As a fan of the fantasy genre and a former Dungeons & Dragons player, I should be the perfect target audience for fantasy webcomics, but I actually kind of dread reading them. A lot of the time, it's like creators use the genre as an excuse to be uncreative. I mean, there are already enough webcomics that are like a D&D campaign or role-playing game and are set in a vaguely medieval setting, so there's not really much of a point in making more of them, especially if you're going to have a flimsy plot and underdeveloped characters. Still, I've reviewed some great fantasy comics, like Goblins, Oglaf, and What Birds Know, that try to stand out from the crowd by putting a unique twist on the genre. For this post, I'll be reviewing three more fantasy webcomics, this time focusing on the ways that they try to do things differently.
Webcomic: Legends of Whoelterran
Schedule: Tuesdays and Fridays
Section/s: Book 1, Ch. 3
Twist: Christian elements
It starts out as a standard D&D quest, but it quickly gets weird as the scene transitions to a Santa Claus-looking guy talking to a menorah. The guy's named Zan, which is like Xian, a shortened version of Christian. Throughout the comic, he casts spells and destroys monsters by reciting Bible verses, and while there's a general message of faith being powerful and all that, it doesn't really have much to do with Christianity. I mean, I've reviewed Christian comics before, like Insert Image and Furry Experience, and while they're more silly than spiritual, at least they tried to cover religious stuff like churches and Christian pop culture. But Zan's basically just an overpowered D&D Cleric, and it doesn't make any difference that he isn't worshiping one of D&D's various deities. The comic's way too busy showing off how badass he is to spend time relaying any sort of Christian message to the readers.
The religious aspect also screws up the storytelling by trivializing every situation the characters are in. It really seems like Zan's Bible verses let him effortlessly solve any problem, from opening sealed passageways, to improving characters' items, to dispelling hexes, to defeating high-level enemies. There doesn't seem to be any limit to how often Zan can use his powers, so there really aren't any surprises in store for readers. Also, he's actually part of a group of adventurers, but the other members are just useless low-level characters who compliment Zan and talk a lot. One of the members has the role of the nonbeliever, and his skepticism does kind of touch on the issue of faith, but it just seems pointless since the comic has nothing to do with what Christianity's like in real life. There's also too much exposition showing that the characters value science and don't believe in magic, like in one page where a character gives a scientific explanation for how healing potions work.
As for the art style, it seems like it's targeted at kids, as the characters have huge heads and big, cutesy eyes, kind of like they're Western-style chibis. The idea might be to get kids' attention with the fantasy stuff while promoting a positive image of Christianity. However, the creator's terrible at drawing people, and the characters often look hideous. The women are especially ugly, and their boobs seem to come out of their necks and are unaffected by gravity. Combined with the heavy shading, and with dark backgrounds that are often just black filler, the comic looks more like some kind of horror comic than a kid's story. Finally, the all-caps lettering makes it seem like the characters are always shouting, and I would've liked to see more variety in the enemies besides just skeletons all the time. I mean, sure, kids are probably going to tolerate lower-quality art, but it's bad enough here to make the comic difficult and even uncomfortable to read.
Webcomic: Tales of Hammerfist
Creator/s: John Kratky, Tobias Gebhardt, Stephen Yan
Run: 1/13-12/14 (on hiatus)
Twist: superhero elements
This one also features an overpowered character, but here, it's just a guy who's really strong. While Hammerfist doesn't have a secret identity, it feels a lot like a superhero comic, and it would definitely be one if it was set in modern times. I mean, he's got a cool nickname that's part of the comic's title, just like superhero comics, and he's got ridiculously huge muscles that remind me of how superheroes were drawn in the '90s. Like, his biceps are bigger than his torso. And unfortunately, like a lot of superheroes, Hammerfist doesn't have much of a personality. He's a good guy, he can fight well, he likes beer, and... that's really it, and I read, what, six chapters about him? It's like the creators put zero thought into it when they came up with the idea for him. The chapters are also pretty short, as most of them are only around ten pages, so there's not much space given for character development.
Still, it's not like this comic's trying to be serious. When Hammerfist randomly wrestles a bear in the first chapter, it makes it seem like he's supposed to be an exaggerated portrayal of masculinity, like it's a parody of testosterone-fueled aggressiveness. You know, kind of like what Blüdnekk the BaraBarian does, except without the buttsex and the Fred Schneider cameos. And you get some lighthearted moments, like when this one guy's trying to steal chickens from a giant. However, the comic isn't funny at all, and the whole time I just felt confused as to what the creators were trying to do. For example, there's a lot of narration that's done in rhyme, and while I guess it's supposed to be cheesy, it really just seems dumb. And when the narration doesn't rhyme, it's done in this annoyingly pretentious way, like on the first page, where a caption reads, "They end up as dust of the mind because once they come about, the account never transpires between souls thereafter." And the comic goes on and on like this, with a caption reading a few pages later, "Here, devils and men alike know the virtue of the will and the savagery of the knife." Maybe it's a strategy to make Hammerfist seem sillier by comparison, but I hoped to see something funnier and more clever than just an intentionally inconsistent tone.
Like in most superhero comics, the art focuses on action and anatomy, and they're both done really well, especially when Hammerfist's physique isn't being taken too seriously. One of the other main characters is a busty chick with an hourglass figure and a revealing outfit, and while she has more personality than Hammerfist, the way she's sexualized in the comic makes it tough to regard her as more than just eye candy. There should also be more background detail and establishing shots, as there's barely enough to even suggest that it's a generic fantasy setting.
Webcomic: Tales of Pylea
Creator/s: Chris Kuok, A. Chow
Twist: unconventional heroine
Its female protagonist, Arianhod, has more skin showing than Tales of Hammerfist's female protagonist, but the former's less sexualized for several reasons. The most obvious one's her huge muscles, which make her seem powerful and more like an equal to the male protagonist. But the composition's also a big factor, as the panels focus on Arianhod's facial expressions, muscles, and posture, a lot like how Hammerfist or any typical male superhero is shown. By comparison, in Tales of Hammerfist you get repetitive frontal or rear views that show off the woman's boobs or ass, and while the character's competent and tough, it seems like she's mainly just there for sex appeal. Tales of Pylea's blog explains the artist's attitude about it, saying that "she felt sexuality was frequently the be-all and end-all in a female character’s design, oft leaving said characters little more than cardboard cut-outs whose primary function was that of eye-candy and little else." And finally, another important thing's that Arianhod's a really flawed character. She's kind of brutish and dumb, she screws up and is embarrassed often, and she's done some pretty immoral stuff in the past, and it's really awesome how much the creators manage to humanize her. It also makes the comic kind of humorous at times, and it's actually funnier than Tales of Hammerfist.
The comic's drawn by the same artist who did Crux, so if you've read my review of that, you know that her work's amazing. Tales of Pylea's actually even better since it's digitally painted in a really unusual style, and there's a ton of background detail for its setting, which looks like it's the 1800s. It's a surprisingly urban fantasy story, where the protagonists seem more like detectives than an adventuring party. There are some other fantasy webcomics that do this kind of thing, such as No Scrying and Widdershins, and it works pretty well. Tales of Pylea relies more on action and visuals than those other webcomics, though, and it feels like not a lot has happened for the amount of pages I read. The antagonist is particularly underwhelming, as she's presented as just being an evil sadist, and it's disappointing that she isn't more complex and interesting. I mean, I know she's not the main villain in the comic's universe, but the heroes have been chasing her around for more than 80 pages, so she's treated as being pretty important.
Overall: The twists explained here really have mixed results, as they made Legends of Whoelterran and Tales of Hammerfist a lot worse while making Tales of Pylea a lot better. If there's a lesson to get from this and from my other reviews, it's that a twist is only worthwhile if it makes a fantasy story more relatable and realistic. The bad twists I've written about always involve emphasizing the fantasy aspects too much at the cost of character development and reader engagement. Having magic and stuff going on is cool, but fantasy webcomics still rely on complex characters and visual storytelling just as much as any other comic.
|Scores (out of 5)|
|Legends of Whoelterran|
|Tales of Hammerfist|
|Tales of Pylea|