The Webcomic Watchman

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Review #34: "Big Brother is--nah, too easy."

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"I know where y-- hey! Stop stealing my material!"

Title: NSTA
Artist: Kirstan Norris
Genre: Drama, political-ish
Updates: Sundays

"National Satellite Tracking Agency," I muttered to the agent currently shoving me along a grey corridor, "You guys really need a better interior decorator, and some better PR on your name. Make it sound less evil, something like the National Saving Trees Agency."

"Hey, I didn't choose the name."

"Did you really have to handcuff me and bring me here?"

"It was the only way to get you to fucking update, man," The agent replied, "People start asking questions when you stop updating. Questions about things that matter in real life."

"Are you kidding? You're giving webcomic readers too much credit. There's no way they'd find out about this place, and if they did, who'd believe them?"

The agent dragging me along the bland, taxpayer-built corridor gasped, "You know too much already!"

"What, that people are stupid?"

"No, that people think we have the capability to watch them 24/7 and pull up every piece of info about them in seconds! If they knew how incompetent and underfunded America's intelligence agencies really were, this country would be good as dead!"

"See, this is why you need better PR."

"Shut it, we're here." The man escorted me into a room and shoved me in front of a computer, "Now type! And don't mention anything about a Sattelite Tracking Agency!"

I booted up Internet Explorer and waited a couple minutes for the home page to load before saying, "You know, there's some revolutionary technology out there called 'broadband.' You guys should also consider investing in that." The sound of a second agent audibly pulling the slide back on a Glock was more than enough to convince me that I should silence my doubts to write a completely honest and objective review.

Imagine a Homeland Security agency with the capability to track you with agents hooked up with cybernetic implants. Now imagine these agents can download that information into their brains on command, and hunt you down in flying cars? Well, that's pretty much the shtick behind the folks working at the NSTA [National Sattelite Tracking Agency]

This comic deals with the trials of Agent Flashfire, a Scottish-twanged "nastie" who lives with a cat named Quasar. Though he is the main character, it would be wrong to say the comic revolves around him. Several folks in the NSTA get their face time, from the reckless youngster Agent Delirium to the stoic intel officer Agent Foucault. There's no Jack Bauer to bark commands at everyone or beat the shit out of terrorists, which leads to some rather unsatisfying interrogation scenes where the crooks confess without being shot in the kneecaps. The comic is more about the NSTA as a whole as they fight crime around...wherever the place is located.

And it's not all about people engaging in gunfights either. Half the story involves NSTA agents doing investigative work and dealing with the cybernetic implants installed in their brain. Also, there's a sub-plot following Agent Flashfire as he meets a woman who doesn't quite like his organization, even leading him to call for a smoke bomb to cover his escape from protesters so his girlfriend doesn't find out where he works.

In terms of the script, it's a pretty good story that manages not to lapse into the usual cliches of an oppressive government agency (though the usage of a satellite-fired laser beam to heal a downed agent is kinda out of the blue) or usage of a super-agent to make everything better. With a little more exposition about the setting and politics behind the agency, the story could be even better.

However, the artwork leaves quite a lot to be desired. When looking at the faces from the front view, the mouth just kinda disappears into the rest of the face a little too often. Also, the shapes and sizes of the characters seem awfully inconsistent. For instance, the aforementioned kid Agent Delirium has the cheekbones of a old man. In one strip, Flashfire's head looks like it was squeezed in a dough-presser, then transforms into regular size from the side view, then back again to overtly-narrow in the next strip.

It's a real damn shame, because according to the copyright at the bottom of each page, Ms. Norris has been working with this strip since 2003, yet four years later her drawing ability does not seem to have made any substantial improvements from the first strip. I've always believed that good writing in a webcomic can save bad artwork, but after [approximately] 225 strips with only miniscule changes and nothing more than several drab shades of gray and black to look at, it does put a strain on the reader's eyes along with my belief. While I wasn't too crazy about the artwork in Spades (see Review #32), at least the character models were mostly consistent.

Overall, I'll give a light recommendation to this comic for its decent writing, but Ms. Norris should seriously consider going "back to the drawing board," or fixing the scanner, or whatever it is that has turned the artwork into a mostly drab gray mess.


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