Creator/s: Tarol Hunt
Section/s: May 31st to October 19th
[April 2016 update: Goblins appears to have had some radical changes since this review was originally written, so these descriptions may not accurately reflect what the webcomic's like now.]
Website: It has a dark, ominous look to it, and the spears used for navigation buttons abet the feeling of danger, like an adventuring party anticipating being ambushed by goblins. It's an unusual design that quickly gets the reader's attention.
There are a good amount of fun extras, including merchandise, fan art, a browser theme, about 25 fan-made videos, some Dungeons & Dragons-related stuff, a live cam, and a number of Goblins-related bonus shorts. Surprisingly, though, the comic's archive page hasn't been updated in five months.
The comic also has an extremely active forum, and the threads for the last three updates average about 100 posts made within 24 hours of the thread's creation. And that's just those three threads -- there are many other active ones as well.
Writing: There's not much of a plot, the characters barely have personalities, and there's more blood than in the goriest slasher films. Goblins seems like it shouldn't work -- but it does. While there's enough carnage in just this section to cover a dozen normal fantasy comics, Goblins skillfully avoids the trap of pretentiousness, instead playfully showing its readers a warped version of reality where death and destruction is a celebrated way of life. I think it says a lot about the grim but goofy nature of the comic that the main character's named Dies Horribly. Dying just isn't a big deal in this savage part of the fantasy realm, and for every goblin that gets hacked into a bloody corpse, two more will inevitably join the battle. And while it's twisted how insignificant their lives are, anyone who's ever played a fantasy role-playing game has surely been responsible for slaughtering hordes of these vicious vermin. After all, how can you feel guilty about chopping up a group of ugly little monsters that speak gibberish and like stabbing people?
Dies Horribly and another goblin, named Saves a Fox, have a "give peace a chance" moment, but it's only a brief diversion from the combat and mayhem. As one goblin remarks, "Goblin strength is found in our ability to destroy, in our ferocity," and that seems more plausible to me than Dies Horribly's wishful thinking that goblins can become a peaceful race. Goblins, after all, isn't a comic that sugarcoats things, and its readers shouldn't assume that there's a happy ending in store for the characters, even if they're protected by Plot Armor to an extent. (Ironically, Dies Horribly's just about the only goblin in the section that doesn't die horribly.) Goblins' appeal comes largely from its elaborate action sequences, unusual monster-on-monster battles, and over-the-top violence, and the idea of "good guys vs. bad guys" doesn't seem to matter as much here. I was a little confused at first with the fight between the goblins and the orc, as I didn't know which side to root for, but eventually I realized that it doesn't really matter who wins, which is a refreshing change of pace from other comics.
One of the comic's stranger aspects is that whenever it verges on finally getting serious, a fourth-wall-breaking gaming reference comes out of nowhere. In one of the comic's rare dialogue-heavy pages, the orc, comically named Biscuit, mentions "a stackable bonus to their Wisdom score," explaining that "Sense Motive is a Wisdom-based skill." Then, later on, the comic has one of its most dramatic moments when Saves a Fox appears to get killed, and with her dying breaths she talks about how "you need to be Level 1 before you can reach Level 2" while red negative numbers hover over her head. It's certainly jarring, but I think it works great as a heavy-handed reminder that despite how morbid this comic can be, it's ultimately as silly and unrealistic as any game of Dungeons & Dragons. (Not that I'm knocking D&D. It's supposed to be silly and unrealistic.) The creator also takes advantage of the comic's gamist nature by having the fighters frequently drink healing potions (1, 2, 3, 4), which lets him prolong the fights while at the same time having many devastating blows.
Art: I don't think I've seen any webcomics that do fantasy combat better than Goblins. The creator's excellent at choreographing action sequences, and his characters' dynamic poses help make his scenes look realistic and exciting. His large, complex page layouts offer a variety of compositions, often combining different scenes for a particular effect. (For instance, it's pretty clever how the characters' self-amputations are juxtaposed here.) The coloring also looks a lot better ever since the creator brought on a colorist somewhere around the middle of the section.
There's a certain aesthetic dissonance at play here, in that while there's so much blood and violence in this comic that it might turn off some of the more squeamish readers, the comic's very bright and colorful, and the way the goblins are drawn makes them look sort of cute, like they're soft, poofy plush dolls. The orc looks kind of doughy as well, and his gooey hair and mouth look somewhat silly. It's a very distinct style, and I think it reinforces that the violence is on a cartoonish level, and the reader shouldn't be too concerned about its ramifications.
Overall: The only disappointing thing about this comic to me is that I didn't have time to read more of it. Goblins is clever, original, exciting, and just plain fun to read. The creator has a solid grasp of what makes the fantasy genre so appealing to a lot of people, and he's definitely got one of the best fantasy webcomics out there.
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