Category Archives: 5 Stars

WCO #233: Little Guardians

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Fantasy is rooted a little bit in actual history. Most of the time, this means the European Middle Ages. Knights in shining armor, kings and queens, towering castles, and legends of dragons and elves. King Arthur stuff. However, there are tons of challenges in setting things at a certain era. As fantasy writer Poul Anderson once elaborated in his essay “On Thud and Blunder,” “Beneath the magic, derring-do, and other glamour, an imaginary world has to work right. In particular, a pre-industrial society, which is what virtually all hf uses for a setting, differs from ours today in countless ways.”

One of the things that writers often do is just ignore the historical nuisances. Don’t worry about people’s hair not looking perfect; just assume that everyone has access to soap, mirrors, and plumbing. Pay no attention that there are no city lights; our heroes can travel by night just as easily as by day. One of the biggest historical running blocks are the roles of women. Joan of Arc aside, women in the Middle Ages were typically not trained to be warriors. It was dudes. But, since in these days it’s not in the writer’s or the reader’s best interest that the adventurers be one big sausage party, fantasy authors tend to either ignore or minimize male chauvinism. Lady warriors just show up dressed in trousers made for men, and the townspeople rarely bat an eye.

The limited opportunities for women, though, is the driving narrative in Ed Cho and Lee Cherolis’ Little Guardians. The story centers around two characters: Subira, an unassuming shopkeeper’s daughter who has great potential, and Idem, an unlucky boy who’s training to be the next Guardian.

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The Webcomic Overlook #231: MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck (Acts 1-4)

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I’m baaacccckkkk!

It’s time once again to delve into the world of comics in the digital medium, where your eyes are bombarded not by inks and tree fibers but rather by the warm, embracing glow of an LCD monitor. There’s been a pretty big gap in my reviewing back catalogue, which for some reason includes something called Loviathan and something called Glam but for some reason doesn’t include the webcomic whose cosplayers overtook Emerald City Comic Con this year.

That’s right, readers: it’s time for yet another review of Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck!

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with Homestuck, or maybe you’ve heard about it in bits and pieces but really don’t know much about it, there’s one thing you should know right off the bat: it’s a very long webcomic. A VERY long webcomic. And deceptively so. As a result, I’m splitting this review into two segments. The first will reivew Acts 1-4, which focused mainly on the players of John, Rose, Dave, and Jade.   (I will call these four “Pesterchums.” I don’t know if that’s the official term for them, but that’s how they appear categorized in their chatlogs.)  The second will deal with Acts 5 and beyond, which seems to focus on the trolls.

Is this a fair dividing point? I think so. Back in the day (holy crap, this comic started back in 2009?) fans on the webcomic seemed to be split on how to take Act 5. The focus one trolls cause some to quit. On the other hand, trolls seems to be what maneuvered Homestuck to the big leagues. How much fan art is devoted to trolls vs. that which is devoted to the original crew? I’m guessing a million to one. As a result, my scholarlycomparison of trollspeak to Li’l Abner‘s cornpone dialects is going to have to wait until Part 2. Doesn’t that sound exciting?

… yeah, I didn’t think so either.

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The Webcomic Overlook #228: Oyster War

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Out of the Eisner-nominated titles, Ben Towle’s Oyster War is probably the one we’d most conventionally associate with the term “webcomic.” By that, I mostly mean the layout. This Will All Hurt is a metaphysical zombie comic where all the pages of the chapter are laid out vertically. Bandette is available as a digital comic on Comixology, the preferred format for the big piracy-averse publishers and arguably not really a webomic. Our Bloodstained Roof is a short story (most webcomics have runs longer than four installments), and Ant Comic is a bizarre little creature that looks like it would be more at home in the pages of an alternative magazine.

Oyster War, on the other hand, is a webcomic webcomic. Handy navigational buttons at the bottom of the page, familiar layout with a snazzy title header and sidebars, and a sensible pace of one page per post. It’s about as standard-looking as you can get on the no-frills WordPress format. There’s benefits to trying something new — in fact, it could be argued that because they’re more experimental, that they’re more deserving of award attention.

Oyster War shouldn’t dismissed, though. Mainly because it seems to have earned Eisner consideration on the merits of it being good.

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One Punch Reviews #84: Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf

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Some weeks ago, I solicited the readers for links to their comics or recommendations to webcomic that they liked. There were plenty of fantastic entries, some which I mentally bookmarked to slot for a review some time down the line. This is the first one, recommended by reader
IsharaDragone.

Why Piti Yindee’s Wuffle: The Big Nice Wolf? The reason is perhaps quite shallow: it was really, really pretty. I mean, the header shows a big yet cute cartoon wolf with a white volleyball under his arm that turns out to be a chicken. Look, people, there’s no big secret to getting me to pay attention: I’m like a moth to flame when it comes to cute things.

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One Punch Reviews #82: Our Bloodstained Roof

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I remember it vividly as if it were yesterday. The skies were clear this morning, but the temperatures were below zero. I had a scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose because it almost felt like ice crystals were forming. I was walking from my the parking lot to the building I work at. It was about a quarter mile walk since city restrictions prevented a parking garage from being built, so the company compensated by making the parking lot very, very large.

Fortunately the walkway was covered. However, as I walked down the path, I noticed something weird. There were lumps on the ground covered in frost. At first, I thought they were leaves. As I looked a little closer though, I discovered to my horror that they were birds. About a hundred birds, all littering the ground, dead and frosted. They’d taken shelter under the roof in an attempt to escape the cold snap. It was in vain. The frost had killed them.

Ryan Andrews, the writer of the Eisner-nominated Our Bloodstained Roof, taps into the same chilling realization that death is senseless, and how guilt has an unforgiving way of making our lives miserable for the rest of our lives.

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The Webcomic Overlook #226: Ellie on Planet X

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After man first set foot on the moon, young kids dreamed of voyaging to other planets. After all, if human beings can put their footprints on soil not of this earth, how hard can it be to, say, go to Mars? As it turns out… very hard. Universe Today estimates that the journey would take 250 days. And that’s the nearest planet. How long is it going to take to get to the moons of Jupiter? To the rings of Saturn? Heck, are we even going to get out of the solar system?

So we resign ourselves to the fate that most deep space exploration is going to have to be conducted by robots and computers. Like Voyager 2 and it’s ground breaking tour through the outer planets. Or Mars rover Curiosity, journeying the red planet to unearth new scientific discoveries. Is it as thrilling as Neil Armstrong hopping off a lunar lander? Maybe not. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a pang of empathy when the Spirit rover got stuck in sand. Sure, it was just a piece of machinery. And yet, it had sort of anthropomorphized into a poor little explorer stuck on a weird alien world.

James Anderson’s Ellie on Planet X is the story of one such space probe. this one, though, is a whole lot more adorable than anything assembled by NASA. Well, maybe except for Sojourner. That one was pretty darned cute.

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The Webcomic Overlook #222: Dumbing of Age

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(The following is a guest review by David Herbert.  Mr. Herbert had previously penned a review of Looking For Group on this site.  He also does the webcomics Living With Insanity and Domain Tnemrot.)

Ah, the alternate universe. Those of us who are familiar with print comics may have heard of Marvel’s Ultimate Line in which all the Marvel characters were re-introduced with new origins set in modern times with none of the prior canon that could scare new readers away. It was a new universe with an established starting point that new readers could enjoy without any prior knowledge of the original continuity. And that’s what we have here today.

Before Scott Kurtz was paving the way for cartoonists to work online, David Willis was a college student with a strip in the paper called Roomies! The strip was enjoyable, and is currently being re-uploaded on a new site, which was part of celebrating its 15th anniversary. The art was blocky, the story telling weak and the tone schizophrenic. Eventually Roomies ended and a sequel series, It’s Walky, came around, a bizarre drama/comedy/action series with even weirder problems with consistent tone. It was an improvement, but oh dear God is it hard to pitch the strip to an outsider without it sounding stupid.  “Just trust me, it’s good” tends to be how I go. And the that ended and Shortpacked was launched, which was reviewed here, and also a direct sequel called Joyce and Walky, which was subscription based. Both again were marked improvements although Shortpacked had a slow start but did get much better.

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However, it’s hard to get people to read four different webcomics and thousands of strips, especially when the creator was still learning his craft. So, Willis decided to take his 10,000 hours of experience and return to where it all started, college, with the characters everyone loved in a new world. The goal was to make a comic old readers could enjoy but new readers could get into.

And he did a very good job at it.

Dumbing of Age is set at Indiana University with most of the core cast being the freshman class. The over the top theatrics are gone, the premise is much more down to earth, the drama and comedy are much more evenly balanced, characters have more depth and the main villain only exists as a comic book and cartoon character. And we have a comedy about that awkward period of life where you’re trying to figure out what being an adult means.

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One Punch Reviews #80: Model Student

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Where did all the Zuda Comics go? DC’s experiment in the world of digital comics was a little short-lived but it generated plenty of concepts due to its elimination-style format, where several creators would put out eight-page sample at a chance for landing a contract with DC Comics. Short answer: they were scattered to the winds of the internet, appearing in secluded far reaching corners. It’s a shame, because there were some great story ideas out there with some great-looking art. There was an image of a steely-eyed young man in a prep school uniform that caught my curiosity recently, for example, and I owed it to myself to follow up.

Model Student, by Jake Bell and Joe Bowen, was a Zuda entry in 2009 that didn’t make the final cut. Joe Bowen, though, couldn’t quite let go of the concept so he returned to the story last year.

The main character is Kevin Thorne. He’s a high school student who’s had problems keeping his rage under control. He’s been kicked out of many schools for fighting. One more strike, and he’s headed to Juvie. His last chance is Vendrell Academy, a stately-looking prep school where the students wear ties and fashionable blazers.

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