Author: Matt Loffhagen
Genre: Drama, Action, Gaming, Western
For those who don't know, a Nuzlocke run is a set of self-imposed rules to make the Pokemon games more difficult. The two rules are that if a Pokemon faints during battle, it is considered “dead” and has to be released as soon as possible. The second rule is that the trainer has to catch the first Pokemon they encounter in a route. There are other rules and exceptions that other players will throw in like allowing trainers to catch a different Pokemon if the trainer already has that Pokemon, or limits on using items and Pokemon centers to make the game even harder, but other than that, the rules are simple. Not only that, but they lead to players becoming emotionally invested in their Pokemon's welfare with the very real fear of losing them in combat. So it's no surprise that there are countless Nuzlocke comics out there, so many that Nuzlocke tried to catalog them all on a fancomic page and was overwhelmed, telling everyone to post them in the forums and only spotlighting a few noteworthy examples.
Given the popularity, it becomes inevitable that everything will start to run together. After all, there's only so many times that you can hear another person retell the same story of a ten year old who wants to be the very best like no one ever was when little changes except for the team and the body count. Except that Pokemon: Dust White shakes things up by dramatically changing the story and genre into a action western. While the comic puts a nice spin on the games, I wonder if the comic might have changed too much from the original game.
Gruff older war veteran Dusty Heralds returns home to find his house in flames and his daughter Sarah kidnapped by Team Plasma. With no other options, Dusty goes back into the seedy underworld of Pokemon fighting, trading some illegal Sitrus Berry powder for an Oshwatt named Jackson. Jackson still has some “wildness” in him, looking out for his own interests and has little interest in dying at Dusty's side over a lost cause, and the beginning shows Dusty, Jackson, and their first catch Ryke the Patrat struggling to work as a team.
Of course, to make it work, the author has to take some creative liberties with Pokemon White, which are hit and miss. First off, while the main characters of the games are usually a blank slate, the author puts some backstory into Dusty. Dusty is a veteran of the Pokemon Civil Wars, with references to the Kanto region that suggest that Dusty is actually Red from the first generation Pokemon games. Here, the comic benefits from not using Hilbert or Hilda as it connects the games together and adds credibility to his claims of experience as a professional battler. Instead of being an extremist Pokemon rights group, Team Plasma are a gang that runs all the towns and the gyms. While it works with the Taken plot to make the terrorist organization of the game the kidnappers, it is a shame that one of the more complex and interesting organizations of the game series have been reduced to a Team Rocket knockoff. Finally, Professor Juniper, Bianca, and Cheren are turned into enemies who poach Pokemon and antagonize Dusty (it's unclear if they're with Team Plasma or not). Whereas Cheren and Bianca are fellow travelers trying to define themselves and question their ideals, Cheren and Bianca are basically two goons with a grudge against Dusty and their introduction to the story would be more in line with the PETA parody than the game itself. I guess what bothers me about these changes are that they do stray from some of the themes that were present in the game, of idealism and extremism which could have been integrated into the narrative with Dusty and his search for his daughter. The author could have done this story in any of the other Pokemon games and little would have changed but the names.
Luckily, the protagonists are much more developed than the antagonists. While Dusty is a hardened veteran who is willing to fight his way through anyone who stands in his way, he does show some world weariness in his unwillingness to kill. And his current team seem to act as facets of his personality. Jackson shows the same sense of single-mindedness and rebellious attitude as Dusty in his goals to take down Team Plasma. This leads to some clashing between the two, but at the same time giving them some common ground. Ryke has the same warrior spirit and probably speaks to the ambition of his youth. I imagine as the comic continues, the current Pokemon (assuming they don't die) will get more characterization and mature while the new ones will serve similar purposes.
The only other thing that I can say is that I wish Sarah was shown in the beginning so the bond between Dusty and his daughter was established before she gets kidnapped. The author commented in one strip that he felt guilty that Sarah was reduced to a Damsel in Distress. Characterizing Sarah through flashbacks or other narrative methods would both strengthen the main theme of doing anything to save a loved one and would make her less of a plot device.
The art is done traditionally, but is superimposed onto a faux-burned antique paper background to simulate an old wanted poster. While the effect looks nice for the most part, whenever text is placed in the corners it becomes harder to read since the corners are darker than the rest of the page. The art itself is simple but effective, using only black, white, and a mid gray for shading. Looking at the anatomy of his characters, it looks similar do his digital work stylistically, but more fluidity and variation in poses and backgrounds. The author does a wide range of shots, from close ups, silhouettes, and far away shots. He also knows his way around a fight scene.
Despite the simple art style, Pokemon: Dust White has ambition to do something besides retell the same Pokemon journey Nuzlocke story. For the most part, the blending of seemingly disparate genres works well, though some of the themes of the original game get buried underneath some of the other elements brought in. The antagonists are currently shallow, generic villains, though I imagine that they could be fleshed out later. And despite being about the bond between a father and daughter, the bond is just something the reader is supposed to take as a given. I have a feeling it will get better as it goes on, though as of now it's just decent.