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The Webcomics Weekly #102: We Have Boyfriends (9/1/2020 Edition)

By | September 1st, 2020
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Welcome back to The Webcomics Weekly!

You need to read the following sentence in a Dennis Nedry voice. Because, we have “Boyfriends” here! We also have the contuing trek of “Trekker” and up the “Tower of God.” With “Agents of the Realm” continuing on a holiday excursion.

Agents of the Realm
Pages 379-385(Ch7)
Schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays
By Mildred Louis
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane

In this Agent highlight strip Louis once again focuses on the motif of travel and how annoying it can be. While readers got some idea of holiday travel in the previous strip focusing on Jordan, Paige’s strip is all about her trip to the airport. This strip isn’t entirely about the plot, though it is realized visually well on a couple of pages, Louis also uses it to show several nice moments between Norah and Paige. They are small but add up and show how far these two specifically have come as friends. Paige’s strip also has a fun bit of continuity about the day.

Traveling generally falls into one of two camps. On one side there is the adventure and novelty of it all, going to a new place and doing a new thing. On the other is the tedium and annoyance of moving luggage, dealing with people, and hoping everything runs on time. In comics we generally see the former when the repetitive task of traveling is represented, they make for a good travel montage. Louis focuses Paige’s strip around the latter. The first three panels on page 382 feature Paige trying to get through crowds of people only to than deal with the next great challenge: stairs. Using the stairs panels as a the central anchor point on the page and using the panels size to guide the readers eye with onomatopoeia gives the image both a good feeling of motion and emphasize the distance traveled. Page 382 ends on Paige finally making it to the bus stop, dealing with a new enemy the “stupid frickin’ cold” and hoping the buses run on time.

Eventually Norah shows up and offers her a ride. The drive to the airport on page 384 is plainly well realized. Louis reconfigures our modern GPS travel systems into comic form to show Norah and Paige driving through the city, which also provides readers their best map of the space today. Their traveling line creates an immediate reading line which is punctuated by moments of dialog and thanks between the two. The designs itself are simple but there is a plainly easy readability and effectiveness to everything. Page 384 is likely among my favorite pages of the series thus far.

Paige’s strip is built around the tedium and exhaustion of travel, even when you have friends helping you. That comes through in the paneling that emphasizes small moments of progress and the distance traveled. It builds so that when we finally get to Paige caching her breath on the plane you feel it and it is earned.

BoyfriendsWebtoons
Updates: Thursdays
By Refrainbow
Reviewed by Elias Rosner

Boyfriends! Getchyer boyfriends here! Nerdy, preppy, jocky, gothy boyfriends here! Ever watched a rom-com and thought “that love triangle would be better if it had crosses in the middle and double arrows both ways?” Well do I have a comic for you.

That’s right, Refrainbow has four types of boyfriends for you and they’re all dating each other. “Boyfriends” is a slice-of-life romance comic featuring four archetypes who play off each other in realistic, hilarious and heartwarming ways. And yes, when I say archetypes, I mean they are literally named Prep, Goth, Nerd, and Jock. What makes this more than just a typical romance comic is, well, all the heteronormative jelousy drama of a traditional rom-com is chucked out the window because these four boyfriends are 1) navigating being in their first poly relationship, the humor coming from their inexperience and personal insecurities and 2) those tropes are boring and overplayed and its much more fun to watch Prep be oblivious to everything only to have it boot into his brain like a photo over dial-up internet.

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I could read the adventures of these four all day. Refrainbow’s art & coloring fits the mood of the comic, soft and round, favoring bright pastel blues and pinks while characters have cute button eyes and oscillate between nervous dispositions and utter confidence. The characters are also deeper than the archetypes, which were never that over-the-top pastiche, reflecting each as individual people and keeping the wholesome attitude of the comic, even when the characters are talking about unwholesome topics, wink wink, nudge nudge.

I mean sex. They talk about sex and drugs and they swear yet it all remains wholesome, which says a lot more about my and the culture at large’s definition of wholesome than the comic. They’re college kids, it tracks and it makes the whole thing more realistic and relatable.

My only complaint is when characters talk with internet abbreviations. It reads fine but then I imagine the characters speaking aloud and it produces a cognitive dissonance that throws me for a loop. It’s a minor complaint but seeing “ofc” in a speech context rather than a text or tweet or DM or what not, it’s jarring to say the least. But that doesn’t stop my enjoyment of “Boyfriends” nor does it take away from the humorous antics of the characters. If slice-of-life isn’t your thing, you may want to skip but if you’re up for a lot of heart, a lot of boys, and a lot of awkward moments that turn sweet or go gut-bustingly wrong, then give “Boyfriends” a shot.

Tower of God
Tower of God: Season 1 Eps. 6-11; Episode 1 – “3/400 (three four-hundredths)”
Updates: Mondays (Currently on Hiatus in English)
By SIU
Reviewed by Elias Rosner

What do you desire? Money and wealth? Honor and pride? Authority and power? Revenge? Or something that transcends them all? Whatever you desire—it can be yours if you climb the tower.

Now, maybe this will be upended in the coming weeks but it looks like Tower of God has been adapting ~5 to 5 ½ chapters of the webtoon at a time. “3/400 (three four-hundredths)” starts midway through chapter 6 and ends midway through chapter 11, which considering all that happens is surprising. Thus far, both the anime and the webtoon have been moving through these tests at a fairly brisk clip, though it feels faster in the anime.

The subjective experience of time in media is fascinating to me because reading six chapters of “Tower of God” both felt exceptionally long and yet was objectively shorter than watching “3/400,” taking me 10 minutes to the 24 minutes. The act of scrolling, the mental breaks between chapters, a heartier amount of dialog and narration, it all adds up to the simulation of time in the world of the comic, in this case helping it feel longer without feeling like it’s dragged out. The reverse is true of the anime. The choices made in shot composition, in extending action scenes and removing dialog, helps to make the events feel shorter but more concentrated.

A perfect example of the show adapting a panel from the comic but making it so much funnier

Two tests are accomplished over the course of 22 minutes and a third is introduced, the make-up of the tower is explained, the world’s magic system is demonstrated, at least 10 new characters make their debut, and climbing the tower is demystified a little with the introduction of the idea of a Ranker being clarified as someone who has climbed the tower, meaning it is not only attainable, it has been done before. These details are explained in the comic as well, though far less well and in a more blunt, expository manner.

I appreciate Tower of God’s approach to doling out information, with the anime preferring to let us infer significantly more from the character’s actions and reactions than their words. This is very noticeable in chapters 6 &7 as well as “Tower of God” doesn’t trust its audience, perhaps because the author did not trust their own art and because they wanted to get as much world building done as quickly as possible. In fact, this whole first season feels like the prologue to the main narrative, the Saiyan Saga to the Vegeta arc, the Preacher Season 1 to the comic’s first issue, where SIU is trying to figure everything out to set up the long game without having the benefit the anime has of knowing the long game.

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The anime is also far less funny, which is a boon and a detriment. Lero Ro is more serious and imposing, Khun is aloof and mysterious with a wry sense of humor, while Anaak and Hatz are stoic and quiet. In “Tower of God,” Khun is a trickster who literally winks at the camera, Lero Ro goofily plays around with the regulars before his test, and Anaak & Hatz are quippier and their interactions with Ship Leesoo have more back and forth barbs. For the comic, these are fine as it fits the shonen battle genre, allowing the characters to be expressed through words rather than actions. It’s also clear SIU isn’t the best writer and so the general comedic nature of the characters is a shortcut to give them distinct personalities while keeping them enjoyable for the audience.

Like how in Yu-Gi-Oh, this was a shortcut for everyone watching to stop taking a scene seriously

It doesn’t really work for me and the anime made the right choice excising it. However, that makes the moments of unbridled silliness jarring and incongruent. Rak and Ship Leesoo get the worst of it. Ship is frustrating in ways he isn’t in the comic, making me think he’s a fan favorite that got a bump for the anime, taking up way too much screen time with goofs that land flat and a running gag of “being ignored” that’s funny once. For Rak, the oversimplification trick on his face is funny sometimes but other times simply doesn’t work. The tonal whiplash isn’t so bad in the comic, thanks in part to a blurrier line between the regular style and the “gag style.” But the levity is important and it’s the quieter moments of humor that work as the bridge between.

There are two big narrative changes that stick out to me, both of which were good changes. The first is during the second test when Rak, Khun and Bam first meet. Everything about this chapter is changed around, from the order of events to the motivations to who instigates each battle to even the detail of how Khun knows the Black March is a weapon of Jahad. Favoring more action and less overt exposition, Tower of God clarifies and refines the characters as well as their actions while leaving room for mystery. Little details help with this, like the pocket counting down the number of people or the time remaining rather than showing elapsed time or the test administrator box being more succinct and clear in its instructions. This preserves the tension of the scene, one which was heightened already by keeping Rak, Khun and Bam in conflict right up until the buzzer rather than them hiding as in Chapter 8.

There are too many moments of change in the second test to go into but the other one I wanted to highlight was in the middle of Chapter 8, right after the melee is over, is the reactions of Bam, Khun and Ship to the follow-up parameters. In the comic, they’re shocked they have to team up with the Rak/Anaak & Hatz, which is a funny moment but is far more effective in Tower of God because this motivation is removed entirely. Ship is all in on teaming up and the comedy comes from being shut down and ignored, which works rather well. Rak doesn’t want to team up but Khun and Bam have already had their bonding moment, allowing them to work better as a team even if they don’t quite realize it yet. It’s clean, effective and a great example of adaptation’s strengths.

This refinement extends to the secondary characters as well, which is the other major narrative change: a whole bunch of secondary characters are combined or removed from Tower of God. This isn’t surprising as it’s an old film adaptation trick but what works about it here is why they did it. The gun guy is already known to us as an asshole. Why introduce a new character to antagonize Lero Ro when an already introduced bit character can be used more effectively. The same is true of the fighting characters who have their lines cut. The scene is shortened thanks to one character’s lines being given to Lero Ro, which accomplishes the job of showing how powerful he is in that the character unequivocally shuts up and of keeping the scene tight and the test focused.

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I don’t know if this will keep being the case but Tower of God is proving to be a very effective adaptation, surpassing the original. Will it fall apart? Will the translation feel less stilted in the webtoon? I dunno but I’m sure we’ll find out.

See you in two weeks for “The Correct Door.”

Trekker
Pages: Book 10 “Trial By Fire” Pages 9-16
Schedule: Mondays
By Ron Randall(story and breakdowns), Moose Bauman(color),David Jackson(lettering)
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane

In the previous edition of ‘Trial By Fire’ I was looking at it mostly from the point of view of a soft reboot as the series had moved to a brief time at Image Comics. While there are a couple of new art moves that Randall pulls off here that feel very Image-esque, this next batch of pages feel like classic “Trekker” in all sense of the word.

‘Trial By Fire’ might be at a new publisher, but it is still a “Trekker” one shot and Ron Randall has established a very particular cadenence and plainly effective way of pacing everything in a 22-26 page comic. The first 8 pages gave us Mercy’s mission and started her on the job. This next batch of pages, as second acts tend to do, complicates things a bit. Complications come in the form of a set of highered goons who want Mercy to stop asking those dangerous questions. Structurally and narratively ‘Trial By Fire’ isn’t all that different from previous one shot issues. Which makes a lot of sense, it’s at a new publisher and you want to make a good first impression.

Where Randall changes things up is the action and to a degree the art design. As Mercy goes after her captors she pursues them on a hover bike, a sequence that isn’t too far removed from the chase in Attack of the Clones. “Trekker” has done chase sequences before, but they’ve yet to do a bit where Mercy and her prey are falling through the air tied to one another. Randall uses that image of them as the anchor on page 15. It isn’t a traditional 90s Image anchor page, it takes up about a quarter of the page, but the high angle and emphasis on movement is very different compared to previous “Trekker” action sequences. Mercy’s would be prisoner choosing death over capture isn’t as out of sync with “Trekker” as a whole but it still manages to land with an effective thud and stand out as something extreme – but not eXtreme.

‘Trial By Fire’ is a good introduction to “Trekker” as a whole but that doesn’t stop Randall from slowly paying off ‘C’ plot threads that have been left hanging throughout the series. He reintroduces the neighbor Jonah, and Jason Bolt. The key though is how these characters are used and contextualized. Long time readers would recognize Jonah from “Trekker” third story ‘Scarmen’s Burn,’ here he is just a neighbor helping Mercy take care of some goons. Jason Bolt and his beliefs are both more complex and central to the story so his introduction features some well done exposition. It isn’t over done and gives the reader enough to make the story effective without being sidetracked by expositing a bunch of socio-political stuff the series has only ever hinted at. Using these characters in this way is a good example of what effective and efficient writing looks like and how you can write to multiple audiences at once without holding ones hand and pushing the other way. ‘Trial By Fire’ has some new tricks but it is still classic “Trekker.”


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