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.

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