Welcome back to the Webcomics Weekly!
September is upon us, my dear readers. A month unsure of what it wants to be but always certain that change is in the air. So, what better way to ring it in than with three comics we’ve reviewed here before! That’s right. Our continuing coverage of “A Better Place” and “Order of the Stick” is joined this week by a re-look at the recently re-launched “Soul on Hold.” Breathe in the winds of change and settle in for something familiar to tide you over into the beginning of the last third of the year.
A Better Place
‘A Braver New World’ – ‘A Secret Key’
Reviewed by Elias Rosner
Last time, Hannah and her brother Leo got some godlike, but different, powers. Hannah, being crazy genre savvy, banishes “god” and decides that she’s going to save the world. How? This time, we smash cut to 1,000 years into the future where Hannah is ruler of the world. Remember how I said this comic was doing some really cool things? This is one such choice. Instead of letting us follow Hannah as tries to save the world with her powers, thereby having her journey be the center of the comic, we are thrown a curveball by jumping to when all the work has been “completed” and Hannah has achieved her goals. The world is “saved.” “A Better Place” then steps back and asks us: is it really?
Clearly things aren’t perfect and, in order to approach this thought, we’re given a brand new protagonist: Ninabelle. In fact, instead of checking in on Hannah and learning how we got to this point or what’s she’s been up to, we’re introduced to Ninabelle and her sister Tina, both of whom are questioning Hannah’s final statement in different ways, though they are unaware of what she said 1,000 years ago. What I love about this choice is that it instantly positions us to take anything Hannah says with a grain of salt, such as when we get some expositional backstory in ‘Genesis, and a Revelation,’ as well as preparing us for the inciting incident to truly kick off the main thrust of the first act.
Ninabelle’s a member of Hannah’s council and through her we see how the world is, how it is presented to Hannah, and how Hannah believes it should be. Further reinforcing this is the character of Main/Empress Computer and the sycophantic nature of the council. Side note: Empress Computer is a character I can’t wait to explore more of as she strikes an intriguing balance between a typical dictatorial advisor/toady and an overburdened but power-hungry worker who believes they can, and should, do everything themselves.
Again, Harrodeleted’s artwork is stunningly detailed and clear. The sense of scale is off the charts, between the wide-swaths of trees or the dense and towering central city, the entirety of this new world is imposing from the get-go. My favorite detail might be Hannah’s humongous throne with the huge pile of pillows, though Ninabelle’s fish-eye look to accentuate her fear from the first panel of ‘A Secret Key’ might be a close second. There was, however, one paneling issue in ‘Central City’ due to the nature of the scroll. Panel 3 is quite long and so the bottom, with Tina’s speech balloon, is cut off until you’ve already read the next two panels. On the app, and in page format, this isn’t much of a problem, and keeping the balloon closer to Tina’s head is a good design choice to help retain the wide space between the characters. That said, it was noticeable and just one of the issues with a variable format such as a computer screen.
Where do we go from here? Well, the hunt for Theo begins. . .and the mystery of Hannah’s new world deepens.
Order of the Stick
By Rich Burlew
Reviewed by Gustavo S. Lodi
“Order of the Stick” makes humour in sketches in comic form look easy. The more familiar readers are with these adventures and its loose narrative structure, the more this should become apparent. One key element of that is how series creator Rich Burlew manage to land comedic timing in writing. Differently than a regular, oral stand-up routine, in comic form the reader largely influences the landing on this timings, since word balloons and panel progression are on his side.Continued below
To solve for that, Burlew relies on rapid-paced dialogue, sometimes large word balloons, and a large number of panel per page, in order to limit how his audience can damage the landing of some of the jokes. The result is usually very strong and amusing.
Case in point, on this test update, the strip focused a lot on the villain party of the story, now still recovering from their defeat from the “Order of the Stick” from a while ago. These are known characters, but far less in the spotlight than the titular heroes, so being able tore-infuse their voice, relationships, and banter, so quickly, is an achievement.
The jokes debate the role of leadership, both on the side of good and evil, as well as how relationships of respect and authority change over time. If this sounds serious, do not be alarmed: it is certainly played for laughter, with the occasional serious insight to provoke a bit more thought. Just as any great comedy does.
Soul on Hold
By Austen Marie
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
After starting out as a normal submitted strip to Webtoon, “Soul on Hold” by Austen Marie is a full fledged featured strip within the service proper. Which opens up new revenue for Marie and gates more new episodes beyond time locks for free-to-read users. Overall that isn’t a bad thing, it’s part of the service, it just left me wishing the first three episodes of this relaunched comic were better.
Now due to the relaunch the old “Soul on Hold” is no longer available to read on Webtoon, understandably. After a bit of digging and looking at some earlier thoughts on that incarnation of the strip I could see differences between the two. Marie’s art is better. Her character acting is a bit more effective and less like a doodle. Where the strip loses me a bit is in the formatting, things are a bit visually plain and boring in the first three episodes. That bland quality becomes more pronounced in the second and third episodes. The first episode actually uses the black gutter space as a visual metaphor for the gap in co-lead Ayden Jones’ story and reality very well.
It is the panel design and use of gutter space in the other strips that do not visually intrigue. The infinite scroll format allows for some very interesting plays with perspective and “Soul on Hold” in these episodes didn’t really use the medium to establish a sense of space. While Ayden and Coffee Girl Maggie have a meet cute under flickering street lights, Marie does some balls of light in a few spots represent movement but they disappear once they get inside and the environment becomes less interesting. Her pacing for each episode is well done with most of the three working as their own piece and building up a serialized story.
As previously stated the character acting is more effective, designs are tighter. I’m not exactly sold on Ayden and Maggies relationship, the “Pathetic and Charming flirting” just reads as more pathetic than charming – but that sort of dynamic never really works for me in the first place. It is well executed though, so that when a reveal does happen, it lands.
The first three episodes of “Soul on Hold” are a good tease. Marie rightly tries to sell readers on and establish Ayden and Maggie as a pair of arrested development adults leading unfulfilling lives. The supernatural stuff can come later. The relaunch of “Soul on Hold” is fine, but unspectacular.