Creator/s: Mike Steele, Julia Philip
Website: The WordPress-based site's one of the most attractive I've seen lately, with the large, colorful illustrations on the top and bottom of the pages being very eye-catching. The archives have large samples of each comic page, which is an original way of handling navigation and another example of the site making the most out of its appealing artwork. The site's blue-and-orange colors are fairly unusual, and they go well with the blues and oranges the creators use heavily in the comic pages. I'm also a fan of the animated background, which is a minor but cool feature. The site also has all of the standard pieces, like character bios and social media, although more miscellaneous extra content would be a nice touch.
I originally read the webcomic at its Smack Jeeves mirror, and I was surprised at how much larger the pages on the main site are. The Smack Jeeves pages are 700 pixels wide, while the main site's pages are 1,030 pixels wide -- that's almost a whole 50 percent larger. While the large pages make it easier to see some of the smaller details, it's a little disorienting because more scrolling's required than usual. The file sizes may also be an issue for readers with slower Internet connections, as most of the main site's pages are more than 1 MB, while webcomics generally keep their pages below 500 KB.
Lastly, the creators have other projects that they wisely chose to promote on their site, one being a webcomic called Seed, and the other being a podcast called Jim and Them.
Writing: The webcomic presents a fun and absurd wish-fulfillment fantasy in which several ordinary guys from a small, rural town suddenly become celebrities in outer space. This is an effective premise because it's easy to relate to the characters' desire to feel special and be the center of attention, and their eagerness, as young adults, for adventure and experience is also a universal trait. Furthering the idea of wish-fulfillment, the highlight of the trip's been the attention the guys have received from two alien women, who they describe as being "pretty hot" and "super hot" (1, 2). The guys are also thrilled when Derek beats up a comically stereotypical bully. The instances of portraying space as an enjoyable alternative to the characters' underwhelming existence back home help foster a light, whimsical mood that's the story's primary draw.
As for the cast, the timid Rob's the standout, as his insecurity presents an obvious opportunity for character growth. He's also the most enthusiastic of the guys about being in space, has the funniest facial expressions (1, 2, 3), and occasionally steps in as the narrator (1, 2), so he ends up being particularly prominent despite how passive he is most of the time. The moody Luke and bubbly L.U.N.A. are decent characters, although the creators apparently find the latter's childish behavior much more amusing than I do. Derek's the most in need of improvement, as the creators still haven't tried to convey his personality other than that he stands up to bullies. Looking at his character bio, he's described as "a very humble guy" despite "being amazing at everything," and that sounds more like a Mary Sue than a character I'd be interested in reading about.
The most disappointing thing about the writing's how indifferent the guys can be at times about their bizarre experiences. For instance, when the guys encounter a giant robot standing next to an alien device, Luke's first reaction is to make a joke, which he follows by trying to make another joke. Then, just one page after the guys realize they've been teleported to the moon, they're already taking turns cracking jokes about a different robot they encounter there. I mentioned earlier that it's easy to relate to the guys because of their desire to feel special, but in these instances, it's very difficult to relate to them because any reasonable person's reaction to these situations would be a combination of panic and disbelief, not mild amusement. The first time I tried reading the story, I lost interest about halfway through because of how bored the characters seemed with what was going on. And throughout the story, this tone rarely changes; despite being on the most incredible journey imaginable, the guys just make puns and snarky comments the whole time. I also find it unrealistic how unconcerned they are about leaving their family, friends, and responsibilities behind for an entire week without telling anybody where they went. Everyone they know probably thinks they're dead, and it's extremely self-centered for them to cause so much grief.
Art: It's obviously superb, and the clever character designs, dazzling coloring, and dynamic poses are certainly very attractive to potential readers. This page is a good example of some of the webcomic's unusual stylistic aspects, particularly its heavy reliance on a bright color scheme of blues, oranges, pinks, and purples. Like every webcomic I've reviewed with great art, Battle Creek, NE has a lot of detail in its backgrounds, but it makes a bigger difference here than usual since its backgrounds are filled with all sorts of aliens, robots, spaceships, and other cool sci-fi elements that help bring Station City to life.
The terrific poses are a major highlight, and less-experienced webcartoonists should pay attention to how the way the characters are drawn injects energy into the scenes. Throughout the webcomic, the guys are constantly shown using their arms and body posture to express their mood. This page serves as a good example because of the way the guys are juxtaposed, and the characters are all clearly portrayed differently in each panel despite it being a page where they're merely standing around talking. There's also a lot of variation between full-body, knee-up, waist-up, and chest-up shots, and this helps keep the visuals fresh even when there's a lot of dialogue.
Overall: Battle Creek, NE has a mediocre story, as its creators are more focused on making weak jokes than on making its characters likable and interesting. Readers will be drawn to the webcomic by its excellent artwork, though, which is strong enough on its own to warrant a serious amount of attention. With its professional-looking website and consistent updates, Battle Creek, NE has the potential to be a prominent webcomic, especially if the creators can figure out how to deliver more mature storytelling to go along with the attractive visuals.