The Webcomic Overlook #130: Ctrl+Alt+Del (Part 2)

(This is Part Two of a very special Two Part retrospective of Ctrl+Alt+Del. Please click here to read Part One.)

The sum of Ctrl+Alt+Delete‘s early run can easily be summed up by one of the most notorious advertising campaigns in video game history: the ad for Daikatana. So, basically, creator John Romero thought it would be a good idea to sort of do a parody of gamer talk. So he put together a simple red poster with a very simple slogan: “John Romero’s About To Make You His Bitch.” This was supposed to be ironic, of course.

It went over as well as you would expect.

So far, Buckley’s put together a comic about gamers being moronic troglodytes, emotionally stunted man children, and gamer girls with no personality, while each parody needs to be explained over and over again while the violent punchlines are pretty much telegraphed since panel one. Meanwhile, Buckley’s Mary Sue, Ethan, becomes crowned King of All Gamers, pwns all the world’s religions, and envisions a story where video games can save your marriage. Ironically, of course.

That went over as well as you’d expect.

But now it’s different. Now that Tim Buckley has crossed the bridge from wacky humor to maudlin drama, we’re now reading a totally new comic. the upgrade that finally makes CAD a comic that deals with serious issues.

Welcome to CAD 2.0.



What’s CAD 2.0, you ask? Before, when Ethan committed violence, it was a punchline. Now, people threaten to press charges. In CAD 2.0, when Ethan tries to get wacky, his antics are frowned upon. In CAD 2.0, it’s wrong to make someone your bitch. CAD 1.0 was about playing video games. CAD 2.0 is about playing the biggest video game of all …

… the video game of life.

So let’s take a trip down the all new, all different CAD and see if things may have changed for the better. Prepare, dear reader, to have your heart torn.

6/04/2008: I’m not going to harp too much on the blog post that accompanied the “Loss” strip. However, it does reveal two key things about the storyline to come ahead: 1.) that it’s partially autobiographical, as Tim Buckley went through what a relationship that, in his his own words, “was toxic to begin with and doomed to fail regardless,” and 2.) that he’s going to apparently retcon everything and say that he’s had this particular storyline planned for a long, long time.

That explains some of the developments this story takes … and makes them a little creepy. Like a whole page explaining that the miscarriage happened because Lilah’s blood attacked the fetus? I mean, WOW. Let’s just say that the classy thing to do would have been not bringing that up in the first place.

9/01/2008: The Funky-Winkerbean-ization of CAD continues beyond the Passion of Ethan. Our big friend Lucas even goes through his own mini-torture. Earlier in the series, Lucas had been dating a girl named Kate (who had met him while dressed in a fat suit, but it’s best to block that stupid, stupid plot out of your mind). After sleeping with her, he discovers that he he doesn’t love her (and reveals his feelings after sleeping with her again). They entered a relationship of convenience.

Now, fast forward to the present day. He finally finds out that he does love Kate, but when he goes to pour out his heart to her, he finds out she’s been sleeping around. Dun dun DUN! Seriously, CAD 2.0 has swiftly morphed into a Telemundo soap opera here.

Ah, but fortunately for those of you who’ve been clutching at your hearts and on the verge of fainting from this particular twist, Lucas and Kate patch things up. Lucas’ monologue, which include such choice lines as “I’m mad … I’m hurt, and it will take me a while to trust you again,” is, quite possibly, a picture perfect template on how not to do an apology. Incidentally, this who theme where the guy is not wrong and women should feel bad for acting like women? This is not the last time we’re going to see this theme played out in CAD….

10/29/2008: What Lucas is going through is but a mere fraction to the absolutely impenetrable trials and tribulations that Ethan’s going through. Like the return of Christian, Lilah’s millionaire boyfriend, who buys up the Gamehaven as some sort of elaborate scheme to steal Lilah away from Ethan. (Seriously.) And the introduction of Shannon as an employee to Gamehaven, who for some godforsaken reason, tries to seduce Ethan. (It turns out that this was also part of the elaborate scheme to steal Lilah away from Ethan … which at least makes a smidgen of sense.)

It all looks really bleak for Ethan, who runs back home and doesn’t find Lilah there in what I like to call Loss, Part II. But all’s well that ends well. Lilah apparently only went to the airport so she could somehow have Christian hauled off by authorities. And she apologies to Ethan for not being there for him emotionally during this whole ordeal. (!!!!) OK, ending two storylines where two different women come crawling back to the author’s Mary Sue and the Mary Sue’s best friend (who may also be a Mary Sue)? DAMN.

Now here’s a great “What If?” What if Tim Buckley had decided to let Lilah run off with Christian in the end? Granted, that might be too dark, but we sorta jumped that particular shark after the miscarriage arc started. Maybe it would be too close to what the author really experienced, and perhaps he wouldn’t have wanted to go that far. Maybe it would have been just as terrible. Scratch that: it would have been just as terrible.

But you know what? It would’ve been far less of cheat. It would’ve made Ethan more sympathetic, since now he’s been through some real hardship that would’ve forced him to finally grow up. It would’ve ended a relationship that wasn’t too realistic in the first place. Lilah always acted more like Ethan’s mom … which was never more apparent than in the CAD: The Animated Series, where there’s a whole plotline where Lilah has to explain why she’s different from a mother (by, appropriately by CAD standards anyway, showing him her boobs). Uggggghh.

(And YES, I did watch the entire run of CAD: The Animated Series. The things I do for you people!)

Instead, we learn that Ethan is never wrong and his “friends” should do everything to tolerate him and make his life better despite getting nothing in return. Appropriately enough, Lilah and Ethan steal Christian’s tickets so they can go to Italy and get married, because, you know, everything comes to Ethan for free. This signals the blessed end of one of the worst story arcs in the history of webcomics. I know I’m missing a lot of things, such as a subplot where Ethan sadly puts away a tiny controller he had been building for “Darth McManus,” but I’ve got home renovations to get to.

By the way, in case you were keeping a running tally, despite the marriage of Ethan and Lilah it’s still not the end of the marriage arc.

11/26/2008: Ooh, the second out-of-continuity Ethan McManus in space story arc. I’m starting to understand why these are so popular. They’re perhaps the most interactive a webcomic creator ever gets with his audience (except maybe MS Paint Adventures), they give Tim Buckley a break from having to try to stay current with video game jokes, and we the readers get to take a break from the forehead-slapping uber-drama. And you know what? It’s still just as wordy as hell, but, you know, reams of exposition have always been par for the course in sci-fi novels. The fact that Buckley actually hand-draws his backgrounds for once is a definite improvement. I mean, sure, the spaceship is basically an obviously modified X-Wing, but STILL!

And… here’s the best thing about it… it managed to kill the increasingly turgid Winter-een-mas stories! Glory hallelujah!

2/16/09: Tim Buckley seems to be expanding his scope beyond video games. There are now pop culture strips are about guys from infomercials, the UFC, and older games? But let’s answer the most important question: is the punchline still really, really unfunny? YES.

3/16/2009: You know, I kinda like Ethan as the manager.Oh, sure, everything about this situation is contrived as hell. Ethan only gets the store because the previous owner had bought it from Christian and didn’t want to buy it back. And Lucas forgoes his dreams of going back to college and signs on to help with the paperwork because ETHAN ETHAN ETHAN. But, it’s nice to to see Ethan go crazy for legit reasons for a change, and not because, I don’t know, there’s not enough buttered toast sticking on the walls or some “random” crap.

8/12/2009: Just when I thought we’d turned the corner on CAD, apparently Ethan is always right and everyone should feel bad for making him feel bad. Also, this storyline gets rid of that XBox robot, one of the last vestiges of CAD 1.0, as he leaves the house so he can travel the world with his new lady love. As many have pointed out, Ethan seems to be more broken up about this than his wife’s miscarriage.

9/07/2009: Huh. Nice offensive imagery there, Tim.

9/25/2009: Let it not be said that Tim Buckley doesn’t listen to criticisms about his art. Today marks the day that he finally changes his art style. The “B^U” jokes end here, people. Now, it’s not perfect. He still struggles with giving anyone much of an emotional range, which really stands out now that he’s put more work in the detail. The Player comics look… kinda creepy now, to be honest. But I think it does look better than what came before, and the more mature style meshes well with the all-new, all-different CAD 2.0.

12/07/2009: And now we get to the wedding arc and … it’s really very, very boring. Which is a surprise, considering Buckley throws everything he can into it, including a subplot about dealing with a douchebag brother and running from the Hawaiian mafia. (Seriously.) Perhaps CAD wants to preserve the solemnity of marriage? Eh. Doubtful. I mean, the marriage vows somehow include gratuitous references to video games in a pale attempt to conform to CAD‘s original mission statement. I have a feeling that Buckley’s getting petered out on the entire thing, and he’d rather be back to writing those “Ethan McManus in Space” stories.

3/10/2010: Ethan has to draw up a contract to see his wife’s boobs? Is he that unfamiliar with the concept of marriage? Also, this panel was apparently re-edited from the original, which contained no boob jokes. Because no one would recognize it was CAD if he didn’t.

4/30/2010: We end our Tour de CAD on the Abby storyline, a.k.a. that girl he created using Google image search. Basically, Abby’s cheating the system and using Gamehaven’s policy against them for her own personal benefit. So… basically a female Ethan. The limited facial expressions from Abby and Ethan, by the way, register as “mildly flirtatious” rather than “thinly veiled contempt,” which is what I think Buckley was going for. (Or not. Abby does complain that Ethan was sending out mixed signals, so point to Buckley I guess.) Anyway, Ethan and Abby patch things up, Lilah somehow doesn’t go into a flying rage that he husband is spending so much time and passion over another woman, and everything turns out well and fine in Ethanland.

I’ve spent something like 6,000 words ragging on Ctrl+Alt+Del, so I think I’ll close this out with something positive: Tim Buckley is probably one of the top reasons people get into webcomics at all. Maybe video game humor isn’t exactly Oscar Wilde, but there is an audience and they appreciate that someone’s got jokes about their hobby. And those fans? They started writing their own comics about video games. CAD even got CAD haters to start reading webcomics, because when you’re devoted to hating something, you have to eventually ask yourself what you like. I’ve seen more than one message board thread devoted to hating CAD evolve into discussions about where the good webcomics are.

Also, I like Rob. He seems like a cool character.

So if you’re reading this, Tim Buckley: your webcomic is bad, and you should feel bad … but it’s so spectacularly bad that, in a way, it does come right back to entertaining, in a way you definitely never intended. Just when we thought we knew CAD, there are crazy new alleys just around the corner. Congratulations, Tim Buckley, you are the Rob Liefeld of webcomics.

Rating (2008-2010): 1 star (out of 5)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on August 9, 2010, in 1 Star, comedy webcomic, dramatic webcomic, slice-of-life webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, video game webcomic, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.

  1. “CAD 2.0 is about playing the biggest video game of all …

    … the video game of life.”

    THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL.

    Also God you didn’t have to read the whole thing… your brain’s probably poisoned now. D;

  2. I guess CAD is a necessary evil then?
    I guess it is important to note that most of the video game “I perfected cell shading from a Deivantart tutorial but still can’t draw or write well” webcomics were inspired by CAD and try to turn out the same “”style”” (double quotes on the word so the foul thing can’t escape). I think the problem is that too many people think that just because the colors and shading are clean then it looks nice.

    Also, I liked that Billy Mays tribute…

    • I think the best CAD-style webcomics start with CAD as a baseline, and eventually morph the comic to represent their own look. I can’t think of any at the moment though (what with my brain being poisoned and all). F@nb0ys, maybe?

      • i think F@b0ys is a good comic, if only it updated more than about twice a year. the art is really nice, and it’s actually funny.

  3. I’m a little bit surprised you didn’t bring up the “Abby’s design was stolen” controversy. I mean, you did cover an awful lot, but that seems a bit too large to miss.

    • I sort of covered it in quite a bit of detail in Part 1 of this review (and there’s quite a bit of discussion in the comments section about it, too). Basically, I didn’t want to repeat myself.

      But yeah, for those just tuning in: Abby was pretty much created from an illustrated image which turns out to be the first picture that shows up when you google “punk girl.” It was such a copy that the small skull on the original “punk girl”‘s tee shows up on the original Abby design. What makes this worse is that, a long time ago, Buckley tore into someone publicly for doing a fan animation of CAD for a school project. Now, since the controversy broke, Tim Buckley did publicly apologize and has since redesigned Abby (e.g. jeans are now striped tights, the skull has been moved to the belt). And now you know… the rest of the story.

  4. I’ve been looking forward to this all week. This has been excellent reading, I only wish Part II had been longer. Also, curse you for exposing me to so much CAD… I’m feeling the urge to write a few words on it myself now.
    Thanks for all the hard work and humiliating drudgery you do for us… take a break and do a five-star comic next time, you’ve earned it.

    • heck yah, he does!

      i just archive-binged Hitmen For Destiny which recently wrapped up, it was awesome. super-creative and really funny.

  5. Surprised that CAD 2.0 have less stars than Cad 1.00
    at least we can learn marketing from Buckley

    • Really? I thought I made both of them 1 star.

      For a while there, CAD 2.0 was creeping up on 2 stars, but then went over the whole miscarriage plot again and the lethargy of the marriage plot … so I concluded: “Yes. Just as bad.”

      • Part way through the article I started rooting for CAD and was hoping that it somehow improved itself to be 2-stars and then felt crushed that it crashed and ended up with 1-star. Then I remembered it was CAD and stopped caring.

  6. Meh. Your attempt at criticism fails overwhelmingly. It’s a fun comic. Stop trying to treat it like it’s high art and sit back and enjoy the ride.

    Or just stop reading it.

    • I did! As soon as I reached the last strip.

    • 1. You don’t have to worry about anyone here comparing it to “high art”, none of us have made that mistake.
      2. You don’t have to be talking about art if you’re making a critique.
      3. Your attempt to discredit fails overwhelmingly in that it fails to elaborate, sort of like I’m doing now.
      4. He just explained in a two part blog post why he could not sit down and enjoy the ride. He kept going because he wanted to be fair when writing this.
      5. Thou hath spoken ill whislt saying nothing. Truly thou art naught but a troll to those seeking truth. Have at thee yon beastie!

    • Meh is a failtroll.

    • What’s the sound of thousands of fanboys crying, while trying to show they don’t care, every time their god, Tim Buckley, is shot down with loads of facts about why his webcomic sucks? “MEH.”

    • Fun is enjoyable. CAD is not.

  7. I was just about to rail on CAD some more… But then I saw a trailer for a movie called “Vampires Suck” on my television. It looks like a spoof on Twilight, in the same vein of “Epic Movie” and all that other garbage.

    So I guess I can’t hate on CAD too badly. Because as I just saw, there are far worse forms of entertainment out there.

    • I saw that trailer. I guess it was inevitable, but it, too, made me die a little inside. And makes me very sad since, given Friedberg/Seltzer’s previous record, they’re guaranteed to make a mint on it.

  8. um i come here for webcomic new and info as well as reviews of webcomics i havent read yet i was looking forward to a update why did you waste so much time on talking about CAD i mean you yourself pointed out many bad things about it and i while i dont hate CAD i fail to see the point in reading it because it is a great example of how very poor writing can bring good artwork down and every single joke he has done has been done much better else where i was hoping to see you review a good webcomic that i didnt know about and would enjoy i just dont get why you would waste so much time writing about CAD when every one has read it, including myself and feels its a waste of space hopfully your next update will be better and about something that isnt years old

  9. “about CAD when every one has read it,”

    I’ve never read it beyond seeing other people review it. And in-depth reviews are why I keep coming back here as my new primary webcomics blog. Well that and Websnark being damn near flatlined again…

  10. Like any pet project, it’d difficult to simply let go. CAD is too much of a cash cow and a time-suck for TB to simply drop and pursue other interests.

    It’s too bad. I hate seeing webcomic artists just sit complacently and not challenge themselves creatively beyond their current definition. I’m sure TB could do something different from CAD with some depth and skill, but he’s comfortable standing pat with what works for him.
    The last line of your review is what I’ve been saying for the last 5 years. Tim Buckley IS the Rob Liefeld of webcomics. The bad reputation is bigger than the actual worth of the body of work – so bad in fact, that it is almost a parody of the real thing.

    • Truth be told, if Tim started doing Space Archaeology full-time, I would tune in regularly.

      Although there is a part of me that fears he would screw it up if he made it any bigger than a side project.

  11. Ah, CAD 2.0. Not as up to date on this as you are, but part of this period was probably one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had in the history of webcomics.

    I used to read CAD sporadically, every now and then, not because it was an epitome of good humor, but because hey, it was a comic, it was online, and I was occasionally linked to it because it contained video game references. That was a very, very long time ago, and at some point I simply stopped caring about it.

    But then… I saw the name of the comic mentioned on several websites I read. On John Solomon’s “Your webcomic is bad and you should feel bad”, and several other places where people were talking about how bad of a comic it was. What really baffled my mind about this was the two words everybody seemed to mention about this comic.

    “Miscarriage arc”.

    WHAT? How could this comic have a miscarriage arc? I knew it would be bad, but I just had to click my way back to CAD to see what everybody were talking about. And yeah, I had to agree with everybody I’d seen say it: It was BAD.

    Then time passed again, and I really wanted to forget that CAD existed. But a voice in my head were whispering: “Hey, don’t you want to know what happens next? How does this affect Ethan and the other characters?”

    “SHUT UP, VOICE IN MY HEAD,” I said. “Clearly, in CAD, why would anything have any concequences at all?”

    But eventually I caved. I just wanted to know if anything interesting happened at all. Though, surely, it would just be back to sex, fart and video game jokes…

    WHAT? The wedding is cancelled? Huh. That’s…

    WHAT’S THAT? Ethan loses his job? That’s unexpected…

    WAIT, HUH? Lilah runs off with Christian? Really?

    Could it be… That Buckley has decided to introduce the concept of concequences in his comic? Sure, it still wouldn’t be my favorite webcomic, but… Everything goes wrong for Ethan, he’s finally punished for his actions… Is Buckley letting him start all over, with the knowledge that he can’t be a violent dumbass and at the same time be praised as a god by gamers all over the world, because the world just doesn’t work that way?

    As I was about to click “Next comic”, I was optimistic to the future of CAD.

    And then… Oh, Lilah took Ethan back, and even apologized to him for vaguely resembling a human being. And they ran off to get married. And Ethan got a video game store.

    Okay, I’m not in a position to claim that I could have done any better myself, as I don’t make a webcomic, but REALLY? This comic has FANS?

    Making a shitty webcomic is easy. Everybody can do that. Giving that shitty webcomic a ray of hope, a moment that really looks as if it’s about to move in the right direction…

    And then demolishing that hope…

    Is something only a very few selected people can do. Tim Buckley is one of those people.

    Thanks for an awesome review, by the way.

  12. Thank you for taking one for the team for all of us… it was hard to look at the linked comics, I can’t imagine what it was like for you to read through the archives (and the animations? egad). Hope your next review cleanses your palate :)

  13. I used to read CAD for the longest time. And when I see it now, I just want to kick myself in the head for ever spending time on it. But at least I can hide behind psychology: I kept reading to solve the problem of cognitive dissonance, and I suspect the same is true for a lot of its fans (and for those of other comics).

  14. You didn’t comment on Scott’s complete disappearance from the strip!

    Fun fact: If you inquire where Scott is (or make really any kind of reference to Scott) on the CAD forums, you will be banned immediately with no reason given.

  15. All I can say is: Woooowww. I stopped reading CAD around 2005 or 2006 (judging from which comics I remembered from your read-through), so I missed this whole thing. I mean, I heard about the miscarriage plot (who didn’t?) but had no idea what the rest of the comic was like. I’m actually amazed by just how bad it is, and what’s utterly inexplicable is that this comic continues to draw plenty of readers after having long since moved away from the things that made them read it in the first place.

    Seriously, what the hell guys. There are better comics out there, lots of them. Why would anyone read this?

  16. I enjoyed reading this. I’ve never bothered to read much of CAD but now I feel like I don’t have to and I’m still somewhat allowed to say something about it :D
    One thing tough. I don’t see why people are complaining about the art. Sure I can see how it’s flat and the same all the time and it lacks expression but it’s good enough. This genre of comics doesn’t need better art than this (okey the very early ones look Bad but most of the time it looks ok) I’ve seen cases of worse art in web-comics and noone is complaining about it since it’s a comic that it’s not “hip” to diss…
    That is all. :)

  17. I say the very first part only got more stars because of Scott. Dunno why, but I got a soft spot for the guy. This review was far more interesting than I ever thought a review on CAD could be.

  18. A magnificent analysis of the comic. Very well done.

  19. Meh, if Penny arcade has almost transcended the ‘video game slacker’ genre then CAD is still trying to get out out of the cacoon and transform itself. The split-second changes between maudlin emotion and peurile humour, as you’ve stated, don’t work and this is a structural reset that just hasn’t worked. I know it was always more light-hearted and goofy but clearly juxtaposing emotion into a goof-ball strip has failed.

  20. …I’ve actually liked CAD. (I preface this by saying that I’ve only read up through the comics reviewed here, so I’m nearly a year behind.) It’s pretty clear that it’s hated way out of proportion with its actual lack of quality, but while it does have some guilty-pleasure aspects I actually liked at least “CAD 1.0″, and can’t help but think that at least some of the hate comes from bitterness related to its imitators, and from overthinking and nitpicking everything. I share “The”‘s (the 9/11 commenter)’s opinion on B^U (there are comics with as bad or worse art that don’t get nearly the hate), though I should say that re-reading old strips makes me notice the B^U a lot more than when I originally did, though it had already greatly improved by 2008, and I honestly don’t see the 2009 change in art style you see. (One common complaint about the art is that Buckley has shown he can draw a lot better, which says to me that the fact he went with a simpler art style for CAD is probably intentional, yet no one catches on to this.)

    That leaves the bad writing, and I don’t have a problem with the wall of text either (I read Order of the Stick, I guess I’m just used to wordy comics). I never really got the sense that Ethan was nearly as much of a Mary Sue as he’s made out to be (friendships can be weird), or that the most infamous examples of such (the king-of-gamers and gamer-religion storylines) were really meant to be taken all that seriously (Ethan invoking his congregation to win his bet with Christian aside). (And I can attest that yes, people really do celebrate Winter-een-mas.) The one time I’ve really felt that Ethan was much of a Mary Sue was when Lilah ditched Christian, about which I share Olaf’s opinion, but even then I could come up with a justification (Lilah still remembers what a jerk Christian was the first time), and I was actually excited that owning a video game store would force Ethan to grow up a little, and to some extent, it did. (See his insanity over trying to run the store without replacing himself, or the departure of Zeke from the strip – which I must admit was poorly written, but more because of the she-robot cliche and the over-humanization of Zeke).

    As for the comic being unfunny, I beg to differ generally, but more specifically someone left a comment on that Zero Punctuation webcomics video that clarified things for me. Yahtzee had earlier written a blog post bashing CAD for over-explaining the joke by comparing CAD’s and PA’s takes on a similar joke, and on this occasion someone mentioned that they actually preferred the CAD version, because it was more accessible to people unfamiliar with the topic. He does sometimes misidentify the punchline, but I’d say he’s gotten better at it as time goes on, and some fairly recent comics are basically Penny Arcade strips under the CAD banner (right down to, annoyingly, needing to read the news post to get the joke).

    Although his public image may suggest otherwise (and is probably another major source of the hate), I think Buckley does recognize and is trying to improve on people’s points against the comic, and I don’t think they’ve ever been as bad as people have claimed. I wouldn’t say we’ll be going to “Misunderstood Genius of Tim Buckley” exhibits someday, but I wouldn’t call him Rob Liefeld either.

  21. I think that while the pregnancy arc was completely unjustifiable, the miscarriage strip was a reaction to the overwhelming negative reception of the pregnancy arc and a decision on the part of Tim Buckley to cut his losses on it, even if it meant stooping to a new low.

  1. Pingback: The Webcomic Overlook #130: Ctrl+Alt+Del (Part 1) « The Webcomic Overlook

  2. Pingback: Dean Haspiel, Drew Weing, Dan Goldman, and more | Paperless Comics

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