You know, I wouldn’t count out his chances of succeeding, at least in the short term. Maybe even as far as becoming a Planet of the Apes parody.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized revenge.)

So Ted’s plot isn’t world domination. Instead, he remains what he was from the start: a version of the Linux penguin.

This story arc continues to be reminiscent of the early days of Ctrl+Alt+Del, right down to looking to involve versions of real-life high-profile figures being invaded by the CAD cast. Most people have probably forgotten or are only dimly aware of CAD‘s pro-Microsoft stance, with the main relic of it being Zeke’s being made out of an X-Box.

There’s a part of me that wants to wonder how far back Tim had this story line planned out, probably before the evolution of the comic… except that Tim hinted around the time of the miscarriage that that story arc had, itself, been planned out fairly early in the comic’s history, perhaps as far back as Lilah’s introduction, which was probably less than halfway through the first year. This storyline, then, may be continuing the trend, previously noted, of Buckley trying to get away from the grimdarkness of the immediate post-miscarriage era and back to a more fun-loving time in CAD‘s history, with Ethan getting involved in wacky, out-there plots.

Given where the comic has gone since those early days, I still can’t help but shake the feeling that this plotline will leave long-lasting impacts on the cast. However, at this point I’d be far from surprised if it doesn’t.

As for why I didn’t post this on Wednesday? Distractions. I’d really rather not talk about it. Suffice to say, Homestuck is sucking me in even when it’s on hiatus.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized conveniences.)

Oh, I’ve been really remiss in not talking about the current storyline in Ctrl+Alt+Del.

After wrapping up the surprisingly fast and ultimately fruitless KOTOR storyline, Tim Buckley rather abruptly shifted gears to Ethan’s attempt to figure out just what Scott was working on in that locked room. Until the cliffhanger two weeks ago, I wasn’t entirely convinced that his attempt would be successful; after all, it had been a lingering mystery for some time, we got gobsmacked with this story arc out of nowhere, and until fairly recently Scott looked like one of a number of concepts that had been forgotten without explanation.

But no, now was the time for Buckley to finally give us the answer we’d all been waiting for… abso-freaking-lutely nothing out of the ordinary. I was all set to write a post that Monday even in this likely scenario, but delayed it to Wednesday when Scott, also predictably, caught Ethan in the act, to see if he would give some sort of explanation. None was forthcoming, especially once Buckley dropped another Friday cliffhanger: Scott was up to something nefarious after all.

But that also-semi-predictable revelation paled in comparison to what Buckley dropped on us Wednesday, which I doubt anyone saw coming: the penguin was behind it all along!

Okay, when I put it that way, it admittedly sounds kind of silly, and Buckley may be flirting with PVP/Goats Syndrome here. (A webcomic with Cerebus Syndrome that’s flirted with both First and Ten and PVP/Goats Syndromes? It’s the Webcomic Syndrome Triple Crown!) As gripping as this storyline is for someone who’s been following CAD for long enough to remember when Scott retreated into the back room, I can see it being just as annoying for one of the strip’s haters. In fact, this plotline is actually reminiscent of some of the worst plots of the pre-miscarriage era, when Ethan was founding religions and being the Savior of All Gaming. Ethan has once again been put in a position way above where he should be, and the only direction “Scott’s” plot can go is even sillier. What’s the plan, cause a new Ice Age so that telepathic penguins can take over the world?

This storyline may have me back engrossed in Ctrl+Alt+Del for the time being, and it’s even reminding me why I got interested in it to begin with. But it may also be a threshold test to see if I remain engrossed in CAD. If all those years of mystery were to set up one silly storyline – if there are no long-term ramifications to this whatsoever – or if “Scott’s” plan ends up being too silly, or Ethan’s role in stopping it too unlikely, to take seriously, it may ultimately be the storyline that finally drives me away from CAD, unless I decide to take it as a simple thrice-weekly silly diversion. I doubt I’ll make a final decision on the latter until I’ve gotten caught up on Darths and Droids, or the subject of my next webcomic review.

I will not be Robert A. Howard. I will not be Robert A. Howard. I will not be Robert A. Howard.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized pocket lightsabers.)

Okay, forget what I said in the last few paragraphs of my Ctrl+Alt+Del post earlier this week. While this feels awfully short for a CAD storyline (though I suspect it will continue as a strictly KOTOR-centric manner), for the moment it looks for all the world like Buckley, after briefly teasing actual conflict between Ethan and his friends, has swiftly swept away all hard feelings with a perfunctory apology and settled all differences as fast as possible, treating this as no more than a momentary speed bump. This isn’t quite on the level with Lilah dumping Christian out of the blue, but it is qualitatively similar.

Honestly, I’m getting increasingly exasperated with Ctrl+Alt+Del. Despite the interest in this storyline I espoused in my last post, I found myself dreading reading Friday’s comic – perhaps because I had read Wednesday’s comic and knew something like this was a possibility, perhaps because interest in the storyline couldn’t overcome the reticence to invest I mentioned in my last post. But beyond that, while I continue to hold that Buckley’s art has improved over time, I think I’d actually prefer a little “B^U” compared to the ugly faces made by Lilah in the second and third panels and Ethan in the last one.

I wonder if exasperation with Ethan’s plot immunity is worsened by having to read the comics one at a time, and thus actually feeling any suspense Buckley builds up. I didn’t feel Ethan was particularly Sue-ish when I was reading my original archive binge back in 2008, but this little trick, while not as bad as the Christian incident, I think actually gave me purer feelings of anger and sadness, like I was more legitimately screwed by this resolution than that one – my reaction to that resolution was partly motivated by what others thought of CAD, while my reaction to this one is more relevant to my own feelings. Perhaps backing this up is the account of the Webcomic Overlook that CAD was actually reasonably popular, even among Internet opinion-mongers, back in the early to middle part of the last decade.

On the other hand, I wonder if I’ve changed as well – if I require a story of Order of the Stick-level caliber to get me invested in it. I was rather quick to dump Sluggy Freelance from my RSS reader when the new story arc started, and I may have a general frustration from having to get involved in a story. The flip side of that is that I may be a little more forgiving of humor comics this time around than in my previous go-around (I’ve already said some words of praise towards xkcd in that vein). I may know for certain after completing my Darths and Droids archive binge.

Though I have added a new story comic to my RSS reader, even if only taking Sluggy‘s place. More on that later.

I’ve quit Sluggy Freelance. Have I found a temporary replacement? (Of course not, with OOTS back up and running.)

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized creamy corn niblets.)

Before I dropped all my RSS feeds two years ago, I was reading Ctrl+Alt+Del largely wondering where Tim Buckley was going with the darker turn the comic had taken with the miscarriage. I was looking to see whether the comic would go for the good kind of drama, maybe even address the points people had raised against the comic in years past, or simply send the comic careening headlong into First and Ten Syndrome. The storyline at the end of 2008, which inspired the creation of the Angst-O-Meter, looked for all the world like the latter until its infuriating ending; the storyline where Ethan takes over Gamehaven was looking like the former.

When I stopped reading CAD, it was launching into a storyline where Ethan decides to make a mate for Zeke, and my last post before my “vacation” where I commented on CAD was a parenthetical statement inside my webcomic-review-one-year-anniversary post (and as such, not tagged as a CAD post when we moved to the new site) where I groaned at the unoriginality of both the plot itself and the notion that Zeke owed his sentience to some sort of mysterious X-factor that conveniently forced him to be forever one-of-a-kind.

Despite this, Ethan managed to make a working she-robot anyway. Rather, it turns out that Zeke’s X-factor (insert Simon Cowell joke here) didn’t give him sentience, it gave him a conscience (or rather, stable sentience, according to a later retcon). Despite all her code allegedly being downloaded directly from Zeke, Embla has much less sympathy for any humans, and much fewer misgivings about carrying out Zeke’s old plans to take over the world, making Zeke wonder whether prolonged contact with humans has warped and softened him in some way. To me, this didn’t make any sense; if all of Embla’s code is a carbon-copy of Zeke’s, she shouldn’t be any different from Zeke at the time of her creation, and she should inherit any empathy for humans Zeke might have (and his stability of sentience, for that matter). And if she only inherited Zeke’s base code, why would Ethan (or Microsoft, considering his X-Box origins) write destroy-all-humans code in there? (Of course, that just gets into the question of how Ethan was able to make Zeke in the first place…)

Between this, Lilah’s reaction to Embla’s construction, and Zeke letting slip about Ethan’s elopement to Lucas (despite that being what he blackmailed Ethan into making Embla in the first place), this storyline looked like another swing towards First and Ten Syndrome, to the extent that Ethan spends the latter part of the storyline fighting off the temptation to drink. Ethan manages to patch things up with Lilah, but Zeke elects to work out his issues by leaving with Embla, cueing Ethan’s inevitable drunken stupor. Between Zeke’s angst in this storyline and its conclusion, I’d have probably brought back the Angst-O-Meter during its progression, and it might have approached it-looks-like-Lilah-ran-off-with-Christian levels at the conclusion. Had you told me then what the next year-and-a-half-plus of CAD would look like, I wouldn’t have believed you.

The storylines we’ve seen since then have been: the sham wedding, which is a platform for Ethan to get involved with his brother’s dealings with the Hawaiian mafia (I am not making that up); a storyline where Ethan comes up with an achievement system for the store and has to deal with one persistent customer’s attempts to game the system; the third “Ethan McManus, Space Archaeologist” storyline; the return of Zeke, rather anticlimactically with an Embla whose unstable sentience finally caught up with her; a short storyline involving Ethan having to make a new role-playing game terrain; and perhaps most tellingly, a storyline where Ethan gives Zeke a new body and takes him to a movie, where he starts playing video games on the big screen, forcing everyone to make a daring escape where Ethan ends up having to go to the emergency room.

Why yes, that last one does sound a lot like a story Buckley might have done in 2005, why do you ask?

If you had to construct a myth arc out of the events that have taken place in CAD since the miscarriage, after the drama of Christian’s attempt to take Lilah back and Zeke running off with his mate, the entirety of its progress in a year and a half, not counting the sham wedding, has been a retreat from some of those events with Zeke returning. What’s more, I’ve skipped the Winter-een-mas storylines, which returned to the main comic, suggesting its 2009 exile to the Sillies was, contrary to what I thought at the time, a one-time deal. It looks like the answer to the question I posed at the start of this post is looking like neither. Rather, Tim is retreating to the state of the comic prior to the miscarriage, except with Ethan running Gamehaven, evidently with no ill effects (aside from his paranoia in the achievement storyline). Indeed, Kate – whose rocky relationship with Lucas was a big subplot during Ethan’s issues with Christian – has completely disappeared with no explanation I can recall.

It begs the question: why did Tim make the comic so grimdark, with vague statements implying the miscarriage was just the beginning, only to pull back and turn the comic back into the fun-loving place it always was? Did Tim start seeing people express frustration with the direction the comic was going, or leaving it in droves, and decide to hit the brakes, realizing that a comic that had already earned enemies out of half the Internet had been alienating the other half since the miscarriage? On the flip side, does the fact that very little has changed for Ethan from his year of angst, other than running a game store, prove CAD‘s haters right, that the miscarriage was just a way for Ethan to skate the responsibility of raising a child, and that Ethan will never, ever, change in any conceivable way?

I do think Tim has gotten better, and aside from his retreats in his storylines, has made some effort to address the complaints the haters have; as I mentioned in my last post, his video-game commentaries have become almost Penny Arcade-esque, with correctly identified punchlines, near as I can tell (though admittedly, not all of them have necessarily been fantastic). And while the “Ethan the Henpecked Husband” jokes have gotten very tiring, they have hinted that not everything goes right for Ethan all the time (which I would argue was the case even before the miscarriage). And yet… when we started getting several consecutive strips of Lilah tormenting Ethan with her ability to play the Knights of the Old Republic beta, I found myself actually dreading the prospect of another storyline, not so much for the potential content, but just for the need to commit myself to keeping track of everything that was going on and getting invested in the storyline’s events. Considering I read CAD primarily for the storylines, not being much of a gamer, I was fully prepared to announce my departure from CAD despite its aversion of First and Ten Syndrome… until Wednesday’s comic.

While I was rather underwhelmed by Lilah’s specific revelation – Ethan once refused to let her play the Star Wars Galaxies beta – I have to say I am intrigued by the general direction Tim is going with this storyline. One of the biggest sources for the accusation of Mary Sue-dom against Ethan, aside from his leadership of a Church of Gaming and creation of Winter-een-mas, has been Lilah and Lucas’ willingness to stick with him through thick and thin, no matter how many scrapes of his own making he gets into. With both Lilah and Lucas looking like they’re bringing the chickens home to roost, it’s looking like Ethan may finally be forced to face the music. After a year and a half, Tim may have finally swung the pendulum back to the good kind of drama.

Now, if, as I fear may be likely, the storyline ends with everything being restored to normal with no character development for anyone, Lilah and Lucas back to blindly defending Ethan, and Ethan every bit as much of an asshole as before, that may be enough to turn even me off Ctrl+Alt+Del. But if this storyline ends up having lasting consequences, it could serve as a testament to why I keep defending CAD, and to how complex Buckley can really be beneath his occasional belligerence. Expect me to continue posting on this storyline over the next few weeks.

At least she doesn’t need to flash him anymore.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized white lantern ring.)

I’ve been intrigued by Ctrl+Alt+Del‘s development over the past couple years (most of which I missed). I’ll have more to say about it later, but Tim Buckley has apparently decided to back away from the OMG HUGE CHANGES that were inflicted on the comic in 2008 and 2009 and threatened to send it careening headlong into First and Ten Syndrome, and the comic has become downright Penny Arcade-ish in its gag-a-day video game commentaries, right down to often needing to refer to the news post (now posted directly below the comic) to figure out what the heck is going on. (If it weren’t for the site design and art style, this comic could easily be mistaken for a PA comic.)

This, though? This comic is just lazy. It almost doesn’t matter what the setup is, it’s basically an excuse for Tim to throw out that punchline, one that I would argue is already getting tired.

This doesn’t change my opinion that CAD is underrated – looking at some semi-random moments in the recent archive before making this post uncovered a number of laugh-out-loud moments – but I think it does illustrate one of the reasons why it’s so hated. Tim has mostly abandoned his tendency to resort to violence as a surrogate for a punchline (aside from the Players, where it’s the sole reason for their existence), but he doesn’t seem to have completely abandoned his need for a surrogate for a punchline.

On Mary Sues and spoony bards

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized make-out session.)

The concept of the Mary Sue used to be so simple.

Way back in the days of yore known as “the 1980s”, when the Web was but a gleam in the eye of a few idealists and, as far as those few people who had even heard of the Internet were concerned, it was Usenet and nothing else, the term “Mary Sue” arose in those fledgling fanfic communities that were springing up even then to describe a certain type of character endemic to such stories, one instantly recognizable the instant you saw it, so long as you weren’t the one who wrote it. She was the flawless, brilliantly unique, perfect character who hijacked the story, turned all the other characters into drooling fanboys, and generally acted out the author’s every fantasy.

Then someone decided to start looking for Mary Sues in actual fiction, not based on any other franchise. After all, why shouldn’t the same idea apply to any kind of fiction? It’s not like being in a fanfic is a requirement of being a Mary Sue, is it?

Wellllll, it didn’t work out that way. For one thing, it turns out that a good part of what makes a Mary Sue a Mary Sue is related to being in a fanfic. It’s in how the character completely takes over the story, which implies that there is a story to take over, and it’s in how the character hijacks the other characters into fawning admiration for her. If the situation is that way from the start, is there really any “hijacking” going on?

Take that out of the equation, and you really do rob the Mary Sue of a lot of its identity, and you need to create surrogate criteria for characters that have a similar effect. You also run into another problem: until the advent of webcomics, most original fiction had to go through some sort of barrier to entry, meaning that most writers of such tend to be better than writers of fanfic. In fact, the mere fact that they do create a universe of original characters rather than take a set of characters that’s given to them almost automatically puts them a step ahead of most fanfic writers. I’d argue that there are really only two excuses for writing a fanfic: if you’re saying something about the characters and setting themselves, or, much less defensibly, if creating original characters would only lead to a charge of being a rip-off. Even if such writers do create what might be called Mary Sues, they tend to be a bit better at hiding them.

And then you have characters like Ethan of Ctrl+Alt+Del, so commonly accused of Sue-dom, but why? It seems to be mostly because Lucas and Lilah stick with him through thick and thin, which seems to me a pretty weak justification for a charge as serious as Mary Sue-dom. I could see it if Ethan were presented as consistently in the right, or if his “flaws” were, to use TV Tropes’ phrasing, presented as “endearing”, but pre-miscarriage Ethan’s antics seem to be to often be presented as being in the wrong, and that Ethan isn’t always supposed to be presented as the sympathetic character (and those times when he is implausibly successful often aren’t intended to be taken as seriously as the haters do). That Lucas and Lilah continue to stick with him may say more about them than about Ethan. But, of course, what does it say about them, and about how the whole strip is written?

Suddenly you start having a lot of arguments over what does and doesn’t count as a Mary Sue. Does it just have to be a representative of the author, or does it even need to be that?  How much of it needs to be in the flawlessness, or would a flawless character who has a lot of bad s**t happen to him regardless count? How much of it needs to be in being uber-powerful, or would the planet-juggling Silver Age Superman count? How much of it needs to be in how much goes implausibly right for them, or would MacGyver count – or for that matter, a suite of characters who routinely beat the odds but not any one character? How much of it needs to be in hogging the spotlight, or would Harry Potter count?

Or perhaps the definition is just in being a model of perfection? But that opens a whole ‘nother can of worms, because there are a gazillion models of perfection, and in some instances you’re not going to be able to incorporate all of them into a single character, and besides that clearly isn’t why Ethan elicits the accusation. There seems to be a sense that all of the above play some part in defining what a Mary Sue is, but how much and in what proportion is seemingly impossible to pin down.

And then there’s the question of gender, whether to use terms like “Marty Stu” to describe male Mary Sues, or if the term “Mary Sue” really does imply a gender bias that one is unlikely to admit to. Four years ago Robert A. “Tangents” Howard charged the accusation of Mary Sue-dom of sexism, that many accused characters wouldn’t have been called Sues if they were male (to the extent that he felt “Mary Sue” really meant “halfway competent female protagonist”). I intended to write a response, but no sooner did I start my webcomic reviews than Tangents started the long, slow transition to its current state, and by the time it had reached the point that I would have had anything to link to, I was already transitioning away from webcomics posts.

I get the sense that what Howard had hit on was the fact that we hold men and women to different standards of perfection, and specifically, often seem to hold women as inherently more perfect than men. The image of perfection for women is sweet, all-caring, beautiful, all ponies and sparkles – a lot like the fanfic characters that gave rise to the term. A female character who lives up to those ideals is unrealistically perfect; a male one, too girly (and thus inherently flawed, ergo, not a Mary Sue). On the other hand, the image of male perfection is of a badass who mows down anyone who gets in his way. We don’t call characters who live up to those ideals Mary Sues, we make lists of Chuck Norris Facts about them (and even if they started as parody, I sometimes wonder how serious they’ve become).

It does seem like there is a standard by which a male might be called a Mary Sue (or Marty Stu, or Gary Stu) that might not necessarily apply to a woman, just as the reverse might be true. Besides Ethan (whose unsympathetic portrayals might be better noticed on a woman), the example I would cite would be Rayne Summers of Least I Could Do. Perhaps Rayne’s most defining characteristic is his status as an utter Casanova who sleeps with women like they’re going out of style. If we were to reverse this situation, with a woman sleeping with men left and right, we wouldn’t call her a Mary Sue, we’d call her a slut, maybe even a whore. Which brings me to Elan of Order of the Stick.

Well, actually, I need to talk briefly about the main OOTS cast’s other nominee for Mary Sue-dom, Belkar, he who, before O-Chul’s display of badassery, was OOTS‘ resident Chuck Norris. Despite being an utter sociopath, Belkar doesn’t show much of any other shortcomings in battle (no pun intended), and besides being a complete badass when not Mark of Justice’d, tends to get all the best lines and one-liners, to the extent of being much of the fandom’s favorite character despite his ostensible role in the comic. He might be the model I would point to for what a truly Sue-ish Ethan would be like. Still, it’s quite clear no one is willing to put up with him except insofar as he can be controlled, and his uneasy truce with the rest of the OOTS seems to form a key plot thread and source of development for the comic. Elan, on the other hand…

Look, I’ve run into at least two people who are utterly sick of Elan’s stupid antics and think they monopolize the strip’s humor quotient and take away from the plot. I’m not talking about that, though it is relevant. I wouldn’t say those antics are the funniest things I’ve ever read, but I wasn’t driven into a rage begging Rich to stop with the stupid-Elan jokes either; I even get a kick out of Elan being even more genre-savvy than the rest of the group. In fact, if Elan had more of those antics I might be more forgiving of him as a character.

What’s gotten to me about Elan is that, in the past, he’s gotten not one, not two, but three women swooning over him, despite (ostensibly) having the IQ of a brick. Now obviously, the stick-figure format doesn’t get across features that might change my opinion, and I’m obviously not the best judge anyway, but taking away the goatee from Nale’s “realistic” police sketch doesn’t leave me with an image I’d call “ruggedly handsome”. But near as I can tell, that’s not really his appeal to the ladies (well, aside from Therkla) anyway, judging by how Haley defends him to her father: “Elan is the best man I’ve ever met. Sure, he’s a little dumb sometimes…But he’s… I don’t know. Pure. Honest. Better than I am, that’s for sure. He makes me a better person just by being around, and I like feeling that way.”

As sickening as it might be to hear Elan described like he’s Tim friggin’ Tebow, Haley isn’t alone; the general consensus among forumites is that Elan is the one genuinely good character in the OOTS, if not the whole cast. Think about that for a minute. Like many writers, Rich Burlew tends towards flawed, morally ambiguous characters; rather than simply go for simplistic fantasy archetypes, Rich tends to give his characters complex, contradictory personalities that make them more interesting as characters. But Elan seems to have avoided this stick (no pun intended), instead becoming a paragon for everything good and sweet (though not being above “seduc[ing] female bad guys“). Is this starting to sound a lot like the fanfic characters that gave rise to the term Mary Sue? What if I told you that, aside from his romantic liasons, while Elan gets on Roy’s nerves, literally every other member of the OOTS leapt to his defense when he was kidnapped?

Elan’s saving graces, the traits that save him from being an overly perfect figure, are supposedly his utter uselessness in combat and the aforementioned stupid antics – at least one of which falls under the “endearing” exception. But the former hasn’t been all that relevant since Elan picked up his level in Dashing Swordsman. As for the latter, they’ve become decidedly inconsistent, ever since Rich saw fit to give Elan more “character development” in the fourth book that amounted to removing one of the last things that kept him flawed. Elan spent the fourth book thrust into the position of leading half the team, with V going crazy and Durkon more prone to defer, and went through his own plot arc with his involvement with Therkla that may have put him through the wringer in the short term, but led him to “mature” coming out of it, giving him some experience of the “real” world that dragged him a little ways out of stupidity, only that was one of the few things keeping him interesting. (While I’m on the subject, one of my issues with the fourth book is the way, with the main plot stalled, Elan so stole the spotlight of his half of the OOTS with a plot that ultimately went nowhere that he completely overshadowed the real plot development of that half, V’s descent into madness.) Elan has returned to acting the goof in this book, sometimes, but I wonder if that’s Rich realizing his mistake on some level and trying too hard to overcompensate, to the extent that it now seems out of his present character.

But with all that, what really drove me to write this post is the present update (and my thankfulness that Rich’s recent slow update schedule allows me to write this post on it). I’ll admit, this is one of the more entertaining strips of the book and certainly one of the most entertaining strips of the Linear Guild confrontation thus far, but damn if it doesn’t also underscore how Elan’s being written these days. Because this strip hints that Elan may have just seduced Sabine. Let me repeat that. Elan just seduced a friggin’ succubus. One whose present love interest is his own evil twin who’s out to kill him. I mean, I’m running out of things to say about all of this. What’s next, is Elan going to wrap up the entire plot of the strip all by himself?

I will say that this sort of mapping of traits from an archetype to a particular character is certainly an inexact science – as I indicated above, the whole point is how uncertain the concept of a Mary Sue has gotten – and none of the above has taken away too much from my enjoyment of the strip, or even, at times, Elan’s antics. But it has definitely gotten on my nerves and stuck in my craw for some time. This marks three straight books with a subplot centered on Elan (and the second book is the only one that really lacks it), and this one is going on for nearly a hundred strips and over a year real-time, despite apparently being of tangential relevance to the hunt for the Gates and despite numerous other plot hooks that I would ordinarily think would be resolved in this book. Elan hasn’t gotten to the point of overshadowing Roy as the main character of the OOTS… but this book is making me wonder.

I’m not bringing back the Angst-O-Meter, because this is the good kind of drama.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized deleted system file.)

While Ethan has been getting a bit of a rude awakening in the ins and outs of business, he’s mostly been dealing with it in his own Ethan way, so the biggest evidence Buckley has been on a reformation path is the most recent strip.

Doesn’t Lucas sound like one of the CAD haters in the first two panels? Especially the second panel.

Yes, CAD haters, Tim Buckley is very aware that “Ethan and Lilah have issues, and they just work them out and move on” and “shit just comes so easy to Ethan. He never has to work for anything.”

In fact, this strip suggests something that CAD haters have long been longing for – or at least found more logical than what’s actually been happening – may in fact be coming. If Lucas is becoming jealous of – for lack of a better term – Ethan’s Mary Sue-ness, it could serve as a prelude to a possible falling out between the two characters who have been friends since at least the beginning of the strip.

If you hate Ctrl+Alt+Del, I have a feeling you’re going to love the current storyline. Tim Buckley may actually be responding to your complaints.

Sure it’s obvious, but it was necessary.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized performance review.)

Normally, I defend Ctrl+Alt+Del. I defend it against accusations of Mary Sue-dom, I defend it against accusations that it’s unchanging, I even defend it against accusations of bad art.

But Ethan’s yelling mouth in the last panel… is positively grotesque.

As for the storyline? I’m watching it with interest to see where it leads, but it’s too early to form an opinion yet. Way too early.

As for the “weekly” webcomic post? Not looking good for it to happen on Tuesday, I’m afraid. Maybe later in the week, but…

State of Ctrl+Alt+Del: Our Little Manchild is All Grown Up

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized sperm quest.)

If you’ve been following just the main comic of Ctrl+Alt+Del, something happened that you may have missed.

Winter-een-mas came and went.

Back in November, I expressed my amazement that some people were organizing Winter-een-mas festivities at my school, complete with visual evidence. As it developed, the promotion for it became even more pervasive than it was when I posted on it, going from a simple table setpiece to include a massive banner hanging over the lobby of the Student Center (both of which are common with various things school clubs do around here), advertising an entire week of festivities (including weekends) on school property. If I still lived in the dorms it might have been a major event around here.

Except in the place where it got started.

Winter-een-mas used to be a big, multi-week deal, where Ethan would go on positively epic escapades; last year he met with the Gods of Gaming and the strip moved up to a once-a-week schedule while we were subjected to a parable. This year? Nada. Recognition of Winter-een-mas at all was relegated to the Sillies, which tend to update in one huge batch once a week despite being presented as daily, and which seem to have been almost abandoned entirely. The main strip continued apace as though nothing was happening, albeit focused on Ethan and the rest of the cast, as they prepared for the store re-opening and saw Zeke coming back to “life”. It seems to back up my contention that the Sillies were intended as a respite for people who didn’t like the strip’s Cerebus Syndrome and wanted the “old” CAD back.

Ctrl+Alt+Del is growing up (as is Ethan), and as it does so, it’s putting away childish things like Winter-een-mas. The strip is six years old, and if Ethan was mentally six when the strip started, he’s twelve now and maturing (whatever that word means) fast.

Ethan and Lilah are officially married now, although they’re planning a show wedding for everyone else, while Ethan prepares for (and dreads) GameHaven’s reopening under his leadership. Running a video game store involves a lot of responsibility, and for Buckley, getting Ethan out of that responsibility isn’t as easy as a miscarriage, and necessarily would involve gaining new insights into certain characters, including Ethan. So unless any “need” to have Ethan constantly avoid responsibility were to be brought into sharp focus within the strip, there’s no getting out of this one. Ethan is going to have to take some real, long-term responsibility and undergo whatever character development that involves.

Now admittedly, Tim Buckley’s track record with handling real change isn’t good, and in fact Ethan’s possession of the store came at the end of a lengthy storyline that, until that very last strip, looked to be mere sound and fury signifying nothing, except Ethan and Lilah’s elopement. Tim has plenty of outs: Ethan could get off to a terrific start with the help of his congregation, and/or leave much of the day-to-day operations to Lilah or Lucas. But call me naive, but I suspect not only is this the real deal, and will avoid going towards First and Ten this time, but word of the elopement is going to leak out and certain people will not be happy.

I’d be perfectly happy to eat crow if we go back to the main cast and find the store running better than ever and Ethan and Lilah’s second wedding coming off without a hitch. But between the mere fact we’re having a second wedding, and the passing by of Winter-een-mas… I can’t help but think Buckley’s critics may be the ones forced to eat crow, and Ethan is about to go through some real adversity.

It’s not going to be Order of the Stick, but it’ll be a big improvement over what Buckley’s critics think the strip is. I hope they’re watching. I know I will.

Part of the reason I’m making this post is for the same reason as yesterday’s IWC post.

(From Ctrl+Alt+Del. Click for full-sized crash landing.)

So the latest “Ethan McManus: Space Archaeologist” storyline is finally over, and I’ve gone back and read through the whole thing.

In light of recent events in the main story line, Ethan’s characterization in this story is rather interesting.

First of all, the decisions made by the CAD fans are themselves rather interesting; the first decision was between skipping out on a bill for destroying another clone when coming out of his own clone vat, and simply negotiating for a solution. Now, the Ethan I know, at least from the first story, would probably skip out on the bill, but the fans voted for him to try and negotiate on a solution (which led to him hitting on a robot), and I can’t help but wonder if that affected his characterization for the rest of the story.

First, Ethan is far more talkative than I would normally perceive him to be. Of course, one of the knocks against CAD is Buckley’s penchant for loading up his panels with dialogue, but even when the real Ethan talks a lot it tends to be in relatively simple terms. Here he lays on the exposition with the best of them. And when he needs to, he’s rather combative and can lay on the bad puns. For once I could actually see how Ethan could have wound up in the job of an Indiana Jones ripoff. (IN SPACE!)

In the latest news post, Buckley notes he was shocked that, “given Ethan’s broken arm and general ineptitude,” the fans would (in the last choice) vote for him to sneak out of the mercenary ship on his own rather than wait for his helper robot. I suspect two factors went into the decision that Buckley didn’t plan for: the fact that, with his “general ineptitude”, Ethan himself would probably fight it out… and paradoxically, the fact that Ethan didn’t really show much of that “ineptitude” over the course of this story.

Granted, it’s been a while since I’ve seen any other version of Ethan, and negotiating with people who want to kill you and engaging in an expository conversation in a sci-fi setting don’t necessarily translate to playing video games and dealing with customers, but it’ll be interesting to see if this presages the arrival of a more “responsible” Ethan when we return to the main plot, perhaps one cooked up in response to some of the CAD haters’ complaints.

Though depending on the execution, that could move the Angst-O-Meter up or down…