Friday, November 17, 2017

Retrospective: What Birds Know

I've been putting this off trying to finish up the Masterpiece, but it's time to get to it.

What Birds Know wrapped up in August and I only just went back and read through it again.  It's through this that I came to really appreciate it far more than I did on my first read through.

This is ONE story, start to finish, and really needs to be read that way.  Subtle hints and topics lose their meaning over the 12 year publishing span of the comic and I found myself realizing the importance of scenes at the end only after rereading the entire comic.

There is certainly a tragic nature to the comic, and as each of the main characters are given a bit of their backstory it reinforces the finale of the comic that much more.

Ultimately  Emelie Friberg and Mattias Thorelli manage to create believable characters with proper motivations for the actions that build up as the comic goes on.  There's a lot of emotion in this comic and while the story itself is strong, the characters hold it all together.

Artwise, they mention in their final blog post about doing some touch ups for a future published edition and while I suppose that's all well and good, I don't think it's necessary.  After reading through it again I think it managed to have a rather consistent art style and never really started on a bad foot.  Of course they only do say "touch ups" so maybe I'm just not as observant as they are (creators are their own worst critics I have found).

What I'm trying to say is that this is a good comic.  Definitely worth the time to read through and while I think it was probably hurt by the posting timeframe, now that it is complete the full story can and should be experienced.  I highly recommend it and look forward to the next project the pair get to, whenever it happens to be.

Next time, something else I've been meaning to talk about.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Masterpiece: The Last, Great Sprite Comic

We never did find that armor of invincibility.

8-Bit Theater ended with an anti-climatic clash, and the punchline from a joke established almost nine years earlier.  The final stab was White Mage using her connections to convince the world that the Dark Warriors, the band of boobs, were the ones to defeat Chaos, just so our "heroes" couldn't take the credit.

But that wasn't the last strip.  It was the SECOND to last strip.  The last strip came sometime afterwards, quite a bit if I remember right.  There is a reason for that of course.

The last strip is something different and very symbolic.  The reason it took so long is because, it isn't a sprite comic.  After nearly nine years, with only a few, very few, moments of non-sprite artwork in the whole of the comic, it ends without a single one.

The times had changed in that time.  For all the popularity of 8-Bit Theater, it would never, and could never, make Brian any money, because the art work wasn't his.  At one point there was a shop that had mouse pads and shirts, but that went away quickly because copyright is in full force, and these fell under it.  Ultimately the fact that 8-Bit finished it's story is remarkable since it was, at that point, more a work of passion than one of monetary value.

And really, there is only so much one can do with sprites, and Brian had done them all, possibly even inventing some.  Despite the actual ownership of the sprites, he made them into his own characters, and made their story memorable.  To the point that it became part of his resume and resulted him getting actual work in comics, including his next piece, Atomic Robo, which got a print version for a time.

The finale of 8-Bit Theater became a finale for a generation of comics as well,  It finished wrapping up the stories of the characters, showed how some jokes just don't end, and maybe, just maybe, left the door open for a sequel one day.  Maybe.

It represented the final transition between the wild west of webcomics and the beginning of the current era.  While the older strips like Penny Arcade and Sluggy Freelance might still be kicking around, the greatness of the comics had moved on and comics like 8-Bit Theater really didn't have a place to be any more.

The Last, Great Sprite Comic, that's a fine epitaph for 8-Bit Theater, but it was also a comic Masterpiece.  Nearly a decade in development, it's final page said more than just "this is the end of the comic," and drove home the point that webcomics, in whatever form, weren't just going to go away or get hid behind paywalls.  Nuklear Power, the website that hosts 8-Bit hasn't been updated in a few years now, but its still there, the forums still active.  All because of a silly comic based on video game sprites

And that's the end.  Next time, I have a lot of stuff to catch up on, hopefully I get some time to do so.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Masterpiece: Black Mage

I know the difference between right and wrong, I just don't care.

Black Mage is evil.  No qualifiers here, he is evil.  Totally and completely evil, and he doesn't mind that at all.  It makes him happy to be evil.

The only thing that keeps him from being the main villain in the comic is the fact that the universe works actively against him.  The main weapon is, of course, Fighter, who considers Black Mage his best friend, and BM can't kill him because of his armor.

The rest was handled by, well, everyone.  Watching Black Mage react with frustration to every other person is entertaining, but it's also the one way to keep BM from focusing on his evil quest to, um, well. . .

Look, WHAT he wants for his evil is kind of odd.  Mostly it's about chaos and destruction, but he doesn't seem to want to rule.  Well, he doesn't MIND that, for a short time he was in charge of the party and seemed to enjoy it, but it's not his goal.  He has no problem doing a "good" deed, if he it will personally benefit him.

Being evil, for evil's sake seems all he really wants.  Betray his party members?  Sure.  Oh wait, the other side plans to kill him too?  Screw that guy, let's get him Fighter.  He's fluid with his betrayal and willing to do it at the drop of a hat.

He's not above love, I should note.  There is a point where he leaves a letter for White Mage that states how much he cares.  She ALMOST feels sorry for him, right up until she finds out his most powerful spell is in fact weaponized love.  This is a spell that caused a global extinction event.

He is evil, and he's pretty smart, to a point.  He often calls out the other characters (especially Red Mage) for his stupid ideas (which again, work half the time, the universe works against Black Mage again).  His intelligence does not match his cleverness, as he doesn't have much.  His best insult DID kill someone, but that's because it was awful, not because it was effective.

Of course he also goes on to conquer Hell (he was overthrown shortly there after), commit so many atrocities that his confrontation at the Temple of Ordeals is met with himself (which he promptly extra horrifies then stabs in the back), and eventually turns against the entire party and has a dramatic show down where he almost wins.  Right until Sarda appears, the same kid whose parents, foster parents and orphanage Black Mage killed.

Ultimately Black Mage gets exactly what he deserves.  He's depowered and left to wander the world with the one person he hates more than anyone else, his best friend Fighter.  No better way to end his career.

That all said, he is memorable.  It's really hard to look at that iconic sprite and not think about his rampage through the Dwarf Kingdom or his attempt to turn a spell called "make Black Mage turn inside out" on Sarda, only for Black Mage to be turned inside out as a result.  He's the example of comedic evil character, so much so that I think most other comics try and fail, to copy it.

But I that's another story, one I will finish next time.  Until then.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Masterpiece: White Mage

I am White Mage, destroyer of worlds.

White Mage is good.  Not perfectly good, but as good as anyone in the comic has ever been or likely ever will be.  Considering that most of the characters are insane and horrible, that may not seem like much, but ultimately it is.

Honestly the biggest moment that proves this is in the later half of the comic where Black Mage is "replaced" by White Mage.  The end result is that the rest of the party began doing good things, using their skills to help rather than hurt.  Upon Black Mage's return, they return to their unpleasant ways, but for that short period, White Mage's goodness overrides their own natural tendencies.

She isn't perfectly good, of course.  She can be driven to an almost murderous rage, usually by Black Mage.  She sours on the good thing for a bit, making that quote above as she begins her "fall" into evil.  It lasts like 6 pages, and ends when she's mean, slightly, to Fighter.  She felt bad about it.

Her introduction was meant to drive the group forward, fixing their "mistakes" and moving them to their ultimate destiny.  That went out the window quickly and instead she made her own way, trying to single handily fix everything, and try desperately to keep away from Black Mage's lecherous hands.

Eventually she even meets Sarda, the Wizard That Did It, and effectively the antagonist of the story.  Not villain mind you, that belongs to the party, but he is the one that pushes the party onto a particular path, mostly for revenge.  White Mage isn't a target of his wrath, so his reaction to her annoying him was to send her to the beginning of time.

Where she created the universe by accident.  And slightly before Sarda got there.  Then suggested he looked better with a mustache.

Eventually, of course, her final act in the main story was to fulfill the long joke, and she's the reason there's any form of an epilogue.  While her story arc is probably less developed, even including her "brush" with "evil," her role in the story is no less important.  She's the reason the group dynamic is the way it is, she's the reason the ending happens as it does, and the reason the universe exists at all.  She is probably the most important character in the story.  She's practically god.  Almost literally due to the universe thing.

But if there is a "god" in the comic, there must be a "devil."  Or someone who makes the devil look like a wimp.

Next time, evil  Until then.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Masterpiece: Red Mage

In the arena of logic, I fight unarmed.

Red Mage is insane.  Well, at times he's more lucid than others, but usually he's the one to most likely go above and beyond any form of sanity and logic.

The reason is that he is meant to represent the gamer, the rpg addict that attempts to squeeze out the most from the game, often by gaming the system itself.  The phrase "min-maxer" is used for this idea, maxing out certain powers while minimizing the penalties.

Which when playing, say, Dungeons and Dragons, is probably just fine.  There are a set of rules that govern the play order, powers, abilities and whatnot.  In a comic that is a "real" world, stuff like this gets really silly really fast.  At one point Red Mage rolls a pair of dice in order to escape being dropped into a pool of acid.  The dice fell in the pool of acid.

All of this allows Red Mage to do completely insane things that are only logical if you come at it from a game perspective.  It does, however, generates some rather ethical and moral issues.  When the character manages to do something so horrible that even Black Mage, the avatar of evil, is disturbed by it, it might be a bit too far.

The scary thing is, about half the time, his plans work.  The other half the time, though, it's completely stupid.  To the point that other characters, typically Thief, have to drag him back to reality.  Which is pretty temporary in most cases.

Ultimately, Red Mage came to know, um, everything, and while his plans for dealing with Sarda were still crazy, they were at the point where nothing less than crazy would work.  And it DID work.  Until it didn't, but that's part of the joke.

And a joke is what Red Mage is, well a joke dispenser anyway.  Whether he's rolling dice or attempting to generate quests to earn XP to level up, it's all about being him being at his most ridiculous.  The few times he seems rather lucid are often because other characters are being at their most insane, such as the Dwarven Genocide where he wanted to talk because he wanted XP while Thief and Black Mage wanted to kill and destroy.

In the end, Red Mage was a joke engine, there to make relatively normal, if silly, encounters into complete madness.  He doesn't have much of an arc, limited to his conflict with Black Mage near the end of the comic.  There is a hint of some morality there, he does teleport White Mage out just prior to that fight, and after the events of the comic, but his actions in the rest of the comic shows he often overrides his morality in the name of gaming the universe, and from there, the jokes come naturally.

Next time, god.  Kind of.  Sort of.  You'll see.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Masterpiece: Black Belt

You try walking a straight line without bumping into wave functions of neighboring realities.

Blackbelt is dead.  Twice.  Horribly dead twice.  Three times if you count being turned to stone first, then being brought back with part of his head missing as two deaths.

Of all the characters, it turns out I remember Black Belt the least well.  In fact, I was completely mistaken about him.  My memory of him is that he was Fighter 2, the sequel.  Just as dumb, if not more so, just a better fighter.  His death, my memory tells me, is because he wasn't necessary as they already had one Fighter and having a second one was stupid.

Most of that isn't true, it turns out.  In fact only one part of my memory was right, he was killed because he wasn't necessary, but not for the reasons I thought.

His role was simple:  be someone for White Mage to talk to.  She doesn't officially join the Light Warriors, and this leads to her being more off screen than on, and having someone she can walk and talk with as she chases the rest of the party around the world isn't a bad idea.  Giving Black Belt the ability to get lost walking in a straight line kept the two of them just behind the party, often able to witness only the aftermath of their passing.

That said, it turned out he wasn't really necessary.  After his death (second death), White Mage either was with the main party, talking with Sarda, the Wizard that Did It, or doing something noble (like creating the universe, we'll get to that later).  She didn't NEED Black Belt for that.

Later his death would serve a role in White Mage's character development, but beyond that, he wasn't needed any more.  Which means, sadly, there isn't really much to talk about with him.  He didn't undergo any development, have no story arc, or anything.  He was there for a few jokes and then gone.  Much like Dragoon, who was really just there to deal with Muffin, or Evil Princess Sara who, while having cameo appearances, is basically done as soon as the Light Warriors cross their bridge.

Would the comic have been better if Black Belt had more of a role?  Hard to say, as I'm not sure WHAT role he could have had.  Even White Mage, easily a main character of the group, was absent from most of the comic, and even missed the bulk of the final battles (aside from the important one).  In the mean time there were the Other Warriors who did many of the same things that Black Belt could have done, but were more entertaining at it, and then Dragoon who had ONE job, and did it once he realized his parrot was a dragon.  I will argue Sara could easily had more to do, but that's another story all together.

Really for Black Belt, he is but one of dozens of side characters who didn't get as much screen time as the main four, but ultimately didn't really NEED that time either.  Most of these characters are one note, one joke types and are there just to keep the rest of the story interesting.  Keeping the comic focused on the main cast kept it from wandering too much, and when it did wander, it was short, funny, and didn't over stay it's welcome.

Next time, the crazy one.  No, not him.  Or her.  Not that one either.  Yes, that one.  Until next time.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Masterpiece: Thief

Shut up and give me all your monies and fineries.

Thief is all in the name.  Well mostly.  It is true that Thief is what he is, and an amazing one at that.  Whether it's stripping the gold walls of a castle as they walk by, or stealing things that don't actually exist, Thief can and has lived up to his title.

Yet, he's also the only character that, at least initially, was actually on a heroic quest.  That quest disappears rather early in the comic, not because it was forgotten, but really because he completed it!  Yes, that's right, a Light Warrior, in a comic where comic failure is rampant, common and expected, actually successfully completed a quest without it back firing horribly or unleashing a far worse evil on the world. . .

Wait, it meant Thief wasn't bound any more.  Forget I said anything about that last part.

My point is when we're introduced to Thief, he is on a noble quest.  Doing it in the most Thief way possible, of course, but it is noble.  His father, King of Elfland, is ill, so he's out collecting funds to finance a cure.  Which only makes sense because Elf logic (serious, isn't pulling all the stops for a cure kind of the thing you do for a king anyway?).  He does this by stealing everything that isn't nailed down.  Then going back for the stuff that is.

Of course, eventually the quest is over, though not until after the worst pun ever kills the villain behind the King's illness.  At that point, Thief is freed from his obligation and he becomes the avatar of Robbery we all know and fear.

That said, of the all the characters, he is the most practical.  Yes, he leans heavily on the "can't have it, steal it" line of thinking, but you can't argue with how successful he often is in that regard.  He also acts as a moderator for the more, um, impulsive and insane ideas of the rest of the cast, giving them more focus when the time comes.  Then he takes off to hide because he knows he's just cannon fodder otherwise.

He is the team's leader, despite the fact that he got that role by stealing it.  He is very effective at it and the group dynamic kind of needs him or they might just not make it all.

Which isn't to say he's a good guy, oh dog no.  Evil might be a stretch, but he is classicist, racist and arrogant, to a hilarious degree.  And he can be influenced to feed into his lesser desires.  His hatred of dwarfs combined with Black Mage's desire for death and destruction resulted in a campaign of genocide across the Dwarf Kingdom.  Given the lack of any kind of law enforcement in a small town, he took on the role, of a mob boss.  Placed on the kind direction of White Mage, he's actually develops an excellent economic restoration program that doesn't involve stealing anything from anybody.  Truly he was cursed.

Ultimately, he gets what he deserves.  The only Light Warrior to not really earn his class change, he is made to pay for it at the worst possible moment, but having it stolen from him, by himself, from the past.  Only fitting I suppose.

Thief does get overshadowed by the other cast members though.  He is often the straight man to their madness, and as straight man, gets more forgotten than not, but when he shines, he shines, and that will likely cost you a small fee to witness (it was in the contract he forged your signature to).

Next time, the character who can't walk down a hallway without getting lost.  Until then kiddies.