A webcomic. In 2017, the crew of the interstellar ship ‘Odysseus’ went into deep sleep for their mission of finding other life in the galaxy. Three years later, Earth made first contact. 14 years later, the Odysseus wakes up. Updates Tuesdays and Thursdays.
A’ight, let’s take a look!
We start with page sizes of the Homestuck/Prequel/Dear Children variety. Although this page has five panels (with very thin borders and similar subject matter), I suspect we’re in for one of those one-panel-page type comics. Here, we’re introduced to Samira, who I hope is an important character since she’s getting a big introduction and all. The backgrounds are nice, but Samira kind of jars with them, but I don’t want to get too deep into the art yet. Oh hey now, panels! In a logical order and everything! I guess I was wrong to assume we’d be a Homestuck type. This actually looks really nice.
These women have been kidnapped by aliens, and sold as slaves and/or pets to an alien identifying as a “blatterby”, which is decent foreshadowing, since “blatter” means “to talk fast”, and the alien is fast-talking them. He’s then revealed to be…a human, rescuing them! Which is a decent twist, but since he was so openly trying to help them before this, it’s not really much of a twist at all. The helpful alien was a helpful human doesn’t actually change much of anything.
They’re found out, and a gunfight ensues, but no one really seems too concerned about it. I’m not that deep into the comic yet, but I’m already noticing kind of a tonal flatness. The alien isn’t presented as scary or mysterious, so the reveal that he’s a helpful human in disguise doesn’t change much, and thus doesn’t really matter much.
So, Samira shows up and name-drops herself to casually resolve the problem. This is supposed to establish her as a cool notorious bad-ass, but she doesn’t actually do anything cool. She scares these fluffy things, but they look like wimps and act like geeks. Even before they know who she is, they’re shrugging at the demand to surrender like they’re actually considering it. I don’t know enough about Samira’s character yet to know if she could’ve been introduced shooting a bug, or firing a warning shot, or standing on stop of a spaceship with a gatling gun, or anything that would scare the bugs. And if her name alone is supposed to be scary, this wouldn’t worked a lot better if the bugs had been physically intimidating. Like, if they’d been 10 feet tall and covered in armor and ran off scared of her name anyway, or even if there’d just been more than three of them. Samira doesn’t come off as impressive here because I think I could beat these bugs up, and she doesn’t even succeed her first time but also doesn’t fail in a funny or interesting way. This is telling us she’s cool, now showing us.
Though her immediate bragging about how cool she looked is a decent character beat.
The big twist at the end of the chapter is a strong one!
But let’s break this down in a bit more detail
So, to be, the big issue with the comic is that it’s supposed to be a big exciting space adventure, but it kind of feels flat the whole way, and I think a lot of this is to do with everything being presented in a matter-of-fact kind of way.
So, the humans are slaves, and are bought by an alien. But that alien is actually a helpful human! Vat a tweest! But look at how Vee’s introduced
The comic opens with him very casually hanging out.
When he meets the humans, there’s no reason to thing he’s scary or threatening.
And even after that, he’s so helpful and nonthreatening, that him being there to help feels like the obvious conclusion that I already made well before the reveal.
So, what’s an example of how we could better do this “Evil threatening alien is revealed to actually be a helpful alien in disguise” twist?
Well, there’s a bit of a Star Warsy vibe to Closer To Home’s first chapter, so let’s look at Star Wars! Boushh here is (spoiler!) revealed to be Princess Leia in disguise. It’s not super hard to guess this, and “Leia pretending to capture Chewie to rescue Han” is pretty much just “Han/Luke pretend to capture Chewie to rescue Leia” in the first movie (it’s like pottery, it rhymes), but the film still makes an effort to make Boushh out to be a scary and threatening villain, with that whole “He’s holding a thermal detonator!” scene. And even when she’s revealed to be working for the rebels, she still uses the voice changer and slightly stilted language (“Your eyesight will return in time”).
But maybe it’s out of character for Vee to stand up to and haggle with the bugs, even when being watched and playing a part. There’s still quite a lot you can do just with the presentation.
You could introduce Vee from a low angle, making him initially look more threatening, for instance, or you could have the captives not understand him talking to the bugs (either because they’re talking in bug-ese, or just because they can’t hear him well). That makes him mysterious! You think he’s a villain who’s up to no good, but in fact he’s a good guy!
The introduction of Samira is similarly flat. That’s clearly supposed to be a big epic cool moment, but she doesn’t actually do anything to show she’s cool, or any of her skills, or why we should be impressed by her. No clever trap. No show of force. No bluff. No threats. I legitimately have no idea what Samira would’ve done if the bugs hadn’t been scared of her. And the character introduction falls flat.
And I feel like an arrogant jerk for pointing to my own comics as counterexamples, but compare:
You can get a decent sense of who Jill Leverett is by the end of the first page of LotH. Saffron, being a more active character, comes across even more strongly. She’s a no-nonsense ass-kicker who doesn’t have time for plans.
But hey, maybe you think my comics suck. That’s fair. Here’s a great character introduction, that carried an entire film franchise.
You know everything you need to know about this character before he has a line of dialogue. Majestically and heroically standing atop the mast of a ship only for it to be revealed that the rest of the ship is underwater is a sight gag that gets a character across more strongly than some whole books, which is why this movie got a million sequels of rapidly diminishing quality. And it’s done through clever use of camera angles (and inappropriately heroic music)
Beyond these criticisms, I think the comic has a fine premise, and decent art. I think there’s still a lot of potential here, and that tightening up the cinematography to give things more impact would go a long way towards improving it.
Score: 3 burritos out of a watermelon