Monday, March 31, 2014

Webcomic Review: Strong Female Protagonist

Allison Green used to be a superhero, she's retired now but she still has all of her biodynamic super-abilities. Too bad you can't solve most problems in the world by punching something but she's willing to learn how to deal with problems in other ways.

When I first saw the title for this comic I got nervous and put off reading it for quite a while, while the phrase "strong female protagonist" started out with good intentions these days it's a phrase that usually means "a female character who is physically strong and NEEDS NO MAN, YEAH, well okay that's a lie since she's emotionally weak/has no emotions to speak of at all." So, a very flat character, I've seen people describe it as "writing a male character in a female shape", which in and of itself comes wit a whole slew of weird connotations, and let me say that Mulligan and Ostertag are very clearly familiar with what the phrase means and that it was a very deliberate choice for a title. SFP takes a route that you don't see as often in superhero stories (I've seen so many different superhero stories that I'm not even sure if it's a straight retelling, a deconstuction, or reconstruction) where has Allison willingly "outed" herself as Megagirl live on national television and now works to try and help save the world as a more ordinary citizen instead of simply punching people through walls (and, while the story isn't completely clear about this, she seems to be the only masked/only American superhero to have done this). One thing I really like about her character is just how honest she is, not as in she's always telling the truth but how she's very upfront that even though she's helped save the world seven times she doesn't really know that much about how it works ("I've been in the Pentagon four times and I'm not sure what they really do") and really shouldn't have gotten as much media attention as she did. I think one of the best moments of the series so far was when she has not quite a rant but a piece where she said yes, she's a violent person and it's just so easy for her to let loose and really hurt people and both how hard it's been to break those habits and how it scares her. I'm rather surprised that I haven't seen that speech in more superhero stories actually, since wrestling with yours powers and responsibility is a classic part of the superhero story, and it's part of the reason why I think both long time superhero fans and newcomers would enjoy this story.

That's not to say that every part of the story has been smoothly written, I found the story involving Allison's teacher to be so blunt and obvious with it's themes that any meaningful message it could have provided was just killed by it's execution. Sadly, yet perhaps unsurprisingly, that's one of the earlier stories in the series so I advise people to keep going if they find the details in the other, concurrent subplots interesting even if this particular subplot doesn't quite work the way it should. But by and large the story's writing is strong and fresh. I find it interesting that a large part of the reason behind Allison outing herself was from encountering the super-villain Menace since usually when a hero actually listens to a villain's schemes it's a sign that they were rather weak-willed and easily manipulated all along, in other words not a hero after all. Here it doesn't feel like the case, it does seem a little odd that Allison actually took his words to heart but here it's a sign that she's incredibly strong-willed, she very much wants to save and protect the world and once she realizes that there's a better way to do it she switches tacks (although if it turns out that this was a long-term plan by Menace I'd only be half surprised, rather interested to see how the story continues to develop his character as well).

To talk about the look of the comic, I get the impression that the art strives to be a bit more realistic than it actually is but superhero comics are one of the genres that look equally good both super-cartoony and super-realistic. The comic itself is in black and white but the cover for the latest chapter has me intrigued since instead of following the series usual predominate colors (yellow, blue, and a bit of orange) it's in magenta and cyan, it's a sign that just like everything else in the comic the art is constantly changing and evoling and, again like the rest of the story, I can't wait to see where it ends up.

And as a heads up, while you can get the first issue or two of SFP right now I believe they're going to be running a KS for the first four chapters (issues) to be collected into one tradeback sometime in April or May so if you like the comic remember to put aside a bit of your money for that if you can!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Webcomic Review: Phandomland

Santa Lusion is a rather ordinary series but ever since she came there Chie's life has been strange. Brought there not by choice she wakes up one morning to say that she suffered from a terrible diease that left her with no memories of her previous life and was declared dead by official records. And now she's in the employ of Cypress, an organization that trains these "ghosts" to fight crime and she's been given the meanest, toughest ghost to train her, crap. 

Cops, "light" superpowers, people with unreliable memories about their pasts, none of these ideas are new and I'm sure I've come across at least one story before with all three of these tropes in it, there's a lot of fiction out there guys. However there is something to the rawness of these tropes which makes me think that they won't play out the usual way. M isn't just the usual "bad cop to the rookies good cop," he's an antihero for sure and I expect getting him to change will be one of the ongoing conflicts. Likewise, Chie doesn't seem like she'll just settle into being the new girl, I can also see her fight to figure out her past being not only a driving force but an even bigger conflict than m's attitude problem. And there I've just explained why this series, despite it's rather ordinary summary, there's a spark, a fight to it which I think will help develop it very nicely. 

Besides how the story is structured, I like how spunky Chie is. She's a likable newbie whose curious and ignorant but not dumb, although I expect she'll be the "audience stand in" character for a while in order to get all the exposition across. I do wonder where the story will go though, there's a short blub on the comic's front page that the story has been printed before yet I've gotten the impression that the current updates are all new. In the end that part won't matter although the art does actually feel a little dated as well. I don't mean that in a bad way, rather that it seemed like four or five years ago, perhaps a bit longer, it was "in style" to go aping manga by drawing a comic in just black and white with some tones, in some ways a very stark style that contrasted a lot with the character designs and setting details, and I just don't see that style used quite as much (heck, I think webcomics are actually leaning more towards being in color these days which is rather cool). Regardless, I hope that isn't a sign that something behind the scenes isn't going well for the comic and that it develops into being as interesting as I think it will be!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Webcomic Review: The Littlest Elle

The life and times of Elle Skinner, cartoonist and devoted cat lover.

I'm really not sure why I didn't try this comic sooner, especially since I like Elle Skinner's other comics (Missing Monday and the collaborative Erstwhile, both of which I've talked about in years past) and this is another mostly-autobiographical, slice of comic which I is a genre I clearly adore. Elle Skinner's art is always on the sketchier side but compared to her other two comics (and especially this one in Erstwhile) these comics look a bit rough which I think is what initially turned me off. However the punchlines are fantastic and often when the comic ends on a more serious note it feels like it's getting across a rather sweet, important message. I remembered one of her comics which said that, as an introvert, at conventions she just does her best to pretend to be an extrovert which I really took to heart and try to do in situations like those (and clearly it works since when I met her at SPX she was really outgoing and friendly!). It is a bit long but the beauty of comics like these is that you can easily start reading them and then catch up when you have a chance later on and I speak from experience when I say that it's amusing but not repetitious when marathoned. So add this to your list of slice of life comics to check out and try out her other ones too!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Webcomic Review: Hinges

Orio is the newest citizen of the city of Cobble and is a little perplexed by it. Like it's name suggests, Cobble is put together by dolls, marionettes, and other puppets who are all accompanied by an Odd and their job in society is determined by their ruling board and regulations. Yet things don't seem to be working out for Orio as they should, is this a sign that there is something else at work within, or outside, the city?

This is a comic where I'm quite happy that I either hadn't found it by this time last year or simply waited another year to review it since if I had talked about this comic last year it would have been a rather different review. I would have focused on the story and said that it was going to be about Orio adjusting to life in this town of dolls and marionettes, and tyet as the second chapter opens she is being tossed out of the town and meets a stranger from another town and it turns out that their world is even odder than I would have guessed. That revelation reminded me of why I love fantasy however, when you're telling a story set in a different setting than where the reader lives (say, fantasy, science fiction, or even historical fiction to an extent) you can play around with the setting so much, you can even trick the reader into assuming certain things about the setting ("ah, so they're all dolls and just don't really care about where they came from or the rest of the world, okay") before revealing that things aren't what they seem ("oh so there are other places and other people in this world so we might actually address where they all came from? Ooooooooh"). 

The setting isn't the only reason I really like this comic, I adore the artwork for it's clean lines and shading and smart use of color schemes (lots of beiges and grays when Orio is in the city and becoming a bit more colorful outside of it). I'll admit that Orio isn't the most engaging main character, I actually thought until the end of the first chapter that she was actually mute, and even Bauble's mischievous antics can't quite make up for that. But this comic is young and, based on the way several events have already played out, Orio is sure to grow and become a more interesting, complex character while the world also gets deeper and deeper.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Webcomic Review Month: As the Crow Flies

Charlie was looking forward to her hiking/camping trip but upon arriving realizes that she's the only non-white girl in this Christian group. She's already queer and a teenager, can she end up enjoying her week in this white centric world after all?

The first thing that stood out to me about this story was the art, while I follow a number of comics that are partially or wholly traditionally created (I feel like I've seen a shift back to traditional inking with some of the newer pens out there actually) Gillman's colored pencil art still stands out and as someone who dabbled in colored pencils for years I'm amazed at how even she's able to keep her tones and gradients. She also has a really good grasp on drawing a variety of body types and faces which is great since this is a story that lives and dies by how well the reader can connect with the characters (Charlie is our only point of view character and certainly the main one but if you have a really well-fleshed out main character and paper-thin side characters then the entire story will collapse). I felt that she really captured the feeling of a lot of summer camps too, you're there, a bit excited and a bit worried about what the heck is going to happen to you over the next week, and the adults are telling you some of the things and intentionally keeping a few secrets. You're not so sure how well you're going to like all of this, especially when Charlie notes that the hiking expedition her group is going on is following the footsteps of a bunch of white settler women who were seeking to "washing away the dirt and whitening our souls", but there's not much help for that now.  

I truly am looking forward to whatever the resolution of this comic ends up being since I have no clue at all what it'll be. Many times stories fall into patterns, tropes, so I can tell whose going to fall in love with who and who will die but this isn't that kind of story (well, I believe that Charlie has a crush on one of her leaders but since I could have sworn I read elsewhere she's asexual and the about page calls her queer I'm understandably confused). Perhaps Charlie will be able to discover a truth for herself that gives her life more meaning, perhaps the other people in the group will expand their world views a bit, heck I expect some kind of disaster but I don't know if it'll be emotional or a physical, real-world one! It's not a suspenseful story but it is a gripping one, Gillman has created a very nuanced character with Charlie and I hope she's able to have a good time on this trip after all.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Webcomic Review: 4 Panel Life

4-Panel Life by Jen-Jen-Rose

The daily life and thoughts of Jen-Jen-Rose.

While I've talked about a number of different strip webcomics before, some which certainly had some four-koma influences (which for those who don't know is a kind of manga, like Yotsuba&, Azumanga Diaoh, and GA Art Design Class where every update is four panels long, just like it sounds like) but this is the first one I've seen that straight up emulates the style. The comic is a simple one, both art and storytelling-wise, and I find it rather appropriate that it's being hosted on tumblr since the humor it derives from everyday circumstances and thoughts fits in perfectly with the one-off comics I sometimes see on there. It's a quick, fun read and I could probably use at least half of the strips to describe my life at some point or another which I think makes it an excellent slice of life comic!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Welcome to Webcomic Review Month the Fourth

So it's that time of year again, the time of year when I toss my regular review schedule to the wind and spend the entire month focusing on webcomics (partially to give me a chance to catch up with everything for my regular reviews, it's hard finding the time to consume that much media every single week!). And this might be the last year I do this, each time I've done this the month has gotten smaller and smaller because, well, webcomics! While I do find new series every year that I enjoy it simply takes a lot of time for a story to really get going and show what it's all about. Outside of this month a lot of my reviews are "manga-sized", ie comic books of 120-180 pages in length and people may have noticed that I don't even like reviewing a single volume at a time, I much prefer to review things in larger chunks (oh right, I need to post another Basara review soon then.....). Yet for a webcomic 120-180 pages is one to three years worth of updates, I'm not kidding when I say that some of the webcomics I review I started reading 14 or 16 months earlier but have to hold off until the following year just so I can tell everyone what the plot is about.

I've already decided to do away with the "finished webcomics" set of reviews in and in the future I'll just review them as they finish (the same way that I do with manga, although that reminds me that I have one of those I need to get to soonish...) and I think that might work better for webcomics. Say, I review books once I get them from Kickstarter or the like (so I can also talk a little bit about how the physical product looks like) and hopefully that would let me review the books they way I prefer and really give me a chance to dive into the story. Also, there have also been a number of times when I've talked about a really promising new story and it's died quite soon afterwards (I count that out of the  124 webcomic reviews I've done about 30 update so erratically we're lucky to get 20 pages in a year and 15 are flat out dead, it doesn't sound like much but I think I may have missed some) which is another reason I'm hesitant to review a comic that's rather new. If anyone here has a really strong opinion either way about this let me know in the comments, otherwise, hopefully everyone finds at least one cool thing to try out this month. Expect a post every third day or so, think I have just enough comics for that!