the way you're educated, to start. Individually, the next generation will be four times smarter than the current one. In five generations, every member of your race will be geniuses. But that isn't enough.” He turned to Deborah. “They'll be smarter, but they'll also be more greedy, more selfish, more, well, human than ever before. So I wanted to introduce a way to make them less so. Using my own genetic material, I started a project to slowly introduce genetic modifications to your people, and encourage cooperation amongst them. The first phase was to create a group of 'super soldiers' for your military. After a while, they would find that more subtle modifications work better than complete conversion, and they'll incorporated it into their regular soldiers, who will spread it to their families and eventually, your people will begin to reflect a new, better version of humanity, the one you all strive for but never actually achieve.”

      The green line on the galaxy expanded outward, growing to fill nearly half of the galactic disk. “In 500 years, you'll have growing and fruitful colonies amongst the stars. In a thousand, your people will be one of the great powers of the galaxy, perhaps even greater than my people at their height.” He spun around back to Deborah and the sky vanished, replaced by the ceiling of the natatorium.

      “But none of this matters to you.” He walked over and knelt down in front of Deborah. “I could speak to you about my grand ambitions for your people until I was blue in the face, as they say. I could give you excuses and try to convince you that what happened was for the good of all people, but it would matter little to you. It doesn't matter because you lost your mother, your home, and the only life you've ever known.” He bowed his head, almost in shame.



1. What kind of person is Lcorn L'lorne? What does she look like (in your mind)?
2. What kind of person is the Deborah Ignigus? What does she look like (in your mind)?
3. What kind of person is The Ritch 'arrd? What does his human form look like (in your mind)?
4. Does the setting seem fitting? Would you like to know more?
5. What do you think of Ritch 'arrd's overall plan?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Another nothing week

I meant to have something ready, about villains and such, but this week is kicking my butt.  I'll have it up next week.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dreams of Stars Part 28

      Minister of Education Malcolm Donalds loved to swim. His biographies said as much, pointing to his long career as a swimmer since high school and through college. Those same biographies failed to mention that Malcolm Donalds never got a medal in any event, but that wasn't the point, the point was that he swam, a lot. So it came to no one's surprise when he had a very large pool installed at his residence in the capital.

      It was the condition of that pool that surprised most people. Instead of the clean, crisp blue, his pool was green with algae and filled with scum and large water born plants. Special pumps had been installed to move water through the system, scum and all, but there were no filters, no chlorination and no pool boys to clean it. Because of this, Minister Donalds swam in his pool alone. Not that he minded, he preferred the pool to be “dirty.” It meant that there was more oxygen in the water to wash over his gills.

      His biographies didn't know he had gills either.

      His biographies did know he never stopped working. Even as he made his laps around the pool perimeter, he was thinking about his various projects. Test scores were up, pleasing everyone from the Prime Minister down to the weakest member of the Parliament. They all, of course, took credit, but knew that Minister Donalds was, in fact, responsible for the good work. Restructuring the tests to more accurately measure the education level of students had been a simple enough task, and had earned him many friends and allies in the Parliament.

      His real task had been hiding the fact that his Ministry had become one of the most efficient in the country and that they were so far under budget that the surplus money that was being given to them would have made even the biggest ministries as green as his pool. Hide this fact he did, however, shifting the extra funds to his “special projects.” These projects ranged from building the Tameran Asylum, then stocking its more secretive levels with so called “super solider” programs. The military and intelligence services couldn't have been more thrilled with his special projects, as he had specifically leaked them information about them, then started feeding them bits and pieces. In the process, he had earned the respect and admiration of many of the generals and other key figures in the upper reaches of the government.

      All this was the groundwork for his great educational restructuring project that he only announced a few days earlier. The goal was a complete revamp of the very structure of education in the country. It was going to get a lot of resistance from the teachers unions, the local boards and more, all with vested interests in keeping the level of education in the country to a minimum. It had taken Donalds years to make sure the project would pass, no matter which party was in charge, which Prime Minister, and even if Donalds himself was taken out of the picture.

      As he completed yet another lap, skimming the slime covered sides of the pool, he realized that was a very real possibility tonight. His last meeting of the night had been set only a couple hours ago, hidden in a pattern of identification numbers, addresses, birth dates and bank account numbers. He was pleased that she had finally caught up to him without ripping out a continent or two, even if the slight chance of derailing his well laid plans would be the result. Slight chance, less than one percent.

      That said, she certainly had left a trail of bodies in her wake. The massacre at the CDPC would have driven his restructuring plan from the front pages if he had tried to announce it a day earlier, or if he hadn't been able to convince the involved parties to withhold the reality of the event from the public for a couple of days. 35 people had died and little evidence was given on the culprit, aside from a vague description from one Sergeant Blake about two women, a tall blond and a dark skinned, black haired one, who were the last people he saw before being hit from behind. There was also a name he remembered: Patricia Igningus.

      Donalds wouldn't learn of this name until a couple days later. In the meantime, another explosion killed eleven soldiers in a truck while searching for the fugitive women. This made the front page along with the announcement of the education reform project. That night, the Asylum experienced its own massacre, ten people died, several more were wounded. There was still some confusion as to what happened, but it is clear the alarms went off when the tank containing Patricia had been breached. At which point, the soldiers guarding the doors began firing on anyone who approached. How and why this happened was still not understood, at least to anyone who wasn't Donalds. He knew exactly what happened, as soon as his aid had reported back to him.

      Still, there was no sign she had found him yet. No ripping out of continental plates, no mass riots or even nuclear war. Nothing but the same old, same old, that is until six people and a diner suddenly appeared in the capitol as if they had always been there. Within their vital statistics was a message only he would understand or recognize. It said simply: Coming at 7:30.

      A warning flashed before him, indicating he had only a few more minutes left before she was set to arrive. More than enough time for a couple more laps. He swung around and made a mad dash around the pool. If his biographers could only see the speeds he could achieve, they'd wonder why he hadn't won any medals. He hadn't, of course, because he had merely inserted himself into history, and didn't want to take away anyone's achievements. Even now, though, this speed wasn't his top speed, it was all he could manage with this human shell he wore.

      At precisely 7:30 pm, the door to the natatorium opened and two women stepped through. He swam over to the nearest edge of the pool to them, then did a quick dive to the bottom of the pool. He pulled a mass of water over his gills, reveling in how good it felt, thinking of all his plans one more time. With a final, water filled sigh, he pushed himself upwards, toward the surface.

      Then The Ritch 'arrd climbed out of the pool.



1. What kind of person is Lcorn L'lorne? What does she look like (in your mind)?
2. What kind of person is the Deborah Ignigus? What does she look like (in your mind)?
3. Long in coming, what kind of person is The Ritch 'arrd?  What does his human form look like (in your mind)?
4. Does the setting seem fitting? Would you like to know more?

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Point

     L’lorne put her fork and knife down and straightened up, looking Deborah right in the eye. “Alright, you want to know how powerful I really am, I'll tell you. Take every hero and villain you know of, from reality and fiction. Every warrior and wizard, man and monster, angel and demon, devil and god. Take all their power, talent and knowledge and pour it into a single person and give that person the ability to use all of it. You got that in your mind?” Deborah nodded slightly. “If I fought that person, I would kick that persons ass without breaking a sweat.” L’lorne leaned back, rather pleased with herself. “The truth is my dear, you and everything else in this universe are less than ants compared to me. In reality, I don't have any reason to acknowledge you as anything more than that. I could tear this planet apart as easily as you comb your hair, and more. So killing 30 or 40 people in a few days is nothing to me.”

Why do people start any creative work?  Comics, paintings, poetry, prose, sculpture, performance art, any of it.  What is the point?  Many people spend years trying figure out the point of a piece, using a lot of words and things like "man's inhumanity to man" to try to grasp them.

I don't do that with webcomics.  The reason is I don't know all those fancy words and frankly just enjoy them for what they are.  Still, every once in a while I do wonder at the point of every comic, what is the artist trying to do with their work?  I bet most of them don't even know, or perhaps never knew.  After all, was there any real deeper meaning to the creation of Sluggy Freelance beyond "I want to make a comic on the internet?"  Maybe there was, maybe there wasn't.

At the very least the point of Sluggy now is likely not the same as it was back then.  The point of a piece can change as the creator moves forward.  Gunnerkrigg Court, I'm fairly certain, started as a different take on Harry Potter, but I doubt it's just that any more.  Sunstone (NSFW) actually started as a bunch of bondage pinups, and is now a romance story (featuring bondage).

Changing the point of the piece is what happens as it ages and as the creator grows.  Sometimes it changes so much that the comic is neigh unrecognizable.  The World Explodes (sadly dead and gone) did that, where the original comic was basically a less sophisticated version of Cyanide and Happiness (yes, it's possible) and it grew into something far better than it had any right to be.

The thing is, most creators will not tell you the point, often because they can't put into words.  That's where all the "man's inhumanity to man" BS comes from, as the creator attempts to describe why they made the thing they did.  Still there are a few who do know, then sit back and let the observers/readers/whatever do the work.

I'm not that mean.  That quote at the top of the page is from Dreams of Stars, the story I've been posting every Wednesday for a while now.  That quote was the original point of the story.  The whole reason this story exists at all is this quote.

The point was to establish a baseline for the concept of extreme levels of power, and build stories and characters that explore it.  Is that still the point of the story?  Kind of, but there is a bigger reason which I won't get into until the story is over.  Of course, in trying to create stories and characters based on this idea, this point, I've run into some serious issues, many of which are expressed in this story.

Dreams of Stars is basically in it's last act now, and next week the climax begins in earnest.  Meanwhile, I'll have something for the Friday update, I hope.  Until then kiddies.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dreams of Stars Part 27

This is a long part, I have more to say on it too, see you Friday with that.

      L’lorne had ordered her a soda, but Deborah couldn't drink it. She just sat and stared at L’lorne, the image of her practically frolicking through a city she had destroyed burned in her mind simply wouldn't go away. What made it worse was the amount of food L’lorne was eating, five or six plates laid out on the table, with another three stacked up on the one end, empty of their contents. Deborah's stomach wanted to growl at the lack of food, but she kept it in check with disgust.

      “You should eat something,” L’lorne said between bites of an open faced sandwich. “I doubt Ritch 'arrd will have much to offer you.”

      Deborah hadn't said anything since she had arrived, the debate on what to say to L’lorne when they met again had been eating away at her since she had woken up. She had nearly given up when she approached the diner, spending several minutes deciding if she even wanted to see L’lorne again. Finally, the words found their way out. “How many people did you kill?”

      L’lorne seemed unphased by the question, and replied between fries. “You'll have to be more specific. Do you mean humans, aliens, quasi sentient beings, living machines. . .”

      “People since we met,” Deborah found herself saying with more than a touch of menace. Such a clarification she felt wasn't necessary, but she knew L’lorne saw it differently.

      “Ah,” L’lorne said. “About 30 or 40, I don't keep perfect track, but it wouldn't take much to get an exact figure if you want.”

      Deborah's body shook. About 30 or 40. They died around her and she hadn't even noticed. L’lorne just kept eating, obviously not bothered by it, and that made Deborah angry. “What gives you the right?” She said with increasing anger. “What gives you the right to kill all those people?”


      The flat, candidness of the response, cause Deborah to snap up a bit, knocking some of the anger off with surprise. A moment passed as she tried to parse the simple response. “What?” Was all she could manage to blurt out.

      “The power Ritch 'arrd and I, and the others of the Order have gives us the right. We can do whatever we like, so we do. That's the only reason.”

      “That's not a reason!” Deborah shouted, but the diner residents didn't even respond this time, they simply didn't acknowledge that she and L’lorne were there, aside from the brown haired waitress. “You can't simply say because you can and leave it at that. Power isn't a reason or excuse or a right. It doesn't let you go off and kill billions simply because it's fun. No one is powerful enough for that.”

      “Wrong,” L’lorne said. “I am that powerful.”

      “Bullshit,” Deborah spat back.

      L’lorne put her fork and knife down and straightened up, looking Deborah right in the eye. “Alright, you want to know how powerful I really am, I'll tell you. Take every hero and villain you know of, from reality and fiction. Every warrior and wizard, man and monster, angel and demon, devil and god. Take all their power, talent and knowledge and pour it into a single person and give that person the ability to use all of it. You got that in your mind?” Deborah nodded slightly. “If I fought that person, I would kick that persons ass without breaking a sweat.” L’lorne leaned back, rather pleased with herself. “The truth is my dear, you and everything else in this universe are less than ants compared to me. In reality, I don't have any reason to acknowledge you as anything more than that. I could tear this planet apart as easily as you comb your hair, and more. So killing 30 or 40 people in a few days is nothing to me.”

      “Then why don't you,” Deborah said, still not entirely convinced by L’lorne's little speech. “If you could rip this planet apart, then why don't you just do it and get Ritch 'arrd so you don't have to deal with us ants.”

      “It doesn't work.” L’lorne went back to eating. “Ritch 'arrd always manages to get away in the ensuing chaos. I've been chasing him for nearly a billion years, trying every way I can think of to catch him. Honestly, this is the closest I've ever gotten to him.”

      Deborah could only just stifle a snickering laugh. “All that power.”

      “He's as powerful as I am, maybe a touch more powerful.”

      There wasn't much to reply to that, so Deborah didn't. She looked down at the table for a moment and the checkered pattern that covered the top. It wasn't made of black and white tiles, but two different tones of white, just different enough from each other to make the pattern visible but not quite. Her face soured again as she remembered the first time the two of the talked, over a chess game. “It's all a damn game to you, isn't it?” L’lorne said nothing. “That's what this is all about, some stupid game, and we're all your pawns.”

      “The comparison isn't without merit,” L’lorne said as she cut into a newly arrived steak.

      “And the rule is he wants you to work to find him,” Deborah said. “That's why you had to resort to this method, that's why he keeps alluding you. Mama and I were just unlucky enough to cross your paths.”

      “You'll have to ask Ritch 'arrd about that,” L’lorne said. “Luck is one of the few things we don't have control of, but we can predict it, perhaps he did, I don't know.”

      Deborah took a deep sigh. She wasn't getting anywhere, not that she knew where she was going with this in the first place. She was still angry at L’lorne for lying, but at the same time she felt sorry for her, sorry she never had a chance to grow up normal, instead she became some hyperpowerful monster. One that couldn't use all that power to find just one person. One person that Deborah had vowed vengeance on over the death of her mother, one she had never met, one that was as powerful as L’lorne. “You want me to meet Ritch 'arrd, don't you?” No response as L’lorne was busy chewing. “Why? What purpose would it serve? I can't help fight him, I'll just be sitting on the sidelines watching the two of you go at it. If anything, I would get in the way, maybe not even that, so why?”

      L’lorne put her fork and knife down on the now empty plate and sat up a bit. “Feelings. Something about you and your mother triggered emotions that were locked behind the block. They tell me you must meet Ritch 'arrd, nothing more.”

      Not a good enough answer, but Deborah didn't say anything. L’lorne was a liar, even when she told the truth. Deborah slid out of the booth and stood there. “I don't know if I want to go with you.”

      “Is there something you want me to say to change your mind? I can think of dozens of reasons, give you a long list of explanations and rationalizations, but is there something specific?”

      Deborah hadn't thought that far ahead, of course, but she thought on the question as long as she dared. She could see a lot of the reasons L’lorne would present, from simply watching Ritch 'arrd or L’lorne die to just asking Ritch 'arrd those important questions. She could demand L’lorne give her a straight answer, but decided that wasn't going to be an option, and perhaps Ritch 'arrd would be more forthcoming with one, so that left one thing. “Say please.”

      L’lorne's head jerked back slightly, as if she hadn't expected such a request, and she probably hadn't. All these years being so damn powerful, she probably never had to ask an ant anything, especially with the word please in front of it. She nodded after a moment and smiled. “Alright. Deborah, will you please come with me to see Ritch 'arrd?”

      Deborah had a smug smile developing and made no effort to hide it. “I will, on two conditions.” She slid back into the seat and held up a finger. “One, you promise that you won't destroy this planet or anything on it, or anyone living there when you fight Ritch 'arrd.”

      “I promise,” L’lorne said. Already Deborah could see the loophole developing, but decided to leave it for now. Forcing the all powerful L’lorne to agree was enough for the moment.

      “Second,” Deborah looked around the diner. “Let them go.”

      L’lorne snickered a bit. “They're not prisoners,” she said, indicating the small group that now worked in the diner. The blond was in the kitchen cooking, the scraggly headed boy was working on paperwork at the counter, the old man and the fat man sat at one table, talking while drinking coffee, the old woman was staring out the window and the brunette was acting as the waitress this time. “They're puppets, at best. They aren't real.”


      “So, there would be no point. They don't know they're trapped here, they won't know no matter how many times I reactivate them. There's no reason to free them.”

      “Sounds like you're making excuses to me,” Deborah said. “As if you aren't powerful enough to do it or something.”

      “I didn't say I couldn't do it, I'm just telling you they won't know the difference, there's no point.” L’lorne paused as the waitress removed the empty plates. “And another thing, if I did do it, I would leave such a large footprint, Ritch 'arrd would see it before I even finished.”

      Deborah smiled, finally having gotten what she really wanted. “Okay, that's all fine and good, but let me tell you why you will do it. First, I'm not going with you unless you do. Second, you want Ritch 'arrd to know you're coming.”

      “So he can escape again, I don't think so.”

      “Ah, but he won't,” Deborah was starting to get excited. In her mind, she was starting to see an odd pattern, and whether it was just because it was obvious or because she had the talent for it, she could be sure, but it was there. “He wants you to find him, but on his terms. You're doing it on his terms now, so it's time to tell him you know where he is and you're coming. What better way than to do something so obvious he can't help but notice?”

      L’lorne pursed her lips in thought. “You have a point. Alright, I'll do it.” She closed her eyes and Deborah took in a deep breath. Before she could exhale, L’lorne reopened her eyes. “Done.”

      Deborah stuttered her breath into a cough. “Already?”

      “Yes, all finished.”

      “How can I trust you?”

      “Like this,” L’lorne pointed over her shoulder to the door, which opened, and a man that Deborah had never seen before entered.

      “Evening Hal,” the waitress said. “Usual?”

      “Yes Sabrina,” Hal said, sitting down on one of the stools at the bar.

      “He's a regular, has been for five years,” L’lorne explained. “The waitress is Sabrina Bogen, she's been working her for six months and has a small apartment on the west end of town. She's going to school for criminal justice.”

      “Brian,” the blond in the kitchen called out. “We're nearly out of buns, better order some more.”

      “I got it,” Brian, the scraggly headed boy said.

      “That's Brian and Tina Roars. They've been married two years now, high school sweethearts. They bought this place last year and have been running it ever since. He cooks the breakfasts and she does the dinners, quite well in fact,” L’lorne gestured to her plates. “They work together on the lunch rush. At the end of the day, the go home to a small apartment a couple streets down and sleep all night. They haven't decided to have any children yet, mostly because they can't seem to find the time.”

      “Mrs. Devenro?” Sabrina said to the old woman. “Did you need a refill?”

      “Huh? Oh, no dear, I'm fine.”

      “Julia Devenro is a widow. She spends her evenings here because she has nothing better to do with her time. Her only son died in a car accident a couple years ago, so she truly all alone in the world, and this is her only refuge.”

      “Miss!” the fat man yelled. “I'd like a refill please.”


      “That's Officer Terry Dentmore. He's the desk sergeant for the local police station. His superiors are coming down on him because of his weight, but he's resistant, just like his father.” The old man held up his cup as Sabrina refilled it. “They had a falling out many years ago and only a few months ago did they start speaking again. They meet here once a week to drink coffee and talk about their days.”

      “You did all that?” Deborah said a bit stunned at the amount of information L’lorne had just laid on her.

      “More than that, actually,” L’lorne said. “That was only a rough background, I also had to build up their memories, give them friends and family, places to live, identification numbers, phone numbers and bank accounts. Apartments had to be found and furnished, debts incurred, educational and medical histories detailed and recorded, both electronic and hard copies. Finding a son for Julia to have that died was probably the hardest part of the whole thing, honestly.”

      “Wow,” Deborah once again found herself in awe of L’lorne's power. She kept the image of the burning city in her mind even as she stared in wonder at L’lorne. Still, she had gotten her to do something that wasn't vicious and evil, so maybe, just maybe, there was still hope for her.

      “Well, it is impressive, but not overly so,” L’lorne said. “So, are you coming now?”

      “Yes, I will.”

      “Good,” L’lorne said. “I suggest you order something to eat, like I said, Ritch 'arrd isn't exactly known for his cooking. Tina, however, is very good. I recommend the steak.”

      Deborah's stomach growled at the thought.



1. What kind of person is Lcorn L'lorne? What does she look like (in your mind)?
2. What kind of person is the Deborah Ignigus? What does she look like (in your mind)?
3. Does the setting seem fitting? Would you like to know more?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Recommending a Comic

Oddly enough, despite running a blog dedicated to reviewing and dissecting webcomics, I don't often get asked to make specific recommendations.  Oh, it happens, but not often.  Still, I struggle to do so as I have my tastes and likes and often that clashes with what other people want.  So today I'm going to start changing that by asking the person asking for recommendations 4 questions.  I present these questions in no strict order, but I'd probably ask them this way anyway.

1.  How much time do you want to spend?  Webcomics have a signficant difference from their print cousins (comics books and newspaper strips) as their archives are often freely and completely available to be read whenever.  That means a lot of long stories can be told, and no one misses out.  And some comics, especially the older ones, have massive archives, and if the person wants to spend the time, they can easily spend a week or more on some of them.  On top of that, some comics have single pages that are very dense and may take some time to read.  If the comic takes too long to catch up on, even a great comic might turn away a time restricted reader.  Knowing how much time the reader wants to spend can help eliminate some of the larger comics that are out there.

2.  What genres do you like/do you NOT like?  I wrote series about genres not too long ago, but I won't hold anyone to it.  Still, knowing they kinds of genres a person likes or doesn't like can help remove comics that won't interest a person.  There's still a lot for any one genre (Humor would include nearly everything I read), so asking what genres a person DOES NOT like is just as important as asking which ones they do like.  Even narrowing it down beyond my 6 main ones can help as some comics are really much more focused than others.

3.  How do you like stories in your comics?  This is kind of a multiple choice question because webcomics run the gambit of how stories are built and presented.  Specifically, I am asking about 4 separate types of stories.  No story is pretty much like classic newspaper comics where there is no on going story and the comic is mostly a gag comic.  A on going story is one that is still going on and won't be ending any time soon (maybe).  Completed stories are those comics whose story is done and the comic is complete and there will be no more once they reach the end.  Then there's incomplete stories, comic that don't actually end, the comic just kind of dies before it gets there.  Yes, there are a few of those I would recommend.

4.  How important is art to you?  The first thing most people see of a comic is the art, and that can either make or break a comic for them before they've read a strip or even the first word.  Many comics, however, use less than great art as either a method to save time, make a point, or just because it throws people off.  Then there are some comics whose are is amazing, but other elements not quite as much.  The more important the art is to a reader, the more consideration it must be given, meaning many good to great comics might be eliminated just because they aren't the best out there.

I imagine I should give an example.  Let's say the person says they like science fiction, want a complete story, something that doesn't take all that much time and the art should be at least middle of the road.  I'd recommend last weeks retrospective, A Miracle of Science.  If they wanted something ongoing, The Demon Archives is a good one for that.  Allow for lots of time and have it be ongoing and Schlock Mercenary comes to mind.  And if they said they want no story, doesn't care about art and doesn't want to spend a lot of time on a funny science fiction comic, Station V3 it is.

It's a place to start because I have a lot of comics I've read, but remembering them all is a bit of a pain.  At some point, I could probably put all of them in some kind of spreadsheet matrix and figure out what each one is to make it easier, but for now I'll just have to flip through the list manually.  Knowing something of what I'm looking for helps a great deal.

Next week, well, it's going to be something else.  Until then kiddies.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Dreams of Stars Part 26

      L’lorne stood over Deborah for several minutes, studying the sleeping girl, curled up in the grass and dirt. She had barely made it 200 feet from the campsite, just far enough into the trees and fields to be out of sight of the fire, and not much else. Still, Deborah could have gotten farther. Tripping over that rock was more a result of the blind panic clouding her natural ability to predict such impediments than clumsiness or the dark.

      The good news was that Deborah wasn't seriously hurt by the fall. The worst damage was to her slacks, which now had a pair of nasty grass and dirt stains on the knees. With a blink, L’lorne removed the stains and returned the slacks to their like new conditions, much like she had done to the coat earlier.

      There were some scrapes and cuts on the girl's hands and knees from when she landing. Again, nothing serious, and L’lorne began the process of healing them with another blink. Once her eyes had opened again, the various cells doing the repair work on the wounds went into hyper mode, and within a few moments, the damage would be gone with not even a scar to remember it by.

      That, of course, took far more effort than L’lorne had been expecting. She was developing much faster than L’lorne had originally calculated. Deborah's body was rejecting the lighter pushes L’lorne had used before, but it hadn't given up the charge she had used to keep her going since they began. If she hadn't fallen down, it was likely Deborah could have made it all the way home without stopping.

      L’lorne lightly kicked Deborah's side, feeling the lump of the lighter in the pocket where she pushed. Deborah didn't react and with another kick, the glasses now found their place next to the lighter. The extra mass caused Deborah to stir slightly, and blink awake. “Come on,” L’lorne said. “Busy day ahead, and you've already wasted half of it sleeping.”

      Deborah instantly shot up and backed away, hacking through ragged breath and her own sleepiness. She tried to say something, but found she had nothing to say, and settled against a rock almost in total fear.

      “I've already sent the diner ahead,” L’lorne continued, uninterested in a little girl's fear, however justified it was. “I'll meet you there.” L’lorne turned away and began walking toward the road. “Oh,” she said without looking over her shoulder. “I put the glasses in your pocket for you, in case you get lost.” With that, she moved into the thicker trees, leaving Deborah behind.

      L’lorne reached the road about the time Deborah had finally gotten to her feet, but it would be a while before L’lorne knew which path the girl would take. She knew it had hurt her badly to learn about all the things she had done over her rather lengthy life, but it was better this way in the long run. If Deborah hadn't learned it now, Ritch 'arrd certainly would have told her, and the results of that would be far more disastrous. The pain would go away, eventually, and Deborah would get more used to it as time went on, so even if she hated L’lorne now, that was fine.

      Was it fine? L’lorne felt an odd twinge that tried to tell her that no, it wasn't fine that Deborah hated her. A quick trace led right back to the block, and the boiling emotions spilling out. This would not do, it was far too soon for this thing to be breaking down, so L’lorne designed a new block and squashed it down over the old block and it's many added layers. That should hold, at least for now. Part of her wanted to wonder what was causing such unusual feelings and emotions, but curiosity, in this case, was very, very bad. Best not to think about it.

      Deborah was on the move. L’lorne tracked the girl's movements via the glasses and her own seismic sensors. The road would offer her few choices, as the most likely route to take would be towards the capital, following L’lorne. It would be at the capital that Deborah would be confronted with the final choice of whether to see her quest through to the end, or return home.

      That would be an interesting choice, heading home. Deborah wasn't the same street kid L’lorne had met twelve days ago. Her body had changed to be more efficient, more capable than any other person her age, or even someone fully developed and well trained. If she wished, she could easily be faster, stronger and more agile than any other person on the planet. Mentally, she now had the awareness of her own abilities, and even a degree of control. That alone could give her all the groundwork she needed to climb to the highest reaches of educational achievement. Beyond that, her mind had been opened to possibilities that most other people had only just begun to explore. She not only could explore them, but do so at the head of a vast army of followers, if she desired.

      There was no question that if Deborah decided she didn't want to follow L’lorne and confront Ritch 'arrd that she would become one of the greatest people ever to live on this planet. The real question was whether in making that decision, would she give up the glasses? Delphi would never refuse a request from Deborah, it had already made that quite clear to L’lorne when she had asked it to make sure Deborah learned the truth. “If I do this for you,” it said. “Then she will have the same amount of access as you do.” Accessing Delphi would turn a merely great woman into what was practically a god. This Earth would never be the same again.

      L’lorne reached the diner nearly 30 minutes before Deborah. She entered, took up their traditional booth, and began ordering a massive meal. It was late in the afternoon by then, in a couple hours it would begin to get dark. L’lorne had debated when to meet with Ritch 'arrd, and evening seemed to be the best time to her. The odds that even the Minister of Education would be getting a visitor late in the evening were low enough that it wouldn't interfere with their meeting at all. That and he would be easier to find then.

      As she began eating, she ran over her odds and plan again. The plan was going well so far, and aside from Deborah surprising her inside the Asylum, little had been beyond her power to predict. Even as Deborah approached the diner and stopped at the final turn to enter it, L’lorne figured it would be seven minutes before Deborah made her mind up. Five minutes passed as Deborah stood there, probably thinking over the consequences of her decision. Did she even know her full potential if she walked away? L’lorne had made a concerted effort to prevent that, it would ruin the plan if she had even an inkling.

      Two more minutes, and finally Deborah began to move. L’lorne felt tension for about a tenth of a second as the signal transmitted from Deborah's brain to her legs caused them to move. Then it was obvious where she was going, and L’lorne relaxed.

      Deborah entered the diner, and without a word sat in the booth opposite L’lorne. L’lorne didn't smile, figuring that would only turn her off more. Instead she picked up the menu and handed it to her over the pile of food. “Would you like something?”



1. What kind of person is Lcorn L'lorne? What does she look like (in your mind)?
2. What kind of person is the Deborah Ignigus? What does she look like (in your mind)?
3. Does the setting seem fitting? Would you like to know more?
4. Why do you think Deborah went into the diner?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Retrospective: A Miracle of Science

After I posted the last batch of reviews, I got an email from the writer of Tales of Winterborn.  He (I think it's a he) thanked me for the review and agreed with many of my points and asked me to elaborate a bit more, which I did in a very rambling style.  As I thought about it, though, I figured the best way was to present him with an example, and after browsing through my list of links for a moment, I sent him a link to A Miracle of Science.  Then I decided to re-read it because it's been a damn long time.

It's been a while, but it's amazing how well it stuck with me.  I could remember most of the major plot points, though not all.  Character names were more or less forgotten, but not their relationships and some parts of their personalities.  I did remember the on and off again coloring near the end of the comic (at one point the news posts below the comic mentioned it and said they would color it in later, they never did), and the main plot point:  the mad scientist memenitc disease.

And, it's still damn good.  The story isn't just about mad scientist and his plans, but the relationship between Benjamin and Caprice.  That relationship is probably one of the best I've read, it feels natural and there's no stupid moments between them.  I mean, no artificial drama to their growing relationship, just honest moments that take talking and understanding to work through.  It's refreshing.  Even better, both are very aware of what's happening and they're only kind of fighting it because they have bigger fish to fry.

I do wonder if the creators read any of Iain Banks' Culture series as I sense some influence in the way Mars and it's technology are presented.  I love the universe building it has, because while the story is a space sci-fi piece, it's almost completely restricted to the solar system, with only a couple mentions of extra-solar travel.  It feels big, yet small.  The various worlds are different enough to understand, but not so different as to be unrecognizable.  Actually, I think the real influence might be Cowboy Bebop, the anime series that is so damn similar in layout that it's actually quite remarkable.

Despite the influences, it is an original story.  It's a bit of a detective story, a bit of a romance, has some action, and despite following the mad scientist memes and tropes, it manages to not get bogged down by the ideas and even uses them to push forward character development.

In fact, little happens in this comic that isn't about character development.  The first action Caprice does is be annoyed about the time it's taking to dock her ship, so she walks.  Out of the ship, across the gulf of space and into the airlock.  Without a visible space suit.  It shows what she can do, but also a bit of her impulsiveness and misunderstanding of non-Martians.  As she and Benjamin interact, they ask and answer questions about each others worlds, acting as the reader asking the same questions, which grow the universe so much better than walls of text or a giant about page.

Saying much else about this comic is, well, pointless.  It is one of the best comics of it's type I've read.  I recommend this comic whenever I can, and I really should read it more.  I kind of wish this came out a few years later because odds are good it would have a print version I could buy (well, more than the first half of the comic at least).  This is a great comic, so go read it, now.

I mean it kiddies.  Until next time.