Tuesday, October 12, 2004

14th Leg: Deathworld

The new issue of the Webcomics Examiner is up. You'll recall I said it hadn't quite clicked with me yet, but I gave the new issue another go anyway, just to see if the feeling would change.

Wow! I see that this month's issue really seems to be dominated by the Modern Tales family. I spot James Kochalka (American Elf), Dylan Meconis (GirlaMatic), and Gene Yang (Modern Tales).

There's also a surprise review of my friend Ryan Kolter's comic Reasoned Cognition on the line. The surprise is because being pre-occupied with his impending nuptials I think he doesn't even know about that existence of the review yet. In comparison to the other two reviews, the review for Reasoned Cognition is short and sweet, just the way I like it.

Speaking of the reviews, the WCE reviews sure are heavy stuff! When reading them, I couldn't help but feel the contrast between theirs and those on this humble little blog. They sure live up to their name of 'Examiner' and scrutinise those comics to the last inch! Whereas I just hammer them out from the point of a reader.

It got me thinking: Do these things I write on this blog really constitute as reviews or am I just classifying them? Looking up on the Dictionary.com definition I found:
re·view  v. re·viewed, re·view·ing, re·views v. tr.

1. To look over, study, or examine again.
2. To consider retrospectively; look back on.
3. To examine with an eye to criticism or correction: reviewed the research findings.
4. To write or give a critical report on (a new work or performance, for example).
5. Law. To reexamine (an action or determination) judicially, especially in a higher court, in order to correct possible errors.
6. To subject to a formal inspection, especially a military inspection.

I guess I do fulfil the criteria. A bit. Not in the same way, but oh heck...

On to the 'review'!

Comic: Deathworld
By: Rudi Gunther

Genre and Setting: Sci-fi, University-life, Humour, Story,

Art Style: Cartoony, Inked, Early strips B&W, latter strips in full colour.

Is About: Matt Blaster, a futuristic space marine whose squadron is decimated in a failed assault. In the afterlife, he is placed on the Deathworld (Or the U of A, wherever that is), a planet where all being exist just for the amusement of its caretaker. During the course of time. Matt meets other characters in the afterlife and constantly battles both a mad scientist and a bunch of paranormals... apparently just for the heck of it.

Website: http://www.fuddafudda.com/
Frequency: Tuesdays and Fridays. Given that the archive size is currently almost 600 strips, I'd say it's pretty reliable.
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
With a name like Deathworld, I was subconsciously expecting something along the lines of Flatwood or Voices In My Hand. You know, black and white or greyscale art, creepy atmosphere, chilling story/humour... those kind of things.

Instead I was quite surprised when the page loaded and I found myself looking at a cartoony page drenched in very vibrant colour. Let me emphasize the vibrant colour part just so you know how startling that particular detail was to me.

The most curious thing about this whole leg is, I actually muttered: "Wha... Superosity?"

Which is silly at the second take because the art is quite different, and the premise for the story doesn't really seem to be the same. Of course, I've never actually read Superosity. I mean, yeah it's a comic by one of the Fab Four (In case you're not familiar with that: the four Keenspot founders) but I never could bring myself it actually start reading the 2000 pages or so that constitute the archive.

So I guess I'll have to admit that my only impression of Superosity so far has been... lots of bright green... and hand-lettering.

Which suddenly explains why I associated Deathworld with Superiosity based on just the superficial similarities I noticed first. Isn't it odd what the human subconscious registers?

Anyway, the site navigaation is mercifully standard and the buttons are clearly labelled and easy to navigate. The vibrant green do make it easier since it makes the comic and buttons stand out against the dark background.

The Concept:
Well, I found the concept of the afterlife being a puppet on a SIMs-like planet and in a university amusing. It's certainly something slightly away from the norm.

However I was sometimes confused by the constant veering between the sci-fi/adventure and university-gag jokes. And how the simulated world doesn't even try to make sense...

The Art:
Pretty consistent throughout.

It looks like ink-work with very little variation.I wouldn't say it's blindingly good, but something in it does remind me a lot of Schlock Mercenary. I think it's the way they draw eyes.

The latter parts of the comic where the colour comes in are actually pretty cool.

The Writing:
Personally, I quite liked the beginning, where the space troopers storm the alien planet and get butchered by the stereotype Aliens Aliens, Matt gets killed, and is told that his version of hell will be getting plonked on a senseless planet for amusement of the caretaker of the planet which happens to take after some university called 'The U of A'.

So accordingly, Matt ends up on Deathworld, and the story all but goes rapidly downhill from there. For some reason, Matt becomes obligated to shoot pretty much everything that crosses him. Oh, and he makes an arch-enemy out of the resident evil mad scientist-professor, who in return wants to kill him too. And the stereotypically named Prof. Von Rudenstein proceeds to do so, using a bunch of pretty much useless inventions.

Being swallowed by one of these, Matt meets the fellow space trooper Alison (who is pretty much the geek idealised woman. You know, hot babe, engineer, wears silly armour and kicks major ass to boot). Why exactly Alison is in the stomach of a monster is never quite explained, but I presume there should be a reason that I didn't catch on. Or maybe the Caretaker put her there to make things interesting

Anyway for the next couple hundred pages, yours truly was trapped in a ever worsening cycle of maddingly boring action scenes. All of them were senselessly violent. The worst part of it was that the violence and swearing were being set up as the punchline. Look, people swear in stressful situations. It's a fact of life. But having to hear it every other sentence is rather grating on the nerves, just so you know.

Oh, and just because I don't want my site attracting the wrong search strings, I'm going to attempt to reproduce the language without actually duplicating it.

*readers become confused*

Anyway, this is a typical story-arc:

*The bad guys grumble at how much they hate Matt and send their latest minions/inventions/super-weapons after Matt*

Matt: Whafu¢k?

*minion/invention/super-weapon tries to eliminate Matt, never quite does it*

Matt: Suck this. you fu¢kwad!

*fudda fudda fudda* (sound effect of guns)

*After some measure of battle, bad guy dies*

Matt: *some cheesy wise-crack*.

Now repeat several times, with infinite variations (i.e. Different monster, different character involved. Maybe different way of killing monsters). All this repetitive and mind-numbingly boring. Oh, in-between storylines you get something like this. Or you get the hated Beerman character trying to explain something and be funny at the same time. Or you get crass or Fourth Wall breaking jokes and 'Deathworld is the most hated comic' strips. (I whole-heartedly agreed with that one then.)

You really really got the impression violence in Deathworld, at least, is the answer to everything.

The sad part was that the random violence didn't strike me as funny... and it was being set up as the punchline.

(Reading the comic)
Ping: GAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!
*nearly tears her hair out*
Ping: All right, who wrote this bloody crap?!

Anyway, just so you know, I was quite close to giving up. There were many many moments when I seriously considered just stopping altogether and writing a review that would have put the one I did of Gigawhut? to shame.

Then something miraculous happened. The comic suddenly changed directions. The name of the storyline was The Dark Heart. And for the first time... or so it seemed to me, we had a plausible storyline, moderately realistic character development and a plot instead of random violence and crass jokes. Granted, it built on stuff that was lightly touched from the previous massacre storylines, but suddenly it all fell into place.

I'm not saying the entire comic suddenly became palatable over the course of a few strips, but you could feel the difference. It had a direction. And it gained character.

At any rate, for the first time since the beginning of the strip, I actually found myself enjoying the read. (As opposed to hoping desperately for it to end soon. Always a bad sign, that.) It was also around that point when the strip went full-colour too, which was a definite plus. The characters got developed out of their stereotypes (That silly goth boy, for instance. Even Beerman became bearable), Rudi cut down on usage of the word fu¢k, and we had less of the very unamusing random violence.

Over the course of the next 400 pages or so (I did mention the archive was quite substantial, right?) the various storylines kept getting better and better, the characters interacted, changed and developed... we saw some interesting plot twists and a violent storyline that wasn't boring (The one where Matt got abducted by the aliens).

And I was actually surprised to find at the end of the read that I had developed what could only be called a fondness for the characters of the comic.

Sometimes a light surprises.

Roughly most of the first 200 strips. Minus the beginning part. Please don't make me go through them again *cries*

The the sad part is, most people trying out the comic will probably never make it past the 197th strip to get the where the comic stops being some university self-insertion and inside-joke riddled strip, and instead matures into the real Deathworld.

This comic holds the unique postion of being a comic I absolutely HATED in the beginning, and quite liked in the end.

Yes, it is possible to do so. Like I said, there's an insane number of pages in the archive. You could say it became an acquired taste.

I really could have done without the horrible beginning though. *shudder* I think I need a break after reading almost 600 pages in one afternoon too. Thank God I have broadband now.

The Next Leg:

Looking through "Webcomics I read" page, I spot an old Graphic Smash neighbour of mine. Clue: The name of my comic is The Jaded. The other comic was always listed after me alphabetically.

Watch out, Dave! I'm coming in!!!


  1. "U of A" in this case stands for the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. If you want to read some excellent comics that started out in the student paper at the U of A, I would suggest Bob the Angry Flower (http://angryflower.com/) and Cigarro and Cerveja (http://www.cigarro.ca/). There are probably others, but the student comic page makes my eyes bleed now, which wreaks havoc with my insurance.

  2. There must be some element of irony that as a moderately capable comicker, I don't contribute to my university paper.

    Maybe because the subject matter jsut doesn't appeal to me...