The Webcomic Watchman

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Review #40: I Know You're Out There, Somewhere Out There

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If only the bank took "ambition" instead of
"money," things would be awesome.

Title: Out There
Artist: R.C. Monroe
Genre: Romance/Comedy (or just take your pick)
Updates: Daily (minus Sundays)

It may seem daunting at first, to review a webcomic that has updated almost daily since June 2006, but some of that fear is alleviated when you notice how incredibly minimalist it is. The comic uses simple black-and-white drawings with little in the way of background as opposed to the lush colorization and backgrounds from comics like Purgatory Tower or Dresden Codak. As a result, this comic relies more on the script to tell the story instead of the artwork.

Allow me to explain: Out There has no magic powers, no guns, no swords, no blunt political or religious messages, no angsty anti-heroes, no unlikely heroes banding together to defeat a powerful evil, and nothing in the way of internet memes or "dead baby comedy" for cheap laughs. It's just a snapshot of the life of a bartender named Miriam and the various characters she either knows or meets over the course of the story. This does make the comic a bit of an acquired taste.

The comic starts out with Miriam driving across the country from not-San Diego to a port town in not-New England, planning on both taking a bartending job and hooking up with an online boyfriend. In the first few strips, she decides to pick up a bald, mild-mannered drifter named John pretty much on impulse. The story seems to flow from that one decision, as Miriam tilts between her slight attraction to the mild-mannered John and her promise to her online boyfriend, Chuck.

The comic switches back and forth between scenes of the Miriam traveling eastward with John to not-Portsmouth, the setting of their destination. While they drive cross-country, the aforementioned Chuck and the bar owner Sherry are trying to keep their trust in Miriam, while their hangers-on (James and Clayton, respectively) are thinking the opposite.

You think the story would be all about the journey, right? No, that's only a small part of it, but things continue even after Miriam (with John in tow) reach their destination. The comic segues into the adjustments Miriam has to make upon finally taking her new job at Sherry's bar and physically hooking up with Chuck. At the same time, John decides to stick around with his mild-mannered ways, James is forced to deal with his roommate now having a girlfriend, and still an alcoholic.

The story may not be a great fit for everyone, and the artwork is pretty damn minimalist. Hell, the strip itself looks like it could fit in a newspaper. However, if you are in the mood for something along the lines of Doonesbury with alcoholism instead of politics (hey, Clayton looks a bit like Zonker from the olden days), then chances are you'll like Out There as well.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Review #39: Welcome to Purgatory, Such a Lovely Place...

[Insert your own NSFW joke here]

"You can checkout any time you like/
But you can never leave."

Title: Purgatory Tower
Artist: Sarah Hebblethwaite (a.k.a. "silentkitty")
Genre: Fantasy/Anthromorphic
Updates: Unknown

[UPDATE: Narrative replaced with something funnier and trippier, and title of post changed slightly. Also, a couple sentences added to the actual review.]

Enjoy your stay, the receptionist said. You’ll love it here, the concierge said. Wish he’d told me about the jungle I’d have to wade through to find the exit. Maybe I should’ve paid more attention when I checked into this place. I had no idea there would be so much damned vegetation in Purgatory.

All I wanted was to unpack my bags and find a bar to drown my sorrows in before heading off to diagnose some more patients. Bunch of whiners: “Oh, look at me, I’ve been shot in the arm and I need a doctor to pull the bullet out! Oh, I’m suing Dr. Haus because he left a pair of pliers in my stomach and sold me painkillers that didn’t work! Oh, I need Big Government to come in and help me pay these astronomically-high medical bills because the insurance company dropped me on a whim!” Whatever happened to pulling yourself up by the bootstraps? What happened to survival of the fittest, or evolution?

In the distance, I could swear I heard my receptionist boy calling out for me again. “You’re Robo-tripping, aren’t you?” He’s saying. How can he find me in this jungle? “You’re not in a jungle! You’re in Vegas!” He shouts back. Then what are those monsters above me? Oh God, that monster is swooping down at me, a green freak of nature with bird wings. “Cirque du Soleil” he shouts back, “And you’re walking through the middle of the second act!”

How could this be a circus? I didn’t see any clowns or abused elephants taking center stage. Suddenly, the music stops and several creatures are looking at me. Then the Receptionist boy is dragging me out a door, muttering, “When we get back home, I’m locking away all your Hunter S. Thompson books.” But I still see the face of a catgirl staring back at my limp form, a catgirl with three eyes. Oh God, what did I get myself into?

What's this? I'm able to publish a review in less than 21 days again? Someone break out the mother fucking champagne! [Ed. Note: Dr. Haus does not endorse fucking mothers with champagne bottles.] Onto the comic itself though, in my super-super-serious voice:

The story's premise sounds a bit familiar to anyone who's read Battle Royale or anything related to Roman Gladiators: Several folks serving a life sentence in an unnamed place are given the chance to race to the top of a tower known as Purgatory. Anyone who reaches the summit alive gets a full pardon for their crimes. Aside from that, there are no rules about how to get there.

Gotta admit, it's a fine example of Darwinism with several anthromorphic prisoners. At least they're polite enough to listen to the rules before they start killing each other. But several pages of simply watching these folks fight each other to the death wouldn't hold my interest for long.

Instead, the story focuses on a few characters in particular: On one side, we have Aisha, the squirrel-girl thief with a tail about as large as her body. On the other end, the story follows Cai, a cat-girl with a third eye infused in her right shoulder, and a talking tree-thing with a human face named Morgensen. Why it is that every character seems to have become some human-animal hybrid is not quite known, although according to this strip, it seems to be the equivalent of a Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony in their still-unnamed world.

If I have any complaints about the story so far, the setup for the main characters running into each other seems kinda awkward. The meeting borders on Cai/Morgensen somehow acquiring and using the materials for a large explosive right at the moment when the squirrel is about to get cut by a magic sword. Not to mention that all the characters caught in the aforementioned explosion miraculously survive. The explosion is never mentioned again, though one assumes that if Cai knew how to make explosives, she could make one again when fighting this big blue creature rather than just fighting it hand to hand. A small problem, yes, but one that nags me in an otherwise plausible narrative.

There isn't much else to say about this thing without spoiling what exists of the story, considering only around 80 pages have been completed ("only" 80, I know). The artwork is quite exceptional, just one beat below the CG goodness of a finished The Prime of Ambition strip. Aside from the occasional melted toes and one inexplicably green mushroom cloud (from the aforementioned explosive scene), the action scenes are pretty well drawn and the characters show a decent range of emotions.

Of course, if there's one main thing I can credit this comic for, I was genuinely willing to keep reading the next page, and not just for the sake of reviewing it. Take a look, and maybe you'll enjoy it too.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Review #38: Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

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The mob boss with a heart of gold.

Name: Coffee Time
Creators: John Kratky (writer) & Tobias Kaschinski (artist)
Genre: Comedy/one-shot gag (Volume 1), Drama! (Volume 2)
Updates: Monday/Wednesday

"Dr. Haus?" The receptionist boy knocked on the door to my office, expecting a sign of life from beyond that solid block of wood yet receiving none. He somehow escaped that crazy man from the mountain like I did, but then tried to enter my office. Couldn't he understand I was busy trying to inject some antibiotics into a patient?

"Dr. Haus?" Came the cry again, followed by more knocking at the door. Couldn't he see that there was nothing he could say until I was finished with this patient?

"Dr. Haus? I have your coffee!" With those words, I ran to the door and ignored the whining of the man in whose left arm I had forgotten to remove the hypodermic needle. As I opened the door, the receptionist boy indeed carried a steaming double mocha from a coffee shop that wasn't pretentious enough to rename its cup sizes "grande" or "venti." Feeling that awesome elixir of life slipping down my throat, I finally felt energized and ready to face the day while my brain began to uncurl.

In my excitement, I went back to my patient and ripped the needle out of his arm. For some reason, he didn't seem to feel grateful that I had cured his illness as I wrapped part of his upper left arm tightly in gauze to stop the bleeding.

Awright, awright, Dr. Haus trying to get back into the reviewing groove that he once had awhile back. Let's see if we can't get a new review done through a haze of painkillers.

It's a bit difficult to review this one, because it's broken up into two volumes. The first volume obviously showcases when the creators of Coffee Time were just dicking around with their ideas. The second volume takes a much more serious and edgy turn. So I'll try to sum up both as best as I can.

The first volume sets up the cast of characters, including

  • Steph, the Nice Girl
  • Cypress, the Bad Girl
  • Vince, the self-styled mobster with a big heart.
  • Tom, the Nice Guy(TM) with the baseball cap.
  • Eddie, the badass with a cool car and a knit cap.
  • The Angry Ashkenazi (my name, not theirs), a young Jewish wrestler (with stylish yarmulke and matching headgear) named Eugene.
  • Karate teacher and prideful Japanese guy Tanaka.

Is it really that easy to sum up? Yes, for the first volume the characters mostly play their type in three/four-part gags. The artwork is workable if a bit sloppy with the characters and too much unused background space, and the jokes kinda meander in their own zones as the various character types play across each other. All of them (except Eugene and Tanaka) work at the coffee shop called "Coffee Time" while some anarchist pastiche of Willie Nelson looks on.

Things pick up later in the volume two, but whether for the better or worse is questionable. Like NJ Huff of Emergency Exit and "Mookie" of Dominic Deegan, the creative minds behind Coffee Time seemed to tire of simple gags and decided to try something more story-oriented. And how do they kick it off? With a horrible car crash during a race with badass Eddie in the car and Cypress ending up in the hospital to mark the end of volume one.

It only gets more angsty and dramatic from there: Tom has mommy issues and nets a girlfriend who turns out to be a devout Christian. Eddie keeps blaming himself for Cypress being in the hospital and having bad dreams about the race. The Angry Ashkenazi decides to try training in martial arts under Master Tanaka, probably to justify keeping him around in the story. And there's also a developing plot about a bookstore with a not-Starbucks threatening to suck away business from the Coffee Time shop that most of the aforementioned cast works at.

Personally, I found this comic interesting because I found myself identifying with a few of the characters in the strip in volume 2. From Eugene's determination to master karate to Eddie's questioning his values in the wake of a car crash, I've actually known some people with these same traits in my life. On the artistry side, the artwork gets a little more creative without using a generic manga or American style. This style seems to shine a lot more during brief action or exaggerated emotional scenes, but it does show quite a lot of progress on the artist's part.

So in the end, is this a good comic or a bad comic? The cartoons start out as cardboard caricatures and slowly get some depth written into them, the artwork is a lot better in the current strips, and I find myself empathizing with a few of the current characters. It doesn't try to be anything too expansive or complicated, nor does it take itself too pretentiously. For those of you who want me to pigeonhole it into a category, I'll sweep it towards the crop of "good" comics.

But I reserve the right to sweep it back into the "bad" pile if the characters don't continue growing out of their two-dimensional selves.

Monday, February 04, 2008

CT Review #3: Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition (updated)

I review Marilith here.

More commentary to come later when I've had coffee, except to say that I may or may not get some more knee-jerk reactions from this piece. Of course, that assumes that I haven't driven off most of my readers already by not updating.


[UPDATE] Okay, it seems that someone spiked my coffee or somehow ripped out the caffiene from it, as I couldn't get back to this thing for a few days. I blame my evil arch-nemesis.

I don't have much else to say, other than the fact that some folks seem to think that just because I say bad things about a comic means I hate it. If I hate a comic, you will know in blunt terms that I hate it. But even for comics I like, I'd be abandoning my duties if I didn't mock the parts of a comic that deserve to be mocked, or point out the flaws that need fixing.

If I may use a popular example, just look at most of Yahtzee's game reviews: he doesn't hate every game, but he does hate on the parts where he feels that the developers drop the ball and where they deserve it, and he does it in a rather hilarious manner. I may not have the British charm to pull off the phrase "stonking great tits" in a review without sounding like a total "wanker," but I do try to lighten up what would otherwise be just another blog with some dude shouting into the void that is the world of webcomics (unofficially known as the "webcomic-o-sphere," except it doesn't quite roll off the tongue).

That is all. Now let me get back to my coffee.


[UPDATE 2]: Wow, three days after this review was published, Krazy Krow is handing off artistry duties to a fourth artist. Where does he keep finding these relatively talented people to draw his comic, and where can I get them?