Dead on Arrival

Creators: Matthew Gibson and Geoffrey Gaviria
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Interactive
Schedule: concluded
Rating: 3

Medium blending is an intriguing aspect of webcomics still largely unexplored. There's far more freedom to experiment than in printed works, especially when it comes to things like sound or animation. Animated GIFs are sometimes used a novelty, but that's nothing compared to what film noir-inspired Dead on Arrival does. Using Flash, it combines music, video, limited animation, and an interactive format with photography-based sequential art, creating a glimpse of what medium blending can do for a webcomic.

The website has two variants of the comic, the Flash-based one and an alternate html version. The html version's sidebar links don't work, but it still does solve the inherent accessibility issues for readers who don't have all the plug-ins or bandwidth required. It's a thoughtful touch, but Dead on Arrival just isn't worth reading without Flash. That's what makes this work stand out from the rest, although the programming isn't without some minor flaws. The animated parts jump awkwardly if the cursor moves before the animation is complete. It also bears mention that clicking on the page with the "hand" cursor will make it skip ahead to the next chapter, something not really mentioned on the site. 

The concept here is pretty basic. It's a short noir-style mystery in which the main character discovers he has been fatally poisoned and, using the little time he has left to live, tries to figure out who killed him. It's an interesting idea, though it's a bit puzzling that someone poisoned with a radioactive toxin isn't hospitalized the spot and the conclusion is nothing new. Both killer and motive have been seen many times before in a lot of other stories. The ending does reveal a bit more depending on what order the suspects are visited in, but up until that point, everything sticks firmly to the script. Obviously the bulk of the effort went into the programming rather than writing. The format itself features plenty of user interaction, but the story itself is very linear with no significant divergence. Having the option to take different paths or even change the ending would have made it a lot more engrossing.

Like the format itself, the art makes some unorthodox choices. Instead of illustrations, this one has filtered photographs. The colors are under-saturated with occasional pops of brighter hues and the figures have darker shadows and outlines, looking like a hybrid of inking and photography. Some of the images look grainy as a result, but it's a good stylistic choice here since it complements both the story's bleak theme and its dour protagonist. The photos have a nice variety of composition, angles, and backgrounds, almost looking like screenshots from a movie, but the actors' expressions aren't always strong enough for the emotion being conveyed. The word bubbles also don't mix smoothly with the rest of the visuals and are sometimes poorly placed, blocking out a face or drawing focus away from the action.

What makes this comic interesting is, without a doubt, the mixed media presentation. This thing starts out with a video not unlike the opening credits of a movie. This sort of thing is rarely seen in webcomics, so it's an immediate draw. The moody music that plays throughout adds to the dark atmosphere, though it can be turned down or off if the reader wishes. The next page is opened by clicking and dragging the corner of the page, though simply clicking on the corner will turn it as well. A few pages have an "interactive panorama", in which the reader can use the cursor to look around the room to see what they must do next. This is a great idea and it first it looks like there are multiple options, but really, only one thing can be clicked on and it merely leads to the next chapter. There is a subtle hint to the murder weapon in one of these panoramas, but other than that, this feature is rather like a broken promise. It's got potential, but it is never used to the fullest.

This comic gets points for trying, but falls short of being truly immersive. An interactive murder mystery sounds like a great idea for a webcomic, but there aren't many options presented. The story is familiar territory and although the photos look good, the lettering and weak expressions are problematic. Its heavy use of Flash certainly fosters interest, but Dead on Arrival doesn't do enough with it to be anything more than an experiment.

three donuts

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