Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Order of the Stick: Blood Runs in the Family

The stuff on the front page don't actually happen quite like that.

Writer & artist: Rich Burlew
Publisher: Giant in the Playground

Summary: The titular Order of the Stick have reached the desert lands in hope of keeping one of the few remaining gates that hold back a universe dooming monstrosity from falling into the hands of the terrifying lich Xykon. In these desert lands they'll face family secrets, new enemies, duelling narratives, consequences of their own actions and clichés. So very many clichés, and they know it.

My thoughts: On a very basic level the Order of the Stick series has so many great things going for it and I am a fan most of them. But not everything. Most of the Dungeons & Dragons meta-jokes largely go over my head since I've never really played the game and basically everything I know about comes from jokes I read in this and other web comics and from pretending to listen to my RPG-playing friends. But the great here is that you don't need to know about the specifics of D&D. The comic may have started out as a series of one note RPG-based gags, but it's grown into something much bigger than that.

The story is very character driven. Practically everything happens as a result of the characters' actions rather than events just happening so that the story can move forward arbitrarily.  The discussion that the characters have come into play all the time as they might tip or motivate someone else into doing something that furthers the plot. Or it might change of one character, along with the audience, sees another character and the whole plot shifts. While this may seem like the most basic of story telling methods, Burlew does it with a flourish and intricacy that engages the reader deeply in the characters and actually makes you think about how they're acting and each word becomes important because it could all lead to the next major splash page or plot twist. Everything the characters say and do has consequences.

Hell, that's one of the major themes of this comic I'd say. Consequences. Whether it's breaking into a colleague's office, pretending to be nicer or leaving your family to seek ultimate arcane knowledge and power you pay the price. Some times that's a nice price and some times it's really bad (like getting eaten to death bad). Often the price is nicely surprising, to the reader that is. Those who aren't used to the comic and judge by the bare bones art style and the humerous content will be perplexed by how mature it can be in regards to the cause and effect of character's actions along with the character development that follows it.

Because there is serious character development for all the six main characters here, along with some for two of the main villains. It's generally been long since they cast off the limiting shackles of the role playing character archetypes that they started out as and turned into three dimensional, fully fleshed out narrative entities. But even with that in mind I'm still astounded by how much further the author's been able to go with the cast in this book. They really are incredibly engaging.

And the comic is entertaining as all hell. The action scenes are grand and spectacular. The jokes are never ending and range from visual gags (big and small) to a horribly large number of puns to all manner of fourth wall breaking shenanigans and so much more. There's mature and endearing romance, friendships that are put to the test and dramatic gut punches and pretty much everything you'd want from an epic fantasy adventure with a modern twist to it.

Besides the main story there's also lots of extra content. Like the author's commentary sections for each chapter which can either been seen as insightful or pretentious depending on how you approach. I personally always find them very interesting and inspirational. There's also quite a few new pages that weren't shown in the original web comic. They're often good for an extra laugh or two or they add some neat little insight into things we didn't know we were wondering about. And lastly there's a short story parody of mr. Edgar Allen Poe's The Raven which shows how two characters met. It's fun and cute.

Like I said. The comic has a lot of good things going for it. It's a fantasy adventure with modern sensibilities that will grabbs the reader's interest and holds with an interesting and mature story about fully develop characters and makes them smile, laugh, cry and, most importantly, think about what they just read.

Grade: 4 - Great

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