Welcome back to The Webcomics Weekly! This week, we enter the BTS extended universe as the k-pop group gets their own webcomic. Things begin to get too real for Elly in “Blood Stain,” If you like “Die” check out “The Substitutes” a comic about friends stranded in a magical dimension. Sam and Fuzzy continue on the case. And the Order of the Stick keep on questing.
Prologue – Chapter 3
By LICO & Big Hit Entertainment
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
Note about credits: For the curious, the artist is LICO but I am unsure if they are the writer as well or if there is a team from the owners of BTS..
In the grand tradition of musical acts getting their own multi-media properties, k-pop group BTS now has their own highly dramatic webcomic courtesy of webtoons. Immediately upon reading the prologue, it’s apparent that if you are totally unfamiliar with BTS and its members, this series will not be forgiving. Apparently, and don’t quote me on this, there is a universe surrounding these pop stars and, as such, this is a continuation of that story. . .I think.
Set 2 years after the group breaks up, the prologue opens by showing us snippets of each of the members of the group, teasing out what has happened to them. It becomes clear in Episode 1 that this is going to become a getting the band back together type of deal but OH MAN does “Save Me” throw us for a loop. It’s a Groundhog Day meets a deal with the devil(?) situation, complete with two members in jail, one for murder, and another member dead. Seokjin, the focal character who isn’t properly introduced until well into episode 1.
LICO’s art really helps keep the comic together. Scenes flow from one to the next, thanks to the gradient gutters. They keep the action tight and while some scenes end up leaning more comical thanks to the exaggeration of the posing and intensity lines, others, such as the drowning dream scene, are highly effective. The character expressions are OK, if not a little stiff, but the posing is where most of the characterization comes in. The dialogue is OK as well, with no real solid voice for any of the characters as of yet.
My main issue with this is that, again, if you have no frame of reference for who these people are, the visuals do not do enough to differentiate them in any meaningful way. For the super fan, the way a character wears a tie or buttons/doesn’t button their shirt is enough but for a newbie, there are way too many characters introduced at once. I’m being cautious here because I am trying to avoid playing into the racist “everyone looks the same” stereotype, which is not the case at all. However, the manufactured nature of pop groups means that they are supposed to be similar, to be just homogeneous enough as to all have mass appeal, but different enough so everyone can pick a favorite. (See Backstreet boys and N’Sync.)
This is the biggest issue with “Save Me:” every character feels manufactured. There’s no depth yet and we’re supposed to care about these characters’ situations before we’re ever properly introduced to them. Again, however, the farther into the story we get, the more engaging it becomes. By pairing down the characters to one or two at a time, they can let them breathe and express themselves. It’s not there yet but I don’t think it’s irreparable.
All in all, this is a comic for fans and not for someone like me. There are enough good qualities to have me continue, as well as the pure mystery of it all, but if these first few chapters don’t hook you, the rest probably won’t either.
Schedule: currently on hiatus
By Linda Sejic
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
This batch of strips from “Blood Stain” chapter 2 are a bit of a come down from the hectic tone in previous strips as Elly finally gets to go off to bed. But not before playing a game of twenty questions and phone calls back home. Throughout this set of strips Linda Sejic shows some interesting variety in how to stage conversations within the horizontal strip format.
The first major conversation is between Elly and Serge, as the latter plays host and leads her to her room. Their conversation is lit by candlelight which makes for a nice shallow light source that makes for a sense of dynamism as they stand in the hallway. The candlelight also gives Serge and Elly some rather creepy expressions. One of the noticeable changes from previous strips is the improvement in lettering, Sejic’s script is tighter and the overall flow of balloons has improved. The candelight gives everything a nice red-orange tint to it which makes for nice contrast with the overwhelming blue inside Elly’s room proper and the pale light from her phone running through many notifications.
The next conversation is between Elly, her sister, and boyfriend, over the phone. Normally phone conversations represent their space by separating the pair with panels. In this case Sejic mostly bleeds the two locations together, making a nice blue and green balance. The bleed effect carries over into the lettering in a meaningful way. Elly and Serge’s conversation was cordial, Elly’s sister reads her the riot act over the phone. The lettering literally has her talking over Elly which makes for a nice effect when reading the strip. There’s also some solid background gaggery in this batch of strips. Even with all the style to the conversation the emotions behind it come to a pleasant natural conclusion that shows how much they care for one another.
“Blood Stain” has been about process in someways, the job hunting stretch, but the process was extended and cartooned out. In the final pair of strips we get to see a process that is more tactile and minute, effectively building tension as Elly begins to realize she’s in a strange house all alone with a mad scientist. Overall Sejic shows some very smart paneling in these strips to represent both conversations and building.
By Rich Burlew
Reviewed by Robbie Pleasant
With the Order of the Stick and the Linear Guild united, it’s time to split the party! Of course, each team member goes with their counterpart, allowing us to contrast the characters in more detail.
We get some classic rivalries, with Belkar the halfling and Yikyik the kobold, working with the “attack of opportunity” mechanics for the joke. Of course, elves and drow typically have some bad blood between them, which comes through as Vaarsuvius and Zz’dtri bicker over spells. (The fact that Vaarsuvius apparently has ninth level spells scribed doesn’t help establish the characters’ levels, but I can let that go for the joke.) The gag about spells being purchased in booster packs is humorous too, and resonates well with any readers who have bought card games like “Magic: The Gathering” or even assorted D&D minis.
Most importantly, though, we get the combined backstory of Elan and Nale. We learn about their parents, which sets up an important plot point that will come into play much, much farther down the line. Is the “twins separated at birth by their parents” thing a trope we’ve seen used before? Absolutely, but one thing “Order of the Stick” does well is take old story bits and really working with them to create something new.
Elan’s genre savviness comes through as well, as he immediately recognizes the importance of not telling the separated twins about their brother for the sake of a dramatic reunion. While Elan may not have much of an intelligence score, being able to recognize plot points like this is a character strength that adds another layer to him. And of course we get another game-based joke about Nale’s multiclass combination providing basically the exact same benefits as being a bard would, as well as an establishing character moment via his internal monologue.
The webcomic makes good use of its simplistic style to make the characters and their counterparts match up well. Sometimes they’ll be in the exact same position, so it’s clear how much of a color-swap the designs are. It’s even worth noting that Nale’s sash is going in the opposite direction of Elan’s, symbolizing how he’s an evil reflection. Rich Burlew does a lot visually even with the stick figure style. Even if this is just a side effect of the style, it works well for the Order of the Stick and the Linear Guild.Continued below
At this point, the story is moving at a better pace and we’re getting new characters to mix things up. 50 pages in is just a tiny step into the lengthy story that is “Order of the Stick,” but it’s a great ride so far.
Hazel parts 6-9
Updates: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
By Sam Logan
Reviewed by Dexter Buschetelli
The closing half of “Hazel” continues to reveal more of Fuzzy’s relationship with the arc’s mysterious titular-character Hazel Kim. The second flashback in this volume of “Sam & Fuzzy” takes place in the title’s “Year Zero”, ten years before the current day and all the shenanigans with Dev and those cute little gerbils. Remember those?
This is a great way to explain Fuzzy’s particular skill sets while still leaving his full backstory ambiguous. Hazel is presented as a potential mentoring figure, but also a rogue, reckless and dangerous. Fuzzy’s character is well showcased in moments like buying drinks with the stolen Lepus Crown and how he tells Hazel she should have prepared for him being a moron.
The swerve escape plan of Fuzzy playing a decoy in Hazel’s outfit to fool the police is a fun detour as we round out this arc. It is every bit of nonsense that this series has been so far and provides for a chuckle when looking at the “spak” sound effects as fuzzy bounces between alley walls. “Follicley-blessed little people” may very well be one of my favorite phrases I have read throughout contributing to this column.
I’m very curious to see how the character of Hazel will further come into play with this series, and look forward to reviewing “Ninja Mafia Services” in two weeks as we jump back to the present with “Sam & Fuzzy.”
Updates: Every other Tuesday
By Myisha Haynes
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
“The Substitutes” at its surface is a story about three friends who find themselves teleported to another dimension, filled with magic and enchanted weapons. It is also about three other friends from said dimension, who lose their reputation when their mission fails.
However, what “The Substitutes” really is about is how friendship can be a bond stronger than magic, and how the support from those closer to you can help pushing through amazing challenges as one is growing up.
Artist Myisha Haynes manages to instil both worlds – the “real” one, as well as the magical one of Valalith – with their own identity, but still keeps the art consistent throughout. If Valalith leans more heavily on bright greens and blues, the normal world is just as sharply coloured, if more on the urban and earthly side of the palette. It is conceivable to look at these pages and imagine characters floating back and forth these two dimensions.
Where Haynes really shine is on character design: Freddie, Emilio, and Bianca are very well fleshed out, with unique body types and personality oozing from facial expressions. The Knight, Engineer, and Mage from Valalith are just as recognisable. Despite the choice of keeping them nameless, their personality is anything but unremarkable. There is a lot that goes unsaid on the issue, with next to zero exposition, simply because the visuals are doing the heavy lifting.
In terms of plotting and script, there is a lot to appreciate as the story unravels. On the last update, the three earthly friends are back in their dimension after a short stint on Valalith. As they go about their regular lives, readers get to know more about their past history, how they connected in the first place and some more of their frustrations and aspirations. At the same time, audiences will be expecting further progress on the world of Valalith, where the chosen heroes must scramble to understand what happened with the intruders.
All in all, “The Substitutes” is about two group of three friends each, their tribulations and reasons for staying together. Of course, this is all told in a fantastic setting with magical missions, but readers will be back for that friendships, which is so creatively and fluidly portrayed.