Not much chance of me missing anything in THIS end-of-sub-act flash!

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized geometric solar system.)

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the start of Act 6. Perhaps nothing has best exemplified how completely superfluous the past year has been to the rest of Homestuck than whatever the hell it was that just happened.

Between the epic flash that concluded Act 5 and the start of Act 6, Andrew Hussie squeezed in a second “intermission” that was nothing more than a single flash formally introducing Lord English. Now, he’s done it again… with an actual sub-act within Act 6. To put that in perspective, we just concluded an intermission within Act 6 that lasted for about two months, introduced us to about ten new trolls, and advanced numerous plots, including the main ongoing plot. The intermission was more important than the actual act.

It would be one thing if this flash was an incredible, awesome epic advancing numerous plot threads, but despite being the fourth-longest flash in all of Homestuck, it barely advances the plot at all, having one of the lowest content-to-length ratios of any flash. (To be fair, when it comes to long low-content flashes, it’s pretty tough to top this – and I apologize in advance for the nightmares that will give you.) All it essentially does is elide a time-skip for the post-Scratch crew – implied to be nearly half a year, judging by the scratch marks on the walls of Jack Noir’s cell, if they’re taken to refer to days, which makes the first half of Act 6 all the more puzzling, as the characters are all likely to be very different and have all sorts of things happen to them that will make the numerous romantic subplots and other frivolous elements of the first three sub-acts seem all the more superfluous. The only thing that “happens” in this flash is that we’re introduced to the other three post-Scratch lands and witness the kids in action, including facing off against actual foes Jane didn’t initially encounter. (Are these re-animated salamander corpses, intended to resemble Lord English, or both?)

Since Act 6 Intermission 3 didn’t really do that much either, even by the standards of Act 6 intermissions, we haven’t really had anything that felt all that weighty since the end of Act 6 Act 3, which, because of breaks Hussie took around that time, came near the end of July, three and a half months ago, and we haven’t had a sustained period of updates with actual content since the period leading up to July 1st, four and a half months ago. To put that in perspective, the epic wait that helped build the anticipation for the end-of-act-5 flash was only two months.

It doesn’t help that by essentially skipping a sub-act (and thus a full sixth, if not fifth, of the act proper, with only one or two more sub-acts to go), we’re skipping a number of plot points most people probably expected to be resolved within it, including advancing Caliborn’s background plot (which I’m now really worried won’t be advanced beyond that end-of-act-6-act-3 flash, making it nothing more than a really convoluted, unexplained, unnecessary, and detrimental backstory for Lord English that could end up bordering as setup for a lame deus ex machina), as well as answering why and/or how Roxy blacked out the session (though admittedly, the latter does make a good in-universe explanation for the time-skip). The implied length of the time-skip effectively drops other subplots and raises questions that didn’t need to be raised, such as what happened with the other kids’ sprites (there was a fairly popular theory that Dirk’s auto-responder would end up prototyped in a sprite).

I guess this is Hussie’s way of signalling once and for all that we’re going back to the main plot now, with another intermission likely to follow to advance the plots we left off at the end of the last one, as well as further advance what’s going on on the meteor and battleship, ending with said meteor and battleship finally arriving in the session to start Act 6 Act 5. But that’s essentially going to leave just one or two sub-acts to actually have the climax and final battle, essentially rendering the first four sub-acts superfluous and effectively wasted, especially if the new kids are completely shunted to the background and rendered mostly spectators now that Calliope’s done with them, which would confirm my worst fears about the real purpose behind the past year. I should feel happy that this move to the background is happening and that the main plot’s train is fully and officially leaving the station, but this only underscores the fact that it stayed too long in the station to begin with.

How is it that the pre-Scratch trolls are all one-dimensional annoyances transparently introduced only so Hussie can kill them all… and they’re still FAR more interesting than the post-Scratch kids?

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized one ring to rule them all.)

Something’s been very odd about the recently-completed intermission; so much of its content was concentrated in three non-flashes that it’s felt unnaturally short, and I felt like we spent almost no time with the meteor crew, with Karkat and Terezi only making appearances in those flashes where the meteor crew wasn’t even the focus. And yet, it’s left me feeling as optimistic as I’ve ever been about the direction of the comic.

Nearly a year ago, on the heels of the undisputed most dramatic moment in Homestuck history, Andrew Hussie ground the plot to a halt to introduce us to four new players, shunting virtually any appearances of the four original kids, or the twelve trolls that had supplanted them as the most popular characters in the comic, to intermissions within Act 6. And no matter how much what we were witnessing might have been relevant to the big picture, I and I suspect many others just wondered when we were going to return to the characters we came to Homestuck for, when the plot was actually going to ramp back into gear and get moving.

Hussie had done this before; the proper introduction of the trolls in Act 5-1 came on the heels of the previous most dramatic moment in Homestuck history, right as, as I mentioned in my original review, the plot was finally starting to get interesting. But the trolls didn’t disappoint, turning out to be perhaps the most interesting characters in the comic, as opposed to the cyphers that were the four original kids. But the post-Scratch kids were almost just the opposite. Oh, they were interesting in their own way, especially Roxy’s alchoholism and Jake’s zest for adventure, but we hadn’t spent two-thirds of the comic’s total run time (including unreleased pages) on them the way we had with the pre-Scratch kids and trolls, and the new kids weren’t anywhere near interesting enough to overcome that, especially given my suspicion that they will all be shunted to the background or killed once the real heroes come back. Those brief glimpses we got of the kids and trolls only underscored how little we were invested in the new characters.

But now… now I finally feel like we’re picking up the main plot where we left it off at the end of Act 5, and after going off track for so long, we’re now starting to become laser-focused on the end of the comic. Just in the opening non-flash, we see that the incident at the end of the last sub-act has turned on the crew on the meteor to who Lord English is and the threat he poses, as well as get what amounts to confirmation that yes, Caliborn is in fact a young Lord English. (I hope the only reason for that wasn’t to set up the use of Calliope as the method of defeating him, because if so Hussie went so all-out in doing so he may have actually weakened Lord English as a villain.)

Over the course of the act, three ghost-troll plans arise for taking him out: Aranea’s plan to find Calliope’s ghost (which, given what we know, makes very little sense to me), Meenah’s plan to raise an army to go after Lord English directly (which is probably how the pre-Scratch trolls, and some of the post-Scratch ones, will all be unceremoniously disposed of), and Vriska’s plan to find some sort of MacGuffin that can defeat him somehow. They aren’t mutually exclusive, and Vriska suggests they might actually be working in concert even as they largely ignore one another, while the end of the “ministrife” flash, while not resolving its own conflict, suggests they might end up working a little closer than that, though Vriska seems to want to use Meenah’s army as little more than a pack of redshirts to light the way to her MacGuffin.

(By the way, with all apologies to Dave Strider, I think Meenah had already replaced him as my favorite character in Homestuck even before this intermission made her a lot more sympathetic.)

We’ve spent three sub-acts and the better part of a year focused on what has amounted to a sidetrack, but now the end goal of all of Homestuck has come into laser focus, with Lord English taking center stage as its main villain and the efforts of all the characters focused on defeating him. In this intermission, we’ve seen what the plans of the ghost trolls are, but they will still amount to a sidetrack and at best support for the real heroes. The bigger development on the horizon is the impending arrival of the kids we’ve come to know and love into the post-Scratch session sometime within the next sub-act. Once that happens, it’ll be nothing but full-speed ahead right to Homestuck‘s climax, on as many tracks as possible, no matter how circuitous the route we took to get to this point. Hopefully it won’t be the long, drawn-out, tedious battle the climax of Problem Sleuth turned out to be.

It’s only a matter of time before Rose signs up for Bubblr.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized DRUNKEN LESBIAN GLOWING VAMPIRE TROLLKISS 2012.)

I have said very little – okay, nothing – about the progress of the intermission so far, and I suspect I’m going to save most of my remarks for when the intermission is over. I’ve been trying to put together two posts’ worth of coherent thoughts on Homestuck in general, but as anyone who’s been reading my other posts knows, it’s been more of a distaction than anything else.

For now, let me say that while the walkaround non-flashes have been fun to play and explore in, the pre-scratch trolls are so much one-dimensional cariactures that Hussie has seemingly telegraphed that they’ve only been introduced for him to kill them off, and I’ve had… mixed reactions at best to the segments with the original kids, which is odd considering how much I’ve missed them. (The sooner the new sitcom “The Adventures of John and Jade” gets cancelled, the better, and watching Rose stumble around falling-down drunk is making it hard to read her earlier appearances as arguably the most clear-minded member of the group.)

However… whatever your reaction may have been to this, I will freely share it. Well, unless maybe you were a Rose/Kanaya shipper. Not putting down your preferences, I’m just not into that sort of thing. But for anyone else who underwent some combination of shock, bemusement, and bewilderment, well, allow me to add my name to the list.

(While I’m here, and need to fill out space to fill out the thumbnail, let me say that I was very surprised to see John learn of Vriska’s life-free status before finishing his journey, especially since Vriska went straight into exposition mode before John had a chance to commiserate about it.)

(Wow… have I spent a year in this place already? Funny how the time flies… and how long Act 6 has seemingly ground everything to a halt… really puts things into perspective just how much the post-Scratch kids have taken over the comic… feels like the comic’s really going to have to rush to its conclusion if Act 6 is still going to be shorter than Act 5…)

The Legacy of Homestuck and the Future of “Webcomics”

In the Year of the Kickstarter, where The Order of the Stick and Penny Arcade have seen runaway success on the crowdfunding site (and you have no idea how pleased I was to find out PA didn’t end up passing OOTS and in fact barely even cracked half a million, or only double its goal), it shouldn’t be too surprising to find Homestuck jumping on the bandwagon as well, and it should surprise exactly no one to find out that it stands to blow them both out of the water. Consider that it’s a video game Kickstarter, and it’s a mortal lock. I wouldn’t be surprised to find it challenging the most-funded projects in Kickstarter history, even considering how crowded that category has gotten this year; OOTS is still in ninth place, though there’s an active drive that stands to knock it down to tenth. I really don’t think becoming the fifth project to crack $3 million is out of the question.

Really, the idea behind the project makes a ton of sense. Not only is Homestuck, like the rest of MSPA, structured like an old text-based adventure game, but Hussie’s original plan was to do it entirely in Flash, only switching back to images with only the occasional Flash when the all-Flash approach proved to be too much work. One thing I was struck by, going through this original “beta”, is that Homestuck was originally going to be much more like a video game. Icons appear signalling things that can be clicked, to the effect that upon reaching the command “Remove CAKE from MAGIC CHEST”, you are actually invited to click on the cake and move it to the bed. I was so intrigued by this that I actually started going through and trying to figure out how Homestuck might have played out if it was a video game of this sort, even with some breathing room for player choice, and got through Act 2 before burning out.

On the other hand, that is not what this project is. Rather, it’s an effort to create a sequel to Homestuck in video game form, set within the same universe but probably not using any of the same characters. As such, my interest is considerably weaker than it might have otherwise been (I finally got around to reading Problem Sleuth, and while it started out pretty funny, it just started dragging on and on and on), though I certainly see why Hussie says he couldn’t possibly go that route.

However, what I’m really here to talk about is something I was struck by in Gary “Fleen” Tyrell’s initial writeup of the Kickstarter. You can read it here, but I’ve copy-and-pasted the relevant bit because it’s so important, and pay special attention to the second paragraph:

Let me tell you a little bit about Andrew Hussie and Homestuck: I have been struggling to read it, because it’s damn voluminous, dense, stuffed silly with music and interaction and games and self- and forward- and back-references and completely, utterly not for me.

It is the opening shot of the native culture of the second generation of internet users — the ones that have always lived there, not those of us that immigrated from the Old (nondigital) Country within our living memory. And here’s a hint for everybody that still remembers the Old (nondigital) Country: there’s more of them and fewer of us every day, so maybe if your livelihood depends on putting content in front of eyeballs in some fashion, you ought to be paying all the attention you can muster to Mr Hussie and the fans whose brains he lives in.

There’s been a lot of question over what medium to call Homestuck; while it’s usually called a webcomic, it ultimately blends elements of webcomics and video games with something completely original. I mentioned in my original review that Scott McCloud would not only refuse to call it a webcomic but would question whether it even took the medium in a good direction to go in. As with “About Digital Comics” (and the very occasional imitators thereof that have appeared since, which I call “digital stage comics” for reasons that post should make clear, and which MSPA might be seen as a variant of), though, I believe it most definitely is a productive direction to go in, maybe even more so.

In Understanding Comics, McCloud mentioned the tendency for new media to be seen through the lens of the old, often borrowing tropes from their parent media before developing some tropes of their own. I had serious issues with the story of Homestuck when I initially archive-binged it (my reaction might be similar to Tyrell’s, right down to the use of the Penny Arcade Defense), but perhaps its real legacy is in its utter redefinition of what we think of as webcomics. It is quite possible that the entirety of what we have been calling “webcomics” for the last decade and a half is little more than the “seeing new media through the lens of the old” stage of a medium we might call “visual online entertainment” for lack of a better term, and in this perhaps Homestuck is its Citizen Kane. And if that’s the case, surely it represents the ultimate realization of McCloud’s infinite-canvas vision, even if McCloud himself might disdain it.

When I questioned how many members of a “greatest webcomics” list would still be on it within ten years if webcomics fully explored their potential as a medium, I had no idea where that potential might lead – which is why I called that series “Webcomics’ Identity Crisis“. And when I suggested that a potential “greatest webcomics” list “would include at least some comics we can’t even imagine today”, Homestuck was precisely what I was referring to, even if I didn’t know it.

I may be missing some things again, but I don’t see how one draws the conclusions I read. I mean, I know what they refer to, but I don’t know how you know what they are, and at least one is just plain wrong.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized black hole accretion.)

As it turned out, not even the entry of Jake, Roxy, or Dirk into the medium was going to be saved for the end-of-sub-act flash (nor was it necessary for Roxy or Dirk to return to the future and actually be present for their own entry into the medium, which Dirk’s robots Sawtooth and Squarewave chaperoned instead), with those events instead being handled in a series of updates released shortly after Hussie’s trip to Comic-Con.

What was big enough for the end-of-act flash? The full reveal of Calliope’s brother, taking a back seat (to the point that his name, Caliborn, is almost casually dropped in the command) to his escape and entry into the medium. He apparently stays in the sarswapagus long enough that his red spiral fills up to become a red disc (though the exact cause isn’t clear), then gets up, unlocks his own shackle, and proceeds to gnaw his own leg off to be rid of the other shackle, casting a rather Lord English-esque silhouette in the process. As much as it’s been hinted before, that all but admits that Caliborn is, in fact, a young Lord English by explaining much about his appearance, even the tooth he spits out afterwards. We then see that his cruxtruder is showing “~U” rather than an actual time, and his kernelsprite apparently turns into a black hole that sucks up his house, the Statues of Liberty, even the planet itself; it might be the same black hole that appears at the end of the flash (in the image above), leaching away material from the red supergiant the cherubs’ planet was orbiting.

What’s that? As much as you understand it, you don’t think that outweighs the deaths of the protagonists or their entry into the medium as candidates for the end-of-act flash? Oh, I forgot the part with Lord English himself, where he utterly destroys a dream bubble and everything in it. Or the part where Jack Noir and the Peregrine Mendicant apparently stop fighting upon reaching the scene of the crime… including, apparently, some maimed horrorterrors. (If the black hole at the end of the flash is the one Caliborn left behind, what, exactly, are they reacting to? The remnant of the explosion, the maimed horrorterrors, something else?) In the end, this flash might be the most dramatic flash we’ve had so far that didn’t end Acts 4 or 5.

But more than that, I feel more than ever like we’re actually getting back to the actual plot. This flash focuses away from all the new characters and squarely on Lord English (even Caliborn ultimately serves the purpose of illuminating the similarities between him and English); it fully establishes the threat that Lord English presents and sets him up as the main villain of the rest of the comic, utterly overshadowing the Condesce, Jack Noir, the horrorterrors, and everything else. With Hussie promising a third intermission after this next break, the focus is about to move back to the main, established cast and their race to stop Lord English and put a stop to his threat for good – possibly with help from the comic’s other villains. If Lord English is the force that’s killing them, I actually suspect it’s doubtful that the horrorterrors were working in cahoots with Doc Scratch after all, but accidentially misled Rose into creating the Green Sun, perhaps because Doc Scratch perverted their intent or orders. The other case is if the Green Sun plays a key role in English’s defeat, whether because of the presence of PM, Jade, or even Jack Noir, or for some other reason; contrast the Green Sun with the red giant the cherubs’ planet orbited and that we see at the end of the flash.

On the other hand, given this circumstance I’m not sure I like the notion of Caliborn being a young Lord English. Even though he is an unredeemable asshole, it seems like it might humanize him too much, given his status as an utterly implacable villain above all villains, who even the comic’s resident Lovecraftian abominations fear.

We interrupt our ongoing political debate for Hussie’s latest pre-break kisstravaganza.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized party at English’s place.)

I had been holding off on writing a Homestuck post because I was waiting for all the twists and turns to finish building up to the end-of-act flash… so naturally Hussie announces there’s going to be a flash before the end-of-act flash. (I still decided to wait for that first flash – which actually turned out to be two connected flashes – to come out before writing this.)

Another reason I held off on writing anything? Despite Hussie making a habit of ending the different acts in Act 6 with hints that the post-Scratch group of kids are nothing but red herrings (great way to get people invested in the characters you’re devoting most of the act to, Hussie), I adamantly refused to believe that Hussie would kill off Jane and Roxy so cavalierly. I was confident it would prove to be a doomed timeline or something. For one thing, on top of contradicting something in the opening flash I’ll get to later, it also contradicted what Calliope repeatedly said about Roxy blacking out the session, or indeed numerous references suggesting Roxy had to enter the session, even if she died later.

So, if Calliope’s revelation isn’t big enough to end the act, and the deaths of two of the act’s protagonists isn’t big enough to end the act, what could possibly be big enough to end the act? I don’t think it’s a good place for the reveal of Calliope’s brother…

As it turned out, I was half right. Hussie wasn’t willing to kill everyone off permanently. Instead, after waking up in the same dream bubble our normal protagonists have been hanging out with Aranea and Meenah in, Dirk chucks Roxy out of the bubble towards his session (and provokes an absolutely hilarious reaction from Dave), then, after getting a wake-up from Aranea, starts setting things up for his entry into the session. He then plugs in the fenstrated wall GCat left him earlier, pops into Roxy’s house, and kiss-revives her… just in time for her dreamself to witness the knocked-out dream!Dirk and dead Jane. Yeah, that’s totally not contrived or anything.

Oh, and then he sendificates his head to the knocked-out Jake in the past.

After a tense back-and-forth where Dirk’s auto-responder messes with Jake’s head (no pun intended) by referring to himself as “Lil Hal” and twisting the knife on Jake’s uncomfortableness with kissing Dirk’s severed head, Jake eventually pulls it off and Dirk, now as his dreamself, sees Roxy’s own uncomfortableness with kissing Jane, does it himself, then loads Roxy onto his rocketboard and hops inside the temple meteor’s flower, popping out just in time to meet with Jane (who just transportalized from the Prospitian palace to the temple) and help arrange Jake’s kissing of Dirk’s head.

Although Hussie considered these two flashes to be one single flash for the purposes of his workload and the breaks he’s taking in July, from a storyline perspective I’d also join them up with the end-of-act flash (and so I could conceivably have delayed this post even more), because I don’t see what Dirk’s plan is here. Why did he have to kill himself and have Jake revive him? It helped get Jane revived, but how does he have any way of knowing that Roxy won’t be able to kiss her? (Then again, how would he know that Roxy would be in position to kiss her in the first place?) Why is he taking Roxy to the past with him? It actually seems counterproductive; don’t he and Roxy have to go back to the future in order to enter the session properly? Depending on how much he knows and where exactly she can go on the island on her own power, can’t Jane wake up Jake? I can see bits and pieces come together, but I can’t quite see the whole, which is why I don’t think the story these flashes tell will be entirely complete until the end-of-act flash comes out.

But I said I was only half-right about Hussie’s unwillingness to kill off Jane and Roxy. That’s because of the flash that opened Act 6-3, introducing Jane’s land, and the circle of lanterns therein, color-coordinated with the four post-Scratch kids, with the green one burnt out, corresponding to the earlier death of Jake’s dreamself. Near the lanterns are some tablets inscribed with this accompanying flavor text:

One by one the Nobles will arrive, and just as surely, one by one their lights will be snuffed out. In the beginning, the light of our Hope was lost. We must make do without it, and so must they. Then a mighty gust came and took the light of our Life as well, and our people knew despair like never before. But the light renewed its flicker quite spontaneously, and has been shining strong since. All in the land rejoiced.

Our lights of Heart and Void will each follow in time, long after our extinction. One will be extinguished, and then another, leaving only Life as the guiding light. But they should remain long enough to illuminate the Maid’s path, and assist her with the housekeeping we have left behind.

Well, it hasn’t exactly played out that way. Instead, Life and Void have been extinguished with Heart dimming out, then lighting up again, then being extinguished, then lighting up again so bright it exploded – all on-panel, by the way. (What was up with that, and the “Care Bear Stare” effect to start the latter flash? It’s not like Dirk’s situation is really any different from that of Roxy or Jane…) That was why I thought he would relegate this to a doomed timeline: to restore the sequence of events these tablets seemed to be foreshadowing. It wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility: Dirk could have travelled back in time (using some other means than what he did, of course) and not only restored the status quo ante but also mirrored the pre-Scratch Davesprite in the process.

This might seem kind of nitpicky, and a lot of people may have forgotten about those tablets (though people reading the comic all at once later won’t have), or never were that diligent about exploring every nook and cranny of the exploration flashes for flavor text. But as much as I’ve complained about Hussie pulling shocking twists on us seemingly for the sake of having a twist, this to me hints at a far deeper problem: the possibility that Hussie is setting up foreshadowing, but then making things up as he goes along anyway. Of course, it’s not exactly new that pretty much all of MSPA was made up as it went along, but Homestuck and later Problem Sleuth, by his own admission, have been increasingly preplanned with more intent to tell an actual story, and if he can ignore past foreshadowing at will just because it doesn’t fit what he wants to do now, or worse just to make his twists that much more twisty, it robs all that foreshadowing of credibility. A big part of the comic’s fandom is looking for all those little clues in every nook and cranny to make sense of Hussie’s infinitely-complex yet cohesive world, and Hussie has just raised the possibility that that may all be for naught.

Perhaps Hussie just forgot about those tablets, or perhaps he still has some plans to make them true, at least from a certain point of view. But it’s not just the tablets; remember Act 6 Intermission 2, where the scenes on-board the meteor and Jade’s battleship were preceded by “YEAR 1” graphics? That to me implied there would be another graphic for at least “YEAR 2”, which meant we would presumably get another intermission with the kids and trolls before their arrival in the session, and maybe most of Act 6-4 would pass before they’d actually arrive… then the meteor appeared inside the dream bubble with Aranea and Meenah, and the subsequent appearances of Jake, Roxy, and Dirk inside the bubble, and especially how quickly Roxy flew to the bubble and back to Derse under her own power, suggested that in fact this dream bubble is so close to the session (both temporally and spatially) that if the meteor’s arrival isn’t imminent, then Rose and Dave especially could easily cut the trip short under their own power (which could also help explain the apparent absence of the trolls in all the foreshadowing about the session), making that journey’s continuation something of an idiot plot. Time is already substantially twister in this new session than it normally is in Homestuck, but this is ridiculous.

Of course, Act 6-3 is just about over and no one has shown up yet, so it’s entirely possible if not likely we’re going to get at least that “YEAR 2” graphic during the third intermission to appear shortly… but it also feels like it’s entirely possible that the arrival of the kids and trolls is what Hussie is going to end Act 6-3 with, and it certainly feels like Hussie would have to find a way to kill a lot of time in Act 6-4 before the kids and trolls show up, which seems to be something you end an act within Act 6 with, not start one, or end an intermission that started with events a year beforehand. Perhaps he could delay the entry of Roxy and Dirk somehow or focus Act 6-4 far more on the cherubs, but it still seems difficult.

More importantly, I used to think that everything in Homestuck was building up to one grand climax, that all the pieces would fit together into a coherent whole, a premise that I suspect is at the heart of Homestuck’s popularity. But, and this is a feeling that has been increasingly building throughout Act 6, now I feel like I’m flying blind, and I can’t help but wonder whether or not Hussie is too. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of path connecting current events to the conclusion of the comic, especially with at least three whole acts within Act 6 devoted entirely to completely new characters (characters, I should point out, nowhere near as interesting as the trolls or even the pre-Scratch kids, except the cherubs, maybe Roxy, and a teensy bit of Dirk but only because he’s starting to take on some Mary Sue-ish qualities), and now I’m not sure Hussie feels the need to follow one. If Hussie can just drop anything he wants on us, it’s not going to be long before I no longer feel any reason to read the comic.

Act 6 has long been a shadow of the epicness that was Act 5-2, but Hussie now needs to pull a heck of a saving throw for the end of Act 6-3, intermission, and start of the next act to make me feel like maybe Act 6 isn’t one huge (potentially unnecessary) anticlimax, and hopefully, make me feel like I’m reading Homestuck again, as opposed to some sort of lame fanfic thereof.

Another reason to avoid TV Tropes’ Wild Mass Guessing section: it tainted my reaction (and possibly the speed with which I posted this) by keeping me focused on what ended up being one of the LESS important revelations.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized liberated jokes.)

As it turns out, Act 6 marked the introduction of two sessions with import on the final outcome of the war, and the other one isn’t the one that has come to be called “A1”, the pre-Scratch troll session, though we have become quite acquainted with it. Rather, it’s the supposedly two-player session involving the two personages who have made contact with the kids.

The first sign of this, of course, was the cryptic panel during Dirk’s description of the rise of the Condesce depicting what appeared to be Lord English with his legs in shackles with the Ophiuchus and Serpentarius symbols on them. Recently, however, we’ve also seen actual events within their session (and their home) depicted, even though we didn’t even know their names. We’ve also learned a lot more about the relationship between them, the sort of world they live in, and the backdrop for their session.

As it turns out, the two of them are not trolls at all, but an entirely new race called cherubs. Considering some of the things Calliope has said in the past that backed up the notion of her being a troll, combined with her explanation for presenting that impression, it’s worth wondering how many of those things are still trustworthy. If they can, then cherubs have unique blood colors like trolls, with Calliope being a “lime blood” and her brother having human- and Karkat- like red blood.

What we know for certain is that, if you thought the trolls were isolated, they have nothing on cherubs, who apparently live their entire lives completely isolated from anyone else, to the point that the only other person who knows what Calliope looks like is her brother. This isolation also explains why her brother got so turned on by two humans merely touching one another when Dirk drew it for him. Although cherubs apparently do have a form of romance, they have no equivalent to human romantic love and only ever meet another cherub to mate, in a “highly confrontational and violent” fashion; my impression is that it’s probably what it would be like if humans only had “spade” relationships instead of “heart” relationships. (In addition to the clues from her brother, Calliope once told Dirk that “my species has a completely different Understanding of romance than yoU do. it woUld probably offend yoU deeply. it might even sicken yoU!”) Calliope also once told Jake, though she was still keeping up appearances of being a troll at the time, that she “never knew those who one woUld identify as my parental eqUivalents”, explaining that “oUr ancestors precede Us by millenia.”

Oh, and she also happens to bear a striking resemblance to Lord English.

Apparently they live inside a building on a meteor that’s stuck in some planet with a bunch of Statues of Liberty very near a red giant on the verge of death, which is probably what they need the game to escape from. It’s been implied they may be the only two on the entire planet, and that they have no idea who previously inhabited it (cherubs don’t even have a “home planet”), but it’s likely to be a planet long past going through the Reckoning.

According to Calliope, the two of them have been “forced” to play a game (separate from Sburb) “for as long as we’ve known each other”, a game so all-encompassing it has affected what she’s been able to say to the kids. The rules, according to her, “are complicated, and often shifting. and they don’t always make sense! at least, they woUldn’t to yoU.” Her brother takes the game so seriously he refuses to drop it even for the sake of the new game they’re taking up, to the point he hires Jack Noir to kill Calliope’s dreamself. (And somehow, the “porn” he made Dirk draw has something to do with it.)

The two are basically confined to a single room, with each being confined to a single side within that room. Each wears a shackle bearing the other’s symbol (reminiscent of that cryptic image from earlier), which only the other can remove, and each shackle is connected to some sort of block thing in each side of the room. When one of them goes to bed, they slip on the shackle removed earlier, enter a “sarswapagus”, and come out as the other. (They apparently also switch when someone utters the name of the dormant sibling, but they have agreed not to give their names away to anyone else, presumably so the woken sibling doesn’t free him- or herself of both shackles.) Much of the “game” and its “rules”, therefore, presumably consists of the agreements they’ve made to keep one party or the other from taking too much control of the aggregate. (My hunch is, most of the rest have been imposed by the brother, who certainly sees killing Calliope as his desired win condition.) There are other weird things about them, such as the “juju modus”, with which anything one of them captchalogues can only be accessed by the other.

I’m morbidly curious to know more about the nature of cherubim and how this “game” got started, and whether it’s more accurate to consider them one person with split-personality disorder or two people who happen to share a body. (Calliope once cryptically claimed “we are genetically similar, bUt in many ways qUite different.”) I get the impression that cherubs are quite different from any other race and may in fact be a part of the game. Their session, a two-player session that Calliope has admitted will actually be more like one, was already rather weird; all the depictions have some sort of dark, gray tint to them, and Skaia is completely clouded over, utterly shrouded in storm clouds, a far cry from the bright, blue place we were first introduced to. But that weirdness would be increased exponentially if the player(s) was/were from a race that never should have had the ability to play to begin with – especially one with the potential for as much power as Calliope’s brother might turn out to end up having.

Calliope’s surface resemblance to Lord English (and her outfit’s resemblance to that of Doc Scratch, and her talking as though she was British – get it?) is not the only thing linking the demon to them. There have been some pretty strong implications that her brother is, in fact, a young Lord English. Some of the earliest, subtlest signs were his repeated vows to kill not only Calliope, but the (post-Scratch) kids as well. But the hints have been piling up once we entered Calliope’s home, from his vow to “paint everything – even my words” with her (green) blood, to the white gun in her strife specibus, to the “sarswapagus”‘ resemblance to the casket Lord English travelled in. Even Calliope’s interpretation of the page in Rose’s book with Dave and Karkat’s random scrawlings, as evidence of the presence of her brother in their session, could prove to be a case of being “right for the wrong reasons”. (He has helped Dirk and told him to destroy Lil Cal, but who knows what his motivations would be there; at least part of them may be his own fear of Cal.)

If Calliope’s brother is, in fact, a young Lord English, that implies he’s probably not one of the horrorterrors, which means it’s likely that he’s the one menacing them, especially when the plot of Complacency of the Learned is taken into account. On the other hand, we have likely gained more insight into his eventual defeat as well, namely from Calliope’s admonition to Roxy to say her name to him and, hopefully, wake her up; the cryptic panel from earlier suggests that the shackles might be used to control him as well. For the first time in Act 6, I actually feel like we’re approaching the climax we’ve been building to for more than three years.

Hopefully the last streak-filler-post.

This is going to take some explanation.

If you’ve been reading Homestuck, you know that over the weekend Andrew Hussie dropped a bit of a bombshell on his audience.

Now, in retrospect, I should have done a post on it on Monday, but I felt that, even with as much as Hussie had already dropped, he was about to drop some more. Part of it was that I was looking for the answer to a question that I had no way of knowing was going to be answered that imminently. Towards the end of the day, I did have the vast majority of a Homestuck post written, but a lot of it was rushed, and by the end of the day there was another page that convinced me even more that the bombshell-dropping wasn’t over.

Instead, we’ve gotten the standard look-around-the-new-character’s-home, and right now any post would be an after-the-fact post, so in effect I’m rolling this up into the post I’d need to put out for whatever this is leading up to. Which I hope isn’t the end-of-act flash…

Because sometimes, you just can’t beat overkill.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized red alert.)

For me, one of the most confusing parts of Homestuck came shortly after I started reading it (as in, at the exact time I wrote and posted my original review of it), when Karkat voiced his worry that, by skimping while creating it, he “gave your whole universe cancer”. That much I could follow, at least as a pun on his astrological sign. But then he claimed that Jack Noir quite literally was the cancer (as opposed to, say, the bomb actually called “the Tumor”), alongside a preview of his “Red Miles” attack on the universal frog from the end-of-act flash, and he lost me there. Jack Noir is a game construct, one Karkat himself worked with in his own session, who showed every desire to carry out the most important action he did in the kids’ game – kill the Black Queen and take her ring – in that session. What, exactly, changed that turned him into the cancer afflicting the kids’ universe while he himself was in the Medium?

There may be a clue in the revelation that the “Red Miles” attack – which has been compared to swollen blood vessels in a tumor – is, in fact, a power inherent to the ring itself, not any of its prototypings in the kids’ session, indeed something the Draconian Dignitary can carry out when the ring can’t be prototyped at all. If the original Red Miles attack was in some way emblematic of Noir’s status as the cancer, perhaps that suggests that that status is in some way related to his possession of the ring – and perhaps it also points to what that way may be. Perhaps in sessions from cancerous universes, Noir is successful in obtaining the ring, while in non-cancerous ones he isn’t; perhaps the ability to use Red Miles is only available in cancerous universes; perhaps both, or something else entirely. Certainly there’s no reason to think the Scratch magically erased the universe’s cancer in any way.

A quickie, I know, but I wanted to point out something that might be more insightful than it seems.

I originally published this without a title and realized it just a few seconds too late, and now I’m too pissed off about it to come up with one.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized diamond ring.)

Is it possible that the Condesce/Betty Crocker is actually, or at least about to become, a sympathetic figure?

She wouldn’t be the first post-Scratch troll to have doubts about her race’s culture, or even the first to do so while gleefully embodying it (let me introduce you to a little someone named Vriska). Even if it were merely an “enemy-of-my-enemy” situation, the very notion of allying with her against anything, even the specter of Lord English, would be a pretty substantial change from most of the bits and pieces we’ve gotten from Dirk and Roxy (and to some extent, Doc Scratch), which have portrayed her as nothing less than the absolutely ruthless, genocidal ruler of Earth.

The first sign of this came in the intermission, when Rose suggested that “the forces opposing these players are clandestinely working toward the same goal as we are”, embodied by the Courtyard Droll destroying the post-Scratch Battlefield, a move which on its face, suggests that the Condesce would be trying to completely screw over the post-Scratch kids while inadvertently helping the pre-Scratch ones. Even then, though, I wondered whether the Condesce knew that the pre-Scratch kids would be arriving and was intentionally setting the stage for their arrival. Rose’s dialogue seems to suggest this as well, while also suggesting she might have nefarious motives, perhaps trying to turn the pre-Scratch kids against the post-Scratch ones.

But then there’s the information we’ve gotten about her pre-Scratch counterpart from Aranea, the spider-troll Jake met in the previous sub-act who has since been confirmed to be the pre-Scratch version of Mindfang. Although Meenah has come off as a complete asshole in her interactions with Roxy and John, Aranea paints a more nuanced picture, especially in her conversation with Jake. Apparently she had no interest in becoming the ruler of pre-Alternia, mostly out of not wanting the responsibility associated with it, and it was fleeing that responsibility that led her to discover the game. As Aranea tells Terezi, it was her plotting that allowed the others to survive in dream bubbles, as opposed to facing complete oblivion, upon the Scratch, and she rejoices when she realizes she’s in a dream bubble, since “it means my plan worked”. It’s apparently the first dream bubble she’s ever been in, and Aranea is “gather[ing] a small group of travellers for a meeting” to “orient [her] to the afterlife” (presumably including Jake, Terezi, and possibly Dave, Karkat, and maybe even dream-Roxy), telling Jake: “She’s not all that 8ad though. Well…….. When you really get to know her. And when she’s unarmed. Which is…….. pretty much never, now that I think a8out it.”

Now there are obviously some substantial differences between the pre- and post-Scratch trolls, as evidenced by Aranea herself, who’s very much unlike Mindfang (let alone Vriska), though she does tell Terezi she fantasized about being someone like Mindfang. What’s more, even the bits and pieces we’ve gotten haven’t painted the most flattering picture of Meenah; in fact, one could argue part of the reason she may have abdicated the throne was because she felt the planet was too nice (which might also explain her willingness to play the game). But the reason Aranea cites is one you would expect to hold up across the Scratch, especially considering she (and possibly Feferi) probably had the most unchanged upbringing of any of the trolls. It’s entirely possible our Condesce once had little interest in ruling and the responsibilities that go along with it – maybe even less, given how much more stressful it must have been in the world Scratch molded. Perhaps Meenah’s plan was little more than to allow the pre-Scratch trolls to survive in ghost form after the Scratch, even if it involved (as seems most likely) killing them all first – an approach that seems to be in keeping with the Condesce destroying the battlefield, disguising assistance, even altruism, as opposition.

If the Condesce was always a reluctant ruler, you can imagine how she might have reacted to being pressed into a few more centuries of rule, right when she thought she didn’t have anyone to rule anymore, and you can also see why, as evidenced by the most recent comics, she’s apparently surrendered her ring to the Draconian Dignitary, the significance of which isn’t quite clear (it has no prototyping orbs so it grants DD no physical power), but could be seen as her performing her own abdication in an odd shadow of pre-Scratch Noir killing his Black Queen. If her pre-Scratch counterpart wanted, as seems apparent, autonomy without responsibility, you can see how she might still chafe over having to follow Lord English’s orders, and how Jake’s grandma might have seen taking the English name and imagery as a good way to piss her off. (It’s also worth recalling Scratch’s explanation that “[t]he Condesce will be rewarded with the power and immortality her new service entails, and punished by the grueling slavery for which it is synonymous.”) Perhaps she would love nothing more than to gain some sort of revenge over Lord English, something his nigh-unlimited power makes seemingly impossible, but which the new session may give her an opportunity for.

Aranea has suggested that Jake is destined to, not quite destroy, but at least defeat Lord English; if this is intended to refer to Jake in particular it’s an odd choice that it would be anyone from the post-Scratch kids’ session, given how little we’ve been with them compared to the others, but I’m getting the sense that the final battle that is starting to take shape is going to take several groups to bring English (who’s fast becoming the face of the enemy) down. I wonder if we might see Jake being approached for the Condesce’s more direct assistance against English, with Dirk and Roxy being vehemently opposed and Jane in favor, with the others potentially split as well.

This doesn’t quite explain the Condesce’s behavior in relation to Earth, and it’s worth wondering how much of her behavior has been to keep English off her back. Perhaps there was some aspect of conquering worlds that she did enjoy, an aspect English gave her the capacity to continue to engage in. But it’s also worth wondering if there are more elements to her rule not unlike the destruction of the Battlefield – namely, recalling Roxy’s claims that she wants everyone to play the game, even if only to further her nefarious whims. That would explain why the game files were left completely unprotected on Crockercorp servers, and it might even explain the drone attacks against Roxy and Dirk, to goad them into playing the game. It doesn’t quite explain the assassination attempts on Jane, as she’s quite enthusiastic to play the game already and the attempts might run the risk of succeeding (depending on how much the Condesce knows), but it’s possible that it’s an attempt to present a face to English of working against them… or some other force we haven’t become acquainted with yet.  (Or maybe it’s Roxy, but given what we now know that would just make causality crawl into a corner and die.)

And given what we’ve also learned about the Condesce’s power, it’s also worth wondering if we should look back at Act 6-2 and determining how many of God Cat’s actions were made as the Condesce’s proxy…