WCO #231: MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck (Act 6)
You’ve got to hand it to Andrew Hussie. They guy seems to go out of his way to be as alienating as possible. Just when it seems like the story’s gaining traction, he’s all, “Nuts to that sh*t. Time to roll with something that makes even less sense.” When MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck started, it bore a lot of similarities with its predecessor, Problem Sleuth, as a parody of an adventure game, complete with confusing inventory systems and glitchy controls. But then, all of the sudden, it became this complex world-building mythology, with multiple planets and a core system of light and darkness anchored by two planets with two moons.
And then Act 5 rolls around. Hussie introduces a bunch of abrasive new characters with orange horns that were so myriad that they seemed impossible to track. Oh yeah, and they’ve got their own alternative world and a complicated system of romance. Clearly, Hussie has disappeared straight up his own butt, right? Well, that maybe so… but the gamble paid off, and Homestuck became more popular than it ever had been before. At least with the costume stores supplying gray facepaint to all the troll cosplayers out there.
When we get to Act 6, then, the question isn’t, “So, what’s Hussie going to do to answer all these puzzles and mysteries?” It becomes more, “What sort of ridiculous bull is Hussie going to make up just to needlessly confuse and deliberately obfuscate the story even further?”
There are drawbacks to being this experimental, though. At some point, the mythology can get too top heavy, and the characters the readers learned to love over the course of the story get lost in the shuffle. Hey, Losties: remember Lost, Season 6? The experimental one that discarded the format, explored all new characters with a sideway universe where the cast had different adventures because they were living in a parallel world?
Hey, remember all those great characters from Acts 1-5? Remember John, the bespectacled protagonist who’s cheery and brave despite the weirdness of the game that surrounds him? Remember Karkat, the grouchy troll who periodically drops his facade when his friends depend on him? Remember Dave, whose devotion to appreciating everything ironically often turns on him with hilarious results? Remember Vriska, the maniacal psychopath whose single-mindedness can often be quite charming?
Well forget all that because here’s a whole new cast of characters who aren’t as likable! These four are known collectively as the “post-Scratch kids.” We’ve met them before; they’re the kid versions of the parents, grandparents, and guardians of our first four heroes (John, Rose, Jade, and Dave). Only they’re not aged patriarchs and matriarchs; rather they are all at the cusp of puberty. There’s Jane, a straight girl who pines for Jake, a bisexual boy who pines for Dirk, a boy who does not reciprocate the love of Roxy, because he is gay. Sorry for boiling things down to a fanfiction writer’s outline, but … these are their defining characteristics. Like, their entire story revolves around who’s hooking up with whom.
In a previous review, I mentioned that comparisons have been made between Homestuck and the James Joyce novel, Ulysses. One of the points made by a pundit at PBS was that Ulysses is an endurance test, and buckling down to actually finish reading the novel is considered some sort of accomplishment. This implies some sort of obstacle course, like the ones on Ninja Warrior. You get pretty far, past the log run and the Leaping Spider, and you’re almost done. But then there’s the rope climb at the end. You have no upper body strength. Your energy has been sapped from the lactic acid build-up from doing the ledge crawl. Yet you push yourself forward because the end is in sight. In Ulysses, this would be Chapter 18, Penelope, which is a stream of consciousness run on sentence.
It is super unreadable.
Is Act 6 the proverbial rope climb? Did Andrew Hussie deliberately switch focus to Jane, Jake, Dirk, and Roxy simply because he needed to erect a monolithic obstacle with the express purpose of taxing the readers’ patience? I ask because, as characters, these four are kinda boring. Well, except maybe Roxy, who does have a character arc where she goes from being a comedic souse to a confident leader. That said, if Hussie had cut these four characters out of the story, I doubt they — and the mile long chatlogs devoted to documenting their romantic subplots — would be greatly missed.
These kids briefly become interesting when they morph into Strawberry Shortcake characters. I had hoped that this new status as candy-colored ambassadors of joy would be their new status quo. Alas, it was short lived. We are introduced to a long sequence where the four of them revert to their original teenage states, crashed on beds like regretful lovers after a barely remembered night of polyamory. The four became mired in a tiring splitscreen relationship chat where the characters spent what felt like an eternity talking about their dumb feelings. Fortunately, this seemed to be but a backdrop for the universe-shattering business happening directly above their chatlogs.
Act 6 also introduces a new set of trolls. (There are also combined trolls that are ghosts of dead trolls stitched together by Gamzee, who has becoming a character of importance in this Act. I think that’s all I’m going to say about that.) These characters are a little more fun to hang around than the post-Scratch kids, though most are rather forgettable. The only one of note is Meenah, a tough cookie with shades of Vriska but is generally more chill. She grows up to become the Batterwitch, a dictator who conquers Earth with the help of the Insane Clown Posse and Food Network star Guy Fieri. At this point, I have no idea if Hussie is having an “LOL Random!” moment, or if he’s parodying such things. It’s a friggin’ rabbit hole of irony and post-irony and post-post-irony.
I just don’t kkknnnooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww….
The other trolls are basically palette-swapped and personality-swapped versions of the original flavor trolls. Which means that, by and large, most are way too nice. New Vriska (Aranea) is charming and helpful, even manning a psychiatry stand like Lucy does in Peanuts. New Tavros (Rufioh) is an object of desire by all the other trolls. Perhaps the funniest is new Karkat (Kankri), a smug, sweater-wearing dork who spouts social justice bulletpoints in the most self-serving way possible.
Incidentally, the prevalence of trolls makes it somewhat difficult to keep track of who’s dead and who’s alive. Not that it matters: the dead resurface as
ghosts dream bubble memories. Actually, it may be more accurate to say that it’s tougher to figure out who is where and who’s doing what. By the time characters star appearing out of nowhere at the end of Act 6, all attempts at trying to track and catalog the movements of these characters has long been chucked out the window.
Thus, it should be no surprise that the best parts of Act 6 are when the pre-Scratch characters (the OG kids and trolls) show up. Reading Act 6 — with its often long, tiring chatlogs — can sometimes feel like being forced to sit down and read through a college textbook. But then, hey, the pre-Scratch characters show up to remind you that once upon a time Homestuck was actually fun. It doesn’t matter that their own stories have become a convoluted mess. Like, why is John unstuck in time again? Who cares! It’s John Egbert, the always welcome enthusiastic go-getter!
These characters are stuck in the intermissions… though even that becomes a joke. One of the best gags Hussie pulls in the story is a bait and switch. Act 6 Part 4, for example, begins with a long flash video, something that we’ve come to expect from Homestuck. The trick is that this video is the entirety of Part 4. When we click over to the next panel, Part 4 has ended, and we are treated to a lengthy “intermission” starring the pre-Scratch characters going on their adventures.
So what’s the plot of Act 6? Well, the post-Scratch characters live in a null world, that is one where the conditions have prevented the creation of a new world as it happened with the pre-Scratch kids and trolls. The pre-Scratch kids have to take a long three-year journey through time and space to get to the new universe (which they spend sorta goofing off and getting adventures in dream bubbles and whatnot). The post-Scratch kids, though, have to set conditions up in their world in preparation for the arrival. But there’s also another player out there, the villain of the session, who… who, uh… OK, I admit to being totally confused as to why Calliborn is the bad guy, but we’re to accept that he’s the antagonist in the same sense Jack Noir, Gamzee, and Lord English were from previous acts.
It’s rather befuddling how neutered the stakes have become in this act. Maybe it’s because the sequence where Jack Noir becomes a demon dog was accompanied by a kicking, pulse-pounding synth-tune. Or maybe it’s because the sequences where Gamzee was stalking dark corridors to dismember his friends had the deliciously oppressive atmosphere or a slasher flick. Dave, ever the voice of the audience, addresses the stakes at one point:
“what kind of villain is someone you never met who hardly did anything evil to you or your friends directly or even to anyone in your universe for that matter other than through some vague insidious influence who even is this guy and why should i hate him”
So… wait. Hussie himself knows that the villain motivations in this act aren’t very compelling? Was this … was this a commentary on how video game end games can be rather tedious and repetitive? Or … is the absurdity of the villains, where one is Guy Fieri, two are ICP, and one is a demonic Betty Crocker, an admonishment to the reader against taking any of this too seriously? is the obstacle really just an obstacle, a social experiment that Hussie put together to test reader devotion? Or it is all a crazy plot hook, in the sense that there are now so many loose threads that the reader has no choice but to read the story all the way until the end to conquer that proverbial rope climb to bear witness as to how Hussie wraps it all up?
If we bring Problem Sleuth back into this, and I still consider Homestuck to be Problem Sleuth, but bigger, you can sorta see where Hussie is going with this. Problem Sleuth culminated in a universe-shattering climax with a Final Fantasy final boss fight that spanned time and space and multiple versions of several characters. Interestingly, major plot elements did get tied up, some at the very last second. As the characters gather at the same place toward the end of Act 6, it looks to do something similar, only on a far grander scale.
Here’s the thing, though. While reading through Problem Sleuth, I don’t remember being bored. Heck, while reading Homestuck Acts 1-5, I don’t remember entertaining the idea that taking a nap might be preferable to reading Homestuck. But here we are at Act 6, and I was bored out of my skull frequently. I’d hoped that this review would’ve been up much earlier. The distractions of the holiday season did much to contribute to my tardiness, true. Yet, I can hardly be blamed for my attention waning as, though unfocused eyes, I struggled to parse chatlog after chatlog, where uninteresting Mary Sues waxed unendingly about their romantic problems in unreadable syntax.
Innovations that once seemed creative how felt tedious and overplayed. Meenah is not that bad of a character, but compared to the pre-Scratch trolls she seems rather one-dimensional. Which makes her not the best reader-indentification character when she introduces the world of the post-Scratch trolls via the medium of JRPG. It’s not something we haven’t seen before… the world of the original trolls was expanded the same way. But it’s a little frustrating when Meenah really has nothing interesting to say, and when 90% of the characters introduced have no relevance to the rest of the plot beyond a gag within the same scene.
Still, Homestuck does contain some innovate fourth-wall breaking layouts, and it never does anything egregiously bad as to make you lose interest. As I mentioned in the very first paragraph, part of me does respect Hussie for tossing out the playbook and trying out new characters, new concepts, and new levels of meta-commentary. It was just a bit of a chore to get through.
And who knows? Hussie has managed to stick a landing before. Maybe, once the finale of Homestuck comes out, I can look back at this and laugh and laugh and laugh. “Oh, Hussie,” I shall say, mirth catching in my throat, “you’ve done it again!” Or maybe it’ll be like Bard Quest again, proving Hussie is fairly good at absurdist comedy but not that good at writing an ending. Or maybe it’ll be like Lost, Season 6? Some people liked it. Some people hated it. Lots of people talked about it.
Let’s find out, shall we? Let’s meet up again here at the Webcomic Overlook in three to a hundred months so we can discuss the Homestuck finale.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on January 27, 2014, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Andrew Hussie, Homestuck, John Egbert, MS Paint Adventures, MSPaint Adventures, WPLongform. Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.