Steel Salvation

Creator/s: J.S. Conner, Evan Ledesma, Alex Mattingly
Run: 4/13-current
Schedule: Fridays

Website: The colors and design both match the comic's art style perfectly, and the static navigation buttons provide an unusual but effective way to browse through the comic. All of the pages for the bonus content are mechanical-looking, which is a nice touch, and there's additional information about the comic's world, which, fortunately, the creators put here instead of interrupting the story to infodump it all over the readers. It's an excellent site, and one that I hope other creators will get inspiration from, or at least try to emulate.

Writing: With its existentialism, lengthy monologues, nonhuman characters, villainous protagonist, and a lack of action or outward conflict, Steel Salvation's a webcomic that boldly establishes itself as being out of the ordinary. However, this boldness is tempered by the creators' reluctance to fully tap into their concept's potential.

For a large part, the appeal of the comic rests on how well the robot Dy-Gar is written, as the story focuses on him heavily. It's compelling how he changes back and forth between an antihero, a hero, and a villain while in the midst of his existential crisis, as if he experiments with another identity when his current identity fails. Steel Salvation is at its best when Dy-Gar attempts to justify his morality, establishing a dichotomy between artificial and biological life. One particularly poignant line that stands out to me in this regard is on Page 46, where he says, "When a machine is used as a tool, it's called technology, but when an intelligent being is used as a tool, it's called slavery. Either our creators didn't know that they'd crossed that line, or they didn't care." Unfortunately, though, this sort of moralistic, philosophical bent isn't as prevalent in the story as I would prefer. Dy-Gar is excessively egotistical, emotional, and human-like, positioning him as a hypocritical villain in an underwhelming manner. It would be more interesting if Dy-Gar provided a proper vehicle for the reader to perceive reality through the alien lens of artificial intelligence. Further, the creators' attempts to attribute human characteristics to a robot, such as anger, are handled clumsily. Presenting Dy-Gar this way makes him more relatable to the audience, but it also undermines a potentially more cerebral and exciting experience, as better exemplified by the portrayal of Dr. Schtein in String Theory.

The storytelling could be handled better. For one, packaging Dy-Gar's memory issues in technological terms does little to disguise the amnesia cliché that's obnoxiously prevalent in fiction. The pacing's a little too slow, as the comic overly relies on mystery without revealing enough information or progressing the plot enough. And finally, the interaction between Dy-Gar and the other characters is too emotional and silly, and it detracts from the concept's appeal. There are already a million webcomics with human characters, and Steel Salvation misses an opportunity to portray communication in a unique way.

Art: It's obviously the comic's main weakness, but what disappointed me the most is that the art doesn't noticeably improve over the course of the 48 pages. And actually, the last five pages are probably the most poorly illustrated in the section. The backgrounds are especially weak throughout the comic, and they have the appearance of being work-in-progress material rather than finished content. While the creators are clearly going for a minimalistic look, they don't seem to be challenging themselves sufficiently, and the result is a comic that's not only boring to look at, but isn't helping them develop artistically. Referencing String Theory again, compare the city ruins in Chapter 6 to the city ruins here. String Theory has a better artist illustrating in a more realistic style, but she's still aiming for "awesome" while the creators of Steel Salvation seem to be overly comfortable with mere adequacy.

The creators frequently enlarge or shrink text in the speech bubbles, and while I guess their intention is to convey either inflection or robotic vocal intonation, it's annoying to read. I get irritated just when comics bold their words too often, and it's more severe in this instance. I also don't get why the lettering is often slanted downwards or upwards at about a 15-degree angle, other than just to be different. When it comes to lettering, readability is No. 1, and it's generally best to avoid overcomplicating it.

Overall: Steel Salvation's a decent practice comic that shows some enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks. However, it's plagued by poor creative decisions, which is a problem that should be alleviated as the creators gain confidence and experience. In its ideal form, Steel Salvation is avant-garde; in its present form, it's just "meh."


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