I’m finding myself checking Twitter before Google Reader these days, just in case Eric posted on OOTS and I’d be spoiled.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized HULK SMASH!)

The Order of the Stick manages to do quite a bit with stick figures, but that’s not to say the format doesn’t have its limitations, and one of them is making close-in melee combat properly dramatic. That’s not to say OOTS hasn’t done this well, or that it’s not simply the fault of the comic medium as opposed to the art style (which forces the fight to be portrayed as a series of static images without sound), but even at its best OOTS swordfights can look like a bunch of people waving swords at each other, which can make even the most beloved strips look strangely static. OOTS‘ best fight scenes tend to involve ranged combat, whether arrows or magic.

The current gladiatorial sequence has illustrated this well, with the most dramatic strip to be set in the arena being one revolving around the lack of combat, and the fight between Roy and Thog looking, to this point, like the two combatants just waving their swords at each other while bantering, to the point where I’m not sure whether there was any actual fighting going on, rather than a standoff.

That is, until this strip. After going into full-on RAGE mode in the previous strip, Thog ditches the swords, and instead just starts throwing Roy all over the place, and the way it is portrayed is simply exquisite, with virtually no words (a rarity for OOTS these days) and lots of close-ups and medium shots. We can feel Roy as he’s thrown around, feel the tension in every blow Thog puts on him. The panels almost seem to come alive before our eyes.

Of ┬ácourse, it may be that this strip can have this effect precisely because it drops the swords and can go straight into the more inherently active modes of fists and body-flailing. Still, it feels like this is what we came to see when we learned we’d be getting a gladiatorial plot – something more out of a movie than what we’d been getting previously – and it helps add to the dramatic tension at the end of the strip, when not even surrendering can quell Thog’s rage enough to stop Roy from getting hit with a piece of masonry, leaving us all in suspense at Roy’s fate (not that Rich will kill him again so soon after bringing him back, of course… right?).

(Yes, this is an entire month since my last OOTS post, and yet it’s only two comics later. Just be glad Rich is finally at the drawing board again.)

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