Welcome back, one and all, to The Webcomics Weekly! This week we begin coverage of “Agents of the Realm,” make mistakes along the way with “Ryan Made Mistakes,” and end up cursed with “Lalin’s Curse” along with continuing coverage of “Sam and Fuzzy” and “Order of the Stick.”
Pages 1-11 (Prologue – Ch. 1)
Schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays
By Mildred Louis
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
I forget where and how I first heard of “Agents of the Realm” by Mildred Louis, though I believe it was the pitch of it being inspired by Magical Girls manga/anime that caught my attention. Needless to say it has grew on me, and in the interest of full disclosure I did eventually back Louis pair of Kickstarters to print the first two volumes of the series. Unlike “Bloodstain” this serial review won’t follow the original webcomic, since Louis has been reposting the retouched version of the strip. There isn’t any major content changes, mostly it is just some art touches and new lettering.
“Agents of the Realm,” as the name implies, focuses on a group 5 Silvermount University students, Norah, Adele, Kendall, Paige, and Jordan, who find themselves fated to protect a magical dimension and keep up their grades. All of that comes later though, these opening 10 pages instead focus on the entirely mundane day to day life of Norah as she goes about questing for that bachelors degree. We don’t even get a good look at her on the first page, but the sense of exhaustion comes through in the dialog (despite the hot pink font.)
What follows is montage of a morning as she goes about getting ready for mythology class. Early pages have some solid gags and comedy to them, but what’s never loss is how tired Norah looks throughout. Even after a shower and all the things that would theoretically wake you up, she still looks drowsy. The other part that comes through in her morning routine is how isolated she is from the rest of the student body. As she walks to the lecture hall, Louis dedicates two thirds of a page to show groups of friends and couples chilling in the park and the distance Norah is from them. To make matters worse, she is soon hit with an errant frisbee. The cartooning on Norah does an excellent job showing how she feels, the single page splash as she sorta awkwardly finds a seat in the hall is a nice cap to this morning routine.
Louis use of clocks to mark the passage of time is plainly effective. The alarm clock is able to interrupt and exist in the gutter space. The lecture hall clock looms over everything helping to extend the seemingly banal small talk all the students make ahead of class as Norah dozes off to sleep, but not for long.
The opening of chapter 1 and the prologue, though it has bit more obvious supernatural elements, do a fantastic job of establishing the environment and understandable reality Norah is working through. It sells the reader and allows the reader to invest in Norah as a person first, before things inevitably go haywire once all the magical girl business begins. Playing in reality also allows Louis to quickly establish when something is supernatural, as Professor Ruby Blackwater enters the frame she is, literally, glowing in ways that no angle of the sun will. And that’s after we got a view of her ominous long shadow. The start to “Agents of the Realm” takes things slow but in building the natural world first it should allow for an easy transition when things get super.
By Isabel Terol Martínez
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
One of the hardest parts of reviewing Webtoons is that they are not optimized for a computer screen, so in order to get the correct experience from them, a tablet or phone is the best way to go. I bring this up because, sometimes, that little bit of friction can be just enough to hurt the pacing and flow. This was the case with “Lalin’s Curse,” where I found myself having to actually switch midway through reading and, upon doing so, found my reading experience greatly enhanced. But, onto the comic itself.Continued below
“Lalin’s Curse’s” begins with an issue zero, which has the dubious honor of being both vital narratively and tonally incongruent with the subsequent chapters. It’s beautifully drawn, with moody backgrounds and a wonderful use of gifs and sound to really amp up the unsettling nature of the episode, and effectively tells a short-story that leaves room for more but could serve as a stand-alone adventure. It feels like a pilot chapter and so, when the next episode begins with a markedly less haunted house/horror tone and a perceptible but not drastic shift in art style, the question remains if episode zero helps or hurts the overall narrative.
I’m inclined to say it harms it — the subsequent episodes do a much better job of building suspense and terror in the unknown, as episode zero was pretty heavy handed without taking the necessary time to make the imagery impactful. Additionally, it seems to tip the hand of the series too far, removing some of the mystery around whether or not there is anything supernatural going on. However, the information contained in that episode helps frame the main character’s quest as not a fool’s errand but a ticking clock until tragedy strikes. Moreover, the transitional element towards the end would need to have been included as part of episode one to fully make it coherent.
The strengths of “Lalin’s Curse” do well outweigh the negatives though. Each episode, at least of these first six, are quite long and the characters are endearing and, although their character models start off as looking rather generic and similar, but episode five, they’ve gotten much more distinctive, cementing the scooby gang look and feel of the group. It’s clear there is a long game being played and the mystery elements are a good hook, doling out just enough information without overloading us. I also appreciate the way the scroll is used to transition between scenes and how elements in one scene become backgrounds or a piece of a different environment for the next. Care has been put into this and while “Lalin’s Curse” had a rocky start, the elements that make it great are continually being polished, so much so that I am waiting with baited breath for the next episode.
By Rich Burlew
Reviewed by Robbie Pleasant
Given that Order of the Stick is at over 1,000 pages, simply doing five every other week will barely make a dent in the series. So let’s try ten!
Anyways, there are some things players don’t really think about in tabletop games, like using the bathroom. But there must still be restrooms in dungeons, right? Otherwise, well, they’d be a whole lot messier. That idea sets up the joke for these first few pages, making an amusing little diversion from the main story before the plot picks up speed.
In this case, a joke about discount invisibility spells leads to an exercise in entirely dialogue-driven humor… since the characters aren’t visible. They can’t see which way they’re being directed to move, and the usual “who’s touching me?” joke used the fact that the we can’t see who the dialogue is coming from to make us not suspect Elan’s the one talking. It uses the lack of visuals to good humor.
Then we have a great joke about Move Silently checks, wherein the check is failed by a character announcing he failed the check. I still proclaim “I ROLLED A FOUR” very loudly whenever I fail a Stealth check in my own games.
But as the party flees from goblins, it moves them one step closer to the actual encounter with Xykon. In this case, it involves humor about teenage rebellion – angry goblin teens rebel against their parents by being good-aligned rather than evil. As always, it’s a clever bit of humor. The party’s continued adventures is made all the more amusing by the descriptions of the various rooms and halls they pass through, like the corpse-riddled “Passageway of Horrible Death for Other People” or the easily-cleared “Cavern of Very Easy Encounters.” In these cases, the rooms have no impact on the story, but they add nice artistic variety to the panels.Continued below
At this point, it’s easy to feel like the battle is approaching, even as Xykon wastes magical powers to ask a corpse where he left his keys. Perhaps we’ll get there in two week’s time, but as always, Order of the Stick remains entirely amusing and enjoyable.
Updates: Every Monday
By Ryan Estrada
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
“Ryan Estrada” is the semi-autobiographical memoirs of its author and titular character, starting at the very, very beginning of his life. It is as comedic and cartoony as they come, and the blend of stylised drawings with a very strong sense of timing make it well worth the visit.
Ryan narrates his own early life adventure on this first update, from his birth down to the time the mischievous little boy is such a rascal that a social worker threatens to take him away from his parents. Going through a premature birth, a house fire, and bouts with pneumonia, this series might sound like a drama, but it is far from it.
The first sign of a strong aesthetics comes from the facial expression and reliance on distorted anatomy (e.g. large faces, even bigger eyes) to convey emotion quickly and in an exaggerated way. There is a certain similarity to how Darren Aronofsky portrays violence that is very effective, even if it is much more subdued here, thankfully.
Second, the comedy timing by series creator is really good. Each page is a short episode of its own, yet still connected with a longer progression and sense of evolution to the small Ryan. On all of them, something absurd occurs, and since it is told in such a mundane way, as if it happens to every ordinary person, it hits golds recurrently. There are some laugh-out-loud moment on this update, especially when a certain horse is involved.
All in all, “Ryan Made a Mistake” engages its audience very quickly, by the way it connects them with the main character and its stylised depiction. It holds readers in, though, by the sharp sense of comedy and honestly that drips from every page, so that further updates are anticipated. After all, what could possible continue to go wrong for this little kid?
Edwin parts 6-15
Updates: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
By Sam Logan
Reviewed by Dexter Buschetelli
Just in time for the Team Edward crowd to get excited about a new Batman casting we’re ready to continue covering the ‘Edwin’ arc from “Sam & Fuzzy.” That’s topical, I’m doing a topical thing with this.
Twilight jokes are still relevant this week as the entire point of ‘Edwin’ is to not only make light of but also deconstruct modern interpretations of vampires in media. I spoke two weeks ago about the influence of Anne Rice on millennial obsessions of these creatures of the night which led to a new boom of gloom in the naughties, from a later Rice adaptation of Queen of the Damned to the dawn of the Twilight series–before Breaking Dawn, that is.
Dev takes on a role similar to Dee of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as she tries to create her own Nosferatu-esque My Fair Lady and the fourth wall begins to fold in on itself. Attempting to not only rehabilitate but teach the game straight to Edwin, Dev begins to learn–as Sweet Dee often does–Rom-Coms don’t really work in the real world; or the world of “Sam & Fuzzy,” as it were. Edwin may very well be a lost cause, as he is beaten up by not only a potential mark but her boyfriend he informs he is not interested in as he was “just using her for practice.” That practice, of course, being an attempt to earnestly flirt without coming across as creepy. Practice is often, and should be, a failure.
Edwin and Dev’s failures both are a delight, deliciously reveling in the farcical nature that has at times made this series worth reviewing. The final panels of Edwin biting his attacker only further skewers the genre by revealing a wampyr’s bite does not turn its victim into an undead bloodsucker, but rather a werewolf. Still a fair site less horrible than what goth poetry turns one into though, I suppose.Continued below
The subplots of Fuzzy writing his own stage presentation and the introduction of Detective Rebecca Morris offer additional hilarity and further intrigue to the future of these characters and their world and–as this series manages to once again do–reinvigorates my interest in “Sam & Fuzzy.”