I really shouldn’t read TV Tropes’ Wild Mass Guessing section for stuff I follow. It keeps me from coming to my own conclusions and reactions.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized punishment for faking one’s own death.)

So it turns out the post-Scratch session was not a red herring, and the real red herring was the notion of Hussiebot as Evil!Hussie, which maybe I should have seen coming. Still, I wanted to make sure Jane was safe and sound before saying anything about Act 6’s first intermission.

Yes, not only was the return to the characters we’ve been following for five acts consigned to an “intermission” within Act 6, but the first intermission, implying Hussie has at least one more planned for this climactic act. In fact, there are six sub-acts planned for Act 6, if one can read anything from the progression of curtains in a prior flash (although you could read it as five). It seems a little risky to sweep the characters we’ve been following for so long aside and put the focus on these almost completely new characters for the act that will resolve the central conflict of Homestuck, almost like these guys we’ve never heard of are swooping in and stealing the glory of the characters we’ve been following.

The main revelation of this intermission was that, while those characters are taking a trip to the post-Scratch session, it won’t be instantaneous – they will have to make up the entire three-year advantage the post-Scratch kids have on them. The three nanoseconds it takes John, Jade, and their ship to span the one yard they have within wherever-the-hell-Hussie-is will take three years for them, and Rose, Dave, and the surviving trolls (except Aradia and ghost!Sollux) will be riding the meteor to the new session over the same period of time. (I understand Sollux was able to speed up the meteor to get to the Green Sun, but how come Derse’s moon was so much faster?)

Keep in mind, everything that happened over the preceding five acts took place over a little over a day at most, from the kids’ seemingly-normal existences (and only knowing each other through online chats) to heading out towards an unfamiliar session while being god-tiered… and that will now take three freaking years. Three years of John and Jade stuck with nothing but each other, Davesprite, the planets Jade shrunk, and a big green backdrop. Three years of Rose, Dave, Karkat, Terezi, Kanaya, and Gamzee stuck with nothing but each other and whatever surprises the meteor has. Less than twenty-four hours ago, the kids led completely normal lives, and now they’re stuck with this for three freaking years. I can see why John and Karkat (none of whose “compatible” pairs are travelling with each other) might go a little crazy at the very prospect.

Oh, and a captivated Jack Noir runs off from the confrontation with PM, if only temporarily, while PM drops the Wayward Vagabond off with Rose, Dave, and the trolls, leaving it very possible that he might yet be revived. Rose implies that Noir will follow them to the new session, but between Aradia promising to buy them some time and PM giving hot pursuit, I wouldn’t be surprised if something happened between them at the Green Sun (even if only a repeat of what happened back at the troll session). The final showdown is starting to take shape.

For the moment, though, we’re back to the post-Scratch universe and session, where Jane’s dreamself actually managed to revive herself from getting killed by that session’s Noir, in a move presumably related to being the Hero of Life. (Whether her realself’s survival is also related to that, or (as she thinks) to the post-Scratch equivalent to Bec, is up in the air.) We also answered the question of how Jake’s dreamself died (and it’s one of the more humorous deaths I’ve ever seen) while raising more questions: what’s the “new management” over on Derse (it’s evidently not Noir), and why have they greenlit killing the dreamselves before the realselves even arrive?

I take two weeks off and already I’m completely rusty with these webcomic posts.

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

I stopped reading Homestuck for the past two weeks while my computer was down. As my posting prowess in the interim should suffice to show, this was not a result of my inability to post, but rather an inability to couple my Homestuck-reading with another, related project. I still shouldn’t be posting; I have too much to do to wrap up the quarter at school.

In the interim, the post-Scratch session has gotten weeeeeird.

It’s become apparent that the effects of the Scratch, for whatever reason, are not limited to simply switching the places of the kids and guardians. Elements of the trolls’ universe are seeping in, and not just the “thirteenth troll”. There are the lusii on Jake’s island, and there’s Lalonde’s repeated references to “wiggling day” in her last conversation with Jake. And the two characters we haven’t gotten proper introductions to seem to have taken the lead; they seem to know a lot more about the session they’re entering than Jane and Jake, even though the latter two have gotten plenty of information from the “thirteenth troll”, to the point of dictating the order of entry.

It seems rather odd that Lalonde and Strider would know so much about the game that Jane and Jake don’t. Couple that with Lalonde’s aforementioned “wriggling day” reference, and it’s easy to wonder whether they’re entirely what they seem – which would make Lalonde’s suspicion of Betty Crocker’s nature rather suspect.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the part where Jane just freaking exploded.

I imagine that, when this happened, all sorts of questions ran through the fandom’s heads, questions like how the story could continue with the equivalent of John dead (after Jake’s death had been foreshadowed in Jane’s dreams). As we’ve heard, Jane has been the subject of assassination attempts before, so she could conceivably survive this one. But the impression I’ve gotten from the latest interlude is that this entire post-Scratch session may well have been a red herring, allowing Hussie to toy with the fans with various bits of “fan-canon”, only to serve as a long-winded introduction to “Hussiebot” and his schtick.

That schtick, if we are to take this panel at face value, may well involve every piece of misfortune that has befallen this story so far. If Hussiebot is, somehow, the invisible hand behind every major death in the story, truly Andrew Hussie’s “evil twin”, then perhaps he is the true villain of the story, more supreme even than Noir, Scratch, maybe even Lord English – if he doesn’t have some sort of tight-knit connection with English somehow.

I won’t be able to remark on whatever happens next with Hussiebot, John, and Jade until Sunday at the earliest, leaving open the possibility that there will be some sort of major development on Saturday that will be immediately followed up on and leave any reaction I might have in the dust. It’s not entirely out of the question that the universe we just spent nearly a month getting acquainted with will still have some impact on the story, but I do have to admit: it is refreshing to get back to the main plot again.

Also? I can’t believe post-Scratch Lalonde is every bit as much an alcoholic as Rose’s mom was. And she’s 15.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized uranium shortage.)

The post that went up on Monday night/Tuesday morning was actually pretty much done last Saturday. In the week since then, enough has happened, and enough questions have been raised, that I’m actually rather interested in this act, even if Hussie is likely to resolve quite a few of the mysteries raised in pretty short order, and even if his writing in this act hasn’t quite been up to snuff (even though the clunky writing is intentional, these kids seem even more alien than the trolls).

I’m interested in whether there’s any relationship between the post-Scratch Crockercorp, the pre-Scratch Betty Crocker, and (as seems very likely) the pre-Scratch Condesce. I’m interested in to what extent this universe is lighter than we’re used to, and to what extent it’s ultimately darker, and what its ultimate relationship is to the one we’re used to. I’m even a little interested in who’s targeting Jane and why. I’m certainly interested – and this is not quite so complimentary to Hussie – in just getting to the game, or at least back to the characters we’re already familiar with.

But perhaps most of all, I’m interested in the apparent confirmation and appearance of the long-rumored fan obsession, the “thirteenth troll”.

While ultimately rooted in the zodiac, and speculated on by fans even before our proper introduction to the trolls, the existence of a thirteenth troll became ultimately rather unlikely as time went on and we learned more about the trolls, and right now I’m not sure how it’s even possible. She claims that she herself played the game, but there’s no evidence that it is possible for there to be anything other than an even number of players, indicating that whoever she is, there’s another troll that she played with. That doesn’t even address the question of what session she comes from, or what it was like; it’s very unlikely it’s one that we’re familiar with. Somehow she knows how this session will go, yet claims to have “sync[ed] Up these conversations with yoU on the same day that i begin playing as well”, or in other words, she hasn’t even played herself yet. And then there’s her association with what appears to be an exile’s terminal at the start of the act…

Then there is what she says. She refers to “the legendary octet of mUtUal progenitoriety”, and refers to the titles of the kids we’re familiar with by name, indicating that this final session will consist of not only these four post-Scratch kids, but also the four kids who have already played the game to this point. And beyond that, she also foreshadows the ending of all of Homestuck, claiming that together they will “heal a great breach in paradox space”:

UU: and while the emerald eye of this storm is fixed in the abyss forever
UU: today yoU are poised to escape its scowl once and for all.
UU: by skaias gUiding light, yoU may leave behind its tUrning arms of bright coloUrs and mayhem, and secUre peace for yoUr cosmic progeny for all dUration.

In other words, while “uranianUmbra” is rather dense with the purple prose, the gist of what will happen is clear: this unified session will ultimately break the cycle of misfortune caused by the game and the enemy, and ensure that however many universes may follow, they won’t have to go through what everyone in Homestuck has gone through. It also suggests where she herself may come from: a future session, one after everything both groups of kids achieve in this one has made them legends in every subsequent universe. (Which in turn, suggests whatever everyone does, it won’t do away with the game entirely, and her remark about the “emerald eye” suggests the Green Sun won’t actually get destroyed either.)

I’m a bit surprised, not only that Hussie would include a thirteenth troll, but that he would allow her to drop, in her words, such “casual spoilers” about what is to come in this act. He let so much information slip here that it’s not even that hard to figure out what Act 7, Homestuck‘s epilogue, is likely to consist of. If I were a betting man, I’d bet that much about UU will remain a mystery throughout Act 6, and getting a proper introduction to her, however brief, will be the ultimate goal of Act 7.

“Our logo is a fork. Our logo has always been a fork.”

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized all-purpose baking utensil.)

Homestuck has been undeniably awesome so far… but reading a recent Tumblr post of Hussie’s, it’s also exhibited an example of something not to do.

Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere, do not bend your story just to do something you think is cool. Do a side strip, or do a non-canon intermission, or something, but if you’re doing a story-heavy comic, everything that happens in your comic should serve the needs of the story, not the other way around. And certainly don’t change the basic cornerstones of how the story goes in order to do something cool.

Hussie knows this – the Midnight Crew, the dark counterparts of the Problem Sleuthers, never appeared in PS proper, instead sticking to bonus material before becoming key figures in Homestuck – and he mentions coming up with this idea about two years ago, or almost as far back as the age of the comic itself. But two years ago, Homestuck was already in the midst of Act 3, and Hussie mentions the idea spinning out of the ectobiological origins of the kids and guardians, suggesting at least some of the comic was already established by that point.

I’m hopeful these new kids will prove to be important enough to the plot we’ve been following for the last five acts that their value will be more than just Hussie wanting to do something cool, that Hussie will prove a good enough writer to integrate them at least as seamlessly as he did the trolls – and in fact there’s evidence that Jake, who we’re meeting now, is the penpal who helped Jade make the “ultimate bunny” (but if that’s the case, why don’t I recognize his old-timey dialogue from his notes to John?) – but I’m going to be reading cautiously until then, if I decide to read at all before we get back to the plot.

This is both why I shouldn’t be posting on Homestuck, and why I’m the only one crazy and stubborn enough to do so.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized reign of the pool balls.)

So. Let’s talk about that EOA flash some more.

A single installment of a comic has to be absolutely incredible for me to devote two posts to talking about it. If anything would qualify, it would be that flash, but that’s not why I want to talk about it. Nor do I want to talk about it because of Hussie’s Halloween (sort of) surprise unveiling Lord English in full to us for the first time (after I noted his glaring absence in the EOA). Rather, I want to talk about it because arguably the most important development in that act-ending flash wasn’t conveyed clearly.

To be fair, without dialogue (and the lack of dialogue is an important part of the appeal of Homestuck‘s flashes), it may well have been impossible to convey clearly. Without dialogue, it’s impossible to tell whether Rose and Dave can’t find the Green Sun, or if it’s just obscured by the Tumor, the distance, and quite possibly being in the middle of Derse’s moon. Without dialogue, it’s impossible to tell whether that huge green orb is the Green Sun itself, or the shockwave from its destruction. It’s especially impossible to tell when Hussie intentionally structured the flash out of strict chronological order (even by Homestuck standards – for instance, that Red Miles attack of Noir’s, depicted immediately after he’s seen mourning Jade’s death and before he even places her on the Quest Bed, actually happens after everything else Noir does in that flash, aside from PM showing up), meaning Rose and Dave’s quest for the Sun was interspersed with Aradia and ghost-Sollux waiting for them outside the (existing) Sun.

I got a lot of things wrong in my initial post on the EOA, and I was okay with that. I intended that post to be my own first impressions and interpretations, largely unencumbered by what other people said about it and how other people interpreted it, and I didn’t want to bother re-editing it heavily after reading those other interpretations. In particular, my title said that I didn’t see why people were making a big deal out of Scratch’s “suckers” remark to Gamzee, and if I didn’t still think that after reading what I got wrong I would have changed the title. We already knew that Scratch’s entire MO consisted of manipulating people to serve his own ends. We already knew that Scratch was tricking Rose and others into unleashing an unstoppable universe-eating demon (an aspect of his motivation I don’t think he mentioned to anyone other than the reader and people he’d recruited to serve English directly). While we learned more about his ultimate plan, and that he committed more “lies of omission” than we had thought, I’m not sure we learned that much more about Scratch that we didn’t already know.

But the creation of the Green Sun is important to talk about, and while we can’t really do much more than speculate, we can talk a little bit about the implications, which should serve as a short prelude to the coming Act 6.

Rose’s mission to destroy the Green Sun was given to her by the horrorterrors, Lovecraftian abominations from beyond the Furthest Ring, and Doc Scratch provided her with the details to carry it out. According to their story, the Sun was the source of power for, among others, Jack Noir (and Scratch himself), and destroying it would also serve to avert their own deaths at the hands of some malevolent force. The horrorterrors gave Rose a map to plot a course through the knotted spacetime surrounding the Sun, to arrive at the Sun’s location at just the right time and place.

It now appears that the horrorterrors misled and tricked Rose and Dave into creating the Sun to serve whatever purposes they may have had, with Scratch as their accomplice. It’s anyone’s guess whether they’re actually under any kind of threat, or what their exact aims are, but it’s clear that they’ve screwed over two sessions and possibly many more, with their machinations leading fairly directly to the creation of Doc Scratch and Jack Noir’s omnipotence. Hussie calls all of act 5, and perhaps the entire comic, “the result of a very, very long con by Doc Scratch”; I might go even further. Everything that has completely screwed over the kids and trolls ultimately comes back to the deviousness of one grand enemy, one party that appears to have caused everything, of which Noir is ultimately a minor part. Whether anyone realizes the extent of their machinations remains in doubt.

It’s also clear that the kids and trolls can’t trust anyone, to any extent, except themselves and each other. Rose, with good reason, was very skeptical over whether to trust the horrorterrors, but even after the “grimdark incident” went ahead with the plan anyway, if only because there wasn’t much else to do with the Tumor. Now far from solving their myriad problems, she now bears some accidential responsibility for them, and what reason there may have been to trust that the horrorterrors have had their best interests in mind has gone out the window. Meanwhile, Doc Scratch has repeatedly said he never lies, and going back through his conversations shows that any lies he made about the nature of the Tumor, the Green Sun, and Rose’s mission were by omission, but one would have to parse his conversations very carefully to detect what he’s leaving out.

Everyone in a position to say more about the game world than any player would has proven to be utterly untrustworthy and working against them (though the two characters who inherited first-guardian power during the same flash may provide a sliver of hope). If the combined forces – soon all the surviving trolls will be joined with half the kids outside the Sun, seven in all – do realize the scope of the forces arrayed against them and start aiming to oppose them, they will effectively be flying blind, with their only source of information being the same forces they seek to oppose, which they will need to guess at when they need to do what they say, the opposite, or something else entirely.

This, then, is the central conflict of Act 6, the final substantial act: the efforts of the kids and trolls, working in complete concert for the first time, to oppose and take down their true enemy, which has started to show its face. It is far more difficult than anything the game has challenged them with to this point, with even beginning to effectively oppose them a seemingly impossible task, but one they are faced with nonetheless; only time will tell if they will succeed in accomplishing their goal, or their enemy’s. To the side, PM and perhaps eventually Jade will oppose Jack Noir, but only on the side; though the Noir ruse may prove a critical distaction, and even prevent any potential victory from proving empty, if not complete it, it is no longer the comic’s most important conflict.

But perhaps there’s an even larger story here. In one sense, the creation of the Sun completes the biggest time loop of all, with the crisis faced by the kids leading to the creation of the power behind that crisis, with Doc Scratch engineering the source of his own power. But in an even bigger sense, the Green Sun is the source of one of the most central aspects of the game itself. Perhaps, just perhaps, the greatest time loop of all hasn’t been completed yet, and will only come to fruition with the creation of the game itself.

I may be back later with thoughts on the start of Act 6.

On the other hand, um, Doc Scratch playing everyone is a shocking development? Um, didn’t we know that already?

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized replacement curtains.)

Sixteen months ago, Homestuck, the current installment of MS Paint Adventures, started its fifth act. Thirteen months ago, it started the second act of that fifth act. Two months ago, MSPA went completely silent as Andrew Hussie worked on the flash to end the act, and just shy of the one-year anniversary of the start of Act 5-2, released a few extra, contentless pages to tide people over. To put all of that in perspective, Homestuck has only been going on for two and a half years, so Act 5 has taken up over half its lifespan, and Act 5-2 has come pretty close. What’s more, Act 5 has done more than that to make Homestuck what it is; it was Act 5-1 that gave us a proper introduction to the trolls, who practically define Homestuck‘s appeal at this point.

And now, after all that time, it has finally come to an end.

The end of such a momentous period in the “comic’s” history should be with a bang, and on this Hussie more than delivered, with a Flash animation so long (13 minutes) it had to be hosted on Newgrounds (which it then proceeded to crash when first uploaded), starts with a card that divides it into seven parts, can be paused (something that hasn’t happened for any previous flash), comes with its own modified site design, and eventually spills over to cover up its own title. Hussie has said in the past that he intended to keep pushing the envelope with what he could do with Homestuck, constantly trying to make it bigger, better, more spectacular, and this seems to be the sort of thing he was talking about. Rose and alternate-Vriska’s fights with Noir were originally going to be an epic Flash animation, but it took so long to put together the idea was scrapped in favor of starting the Scratch interlude early; I almost feel like this animation would feel less jarring if that animation had come to fruition. The only previous flash that would come close was the flash at the end of Act 4, and that was a long time ago.

Leading up to the flash, Hussie published a series of pages depicting Jade and Noir watching the Courtyard Droll touching down near their location and setting off a Barbasol bomb. (Turns out, stealing John’s dad’s wallet from the Wayward Vagabond without his ring or the Tumor inside was just as planned after all!) The frog tadpole they were with fell into some lava, and Jade fell to the ground, dead. Noir’s reaction is, in some sense, the culmination of a plot thread that hasn’t even been running that long. We only got a real look at Noir’s post-omnipotence mindset back in February, when we learned of his boredom with nothing to do except kill and his frustration with the dog-like thoughts Bec’s prototyping left him with, including loyalty and love towards Jade. So he tried to get his underlings to kill Jade for him. But during the Scratch interlude, he went as far as following Jade around everywhere (which did give him the opportunity to stomp on a lot of frogs), and now he gets upset and ultimately kills the Droll off-screen for following his own orders to the letter.

Noir then starts trying to destroy the universe, leaves Jade on a Quest Bed, and takes off to hide in the frog temple, where he proceeds to kill most of the Exiles. The Aimless Renegade does manage to destroy the vessels they arrived in, but gets killed before he destroys the one the Wayward Vagabond is in, though not to save his life as Noir simply pops in and rips out the uranium in his belly. Then – by all appearances – the circumstances under which Noir entered the trolls’ session prove to be very different from what most people anticipated, as Noir appears to simply put the uranium in its place and up and leave the Vagabond’s vessel, and pops up in the trolls’ session. This leaves a number of questions unanswered, foremost among them why Noir showed up in the trolls’ session, and how he showed up through what the trolls called a Scratch.

The now god-tiered Jade – whose dog ears suggest she still has everything her dreamself inherited when she was used to prototype her sprite, meaning she now has the powers of Bec plus god-tier powers and the knowledge of a Sprite, and (presumably) the omniscience that comes with combining the powers of Bec with a sentient being like Jade that Doc Scratch has shown – proceeds to shrink down and juggle the Battlefield and all four planets, keeping a promise to save all the denizens, as well as retrieve John after he completes the Scratch (which actually starts the Beat Mesa headed towards Skaia), and then forms a rectangle with her fingers, which forms a fenstrated wall that flashes images from an earlier, relatively more innocent time in the comic (the first time, surprisingly enough, I’ve ever felt the comic’s flashes were of lower image quality than its static or animated images), and at the very end of the flash, she takes the ship which John and herself are on, and literally breaks through the fourth wall, with the last image of the flash, displayed by the wall, being the very first page of the comic. (I’m a little surprised the flash doesn’t contain an Easter egg linking back to that first page; several of the normal interface links at the top do, but that seems like a bug.)

This leaves plausible a whole mess of implausible theories, including previously suggested ones, about John and Jade’s ultimate destination and Hussie’s “one yard” of direct influence (apparently shaking the life out of Scratch and creating the opportunity for Aradia’s ancestor’s attempted escape doesn’t count), including one I once read on TV Tropes that suggested they would literally land in Hussie’s back yard. More likely however, John and Jade will simply burst through the two fourth walls Hussie set up one yard apart, and likely end up somewhere near the comic’s beginning.

I also suspect we haven’t gotten the whole story as to why Noir feels “exiled” or “tricked” into the trolls’ session. The interpretation most directly suggested by the flash is that it’s a result of his shame at god-tiering Jade, but we had earlier been told that Noir destroyed the trolls’ Prospit, Derse, and all the planets to prevent the mistakes leading to his banishment; I don’t see any “outsmarting” of Noir going on that would have led to his banishment as depicted, or even anything that Noir’s biased perspective would construe as “outsmarting”; everything he does to enter the trolls’ session, he does of his own volition. That tells me either Hussie made a mistake trying to misdirect the audience, or I’ll be writing another post on it down the line. Could it be that Noir’s mistake is more specifically related to what Jade does after being god-tiered, or alternately and less likely, to leaving the Peregrine Mendicant alive (more on that in a bit)? Or could it be the destruction of the Green Sun (er, well, more on that in a bit) or the scratch, which he travelled back in time to postpone or obviate?

Meanwhile (whatever that word means in this comic), with the Draconian Dignitary killed by Dave off-screen, both Dave and Rose make their way to the Green Sun, where they find, inexplicably, two Quest Beds waiting for them (or rather, inside Derse’s moon, but the flash seems to indicate otherwise). Once deployed, the Tumor cracks open to show that it is apparently powered by the destruction of both the kids’ and trolls’ universes, and may in fact contain them. After the Green Sun is destroyed (as a sign of how confusing the flash is, apparently the intent is that the Tumor actually creates the Green Sun, but that’s hard to convey without dialogue), Dave and Rose pop out god-tiered (who wants to bet someone’s calling “deus ex machina”?) in front of Aradia and the ghost of a future-dead Sollux. After the living trolls notice the glow of the Sun’s destruction (er, creation), Sollux is shown completely freaking out with his eye sockets flashing black and white, which I actually originally interpreted as something his ghost with Aradia was doing because of the similar color scheme, but which I later realized was him living up to his ancestor’s example.

Oh, and the Peregrine Mendicant recovers the ring from the Wayward Vagabond’s corpse and is shown challenging Noir, apparently coming the same way he did, but showing up ten hours and twenty-five minutes later, and apparently bringing WV’s body with her (if you look closely). Between her and the possibility of “dog-tier” Jade joining the fight, this comic is starting to look like an episode of Dragonball Z (without, of course, the long drawn-out multi-episode fight scenes… hopefully). Seriously, three nigh-omnipotent beings?

All told, the end of Act 5 lived up to every expectation it had to to wrap up something as epic as Act 5 itself was, wrapping up most of the act’s individual plot points and completely shaking up the status quo. But it didn’t answer every question, and it raised more than a few questions of its own. One particularly glaring omission? The flash barely even hints at Lord English.

Reflecting on the end of one of the defining elements of my life

(Note: This post was originally going to have pictures, but I seem to have lost a second data cable for my phone. With luck I may have pictures in time for the Blog-day post at the end of the year.)

As I mentioned in the third-ever post in the history of Da Blog, for the early part of my life I was a sort of vagabond. After living my first four years in the same house, over the succeeding years I moved to Los Angeles, the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, and Seattle itself, living a year in each place. Then in 1996 I moved again, this time just across the freeway from my previous place. This time, I would stay for more than a year. Much more.

Over half my life – indeed nearly two-thirds of my life – has been spent in that little hidden-away place as part of what might best be described as a quadruplex near Seattle’s University District. I moved in just before entering the third grade, and would complete elementary school, middle school, and high school there, as well as attend close to five years of college. I developed my habits there, cultivated my interests, discovered new ideas, started a blog. That house was where I discovered who I was and what I wanted to be. For a time I moved out and lived in a dorm room, but it was not meant to be, and after a few months I was back at the house where I started, where Da Blog became what it is today, whatever that is.

A few months ago my mom inherited a house in Issaquah when her mom died. Mom, not wanting to be anyone’s landlord, decided to move there herself, which meant I would have to come with her. And so it was that this past weekend, we packed up and moved away from my home of 15 years, bringing to a close a somewhat momentous era in my life.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a sobering moment, but I also have plenty of reason to look ahead. The area around the old house has changed over the years, and as I’ve chronicled on Da Blog in the past, I’ve had more than a few run-ins with obnoxious college student neighbors the past few years. This new house has no shared walls with anyone but people I already know. As it sets up, it also has a fairly private area for me to set up and do whatever I need to do, whether it’s on the computer, reading, or whatever; I effectively have an “office” for me to work in. On the other hand, a fairly lengthy commute to school is going to get even lengthier, and it looks like we’re going to add a dog at some point; I’ve never gotten along with dogs.

Although one era of my life has come to an end, a new one is just beginning, and I have every hope and expectation that this new home will provide the foundation upon which Da Blog will finally take off and I will achieve my success. Of course, I’ve said that sort of thing a bajillion times before, and this new home comes with something of a bad omen. I was already close before living in the Seattle area, but this new home is just eleven miles or so from the coordinates of the home of John from Homestuck.

Which spookily enough, brings me to my first real post from my new home…

The most recent flash took a disturbingly long time to load the first time. How long will EOA take?

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

I’m surrendering. I’m still not as heavily invested in Homestuck as I am in The Order of the Stick and I still have numerous issues with it, but I’ve become just as anal about it (partly because, while OOTS is updating now, it’s still very slow), and I’m stuck (no pun intended) with it for at least the rest of the act. I’ve been remiss in not talking about numerous recent developments: Scratch’s tale of the troll ancestors and today’s update, also known as “Better Living Through Moirallegiance”.

First things first. Scratch dropped two bombshells on consecutive days: first, that the troll ancestors were, once upon a time, the actual players of the game, on a world a lot more peaceful and a lot less cutthroat than the Alternia we’re familiar with, but weren’t made of hardy enough stuff to complete the game and agreed to scratch it, creating a hardier, stronger race that could complete the game – a race shaped by Scratch every step of the way, with the former players moved into the role of ancestors to the new players, but with no memory of their former lives.

I could say a lot about this, but it should suffice to say this bit of human-nature mythologizing: It is implied that the history of the troll people would have played out exactly the same way as it did before without Scratch’s interference. Moreover, it appears that Scratch’s interference was limited to historical figures, not the course of evolution. In other words, Scratch created a culture that was hard, grueling, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, but the underlying nature of the people may have been the same peace-loving people that failed to make it in the game the first time around. Given that multiple trolls have given signs of being worn down by having to play the roles society has given them, to the point that Feferi, the heir apparent to the throne of Alternia, had fantasized about overturning the race’s caste system, this appears to be quite interesting.

(Yes, Order of the Stick isn’t the only webcomic that can have deep, literary themes. I’m warming to it here, people. I’m going to be wearing oversized bull-horns and a Hero of Breath God-Tier hoodie to cons before you know it.)

Despite the former players’ amnesia, Karkat’s ancestor, the Signless, saw glimpses of his former life, which leads to the second bombshell: he proceeded to preach a message of peace and harmony that led to him being hanged by the authorities, with his memory to live on underground as the Sufferer. In other words, Karkat’s ancestor was essentially troll Jesus (with Kanaya’s taking the role of the Virgin Mary), which I guess makes Karkat the second coming of Jesus. And he does sort of bring on the end of the world, and in an odd way, the birth of a new Eden…

(As an aside, Homestuck is positively riddled with symbolism of all kinds from all sources, to the extent I started having a problem with it when I reviewed it, but I have to tip my cap to Hussie’s ability to re-appropriate existing imagery for his own purposes. Take Karkat’s symbol, taken from the symbol for the constellation Cancer. Hussie derives it from the irons the Sufferer was hung in, which then takes the same importance among the Sufferer’s followers the cross has for Christians, who ensure it’s applied to Karkat as his symbol. Hussie managed to take a pre-existing symbol and derive it from an element in his own story almost seamlessly. As Eric Burns(-White) might say, Hussie gets a tasty, tasty biscuit.)

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, after Hussie’s self-insert forcibly wrenches control of the story away from Scratch (with a result that many are interpreting to be Scratch’s death) we get what amounts to a flashback to the gathering of trolls in the immediate aftermath of Vriska’s death… and Karkat, who has spent several real-time months hiding for dear life from Gamzee’s rampage, and now with three other trolls by his side, proceeds to subdue him as only the second coming of troll Jesus can: parenting and friending him all the way, by himself.

Now, I may jest about this, but Karkat is hardly a Mary Sue. Although he is the leader of the trolls, and arguably keeps them together far longer than they might have otherwise, his character has been primarily defined by his perpetual bad mood and self-loathing. (I swear he isn’t a Mary Sue, honest.) Karkat finagled his way to the leadership role of the trolls the same way the trolls do everything else, through back-biting and treachery, and his impulsiveness is arguably the reason for everything bad that has happened, is happening, or will happen to the trolls. And while he himself is arguably more human-like than any other troll, as hinted earlier, he’s not the only one who’s worn out by the trollish way of life. Karkat may seem more like a Sue from a troll perspective than a human one, but even there more of a deconstruction of the type.

Finally, at the end of Scratch’s tale, we discover who “Aradia”, Scratch’s captive, is: Aradia’s ancestor, Lord English’s Handmaid, and the other influence in Alternia’s evolution. Her last act is to recruit the last ruler of Alternia (who ultimately kills her) to serve as another of English’s servants, “carrying out his work in the places he cannot reach.” There’s a frighteningly plausible theory that this means she becomes Betty Crocker, namesake of the food empire, surrogate mother of John’s Nanna and Jade’s Grandpa, and scourge of John’s life.

Despite the promises of both Scratch and Hussie, we still have some time to go until the end of the act; I wonder if Hussie was legitimately tired of how the Scratch interlude was proceeding and decided to abort it early. But that doesn’t mean Hussie was entirely averse to giving us some bang for our buck for the end of the interlude, and now the remainder of the act can proceed in a more natural fashion, until the end-of-act flash is ready. I may have a longer experience with Homestuck fandom than I thought.

Warning: This post will make no sense if you haven’t been reading Homestuck. Hell, it probably won’t make sense if you HAVE been reading Homestuck.

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

I think part of the reason I don’t quite feel about Homestuck as strongly as some of its fans is because a lot of the time I’m not quite sure what’s going on. There’s a lot of context to keep in mind at any time, and a lot of the time that context is necessary to really know what you’re looking at, as is reading the (often lengthy) chatlogs.

And then sometimes Hussie will spring something on you where none of that context will help you.

So, is this the real Aradia, or just someone who happens to look like her? What is she doing being held up by Scratch? Why is Scratch keeping her there? What are those cuesticks she produced from her hair? And what the hell is even going on over the course of this fight, anyway?

My personal theory, which has been that we’re seeing how Aradia died originally, seems to be buttressed by the most recent update, with Scratch’s asphyxation threat and Aradia’s “ACTUAL SUICIDE THREAT”. But that assumes I’m not forgetting that we’ve been told how Aradia died already, which isn’t entirely out of the question. It also requires explaining how we fit all this in with what else we know about what’s going on in Scratch’s apartment (to this point, the most likely time for when all this has been taking place has been pretty close to the end of the trolls’ universe, if not in fact in the Medium, requiring Aradia to have travelled through time and possibly space), though given how fast and loose Hussie tends to play with timeframes that may be a relatively minor consideration.

This sequence has been walking the fine line between wanting to know more about what’s going on and not knowing enough to care. We know who Scratch and Aradia are, so we can put names to faces, but that only raises more questions, and while most people are probably just waiting with baited breath to figure out exactly what’s going on, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some who are just scratching their heads (no pun intended) and wondering exactly who “Aradia” is and what she’s doing there. The distinction is important: one is watching the fight with baited breath, while the other is mentally skipping it. Hussie has walked this line before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned substantial numbers of people off Homestuck.

What is it with innovative webcomics and giant frogs?

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized giant cosmic frog.)

How does one even begin to describe MS Paint Adventures?

It’s hard to even call it a webcomic – most of the individual updates are of a single image, with all the text being placed below the comic (and occasionally, in the case of the current adventure, in chat logs – sometimes massive ones – hidden behind a button below the comic), with occasional Flash animations moving the story along (again, in the case of the current story). Certainly it wouldn’t fit Scott McCloud’s definition of a comic, despite making up for its single-panel updates by usually updating several times a day. (McCloud in Understanding Comics denies “comic” status to single-panel works like The Family Circus, and in Reinventing Comics argues that hypertext is utterly antithetical to the core concept of comics while pushing his infinite-canvas idea.)

MS Paint Adventures started life as a parody of old-fashioned text-based adventure games like Zork Andrew Hussie did on a forum once. He would post an image with a caption, and then follow whatever command the next person to post suggested. Couple the sometimes-bizarre suggestions with Hussie’s penchant for absurdist cruelty, and the result was a bizarre excersize in surreal humor. Hussie eventually started a web site to house both the original adventure and any further adventures, building an interface intended to allow Choose Your Own Adventure-style branching tales, but quickly abandoned that idea when it got to be too unwieldy. He finally managed to hit his groove and attract a good-sized fanbase with the wild detective-parody-turned-RPG-parody known as Problem Sleuth.

But with his current adventure, Homestuck, Hussie charged full-on into Cerebus Syndrome.

Although Homestuck continues to use the same text-based-adventure-game interface, I’m no longer sure what it’s supposed to represent (though the same could probably be said of Problem Sleuth), especially with how much Hussie has bent the fourth wall and abandoned almost any notion of reader input, and especially since it is itself ostensibly about playing a video game. At one point a character happens upon a console in a vast wasteland and they start issuing commands to the characters, which appears as voices in their heads. The Homestuck “game”‘s second disc is horribly scratched, no thanks to a character within said “game”, and when said scratch renders the game unplayable (this is an actual event within the whatever-the-hell-this-is) the reader/player resorts to visiting another previously-established character to fix it and have the game’s events in the interim relayed to him – all of which is to make clear that the “game” of Homestuck is as much an element within the Homestuck universe as anything else.

All that’s before we even get into the aforementioned use of Flash, which marks Homestuck as a place where graphics are far more important than in Hussie’s previous adventures. It also helps contribute to the epic feeling of the story, especially the use of fan-created music, which has attracted a sizable following in its own right, all contributing to the notion that this is something special, a uniquely fantastic story you simply have to be experiencing for yourself the way its fans are.

I have to say… I’m not quite feeling it.

Don’t get me wrong. I found the story rather addicting during my archive binge, to the extent it chewed up about a week of my time a while back despite my own best intentions (so if this seems vague it’s a result of hazy memories), so it’s certainly addictive. And some parts of it are even funny in their own way. I just don’t feel the story is Lord of the Rings or even Order of the Stick caliber, is all. Part of my problem may be that, while it spent a lot of time giving the feeling of something happening, I felt that it was sound and fury signifying nothing, that the story was going around in circles without actually going anywhere. The plot does pick up considerably at the end of Act 4… so naturally the story takes a lengthy break at that point to tell the story of the trolls for half an act. Which is admittedly fascinating in its own way, but not enough to make me feel like it’s an absolute must-read. The story also is so long and convoluted it becomes rather difficult to follow, but that’s not what really bothers me either. I just feel that…

Actually, you know what the first recap made me realize (and the exposition from John’s Nanna should have)? Is just how derivative the plot actually is. It tries too hard to go for a mythological bent. There’s a kingdom of light and a kingdom of dark, and one is based on a moon orbiting a place called Skaia, and the other is based in a place beyond an asteroid belt, and there are four planets to correspond with the four players, who have “dream selves” who sleep in spires on the respective bases, and the forces of light are destined to lose to the forces of dark and start the asteroids plummeting towards Skaia unless the players can stop the dark queen and king because everyone involved takes a chess motif and there’s a bunch of other symbolism crammed in there as well and I almost want to barf at all this crap. If I had to pick a way to describe the story, it might be: Narnia with a dash of Alice in Wonderland and made ten times more awesome. And if that sounds like a good thing, then I haven’t educated you on the difference between being awesome and being good.

The players themselves are almost more like archetypes than actual fleshed-out characters, cyphers through which the story happens, who go through their own versions of the standard Hero’s Journey; the trolls, and in fact most of the other characters, are substantially more fleshed out. (Though I must admit that Dave is now one of my favorite characters in all of webcomicdom, for his obsession with “irony”, being “cool”, and his inferiority complex regarding his brother.)

I don’t mean to sound like I’m bashing Homestuck. It’s certainly good, and it’s incredible how far MSPA has come since those early adventures, it’s just not OMG the most amazing thing in the history of history. Right now Act 5 is building to its climax, and I intend to stick with it until it reaches that point, but I’m not sure if I’m going to stick with it for much longer than it’ll take to figure out where the story is going from there. Perhaps, as has been suggested, this whatever-the-hell-this-is holds up better when it’s read as it comes out; at that point, you’ve already gone through the archive binge, so each individual update doesn’t weigh down so much. It’s certainly a good experience, but I feel ambivalent about recommending it, and I certainly feel that it’s not quite for me.

So let’s end on a positive note by mentioning an interesting aspect of MS Paint Adventures‘ adventure-game format. You’ll notice that the link on the top of this post links to the first page of Homestuck, not the “current” one, however that’s defined. MSPA doesn’t have a single link to the current comic – which would be impractical for the readership given the comic’s multiple-page-a-day pace, and illogical that an adventure game would simply dump people halfway through the adventure. But Hussie takes the metaphor further: below the command to move to the next comic are links to “Save Game”, “Auto-Save”, or “Load Game”. The “Save Game” button effectively “bookmarks” your place, which you can return to easily by clicking “Load Game”; by turning on “Auto-Save”, the “bookmark” will be automatically updated as you move through the story. (“Delete Game Data” clears the cookie. There are also “Start Over” and “Go Back” links serving the purpose of ordinary webcomics’ “First” and “Previous” links.)

I’m going to be blunt about this: Every story-based webcomic should have something like this. (Komix! does something similar to “Auto-Save”, but a lot of webcomics seem to have expressly removed themselves from it and in any case it hasn’t added new comics in ages.) Many story-based webcomics have many years’ worth of story built up, which can seem impenetrable to archive binge through. Something like this would make it far easier for new readers to enjoy the story at their own pace, even if they don’t necessarily start following the current storylines right away, and thus make it easier to join in and eventually start following the comic. And if such a feature were to become more common, perhaps then MS Paint Adventures would go down as a legitimate milestone in webcomic innovation.