Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Webcomic Review: The End

As I mentioned in my State of the Blog, I'm going to make an effort to talk about more webcomics including ones I reviewed several years back since my writing has gotten stronger since then. I read quite a few webcomics these days (it's probably around 80 total but closer to 60 of them are currently updating regularly/on hiatus with regular author check-ins) and when considering which ones to review I'm looking for comics that are in a specific stage of their story. Many of the comics I read are at least partially action oriented so I think of them as having a slightly different break-down than the one I was taught in school; an introduction, explanation period, rise to and then climax (I include any mini-climaxes in this big section), and then a falling down to the closure. The End is a good example of why I think of the introduction and the explanation parts of the story as separate ones, The End has a large cast with many factions and while there are some explanations given in the very beginning (to both the characters and the readers), the story really needs all of the important players to have been introduced before it can start explaining why there are conflicts and letting the cast start reacting to them.

So expect most of the comics I choose to review to be in a similar place, still early on in the story but not in the beginning anymore. There are a few comics I would like to review that are more in that climax stage which makes it tricker (since whatever I say can be completely changed within a few pages) but I don't plan to let a conquerable problem like that keep me from telling others just how great these works are.

The End by Ran and Cory Brown

The universe is home to many alien species and the bird-like Fiah have taken it upon themselves to rescue those endangered species and to re-home them on another world for the greater good. But something seems to have gone wrong on this latest mission, their target was humanity but humanity is thriving on modern day Earth and the Fiah's information on them seems oddly inaccurate as well. Fiah Endi and Ethma are determined to carry out their mission regardless but when things start to go seriously wrong they, and the humans who had stumbled across them, start to wonder if something deeper is happening, especially when the Fiah's mortal enemies and strangely human-like Ith start to appear as well.

As I mentioned in the introduction, this is a story with a huge cast and even though only about half of the characters have had a chance in the limelight, those that have are already well-fleshed out and growing, even as the situation grows even more complicated. In fact there's so much to focus on that what I think is the metaplot of the story, why were so many things wrong with the human exodus?, is practically buried under the more immediate conflicts as characters get kidnapped left, right, and twice-over, especially once the Ith start getting involved which adds more characters and quite a bit of social conflict. However, I'm not that worried about the plot at the moment, it's not as complicated as people might fear and there have been enough details furnished to keep everything on track at this point. I do think that adding in yet another faction wasn't a good idea this early in the story (the human government which knows about aliens to some degree but is going through some internal turmoil of their own right now) since I'm afraid people will forget about it unless those characters reappear in the next two or three chapters. It's a nice touch to see how the disappearance of nine people has seriously rattled them, and it this may work better when people are reading the story in volume sized chunks instead of single page updates, but again at this point that's one too many subplots to keep straight.

To dive more deeply into the details of the story, I really love how detailed the world-building has been so far without relying heavily on science-fiction cliches. It's rather funny since the story begins at a Canadian science-fiction convention but the story doesn't just toss a few references around and calls it a day, both the Fiah culture and the Ith's monoculture are hugely thought out although the story can get a little exposition-dump heavy at parts (the Fiah backstory was handled pretty gracefully and I will admit that there wasn't a better way to explain the many nuances of the Ith without just explaining it all at once but it still felt a little awkward). Ran and Cory also have a good sense for what information needs to be in the comic and what details can be shuffled off to the extras section such as the actual technology. Technology is the thing people think of when you say "this is a work of science fiction" but not all fans will care about the nitty gritty details for how a spaceship runs, what they do care about is how the characters use the technology and how cohesively it's integrated into the visual aspect of the story.

To talk about the characters, this is a story where you want to have a character sheet next to you when you're starting out the story especially since the designs aren't as distinctive in the beginning. The art has gotten better at differentiating the characters and all of the humans do have unique facial combinations and hairstyles but the story is a little too accurate in it's portrayal of characters who've been stuck on-board a ship for weeks without much of a chance to bathe (ie, everyone starts to look grubby and dirty characters look surprisingly similar). Fortunately you can tell the characters apart just by personality even early on, I find it rather interesting that the story started at a convention not so that the story could highlight the character's love for all things nerdy but just so it could make everyone as grumpy as they could possibly be even before it started*. I don't have time to talk about all of the characters in detail so I will say that I hope some of them like Blair and Heather get more page-time in the near future since this story can create character out of very small conversations. Bart and Victor have just one conversation with each other and that completely solidifies both of their characters (I wasn't expecting Victor to be as sympathetic as he was, maybe the kidnapping was a nice break for him after all) but the younger characters actually seem to be a bit harder to pin down. Ran and Cory have perfectly pinned down how an 11 year old with a lot of her plate would react but Henri and Jack still seem a bit too flat to me even after having rather major roles. I do really like Trish's characterization, the way she has reacted feels very much like what I would do and the conversation she had with Ethma about their behaviors I think is one of the best moments of the comic so far. And the story has been able to give us backstory on Ethma, start her character growth and Endi's, and provide backstory to the major Ith characters, it might not be perfect but it's done an impressive amount for only fifteen chapters!

And I don't want to forget, I like the art in this story quite a bit. The character designs do start out a little bit bland, as I've already mentioned they get better and become both distinctive and cool looking, and the series has a very distinctive color palette, lots of dark grays and blacks but punctuated by dark toned colors to keep it from having a cyberpunk tone. Sadly this does give the print book a few issues, I backed the kickstarter and remember that one issue was that the original, bright blue color that is practically synonymous with the title just did not print well (due to changing from RGB color schemes to CMYK) and while they found a work-around by making it more green I do miss that cool blue one. And I had some trouble reading some of the text in the book, I was looking through it before this review and there are a few places where there was faint gray text on a black text bubble and I honestly thought "I need to turn up my screen brightness here". Admittedly my bedroom doesn't have the best lighting so this is hardly the first time I've had to pull out a flashlight for a silly reason but it's something to keep in mind for future volumes. I also really like the design style in the book, while the info-dump pages about the Ith's monoculture may have been a bit awkward they certainly looked great and showed that the story's overall color scheme is not accident, Ran really knows what she's doing here. The backgrounds are a little bland but the technology, from ships to computers, all looks very smartly designed and really add to the sci-fi convention of the story.

This comic is one I can easily recommend even if it has a few issues since it's already gone a long way towards resolving earlier problems which makes me confident it's going to continue to do well. As mentioned earlier, there was a kickstarter to print the first book but I'm not sure if they're selling the extra copies yet, and as with all webcomics it can be read online for free at 

This review was completed when the comic was 15 chapters, 38 pages long.    

*which honestly might be the most accurate depiction of people at a convention ever after they've had to wait in the wrong line for two hours, get chased of the dealers hall, deal with pretentious fanboys during an autograph signing, finding out their internet girlfriend is otherkin wait no that one doesn't actually happen as often as the rest. Also, I highly recommend reading the "secret words" below each page (the hovertext) since they get stranger and stranger as the story goes on and make for a hilarious read about "murder ninja hair spies" and the fake production agency producing the comic which seems to have an executive board made up for 12 year old boys.

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