Creator/s: Aneeka Richins
Section/s: Book 2
Website: It's a plain-looking ComicPress site, and some additional customization wouldn't hurt. The large banner at the top's a good start, but it looks kinda tacky, and should probably be redone at some point.
There's a good amount of information on the setting and characters, which is especially important here since new readers could get confused by the webcomic's multiple realities. Some of the images on the site aren't displayed as neatly as they could be, though, and would benefit from being coded into a table.
Lastly, the site has a couple technical issues. Something's weird with this page, as it won't load in Firefox or Photoshop, although it's fine in Internet Explorer and Chrome. And for some reason, Page 151 isn't listed in the archives.
Writing: There are a lot of MMORPG webcomics out there parodying World of Warcraft and similar games, but this one takes a much different approach, instead delivering a dystopian science fiction concept. Its setup, which has some obvious similarities with The Matrix, involves a post-apocalyptic world where everyone's plugged into a virtual reality program. Like The Matrix, the protagonist is a brilliant hacker who has a badass alter-ego in the virtual world. And inside the virtual world's a game called, well, The Game, where, like in The Hunger Games, the main idea's to get popular with the audience. While a lot of it's kinda derivative, Not a Villain's actually surprisingly creative, presenting an unsettling pseudo-reality that cleverly incorporates aspects of gaming.
About two-thirds of the section follows a tournament in The Game, and while it's overly lengthy for an action sequence, it's handled pretty well since the fighting style's so unusual. Instead of trading blows and special moves back and forth like in a normal action comic, The Game revolves around creatively exploiting game mechanics and the limitations of the programming. Combatants also design and program their own abilities, which adds an extra layer of unpredictability. Cleverly, the creator injects tension into the scenes by revealing that Kleya could cheat by using her hacking abilities; while she considers doing so repeatedly throughout the sequence, she's continuously held back by her morality and out of fear of getting caught. I found this approach to be more interesting and have more depth than the scenes in most other action-oriented webcomics.
Not a Villain's at its best when it's in its virtual reality setting, called L.i.F.e., which sorta resembles the popular virtual world program Second Life. L.i.F.e.'s main function's as a heavy dose of escapism, as the characters prefer not to acknowledge real life unless it's unavoidable. The alter-egos in L.i.F.e. also all look attractive or exotic. This element's explored in a disturbing way when the character Danni, who's a healthy, attractive girl in L.i.F.e., reveals that, in real life, she's on life support and considered a "costly liability." In another gloomy scene, a girl complains that her parents are keeping her in the dark about reality, refusing to tell her even basic information about what's really happening around her. What makes L.i.F.e. particularly creepy, though, is how its bright, cartoony visuals offer such a drastic contrast to the dismal reality that the creator mostly leaves up to the reader's imagination.
Lastly, the creator intelligently recognizes how powerful and dangerous hackers would be in a world based around a computer program, presenting them as the equivalent of today's terrorists. The society in Not a Villain's paranoid of these hackers, often executing innocent programmers without any real justification for doing so. Since Kleya's a hacker herself, it's particularly easy to identify with the hackers as victims being persecuted by a corrupt society.
Art: The creator has a humble attitude towards her illustrations, commenting on her webcomic's Kickstarter page, "My art, while not currently awesome, is decent enough to get Kleya's story across." However, I think going as far as to label her artwork as "decent" would still be generous. Despite being a grim, action-oriented webcomic, Not a Villain has two-dimensional figures, bland coloring, stiff poses, weak anatomy, pseudo-manga features, and nonexistent backgrounds, which combine to give it a very amateurish look.
There's somewhat of an attempt to explain the lousy artwork as being part of the way L.i.F.e. and The Game are designed. For example, the Smiley special ability's supposed to be drawn by Kleya, which leads to jeers by the other characters, such as "You really need a better artist," and "How long did it take you to draw that?" (1, 2). This approach comes across as a form of self-mockery, as I had a similar reaction to the webcomic's actual artwork. There's the possibility that the virtual world has minimalistic environments because there aren't enough quality programmers left, but having page after page of black or gray backgrounds is really boring, and even the occasional backgrounds seen in L.i.F.e. are awkwardly simplistic (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). The setting's probably even less detailed than the original Doom, so it feels contrived that it's supposed to represent a complex, futuristic computer program. In addition, some of the anatomy's unrealistic, such as narrow hips on women, blocky hair, thin eyebrows, no earlobes, cheeks, or teeth, and those silly-looking line-noses, and it's unclear how much of these issues are intended as being part of the program's graphics. However, I don't think it really matters, as clever excuses don't make the artwork any more appealing.
Lately, the webcomic's temporarily switched to a much more realistic style, which is clearly better than the rest of the section. I think the whole webcomic should have this level of detail, although the creator obviously only intends for it to be a short-term diversion, and is currently posting pages at half the previous rate. These newer pages also make the simplistic older pages look even worse, as it's more obvious what the creator's actually capable of doing.
Overall: Not a Villain's one of the most well-written webcomics I've reviewed, but I have a hard time taking it seriously since the artwork's so childish. I don't know what the creator's reasons are for not collaborating with a real artist, but I assume she doesn't recognize how dramatically more appealing the webcomic would be if it didn't look like it was drawn by a high school student. It's true that it's been fairly successful up to this point, as it managed to raise almost $10,000 on its Kickstarter page and has consistently been in the top five on TopWebComics, but I think the creator has reasonable grounds to be more ambitious and aim for webcomics' upper tier.