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  #26  
Old 09-27-2017, 08:19 PM
Mutterscrawl Mutterscrawl is offline

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Good to see you DarkAngel

The first one escapes me but the Azula one is nice
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  #27  
Old 09-27-2017, 08:23 PM
Malygos Malygos is offline

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I notice DarkAngel still hasn't got that custom rank he was promised. Dammit, mods.
One year later and this still holds true.
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  #28  
Old 09-28-2017, 04:01 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Good to see you DarkAngel

The first one escapes me but the Azula one is nice
Oh, come on! "Happy" Quinn is everyone's favorite ray of sunshine! I'll admit the show is hard to watch for those of us who actually know something about science, but I've always had terrible taste in women.

(And really, it was more about the catchphrase being useful than the character.)
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Old 10-01-2017, 01:30 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Shadow Orb Sombra Ideas

IMPORTANT NOTE: I wrote this months ago, long before Olivia Colomar was an item. I therefore had to create my own given name for Sombra. "Carmen" was taken from the treacherous title character of an opera, and "Lopez Hernandez" was the most Mexican name I could think of. It is, like its predecessors, far more detailed than Blizzard like to be, but that was kind of the point.

* * * * * * *

Name: Carmen Lopez Hernandez
Alias: Sombra
Sex: Female
Age: 30
Year of Birth: 2046
Country of Origin: Mexico

Role
Villain, but with some sympathetic qualities. You hate her for the evil things she does; yet also pity her for her warped worldview and inability to trust. Sombra is similar to WarCraft’s Illidan Stormrage in that she is ostensibly fighting the good fight, but her insistence on doing it alone forces her to make one moral compromise after another. If only she could trust someone to help.

Why this character is fun
Sombra is a cunning trickster who isn’t above messing with her allies in the middle of an op. You never know who’s side she’s on, nor when her backstabbing moment is coming. Fans will be shouting at the screen: “Don’t trust her, you idiot!”

Appearance
Look of character is well-established. Sombra must keep all but the top of her head shaved to accommodate her cybernetic ports. She’s incorporated this into her sense of style to create an aggressive—yet feminine—look. She wears a long coat with a high collar to conceal the wires running from her head down to the gloves that interface with machines. This system is such a part of her that she feels “naked” without it.

Personality
Sombra is a very smart cookie—but not nearly as smart as she thinks she is. The smug hacker imagines herself to be invincible, kept untouchable by superior knowledge and a sprawling web of contingency plans. She dominates every room she enters, exuding confidence and complete control of the situation.

Yet, under that cool exterior, Sombra is intensely paranoid—to the point that she views every relationship in her life as a Betrayal Race that she must win if she is to survive. The only people she trusts are those over whom she holds leverage, and even they are to be disposed of when their usefulness is ended.

Sombra lives for the power trip of controlling people, yet likes to imagine herself as a freedom-fighter. The interplay between those ideas is the key to controlling her. Her time on your side can be greatly extended by playing on her old gangster value system as well. Rail against corrupt authority, show some loyalty, and Sombra will reciprocate.

Kit/Fighting style
Sombra’s chief weapons are information and her ability to control machines with her mind. She prefers for her targets to meet old enemies or arranged accidents, rather than killing them directly.

In battle, she avoids direct confrontation and tries to create as much confusion about her location and direction as possible, made possible by two primary “weapons.” First, Sombra’s wearable holo-projection system is capable not only of displaying data where others can see it, but also of concealing Sombra herself from watching eyes. She also carries a translocator beacon to which she can teleport herself. By leaving the translocator in out-of-the-way places and making judicious use of her cloak, Sombra can appear to be attacking from everywhere.

Once her enemies are sufficiently confused and/or separated, Sombra delights in sneaking among them and to disable—or seize control of—their technological aids before vanishing once again. If cornered, Sombra will detonate a powerful EMP shockwave that instantly disables all electronics save her own. In combination with her stealth field, this allows her to vanish and cripple her enemies in one stroke—or allies who have outlived their use.

Lastly, Sombra carries an automatic pistol. It isn’t the most accurate weapon, but it doesn’t need to be. She uses it mainly to lay down cover while making an exit and to provide a little physical intimidation where needed.

Relations
Sombra does not have friends. She has tools—or more precisely, toys. She views people as another kind of machine, something that can be bent to your purpose once you know what buttons to push. She often sets those around her against each other—just to prove her power to herself.

However, she takes a particular liking to Tracer. Sombra sees something of herself in Tracer’s playful demeanor; but more importantly, the pilot’s desire to believe the best about people makes her the most vulnerable and easily-manipulated member of the group. When Sombra wants to make her presence known, she prefers to contact Tracer first.

Sombra never knew her parents. She knows their names, but little else. Most records of them were destroyed in the Crisis. There was a time when she cherished every detail she could find, but those days are long gone. She’s despaired of ever knowing them—and no longer cares. They’re just one more piece of the girl she left behind. Besides, how can she even be certain that she is who the aid workers told her she was?

Sombra still holds some residual loyalty to Los Muertos. She even tosses them a bone now and then, or makes evidence disappear. That courtesy, however, is strictly one-way. Loyalty is everything in gang culture, and they view her departure as a betrayal. They wouldn’t hesitate to kill her—if they knew she was still alive.

Greatest Fear
Sombra regards herself as a master puppeteer. Unsurprisingly, she fears that someone might be pulling her own strings. Her single-minded focus on controlling others is in part an effort to prevent anyone from controlling her.

Education
Sombra has no formal education beyond the Fourth Grade—but is astonishingly adept at teaching herself whatever she needs to know. She taught herself about computers, the world financial system, and almost everything else she needs to operate. Allies will find she enjoys assignments to research and fact-check for no other reason than the thrill of knowing something they don’t—if only for a time. Yet, as much as Sombra presents herself as an all-knowing adversary, she is occasionally blindsided by information she didn’t think she needed to know.

Biography
Carmen Lopez Hernandez was born to Ricardo Lopez Garcia and Luisa Hernandez de Lopez in the spring of 2046. Her mother suffered complications during birth; but thanks to the power of telemedicine, their location in a tiny fishing village wasn't a problem. Or so they thought. 2046 was the year of Omnic Crisis, and Mexico was soon plunged into a prolonged, nationwide blackout that would come to be called ‘La Medianoche.’ Ricardo had no choice but strike out for the city of Veracruz to find medical care for his wife and child. What happened next is unknown. Relief workers found Ricardo and Luisa dead; but their daughter—just a few days old—was still alive. It was the first of many times that Carmen would cheat death.

The baby girl was taken to a refugee center, which soon overflowed with lost and orphaned children. She was one of many, and often treated as little more than a number. Carmen yearned for more. She quickly grew bored with her lessons, often preferring to cause trouble for attention. Finally, her guardians had enough. At the age of nine, Carmen was thrown out into the street. Though the intent had been merely to scare her straight, she was gone when the gate reopened. No one cared enough to look for her.

Fortunately, Carmen had new friends before sundown. The chaos during and after the Omnic Crisis had turned had turned Mexico into a fertile environment for criminal enterprises of all kinds. Among these were a gang called ‘Los Muertos.’ In the decade since the Crisis, Los Muertos had become well-established—aided in no small part by spreading revolutionary propaganda. It was their policy to pay street-rats with food to act as the gang’s eyes and ears throughout the city. Carmen fit the bill. She quickly distinguished herself with a talent for noticing things and the initiative to investigate further.

It was only a matter of time before the gang leadership noticed. In 2058, Carmen got a surprise visit from the neighborhood boss. If she would put her investigative talents to use for the gang, he told her, he would put her on the fast-track to membership—and money. It was an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Soon, Carmen was trolling through records and stolen data. She loved every minute of it. What’s more, her teachers were astonished by her extraordinary aptitude with computers. She became the unofficial IT girl, and then began programming the gang’s toolkit. At the same time, she became a fervent believer in the group’s populist cause. Jumping in at age fifteen was really just a formality.

As a full member, Carmen went to work. She proved herself in scams, phishing, and other forms of cybercrime, but felt called to the gang’s extortion rackets. In her mind, it was a way to hit back against the corrupt officials who made life hard for the poor. She knew firsthand that the rebuilt Mexico was far from equitable, and she was going to fix that. Cash rolled in at her command—both for herself and her adopted family. The power was intoxicating.

But it was not to last. While scrutinizing the activities of a big-city mayor in 2065, Carmen uncovered evidence he was taking orders from someone else. She kept digging. Over the next two years, she painstakingly followed the trail deeper and deeper, ensnaring many other notable people in the web. The conclusion, when it came, was as astonishing as it was terrifying. Virtually every aspect of the world was being controlled by an invisible conspiracy—a conspiracy that was aware of her and already closing in.

Carmen ran. To stay anywhere near Los Muertos would only put them in danger. In fact, the only way to end the chase was for Carmen to die. So she did. She altered some documents to confuse her identity with that of a murder-victim while using her skills to drop off the grid.

She vowed this wasn’t over. Since anyone could be a spy, she could never again trust anyone. Since she stood alone, she needed a far heavier armament. She enlisted outlaw medicine for radical surgery, implanting contacts that would allow her to control any machine with her mind. Adopting the handle “Sombra” as a complete persona, she set out to bring down the conspiracy by using its own methods against it.

Over the next year, Sombra methodically hunted down and erased all record that Carmen Lopez Hernandez had ever existed at all. As far as the world was concerned, she simply appeared on the internet in 2068, a cyber-vigilante who might not be a single person. Yet if Sombra was to overthrow the conspiracy and right the many wrongs of the world, she had to survive—and to do that, she needed to become as powerful as possible. She therefore allowed some of her targets to buy her silence by using their positions to grant favors. She used these favors to gain compromising information on some yet more powerful person. And so on.

Once again, Sombra’s talents did not go unnoticed. Her increasingly audacious acts of blackmail and terrorism attracted the attention of the organization known as Talon—exactly as she intended. Talon’s ideology wasn't so different from Los Muertos’, but on a far grander scale. Why liberate Mexico when a worldwide golden age of anarchy was possible? After a brief courtship, Sombra joined its ranks in 2074.

Yet Sombra also continued her extortion climbing on the side. After eight years, she now commands lawmakers and corporate CEOs. Soon, whole nations will lie at her mercy.

How to use this character
As someone whose chief motivation is to bring down the world-controlling conspiracy, Sombra can be recruited by either side through threats or offers of getting closer. However, she’s just as likely to recruit others for her own nefarious purposes. Her skills are a devastating force multiplier—until her inevitable betrayal, of course.

Sombra is only mentioned in Season One. The most she gets is a handful of lines to the effect of “Tell Sombra to find out X!” Season Two reveals her as Talon’s ace in the hole, the secret weapon that allows them to operate in such an all-knowing way. As the season progresses, though, it becomes more and more apparent that she’s pursuing her own agenda behind their backs. Finally, she makes an unpleasant discovery: Talon is in fact the enforcement arm of the very conspiracy she’s been trying to take down. They know full well who she is (her attempt to erase herself wasn’t as thorough as she convinced herself it was) and have been feeding her crumbs for years to keep her as their tool. Even worse, her breach has triggered alarms and left her at the heart of a Talon fortress that now has orders to kill her.

After her daring escape, Sombra tracks down New Overwatch and recruits them as muscle to get back inside. They want to know what’s going on as much as she does, and it starts to look like she’s about to pull a Heel-Face Turn. Unfortunately, Talon expected this move, and the team walks right into a trap. As things go south, Sombra abandons them to their fate.

In subsequent seasons, Sombra pops up periodically—and never with good results. Whether tantalized into helping New Overwatch (before betraying them), browbeaten into helping New Overwatch (before betraying them), intimidated into helping Talon (before betraying them), or blackmailing New Overwatch into helping her (before betraying them), Sombra injects an extra level of unpredictability into any episode. Given her Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, someone will likely need to Trick The Trickster to get out alive.

What if:
  • There is no conspiracy. Sombra is simply a paranoiac.
  • Sombra is a fan of Lúcio’s music.
  • Sombra carries a small keepsake that supposedly belonged to her mother. Sometimes, showing vulnerability is the best tool of manipulation.
  • After the Omnic Crisis, the Omnics were allowed to continue existing, but the creation of new self-aware machines was banned worldwide. Efi Odele is technically a felon.
* * * * * * *
Addendum:This opens so many Sombra shenanigans.
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  #30  
Old 10-09-2017, 04:54 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Gold (War3) Balaa is Crazy

Some time ago, I posted some ideas for a "borrowed" character named Balaa. I got to thinking about her again, and figured I might as well write the scene that was brewing in my head when I did the workup on her. I'd like to think I've gotten better since then.

* * * * * * *

Seth awoke, reflexively spitting out a mouthful of dirt. Half his face was pressed into the loam, and it seemed the inevitable had happened while he slept. There were sounds coming from above him, sounds of birds singing and of wind in trees—but that wasn’t the best part. All around him, there was light. Not torches, not enchanted lanterns, but true, honest-to-goodness sunlight. If not for the shade of the trees above, it would’ve been too bright.

The boy shifted. There was a blanket over him, extending across something soft beside him. It had Kiera’s hair. He poked it. “Kiera! Wake up!” he whispered.

Kiera started. “What? Where are we?”

“I don’t know—but it’s got to be better than that cave.”

The girl lifted her head, trying to bend her ear back in place. “Anything would be.” Gravity, however, was against her in this orientation, so she sat up. The blanket went with her. “Who was that lady who grabbed us? Do you think she’s a friend?”

Seth sat up too. “She has to be, right? She cared enough to give us a blanket.”

“She was also kinda rough—and stinky.”
“I’ll take her over—”

“We are all one in the Light,” said a voice. “Everything is one in the Light.” It was a woman’s voice, draenic accent, coming from behind a bush.

The two shared a look and began crawling closer. “It runs through us, binds us all together,” the voice continued. “It is in you—and in me. We are all part of the Light. It is perfect and holy—and if we follow it, it makes us holy too.”

Seth peered around the bush. He could see a draenei woman seated on the other side, facing someone beyond his sight. She was a match to the silhouette that had rescued them—but so...dirty.

“Is that her?” Kiera hissed.
“Has to be. How many one-horned draenei can there be out here?”

If their rescuer heard any of this, she made no sign. “The Light is the expression of all that is good and pure,” she continued. “When we allow it to guide us—to speak through us—we become a part of it. By letting it shine through our lives, we spread it to others.”

The boy inched his way further around the bush, craning to see who she was talking to. Suddenly, he stopped. Her conversation partner was...a rock. She was preaching to a rock.

He paused, shifting his weight backward—which had the unfortunate side effect of rustling the bush. The woman turned and shot to her hooves faster than he’d thought possible. Before they could make any reaction at all, the children were staring down the barrel of a rifle.

The boy froze, wondering if the mud-caked face at the other end of the gun would be the last he’d ever see. Yet the combat stance vanished as quickly as it came. Instead, the draenei gasped like a child given a present. “Oh! You awake! That is good!” she said—as if nothing had happened. “Come, come. Sit.”

Seth cautiously stood and moved to the place she indicated, Kiera following behind. Now that he could see the mysterious rescuer properly, he couldn’t help but stare. The draenei were one of the rarest races among the Convocation, but closer to the Light than any other. They radiated an aura of wisdom and purity. This one was...not. Her clothes were little more than rags, surmounted by a vest of boiled leather that looked like it was meant for someone much bigger. Her face was encrusted with mud, and her hair was matted like a drowned rat. Considering her pale skin, it had probably once been silver, but was now yellowed with filth.

What truly drew his attention, though, was her head. Her left horn wasn’t just broken off; it had been torn violently from her skull, leaving behind a patch of bald scar tissue. The boy had to force himself to look away. “Um...so, who are you?”

The anti-draenei sat first, folding her legs to the side—and cradling the rifle in her lap. “I am Balaa, the last Rangari, scout of the Light’s Vanguard.”

“You’re with the Vanguard?” Kiera asked as they sat. “Are you sure?”

To Seth’s surprise, Balaa didn’t take the comment as an insult. She instead drew something from a pocket and presented it to the girl. “I am,” she said, beaming with pride.

Kiera glanced at the object and immediately handed it to Seth. It was a brass emblem of the Light’s Vanguard—immaculately polished. It looked real enough, but there was no way to tell if she’d gotten it legitimately.

The boy handed it back. “Thanks for the rescue, Balaa. My name Seth, and this is—”
“Kiera,” Balaa finished for him.

The girl blinked. “You already know our names?”
“I do. Find two children. Seth Whitemane, human boy, white skin, white hair, red eyes. Kiera Trueshot, half-Kaldorei girl, silver eyes and hair, floppy ear. That is what my orders say.”

Kiera immediately checked her ear. “Well, you found us. Quite a feat, considering.” Her smile was transparently fake.

Their rescuer got that look again, like a gift had appeared without warning. “Thank you, Kiera! I...do not deserve these words.” She looked down. “No. The Light is perfect and holy. It is everywhere and in everyone. No matter how far we roam, no matter what happens to us, we will always be a part of it. All of us. Even me. I am part of the Light. I am part of—” Suddenly, Balaa leaped into her combat stance again, every hair at maximum alert. “We must move. Follow me.”

The children staggered to their feet. “What’s—” Kiera started to say.
Balaa held up a finger to silence her, then took off running into the forest. She was fast—much too fast. Even with both of them at a dead sprint, they lost sight of her in moments.

Seth doubled over panting. “Can’t keep up. She’s gone.”

Kiera did the same. “Some rescue...from our friend.”
“Still better than the cave.”

They turned when something came crashing toward them. Balaa was back. “Sorry. Not used to people. I slow down for you. Come, come.”

Kiera caught Seth’s gaze and slowly traced a circle around her ear—careful to do so on the side their guide couldn’t see. Seth nodded in agreement.

* * * * * * *

Actually, that's a pretty comical take on a melancholy character -- but then, you can't really dig into something like that in an introductory scene. Make an impression, THEN dig deeper.
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  #31  
Old 10-15-2017, 05:00 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Neutral Building D.Va Do-Over

A while back, I posted some ideas about what I'd do with D.Va on an Overwatch TV show. However, I readily conceded not having enough information to "get" the character. She was too strong -- or rather, too direct. A tour video with Charlet Chung inspired this improved introduction. (And yes, there are still placeholders in it. Sue me.)

* * * * * * *

INT. MEKA BARRACKS – DAY
View from SELFIE CAM. D.VA, a narcissistic pro-gamer, carries cam through MEKA BARRACKS.

D.VA
Hey, everybody! D.Va here! I wanted to show you the latest changes around here at MEKA.

Shows room. There is a TABLE and CHAIRS where MEKA PILOTS are eating breakfast.

D.VA (cont’d)
We just moved into our new training facility. Everything’s shiny, and it has that “new building” smell.

Back on D.Va.

D.VA (cont’d)
We have all-new bedrooms, bathrooms, dining room—and of course, the new training rigs. It’s a lot to get used to.

On table. MEKA pilots look up. D.Va picks up BOX OF [SNACK FOOD], with PICTURE OF D.VA on front.

D.VA (cont’d)
But one thing that hasn’t changed is [SNACK FOOD]. It’ll still give all the gamers out there the energy you need to get through the day. Isn’t that right, boys?

On MEKA pilots, in turn.

PILOT 1
It’s true! These things are amazing!

PILOT 2
(mouth full)
Keep ‘em coming!

PILOT 3
You’re the best, D.Va!

PILOT 4
Hi, mom!

[RIVAL] (O.S.)
Song, what are you doing?

On D.Va.

D.VA
Oh! I almost forgot the biggest change of all! [RIVAL] is in charge now. Say ‘hi,’ [RIVAL]!

On [RIVAL]. [RIVAL], an arrogant gamer, takes cam away and shuts it off. Resume normal camera mode.

[RIVAL]
That’s enough. I thought I told you no more endorsements.

D.Va takes cam back.

D.VA
Oh, you did. But I’m still under contract for all the deals from before. We both know how important it is to keep your sponsors happy.

D.Va opens box of [SNACK FOOD] and begins munching. [RIVAL]’s eyes narrow.

[RIVAL]
We’re not gamers anymore, Lieutenant Hana Song. We are soldiers.

Pilots watch warily.

[RIVAL] (cont’d)
That monstrosity is coming back any day now, and MEKA has to be ready. I can’t have you prancing around like a child—much less roping your comrades into your antics.

Pilots stop eating altogether. D.Va scowls, but smiles again.

D.VA
Don’t worry. A celebrity persona is always an act. I have the maturity to follow orders--wouldn’t be a six-time world champion without it.

[RIVAL]
Then let’s see your maturity. Finish breakfast in your room, then report for training at 0800.

D.Va’s fist clenches.

D.Va
Yes, sir. Anything you say.

D.Va carries selfie cam and box of [SNACK FOOD] to her room.

INT. D.VA’S QUARTERS – CONTINUOUS
D.Va enters her room. The walls are covered by POSTERS OF D.VA. The DOORS close behind her. She immediately turns around and sticks out her tongue.

* * * * * * *

Notes:
  • D.Va has private quarters by virtue of being the only girl.
  • Sticking out the tongue may not be the right move, but I'm sure Korean culture has some equivalent gesture of childish disrespect.
Overall, I'm satisfied with this. The character is introduced in a way that either states or implies everything you need to know about D.Va. She's a gamer turned soldier, her fame has gone to her head, and it's become an impediment in her new environment. She can be outwardly vapid (when not behind a game controller), but is quite headstrong under it all. As before, her journey would be a path to maturity. She has the heart of a hero, but will at some point have to choose between saving the world and worshiping her own celebrity.

D.Va haters, did this make her likable? I find myself wanting to see more of the character -- but not necessarily wanting to see her succeed.
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  #32  
Old 10-15-2017, 06:38 PM
Anansi Anansi is offline

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Orb of Lightning

Still no special rank for DarkAngel.
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And the HRE was a meme that went too far.
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You are pretty cool for being one of the bad guys.
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I was probably just upset about the Horde fleet in the Second War.
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  #33  
Old 06-11-2018, 05:02 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Arrow BfA Comic Comparison

Over the past few weeks, Blizzard has been publishing a series of comics to introduce the major characters of Battle for Azeroth. I couldn't help but be struck by the contrast of quality between the first and second issues. Just why, I wondered, is Magni's story so effective while Jaina's falls flat? The question bothered me for far longer than it should have, and I eventually had no choice but to conduct an analysis.

In case you haven't already, you can read them here and here.

First, let's consider Issue #1:
Title: Reunion
Writer: Andrew Robinson
Subject: Jaina Proudmoore
Big idea: Jaina betrayed her country, her father, and herself.
  1. 6 panels Jaina laments at Theramore
  2. 4 panels Jaina narrates over flashback
  3. 5 panels Jaina considers what might have been
  4. 6 panels returns, Cathrine's speech and crowd
  5. 7 panels Cathrine's speech and crowd
  6. 9 panels conversation after (Copeland)
  7. 6 panels conversation after
  8. 6 panels Cathrine concludes, Jaina concludes

Now, look at Issue #2:
Title: The Speaker
Writer: Matt Burns
Subject: Magni Bronzebeard
Big idea: Magni lost his family because he had to have his own way.
  1. 6 panels intercut on "losing her"
  2. 4 panels pleads for guidence
  3. 6 panels Azeroth "speaks" through flashback
  4. 4 panels full flash, relate with present (New life)
  5. 6 panels full flash, relate with present (child Moira)
  6. 6 panels full flash, relate with present (on loss)
  7. 6 panels full flash, relate with present (advice not taken)
  8. 6 panels full flash, show death
  9. 5 panels full flash, relate with present (shock of death)
  10. 5 panels present, vow

There are a number of things that bear pointing out here. First, one of the most oft-cited rules for writing is "Don't open your story with a history lesson." This is because audiences need to be invited in to the world, not have it shoved in their faces. Robinson's method comes across as trying too hard to build sympathy for Jaina. Burns, in contrast, builds a sense of mystery on the first page. "What's going on?" is just as much in the reader's mind as Magni's.

Notice also the way Burns' flashbacks are handled as true scenes, not merely narrated in front of artwork. Remember, stories are most effective when they're personal, and it's hard to feel a connection to a character when you're essentially watching a museum exhibit.

But perhaps most importantly of all, Burns circles the point of loss before hitting it at the end. His flashbacks are arranged not in chronological order, but in order of impact. Thus, the emotion doesn't drop like a bomb at the beginning (where it inevitably falls flat), but rather ramps up over the course of the story.

This, I feel, is his real secret. I have much to learn from this man.

EDIT:
A funny thing happened after writing the above. All this anayizing comics got me thinking about writing one myself. (A comic script would be an excellent addition to my portfolio.) The trouble with my choices here is that there really isn't much of a story per se. Therefore, I also examined other examples -- and found, to my shock, that one of my favorites was also written by...Andrew Robinson. How can two works by the same man have such radically different success levels? Let's take a look.


Title: A Better World
Writer: Andrew Robinson
Subject: Symmetra
Big idea: Symmetra is a good person working for a ruthless boss.
  1. 7 panels negotiation with mayor
  2. 6 panels the world outside
  3. 6 panels introduce girl
  4. 8 panels infiltrating Calado
  5. 7 panels caught and escape
  6. 6 panels Korpal destroys Calado
  7. 6 panels rescue girl from fire
  8. 6 panels new building opens

The first thing coming to mind is the remarkably similar self-narration by the protagonist. However, A Better World doesn't try to be epic. It's a very personal story, even if it says more about Vishkar Corp. than Satya Vaswani.

Note also that the protagonist isn't reminiscing. The failure happens right now, in front of us. That's why Robinson here avoids the problem he had with Reunion. There's an emotional ramp at work too, much like the one Burns used in The Speaker. The poignant ending is why I liked it so much.

Now, I need to come up with an original story that can be summarized in eight simple sentences.
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  #34  
Old 09-02-2018, 04:18 PM
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Thumbs up Shooting Star Review

As all of you should by now be aware, Blizzard released “Shooting Star,” a D.Va-focused Overwatch short, at GamesCom. I was personally left disappointed and slightly angry—which should come as no surprise. Any time you walk into a story of any medium with preconceived notions about what it should be, you will be left empty. On some level, you could even say my delayed response was caused by my need to progress through the stages of grief before being able to write about it.

“Shooting Star” introduces Tae-Hyun, D.Va’s hapless probably-boyfriend, for use as a sounding board, though she seems largely indifferent to his affection. We also learn a Korean name for the Omnic colossus that keeps attacking Busan (retconned into an army of smaller units?), as well as names and handles for the rest of the MEKA squad. Sadly, aside from the written names of the MEKA pilots, no official romaja spellings have yet been put forward for these additions.

While I very much enjoyed the absurd heights of D.Va’s celebrity—a big part of the character’s appeal—Blizzard chose to take the character in a very different direction than I did. The official D.Va reveals herself to be the unyielding perfectionist one would expect of a pro-gamer. She simply can’t allow herself to have any flaws, though the way she’s been obsessing about her work and intentionally avoiding the outside world suggest she may be developing a touch of PTSD. It seems that, no matter how skilled she may be, Hana Song is just an ordinary teenager cracking under the weight of the world.

I may in fact grow to like this character—even if it feels strange to see her avoiding the glitz and glamour of her fame when I had interpreted her as being unable to let go of her celebrity lifestyle. We agree, for example, that the stereotypical K-pop star was only ever an act. The real D.Va is the one in the booth—and now the cockpit. It would be interesting to see her keeping up the carefree front in public while melting down in private.

Nonetheless, it bears pointing out that “doing the right things for the wrong reasons” remains conspicuously unexplored in Overwatch. Maybe that’s because such an angle would force the character to have a story arc, i.e. to be dynamic instead of the static caricatures the game format demands. Yet, that argument fails to explain why Soldier: 76, Hanzo, Symmetra, and probably Pharah seem set up for dramatic turnabouts at some future point. Blizzard clearly thinks it can be done.

“Shooting Star” isn’t perfect by any means. It lacks a clear musical theme (Is the main one reserved for Tracer?) and raises a few plausibility questions (Are there really just five MEKA pilots?)—but that doesn’t stop it from being a quality product. The animation is, as usual, top-notch, and whoever wrote the script has a wonderfully understated sense of humor. In all, “Shooting Star” is more than worthy of the Blizzard label and represents a thread I’ll be eagerly following in the future. Let’s hope D.Va’s newfound willingness to rely on others keeps her from going the way of Neltharion.
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Old 10-04-2018, 04:42 PM
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Medivh HotS Developing Well

This thread is about random ideas, and that presumably includes speculation as well as commentary. I bring this up because the Heroes of the Storm comics have developed to the point where a clear universe is starting to become apparent. First things first, though.

Fall of King's Crest is longer than the previous HotS comics (12 pages vs. 8 for both previous issues). It is also the first to portray the Raven Lord as unambiguously evil. While Rise of the Raven Lord had established him as trying to avert a great calamity, he seems joyous, not regretful, that these extreme measures have become necessary.

Other notable criticisms include switching which character is narrating (which is always frowned upon without some kind of break) and killing off Verick and Delia in the same issue that introduced them. Yes, this happens all the time in television, but the cramped confines of a comic make it seem like they were there for the purpose of dying. It cheapens what should be a powerful moment and adds an unnecessary complication. Then again, since people have so much trouble staying dead in the Nexus, that might very well be the point. Sun-boy and moon-girl would make an interesting dual-body hero.

We also see further build-up of Orphea as a future hero. However, I was disturbed to discover how so much of what I "knew" about her was unsupported by direct evidence. It seems we can't confirm that she's the Raven Lord's daughter, nor that she stole a powerful artifact from him -- but these remain plausible suppositions. She is, for example, reluctant to raise a hand against him. She wields power far beyond what would be expected for her age, and she's hauling a giant box on her back. (How does a kid carry that thing, anyway? It looks big enough to be her coffin.)

Aside from Orphea being playable, though, it's hard to predict where this is going. That's as it should be. The Nexus is essentially a new IP, and it would be foolish to cut off possibilities at this point. What we do know is that the Raven Lord is taking and draining the singularities. It's unclear whether this is simply to increase his personal power or somehow allows him to control the Dark Nexus creatures he's summoned. There's always a price to be paid for bargaining with evil, after all. He seems to believe uniting all realms under his power is the key to stopping the invasion. But what is this consuming invasion? If I were writing this, it would in fact be his own summoning of Dark Nexus entities. Thus, in trying to stop his own future, he causes it.
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Old 10-05-2018, 11:54 AM
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Shooting Star sucked. There's nothing more annoying than forcing flaws into a character that does not need it or doesn't have any.
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Old 12-01-2018, 04:17 PM
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Darkmoon Card: Maelstrom Orphea Commentary

I happened to notice there's been higher-than-usual viewership on the Fan Works subforum this week. Since it's been a while since I posted a Dispatch, I wondered if someone had posted a belated endorsement. Then I found out the new Heroes of the Storm comic had been released some time before. Well, that was embarrassing. I really should say something about that, shouldn't I?

First, I should preface what I'm about to say by reminding everyone that writing for comics is hard -- really, really hard. The confines are very tight, and it's all too easy for oversights to occur. In particular, it's easy to forget the reader doesn't have access to the factual information that prose narration provides. Just why, for example, does stabbing that pedestal with a corrupted crystal close the portal to the Dark Nexus? Or consider Neeve. We first see her in partial silhouette on page 3, but that may or may not be her. She just appears -- totally free -- on page 5.

On the other hand, Orphea also presents an excellent use of visuals to imply information without directly stating it. Most notably, it was never said that the Raven Lord had converted his family's cavernous, subterranean crypt into a prison for the entities he pulled from the Dark Nexus in his experiments. Nor were we told that Orphea's mystery box was in fact one of the ancestors' ossuaries. But it's there in the pictures, if you look.

Unfortunately, I couldn't help but feel the latter revelation took some of the magic out of the story. There are some things -- especially creepy things -- that are better left unexplained. When you have the ultimate Creepy Crate, it has to be handled as either a running joke ("What's IN that box?!"), or be given the dark twist that it's slowly corrupting her like Venom. That way, as her Pride, Doubt, Fear, Despair, Anger, Hatred, and Violence grow, she gains more control of her power and loses control of herself. It was just so much more fun to imagine some mall-rat princess is carrying around the Heart of Y'Shaarj without knowing what it is.

One thing we did gain, though, was a path for Orphea's story to continue. Having vanished years earlier, her mother injects all sorts of new unknowns into the equation. Who was she? Where did she go? Back where she came from? Where was that? And how did the wiki come up with names for both parents without citing a source?

I'll be watching for answers.
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Old 01-11-2019, 05:27 PM
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Invisibility Thoughts on Bastet

Bastet, the new Overwatch short story by Micheal Chu, is an interesting beast—perhaps most of all because it exists in the first place. Remember, almost all Overwatch story thus far has been done through in-game flavor text, comics, and short films. Prose fiction opens up a whole new window on the world, one through which we can get to know the characters in a far more intimate way than we could otherwise. More on that in a moment.

First, the bad: “Bastet” reinforces “Old Soldiers,” a piece of overdramatized contrivance I’d been trying to forget. It’s not that the comic was poorly written; it was simply the folly of having all the “dead” characters discover each other at the same time. It’s a situation that calls for gradual reveals to preserve the surprise. By dumping them all at once (in the middle of a fight, no less), it robs us of the chance to have Soldier: 76 say, “Doesn’t anybody stay dead anymore?” This is essential because a) his voice is perfect for it, and b) if you’re going to lean so heavily on the shocking survival trope, somebody has to Hang A Lampshade On It.

Anyway, the good: “Bastet” builds on something that came before—a first for Overwatch. Not only that, but it has a direction to go forward. Think about it: Jack and Ana could have any number of adventures in virtually any place. They’ve got great chemistry too, that whole “mom and dad of Overwatch” dynamic introduced in “Uprising.” Who do they meet next? Take your pick, but it’s sure to be both fun and thoughtful. All in all, “Bastet” is written well enough to redeem its predecessor. Maybe that’s why Chu did it.

While there’s not much new information in the story, there are a few points worth noting. For one thing, we now know Mercy is working in Cairo—though whether that means a follow-up Bastet Pharah story would canonize “Pharmercy” remains to be seen. *shudders* While it was mentioned in an out-of-universe discussion before, Jack Morrison is now unequivocally confirmed to be gay. There were also a few names mentioned in passing that may become relevant, like this Dr. Faisal who’s been the go-to archaeologist in a number of places.

However, the big question is what “Bastet” heralds for the future of the franchise. Comics have been the medium for story delivery thus far, aside from the annual animated shorts at GamesCom and BlizzCon. Yet, comics were all but absent from 2018. What comics were produced shifted from having fun with the characters to hyping new content—which was mostly okay thanks to the remarkably consistent quality of the tie-ins. I couldn’t help but wonder if the creative team had been shifted to other properties, or if something big was cooking in the back room. There have, for example, been rumors of an Overwatch TV show that was held up because Blizzard insisted on keeping creative control. Are they finally ready to move?

Well, probably not. “Bastet” is a sea change in style, but not of direction. It’s still a one-off story focused primarily on character exploration. While it did build on previous content, that could be just as easily explained as Chu knowing he flubbed the story the first time and using the promotion to fix it. Comics are hard (as I keep saying), and the change of medium had the side-effect of allowing the situation to be experienced from the inside out rather than the outside in. That’s important because absence of action in “Bastet” wouldn’t work as anything else.

Nonetheless, welding Ana and Jack together is still a change of state. Future stories will inevitably bring more changes, and that puts a clock on how long the “world without a story” paradigm can continue. Simply put, stories are structures. Structures collapse without a plan. Plans require forethought. Therefore, it’s imperative that someone in Irvine be keeping track of all this, if not plotting it out. If not, by the time a direction does emerge, the writers will be hemmed in by a mountain of inadvertent changes in stories like this one. It’d be a shame if the starting point for some future development had to be “abrogate everything and start over.”

EDIT: After watching the Story and Lore Developer Live Stream, I’m confident Blizzard’s story process is up to the task. Let’s hope there will be more such discussions—and for more than just WarCraft.
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Old 01-13-2019, 11:46 PM
Mutterscrawl Mutterscrawl is offline

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I do think it was interesting that they did a short story since they scrapped the overwatch comic-book to do story revisions, this is the first real bit of 'lore' focused material that wasn't an ad for a new hero like Ashe's cinematic was.

I agree the old comic it built on wasn't great and this was a better way to continue it, and I'm curious where they'll go next.
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  #40  
Old 06-29-2019, 09:16 AM
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Map Mechagon Review

Sometimes, being out of the loop makes you do dumb things. That's what happened this week. As a general matter of course, I fire up the Battle.net app and read the Blizzard news on Thursday afternoons -- but I missed doing that this week. And well before that, I noticed an uptick in traffic on the Fan Works board. So, being that I had a gap in my schedule, I set to work on the next Nexus Dispatch. I got halfway through laying out the bones of scene when I finally remembered to read the news and found out a new comic had been released. That's why you were really coming here, wasn't it?

Let's take a look, then. (If you haven't read it yet, you can find it here.)

"Mechagon"
Matt Burns
11 pages
  1. Kurvo's journal (full-page)
  2. Kurvo crashes (6)
  3. Kurvo taken, introduce king (6)
  4. Kurvo awakes (6)
  5. Tour of Mechagon (5)
  6. Tech-ing demonstration (7)
  7. Erazmin's plot (5)
  8. Kurvo decides (5)
  9. Kurvo betrays (5)
  10. Kurvo transformed (5)
  11. Kurvo awakes (6)

One thing that's immediately obvious is the greater number of pages compared to earlier Blizzard comics. The topics are generally more specific, and there are fewer frames per page. While this eschews tradition, it has beneficial effects on the story. For example, Kurvo's decision could just as easily have been folded into Erazmin's plot, but devoting a whole page to it lends gravitas it would otherwise lack.

For another example, filling a whole page with Kurvo's journal gives a very personal introduction to the character -- especially with those struck-out lines. This guy clearly doesn't allow himself any doubt. One thing you might notice, though, is how the strike lines are darker than the text. This is because these words are actual text; you can drag-select and copy them. I know of no other case where it's possible to do this, as comic text is usually rendered as part of the picture in Blizzard's PDF comics.

And those other markings around -- is that a Gnomish writing system?

Would-be writers should notice:
  • Foreshadowing on Erazmin's rebellion
  • Comments of the townspeople
  • Twist on earning transformation
It's little things like this that push a story from good to great.

On a more philosophical note, I find it wonderfully ironic that Kurvo's human (gnomish?) frailty leads him to become a machine. This is then counter-pointed against Mechagon, who has allowed good intentions to make him a monster. Somewhere in the process of turning himself into a machine, he became a being of pure logic. He lost all compassion, and is unable to see any perspective but his own.

This makes him, in my opinion, a well-executed villain. He actually has a point. He's trying to do something good. Where he falls is in his methods, and that's important. The idea that the rightness of one's own vision justifies the use of force to impose it is the very essence of evil. Mechagon, therefore, should be a reminder for us in these surreal, hyperpartisan times. That's what the word 'monster' means.

What lies ahead? Kurvo seems like he deserves an in-game appearance of some kind. Maybe Mechagon retooled him as a boss. Maybe he's lying in a junk heap somewhere in the city. Just stick him in and tie it together.

More interestingly, Blizzard could be seeding Erazmin for future development. He has a claim to the long-vacant gnomish throne, but the gnomes seem happy with their republic. Could there be conflict? Could there be gnome-centered story? We'll have to see.
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Old 07-27-2019, 04:12 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Darkmoon Card: Heroism What You Left Behind Review

I probably owe another apology for finding this so late. Blizzard seems to have developed the habit of releasing things after my Thursday news scan, and that makes for very bad timing. The only reason I found it was because I'd gone looking for the Sigma origin video -- and then it took me a week to wrestle my notes into something presentable.

What You Left Behind
Alyssa Wong

Overall, Wong's work is solid -- though there were a few things that slipped through the cracks. We'll get to those.

First, it bears pointing out that a short story is, by its very nature, an exercise in efficiency. Scenes must be structured carefully to ensure ideas get dropped at the right times, and you often have to be brutal about cutting things you want to include. That means a laser focus on main ideas.
  1. Jean-Baptiste Augustin is a good man with an ugly past.
  2. The most powerful criminal organization on Earth wants him dead.
Both of these ideas are apparent in the very first scene. Here, Baptiste is introduced with some humor from the dirty old lady, then we see his warm relationship with Dr. Mondésir. Both help to pull us in. At the same time, Wong introduces Baptiste being on the run and the troubles with Sainclair Pharma.

From there, the bar scene sets the plot in motion. Baptiste is given an offer he can't refuse. Sainclair is downgraded from distant god to vulnerable target. And we meet Mauga. Just, wow. It's one thing to make the struggle personal by inserting an old buddy as an antagonist, but Mauga is so much more charismatic than Baptiste that he completely stole the show. Next to him, Nguyen feels like he was added to the story as an afterthought -- though it's good to see the Talon agents from the teaser event weren't forgotten.

Inserted into the scene is the first of three flashbacks. In fact, all of Wong's flashbacks are placed within, rather than between, the primary narrative. The technique is slightly disruptive, though certainly permissible. The flashbacks depict Baptiste's time in Talon with a particular focus on his relationship with Mauga -- which should come as no surprise, as this relationship drives the whole story. It's a rather fascinating one too. Here are two men who work together so beautifully as a team, yet are separated by a yawning gulf of personal values. You don't just see it; you feel it.

Something else to note how the first three paragraphs of the mansion scene occur outside, followed by an instant jump to the inside. This is a good example of something permitted in short stories, but not other formats, because the need of for economy of space lets you get away with things. There's also the matter of the skylight in the office, which immediately struck me as a Chekov's Gun -- and sure enough, it was. Baptiste's steadily growing sense of horror at how easily he's falling back into his old habits forces him to draw a line somewhere, even if it means turning away from the logical progression.

From there, the falling action carries through to a final confrontation between Baptiste and Mauga. Wong artfully reprises the scene from the last flashback by placing it on the docks, though its context -- and outcome -- are quite different. Once again, Baptiste is running away; and once again, Mauga is there to deal with him. Now, though, the crime is betrayal, not just desertion, and the parting is replaced by a duel to the death.

In all, a very compact story with remarkably few settings. Clinic, bar, mansion library, mansion office, dock showdown -- with a few flashbacks sprinkled around -- would almost be convertible to a comic...

One thing I find very interesting is how the story would've been easy to end on page 20, but Wong kept it going to drop some hints about future direction. We learn that Mercy is in the Middle East (Bastet touched on this too) and that Baptiste intends to seek her out, which only makes sense considering their shared vocation. More surprising is his prior relationship with Sombra. He would, after all, be an easy target for her to control, but he apparently trusts her enough to ask a favor. Therefore, it stands to reason their relationship must have been a positive one. Were they romantically involved, or just a plot convenience? (Note: Sombra seems the type to use diminutives for everybody.)

Other reveals:
  • The return of Overwatch is public knowledge.
  • Talon HQ is in Rome -- probably underground, if the "dreary" description is anything to go by.
  • Vehicles attach to fusion-energy charging stations when not in use.
  • Boats, like the cars, hover above the water.
  • The identities of Overwatch agents were not generally known.

However, there were some parts that left me scratching my head. Just what, for example, does it mean to say Dr. Mondésir has "braided hair done up in a bun?" Are we talking Yulia Tymoshenko here? And is the "Rosaline" mentioned only on page 4 the same person as the "Roseline" mentioned everywhere but the first scene?

Then, there's the tortured sentence on page 15: "It would be more than was a step back into the life he’d promised he’d left." Someone likely forgot to delete the 'was' when rephrasing, though it's awkward even then.

If Nguyen was able to "stare him down" on page 16, why wouldn't he shoot?

And wouldn't Sainclair’s forces catching up be a good thing on page 19?

Then, there are more serious problems. Consider this excerpt from page 13:
Quote:
With you at my back, we can do anything, he’d told Baptiste once. You’re the best medic in Talon. You keep me alive, and I’ll protect you. No one stands a chance.
There are no quotes or anything on this, which does help to distinguish it from the immediate scene. However, there should be something to denote Mauga's long-ago words as dialogue.

This points to the recurring problem of thoughts not being italicized. Yes, there are purists out there who abhor the practice; but at this point, the convention is so cemented it makes more sense to use it than not because it eliminates confusion about what's narration and what's internal dialogue.

There's also the matter of how Baptiste's white armor is never explained -- a glaring omission, given that the whole point of the story is to advertise a skin. If it's from his Talon days, why would he still have it after four years on the run? If he picked it up more recently, why would he discard it by the time of his default skin?

Biggest problem: Wong makes us want to see Sainclair dead, then abruptly declares his execution a mortal sin. While she does a good job of building Baptiste's revulsion at his own actions, the effect is still jarring. Then again, maybe the real culprit is Mauga. The sheer fun of his character destroyed the mood and made us want to see him win. Baptiste is, after all, an "inner strength" character whose appeal rests on his determination an pluck -- and these are easily overshadowed by big personalities like Mauga. If What You Left Behind was intended to seed a character for future use, it might've done its job too well.

In any case, it's a good bet we're going to see Mauga again. It would've been very easy to kill him off on page 19, but I wasn't surprised slipped away. He was described in far too much detail to discard so easily. While I'd at first pegged him as a boss in an upcoming PvE scenario, the usefulness of his shield for protecting others makes him playable. It's already been said the game needs tanks, and Ashe already made the jump from bit character to staple.

What matters for writers, though, is the focus on Baptiste's internal thoughts, showing us who he is and what he's about. What You Left Behind did this very well, and I look forward to more.
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Old 08-22-2019, 01:21 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Smile This Sacred Land Review

This Sacred Land, Part 1
Robert Brooks

"This Sacred Land, Part 1," is a new StarCraft comic released along with the first phase of the fifth War Chest. As comics go, remarkably little happens in its eight pages, so there's not much to analyze. The story feels like it's being stretched to fill the space -- and maybe it is. The early pages in particular resist categorization under distinct main ideas, with page breaks falling in the middle of summary-level plot events instead of around them. Then again, this could just as easily be a deliberate design decision by Brooks to smooth the page transitions of what's effectively a single scene.
  1. Arrive at Bel'shir, foreshadow Stetmann (5)
  2. Tal'darim attack (4)
  3. Ship going down (5)
  4. Land on Bel'shir (5)
  5. Find science lab (6)
  6. Surrounded standoff (7)
  7. Meet Gary (5)
  8. Meet Stetmann (5)
However, the biggest thing that sticks out is the absence of character names in the dialogue. Is Brooks holding them back for some reason? It's usually considered good practice across all media to drop characters' names as soon as possible because having a name helps the audience to bond with them. Perhaps "This Sacred Land" was written as a single unit and then split in three. Thus, the protagonist trio was intended to be named when they introduced themselves to Stetmann, and an oversight occurred in the division process. While it's also possible one or more of them is a known character being concealed, they all seem like new characters so far.

Would-be writers should pay attention to how Brooks tells us, without ever saying so, that our ghost is bitter about someone left behind. He's so busy stewing about it that he neglects what's presumably his purpose on the mission: to scan for Tal'darim, whom Raynor encountered on Bel'shir before. Then again, one wouldn't expect to be hit mere seconds after arrival. Those phoenixes must have been very lucky. One wonders, though, why the crew wasn't briefed on the possibility of Tal'darim attack. They seem completely surprised to find a base there -- despite Bel'shir being one of the few sources of terrazine. Maybe they're the ones who are crazy. They do meet a strange robot and immediately ask it to lead them somewhere. (I kid, of course. Such plot conveniences are the norm in comics.)

Because so little happens in Part 1, there's not much new lore revealed. Stetmann's insanity is now canon -- but given the popularity of the idea, it was just about inevitable. With a little more thought, however, the implications of terrazine making non-psychics into psychics could be a game-changer going forward. Just think: it's possible to make anyone into a spectre. And, if terrazine insanity drove Stetmann to create and control zerg, does that say something about its origin and purpose? Or is it more that it drives its victims to become whatever they most fear?

In any case, I look forward to Part 2. It stands to reason there's a war in progress on Bel'shir, and that means we'll be setting up stetellites and charging the egonergy to make it happen. After all, there are three kinds of enemies who are always morally permissible to kill: Nazis, zombies, and Tal'darim.

Side note: Orphea got four comics to introduce a character with no prior exposure. Qhira gets...nothing?
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Old 10-03-2019, 04:31 PM
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Red face This Sacred Land, Part 2

Life can throw curves sometimes. In this case, my original work scene for the month ran far longer than expected -- meaning that by the time I had the analysis for Part 2 ready, Part 3 had been released. And with things going the way they are, it's probably going to be a while before I have time for it. So, um, sorry in advance.

This Sacred Land: Part 2 continues the story from This Sacred Land: Part 1. Robert Brooks resumes the tale of Egon Stetmann and his swarm of mechazerg -- but first, the usual page-by-page.
  1. Tal'darim plotting (5)
  2. Cave talk (5)
  3. Cave talk (5)
  4. Cave talk (4)
  5. Flashback (5)
  6. Flashback (5)
  7. Back to cave (5)
  8. Co-op plan (5)

Note the recurring low number of frames per page. Once again, Brooks is slow-walking the story, though the circuitous conversation flows very naturally. Reveals are predictably sparse with so little action -- just two by my count. First, the Tal'darim under Fourth Ascendant Malain are planning to destroy Bel'shir; and second, Stetmann has had his army ready for four months prior to the gang's arrival.

Stetmann reveals himself to be violent and deranged, yet highly suggestable. The ghost is able to exert a degree of control simply by diverting the conversation in new directions. Unfortunately, this ghost remains anonymous even as his crewmates are named as Ensign Wallace and Captain Niemi. This is perhaps the greatest danger of stretching a conversation for multiple issues: that details need to be repeated.

Details, however, are what makes any story tick. For example, the haze effect over the flashback is most appropriate, and quirky things like the mechazergling having a tongue with which to lick people really set the mood. The mental aside on Page 7 almost makes me wish this were an animated cartoon. But missing details can be confusing. Consider the first frame of Page 3, where the lack of a motion line makes it hard to tell what happened.

Details matter because even a few errant words can create logical oversights -- which can't be completely ignored even in a light-hearted romp such as this. For example, Egon Stetmann's co-workers weren't killed off by invaders or by an errant terrazine burst. They never existed at all. Does that make sense? Would you leave someone alone next to a valuable (and dangerous) resource? For story purposes, the only things that matter are a) Egon Stetmann is currently alone on Bel'shir and b) he was exposed to terrazine. There are numerous ways to achieve this.

Second, it seems highly doubtful that the Tal'darim, who are dependent on terrazine, would destroy one of the few known sources. Perhaps Malain sees no further value once the gas is mined out, but that assumes it's even possible to carry away a whole planet's worth of a resource. Was there less present than he thought? Has it stopped forming with the death of Amon? In any case, he'd need only destroy the medivac and his own base if he wanted to erase evidence. Giving Bel'shir the Chau Sara treatment smacks of a contrived justification for attacking them.

One thing seems certain, though: This story won't be finished in three issues no matter how the current cliffhanger is resolved. (Was it a mistake to commit myself to analyzing all of them?) Some kind of interruption is required, even if its nature is unknown. Maybe the Tal'darim will begin their bombardment. Maybe Gary will get attacked. Maybe Wallace will offer to inhale the terrazine instead. Whatever happens, it's critical that the ghost not inhale, as he'd be far more dangerous than even Stetmann. Good thing Gary is repairing the ship, because it could be critical to their getaway.

The most likely outcome: the mechazerg delay Tal'darim departure long enough for Dominion reinforcements to catch them. This would close the plotline and serves the tension-building theme of the franchise direction.
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Old 10-27-2019, 04:12 PM
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Smile This Sacred Land, Part 3

Good news! After working through a number of higher priorities, I finally found time to examine This Sacred Land, Part 3. (See also parts 1 and 2.) I'm going to start by pointing out that my predictions were wrong -- and I'm happy about it. I love being wrong. Being wrong means the writer was thinking outside the box, incorporating misdirections and ideas that don't necessarily follow from what came before. Writing is an art, after all. The objective may indeed be to produce a sound structure, but it should never be a purely logical progression of events. Come up with something weird and wonderful -- and then figure out a way to support it (adjusting if needed). It's architecture, not engineering.

Robert Brooks
This Sacred Land, Part 3
  1. Ghost takes shot (6)
  2. Mechazerg entrance (5)
  3. Attack commences (4)
  4. Repairing the ship (4)
  5. Ghost vanishes (2)
  6. Not leaving yet (5)
  7. Stetmann taken (7)
  8. Ending (5)

Brooks wraps up the story with such startling speed it makes me wonder if I missed an issue. After all that build-up -- all that painstaking suspense -- ending the battle in four pages feels like something of a let-down. (It's also very surprising, given how long Shadow Wars ran.) Not only that, but Malain, introduced as a villain in Part 2, dies without any struggle at all. It's just so...easy.

Maybe this could've been alleviated by allowing us to hear the final conversation among the Tal'darim leaders, but it was instead covered by narration from Stetmann. He's long-winded, distractable, and yet a surprisingly decent strategist -- or more likely, the battle plan was suggested by the still-unnamed ghost. The trouble is that he already had a whole issue to run amok; and by now, his shtick is starting to get old. It's like he's dominating the story itself just as much as the world within it.

That's not to say Part 3 is bad. It's fun and well-written, worthy of the Blizzard logo in the corner. Would-be writers should notice how the ghost's terrazine-ness is concealed for first page, keeping open the question of whether or not he inhaled until after the shot is fired. That, in turn, opens questions about his loyalty (and sanity) that drive the rest of the plot. While the off-timing detonation and surreptitious conversation foreshadow the eventual betrayal, they also set up the ominous surprise ending.

It's an ending that leaves many more questions than answers -- as any good origin story does. Can mechazerg maintain themselves? Is there now a giant pile of terrazine sitting unclaimed on Bel'shir? How did they get Gary in the med station? And just who is the ghost serving? The previous portrayals had suggested Bel'shir's "commands" were really just Stetmann not recognizing his own ideas as his own, but things are more complicated now. It seems the ghost didn't betray Stetmann. Bel'shir did. And that has disturbing implications.

That ship may not be going to Korhal IV.

ADDENDUM: From a high-level view, the three issues of This Sacred Land suggest Three-Act Structure. Meditate on this.
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Old 01-28-2020, 03:46 PM
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Darkmoon Card: Heroism Valkyrie Commentary and Analysis

Time can be a difficult thing. There's only so much of it, and most of life's demands take precedence over fan projects. So it should be no surprise that BlizzCon and the holidays greatly delayed any attempt at detailed reading. Luckily, I did find a break long enough to examine something for your consideration.

Valkyrie is a short story by Michael Chu set in the world of Overwatch. It avoids the confusion that occurred with earlier stories by numbering the document's 26 pages by their document pages, not their story pages, meaning the 22 pages of story begin on page 3 in both index and print. However, the technical length may be shorter, since some space is occupied by illustrations on pages 4, 9, and 16.

Once again, the seven-scene structure could probably be done as a comic by some enterprising person.
  • opening intro
  • talk to Jack and Ana
  • join Overwatch flashback
  • hear battle, suit up
  • battle rescue sequence
  • Jack and Ana leave
  • closing thoughts
Notable reveals include a name, "Hanan," for the girl Mercy finds in "We Are Overwatch." It also appears that she knew Torbjörn before joining Overwatch, and that he built the armor portions of the Vakyrie suit -- though maybe not the whole thing. More intriguingly, Angela is said to have "known Morrison for a long time" prior to joining Overwatch. Did she really know him? Or just know of him? Did Torbjörn introduce them?

"Valkyrie" is the first Overwatch prose story written in the first person, though there are signs Chu was still thinking in the third. For example, the beginning contains a lot of scene-setting done in the past that would've been more natural in the present. (Is there an imperfect tense in German?) Furthermore, Chu's Angela is often observing her internal processes from the outside in, such as when she "could feel walls spring up" around anything that reminds her of her past. This leads to a sense of disinterest that damages suspension of disbelief -- something made all the more necessary when he breezily passes over the shock of seeing two dead people show up on your doorstep. There are also some instances of awkward wording, such as "Like on days like these" (page 3) and the similarity of "little better than mercenaries" (page 12) and "little more than mercenaries" (page 14). In the latter case, it would've been fine if not used so close together.

Another opportunity for improvement would be to give Hanan's brother a name. He never gets one, despite occupying so much "space" toward the end. There's also a glaring absence of even the most basic medical jargon. (Was that broken arm a simple or compound fracture?) Surely someone in a company as big as Blizzard knows an EMT or ER nurse who could be interviewed for research purposes. Granted, emergency medicine relies on rigid protocols alien someone trained in clinical practice; but even at the beginning, when Dr. Ziegler is patching Jack back together, she'd be thinking about wound hygiene, healing, and scar formation.

Really, one can't escape the impression that Chu was more interested in telling us about Jack than Angela, given how much time is spent on his history and presumed motivations -- but maybe that shouldn't be so surprising, as "Valkyrie" is a direct continuation of his story from "Bastet." I do, however, like the way "Valkyrie" avoids the whitewashing of Jack Morrison that other sources seem to have taken. I find it very important that Overwatch be, on some level, responsible for its own demise, and Mercy's perceptions do point in that direction. Perhaps Morrison really did intend to change the world in the best possible way; but in the end, he was a military man running a military organization, so every problem he faced had a military solution. His tone-deaf, heavy-handed responses tarnished the image of Overwatch at precisely the moment when national governments were sufficiently rebuilt to demand their sovereignty back. Because of him, Talon didn't need a conspiracy to destroy Overwatch. They only needed to unify and shape what Overwatch itself created.

As Ana seems to agree, Overwatch was intended to save the world, not to change it. Maybe the overzealous optimists like Adawe deserve some blame too.

Sadly, the only trick for writers to pick up from "Valkyrie" is the moment on page 12 when Angela lays out the logic of what she should do and then does the opposite. I might be using that one myself.

Typos were very few, limited mostly to style questions of whether "air strike" should be one word and if "omnic" should be capitalized when speaking of robots as a political faction. Since the WarCraft style doesn't capitalize race names, probably not. The only big problem occurred at the bottom of page 19: "I carried Hanan’s brothers in my arms." There is clearly a single brother in the picture.

Going forward, the damage to the suit's wing will likely be an impediment to its future use -- unless someone can repair it. I also couldn't help but notice how Chu conspicuously avoids telling us how long the suit has been unused. Might there be a "lost" caper somewhere in Angela's travels? I wonder. In any case, Chu avoided the "Phamercy" meetup I feared -- and did so without forgetting to mention the Raptora suits. A solid, if stiff, outing, in all.

Structurally, we may be seeing a splitting of storylines in which odd-numbered short stories follow Soldier: 76 and his revenge quest, even-numbered short stories introduce new characters, and cinematic shorts follow Winston and Company. But Blizzard is in the habit of proving me wrong.
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Old 06-22-2020, 12:00 PM
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Thumbs up A Moment in Verse Commentary and Analysis

A Moment in Verse, the recent short story for WarCraft by Madeleine Roux, is a heartfelt tale centering on Lor’themar Theron and Thalyssra. Roux effortlessly throws out the majestic language one expects from elves, which seems little different from her narration voice. Indeed, her prose is absolute music, gentle and delicate in a way that I fear only an experienced writer can detect. It's unlike anything I've read in WarCraft before -- unlike anything I've read in any Blizzard story before. But perhaps that's appropriate: never before has there been a romance for its own sake.

It brings me to reflect on my own writing, much of which is posted on this site. My early career -- if such it can be called -- saw me following every rule I knew. I was trying to craft perfect sentences even as I fumbled with storytelling and character development. But holding a reader's attention requires a natural flow, and natural language doesn't follow "the book." Indeed, the very fact that I just began a sentence with the word 'but' is something I would never have done in that period. But I eventually moved away from this. Achieving a smooth, natural word-flow is what separates the good from the great -- the well-conceived from the bestsellers. It's something I only recently came to grasp fully, finally starting to "hear the music" halfway through my novel.

Now, don't get me wrong: For beginners making the transition from colloquial to literary English, enforcing the rules can be helpful to acquire good habits. But understand why it's helpful. For these students, forcing themselves to construct the story in a deliberate, line-by-line way has a smoothing effect versus writing down oral thoughts as they come. However, insistence on grammatical formalism ultimately makes a choppy ride.

Roux does an excellent job of showing how to avoid this. If you examine almost any sentence from A Moment in Verse, you'll notice their complexity. Prepositional phrases, subjunctive clauses, and complex verbs are everywhere -- those first two especially. Roux uses them as tags to extend her sentences, then breaks things off, punctuating as sentences ideas that are really extensions what came before. This greatly weakens the seams and delivers a smooth flow.

That's not to say, however, that the effect can't be taken too far. Consider this sentence from Page 9:
Quote:
“You read my mind,” Lor’themar told her with a chuckle as they wandered away from the Court, skirting around one of its rounded towers, following a path that led to a set of narrow stairs.
Someone reading aloud might have to stop and take a breath -- and if so, that creates a disruption. Being too smooth for too long can also lull the reader to sleep and cause them to loose interest. Therefore, icing the cake of a story depends on balancing long, flowing sentences with periodic short, simple ones that emphasize important points. No sentence can be considered in isolation; each profoundly affects its neighbors in both directions. Often, I find that a "gem" I devised in pre-writing doesn't fit when I reach the moment -- and when this happens, I swallow my pride and change it. It's always better to have a mediocre sentence that fits well than a brilliant one that doesn't.

Roux offers other points of technique that are far less arcane. The opening, for example, is beautifully done, progressing from visual description of the place to Lor’themar's state of mind. Both are essential components of the setting, and she's off the first page before anything happens. Yet despite this, her detailed description holds interest like a magnet. The fantastic place feels real; the protagonist's apprehension palpable. Nothing happens; and nothing needs to happen. The one flaw I find with it is time. She reaches the bottom of Page 2 before telling us it's evening.

More generally, the repetition of themes lends a sense of polish and literary heft to the work. Consider how the dinner conversation returns to "fine" after having moved on -- or, on a wider scale, how Roux keeps circling back to "their moment." Such stylistic elements are much-favored in literary circles because they indicate forethought and consideration. Watch also the way Thalyssra is described, particularly her perfume and how it both torments and delights. Details like this and the subtle way they are shaped into perceptions are a mark of mastery that suggests Roux may be the first classically-trained hand ever to touch a Blizzard franchise.

Rendering A Moment in Verse as a comic would be very difficult because Roux isn't thinking in a systematic way. She's producing art, not engineering -- the mindset of an elf and not a gnome. While the single asterism denotes two scenes, the arrival, contest, and dinner form a three-part structure. Nonetheless, any real analysis and subdivision of the work would have to focus on Lor’themar's journey from apprehension to acceptance. He is guarded on arrival, makes a half-hearted show of putting himself out, is astonished by Thalyssra's easy intimacy, becomes defensive under her scrutiny, then finally lets it go. These are the major plot events.

If there's a way to render that in eight pages, I'll leave that up to you.

On a lighter note, it's good to see Thalyssra remembers her travels. She's been getting around lately, and the strategic advantages of Nightborne teleportation might be propelling her to great importance in the future. Speaking of teleportation, Lor’themar chooses not to jump directly to Suramar -- but I assume he must have ported in somewhere nearby. A man of his importance couldn't afford to spend days traveling from Silvermoon by sea. Then again, intercontinental teleportation does seem to be getting trivialized in the WoW era. I also like how Lor’themar thinks of the elven ancestors as gods. Even if inadvertent, it carries interesting implications for how the sin'dorei think about their lost glories.

My one disappointment has be the discovery that nothing was done with Rerdyn in Shadows Rising, leaving him merely a comic relief device in this one story. If I'd been writing things, he would've been a sycophant waiting to backstab -- but as disappointments go, that's a pretty small one. Sometimes, I go looking a little too hard for Chekov's Gun.

Unusual among official stories (which are professionally proofread), A Moment in Verse contains numerous typos -- though I'll concede most of them are arbitrary questions of punctuation. Roux's flowing style, as much as I enjoyed it, tends to create situations for which there's no fully correct answer. Therefore, the majority of what I'm about to point out should be considered tentative and subject to your own judgment. My page numbers are based on the PDF version.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 1
lush purple ferns
Whether or not there should be a comma here depends on whether 'lush' is describing 'purple' or 'ferns.'

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 3
“Such poetry already, my lady, I have come ill-prepared for our contest,” Lor’themar chuckled.
Stronger punctuation after 'lady' would better separate the ideas here. A period would've been my choice, but maybe not. I usually need some time to adapt to a writer's particular style.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 3
chill of the harbor dropping away slightly as they climbed.
It dropped away slightly or slowly? EDIT: It was the chill dropping away, not the harbor. Never mind.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 3
Thalyssra nudged him and Lor’themar clung to his journal more tightly.
Since 'nudged' and 'clung' have different subjects, there needs to be a comma between the clauses.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 4
exaggerated—a half dozen wizened faces
I usually see the phrase 'half-dozen' hyphenated, but maybe someone was too focused on the dash to notice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 4
Such events are galvanizing, you see, they lend legitimacy to our newly liberated city.
Again, stronger punctuation is needed here. Given Roux's style, a semicolon would be the likely choice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 5
one that looked middling receptive
This is an unusual use of the word 'middling.' Perhaps "only mildly."

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 5
“Never,” she clinked her glass
I would've used a period here since 'clinked' isn't a speaking verb.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 5
and turned to face their audiences
There was only one audience in the scene -- unless each spectator counts as an audience.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 5
tastes and passions of far off Quel’Thalas
Again, I usually see a hyphen in 'far-off.'

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 7
enjoying the purple brazier light wash over Thalyssra
I think the light is 'washing' over her.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 10
But here he found no such walls to protect him. To hide him.
I would have used dash here. The period is too strong of a stop.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 11
my people and I have known.” That I have known.
This passage left me wondering if the first "I have known" was the supposed to have been left off. It detracts from the personal-ness of the second time, which hits harder if left unsaid.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 11
trying to make an indent on a wishing stone
The word is usually 'indentation.'

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 12
descending on an audible gulp to where they held
Perhaps with a gulp?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 12
For once she seemed at a loss
While the flowing style interferes with the "proper" version of punctuation rules, this one seems a clear candidate for a comma.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Page 12
For once she seemed at a loss for words: no more teasing or provoking, no more prodding, and Lor’themar seized the silence
Looking at the broader sentence, though, it has another issue: the separation of ideas again. I'll admit it's rare to see a colon and a semicolon in the same sentence, but that's what I'd do.

As you can see, there's a lot of personal preference at work here -- and I'm sure a true grammar nazi could make me eat my words on every one of these. Nonetheless, they are all issues I would point out the author. She deserves major kudos for putting so much depth in a neglected leader. Perhaps the serene lady is the one who can bring the scarred warrior to heal.

Now, if the Nightwell was left to collapse, how can there still be arcwine? By fermenting the arcfruit?
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Old 08-03-2020, 12:05 PM
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Mana Nature of the Beast: Part 1 Commentary and Analysis

It feels almost silly to be doing this over a month late, but A Moment in Verse took priority over comics -- and thus, Nature of the Beast got bumped lower in the queue. While I intend to finish the series, the announcement of the SC2 10-year anniversary short stories means it won't be possible to do such analyses on everything coming out of Blizzard. So, barring some unforeseen circumstance, I will not be doing One People, One Purpose.

Nature of the Beast: Part 1 is the first of a new series of comics to accompany War Chest 6 -- or is it? Somehow, despite its release in June of 2020, the copyright line still says 2019. Maybe there was a copy-paste oversight in the template, but it does lead one to wonder how long of a delay there was between publication and release.

Nature of the Beast, Part 1
Brian Alexander
8 pages
Main Idea: Donny Vermillion goes to Tartarus
  1. Donny's show attempt (4)
  2. Donny's reality (6)
  3. Flying there (4)
  4. This guy is crazy (6)
  5. Arrive, go down (3)
  6. Under attack (5)
  7. Escape pod ejection (5)
  8. Nova sees (5)

One thing to note here: Part 1 is short on plot beats and long on character flavor -- and I love it. The first page in particular is a masterstroke, the perfect introduction for any reader who may not know Donny Vermillion. Would-be writers, though, should watch the progression of perceptions being presented in each frame. It starts with an art shot in the first panel (which we'll come back to in a moment). Then, the second establishes Donny as a reporter. The third pivots to a biased and overly passionate reporter, but that means nothing. Anybody can be passionate. However, the fourth reveals him as having not abandoned his sycophantic crush on Mengsk -- a fact which sends him into an emotional breakdown now that he's gone. Definitely not normal. Even better, Alexander uses the rant as an opportunity to seed Nova long before she appears, and to make a callback to Shadow Wars.

The first panel of Page 2 lets the shoe drop fully. The veneer of normalcy on Page 1 is revealed to have been a sham -- and a self-deluding sham at that. Donny is stuck trying to relive old glories, and even his cat doesn't care. (Do they ever?) While his wardrobe might be considered an "Anchorman" reference, it's kind of become a trope at this point.

He then gets what he thinks will be his salvation: a tip about a big story. Alas, the tipster (who never gets a name) makes Donny seem quite sane by comparison. This guy killed his commanding officer -- and bizarrely credits Donny for the inspiration. He thinks nothing of running a gauntlet of armed satellites, and considers Donny's delivery more important than his own survival. It's so nonsensical that it leads one to wonder if he actually believed he'd survive. Or was he hired (or hypnotized) to deliver Donny?

(As an aside, Donny clearly doesn't know his Greek mythology. If he did, he'd know nothing good can happen on a planet named "Tartarus.")

Meanwhile, the escape pod's descent is watched by the illustrious November Terra. She's going down there too, it appears -- and she's traded her white skinsuit for black to match the vibe of her black-ops army. (And her eyes are the right color.)

One thing that really shines throughout is Alexander's skillful use of visual details to suggest things without saying them. A light on the defense satellite changes from green to red when activated. Donny refuses the offered smokes. The skull with a bullet hole gets its own frame as Donny realizes its meaning. Things like this come from the script's panel descriptions, which is why I'm attributing this to Alexander and not Rodríguez. In fact, I can't recall any previous Blizzard comic that used visuals in this way. They just thought of everything, from the peanutbutter jar to the reflection in the camera lens -- with monitor in opposite ear. The very idea of a shot like that means there's a talented storyboard artist at work.

Being that so little happens, there weren't many reveals in Part 1. We learned there's a restricted planet called "Tartarus," which suddenly sprouted a state-of-the-art orbital security system. Its Terran colony has vanished, which probably has something to do with the Zerg on the surface. There may be jorium present on Tartarus, but the wording of the dialogue leaves this uncertain. Donny Vermillion is living on his own. He has a cat named "Augustus." The general public knows that Nova is a Terra, but Valerian would've had to put a name on the wanted poster. However, that could also be a case of fill-in-the-blank. Given how the line is structured, both she and Hogarth almost have to be named fully -- but he didn't have a first name to use.

Like any good opening, Part 1 leaves a lot of questions. Are the Zerg after the jorium? That might explain why Nova is there. (Didn't Shadow Wars land her a long-term supply, though?) Why would the Zerg want jorium? To trade on the Terran black market? That would be new. Who built the new security system? Did Nova bring her army, or is she going in solo? With Donny there, her mission may turn into an extraction -- but it would also give the chance to do something altruistic. My concern, though, is the slow start portends a repeat of the pattern seen in This Sacred Land: few changes in Parts 1 & 2, then BOOM!! All is resolved in Part 3.

While Donny claims on Page 2 that he'll prove his critics wrong even if it kills him, he clarifies on Page 6 that he isn't willing to die for his great story. Alas, the realization come too late, and the erstwhile reporter is irrevocably ensnared in a grand mess of uncertainties and possibilities. Who knows? He might even grow a little if he has a Kate Lockwell experience.

Wait, speaking of This Sacred Land, are we sure those "Zerg" are actually Zerg? Maybe Tartarus is where Stetmann went. His mechazerg would be perfectly capable of building an orbital defense system over night -- and he might be needing jorium too...
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Old 08-31-2020, 11:24 AM
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Runes Nature of the Beast: Part 2 Commentary and Analysis

Nature of the Beast, Part 2, is the second installment to accompany War Chest 6. It continues the story of Donny Vermillion, Nova Terra, and the hunt for the jorium stockpile.

Nature of the Beast, Part 2
8 pages
Main Idea: Donny and Nova meet Evelyn Yoo
  1. Nova convinced to seek Donny (6)
  2. Donny meets Yoo (7)
  3. negotiate, hydra attack (5)
  4. hydra chase (5)
  5. Nova rescue (5)
  6. Yoo tells story (5)
  7. Nova Reigel argue (7)
  8. agree and end shot (4)

Part 2 picks up at most a few hours after Part 1 left off. Nova is searching through the post-apocolyptic hellscape of a destroyed terran city -- and with tendrils of creep everywhere, it isn't hard to guess what happened. She and Reigel are examining Donny's escape pod, though the erstwhile reporter is nowhere to be found. But why risk bringing Reigel to the surface? He'd just be a liability. The answer has less to do with logic and everything to do with storytelling. No matter what, every medium in which a writer might work imposes constraints on what can and can't be done. Visual media, such as comics and video, tend to conceal characters' inner thoughts, and this problem is often solved by assigning different 'voices' to different characters.

For example, when I wrote a first-person story about Nova, it was a recurring motif for her to feel twinges about this or that, then rationalize them away. We can't see this process happen in a comic -- not that it can't be done. It would just take up a lot of space that comics generally don't have. (It would also be opening with an empty, contemplative mood at odds with the rest of the story.)

Therefore, Page 1 is very important for establishing Reigel's role -- and even more importantly, Nova's resistance to it. She reveals herself to be focused on her own goals and prone to judging others harshly. The fact that she condemns Donny for enabling Dominion propaganda -- even though she herself went rogue because Valerian wasn't ruthless enough -- suggests a lapse of metacognition typical of a narcissist.

She has, however, clearly put some thought into what equipment to bring for her mission. For example, the C-20A that one would otherwise consider the iconic weapon of a ghost is relegated to a shoulder strap throughout the comic. Instead, it's the Hellfire shotgun that occupies her hands -- the weapon best suited to large numbers of small targets (i.e. zerg). She also wears the Ghost Visor, which both reveals burrowed hostiles and completes her iconic look.

(Side note: That car sure looks suspiciously like it has wheels.)

Meanwhile, Donny encounters a new friend, Dr. Evelyn Yoo. She's foraging in the ruins and is desperate to the point of irrationality -- but who wouldn't be? No-one would hesitate to stage a hold-up if it meant escape from a zerg-infested wasteland. Alas, Donny has no ship to offer even if he wanted to -- and, despite his protestations of honesty, reveals himself to be the greatest coward imaginable. When a hydralisk finds them, he has no compunction about shoving Yoo (and her son) to the ground as cover for his own escape. This is, of course, a very foolish thing to do. Never commit an immoral act in front of a monster. Sure enough, the hydra pursues Donny until dispatched by Nova, who makes excellent use of the Hellfire's +20 bonus damage to Light targets.

Note how the first three pages accomplish all of the character goals for Part 2: to establish both protagonists as anti-heroes and to introduce Yoo. The entire second half of the comic consists of revealing Yoo's information and debating what to do with it. In combination with her earlier exchange with Donny, it can be discerned that Tartarus was destroyed in the last month, and that Dr. Yoo was a scientist who worked at the jorium refinery -- which is another good point to bring up. Part 1 had mentioned there being a great deal of jorium on Tartarus, but this is the first mention of a refinery.

Nova is, as one might expect, very pleased to hear this. She immediately uses Yoo's desire to escape as leverage to force her co-operation. Reigel again acts as a moral compass, this time having a much more forceful argument than could be executed as an internal conflict -- which is, presumably, the reason why he wasn't left in orbit. He is essential to this moment of character development.

In a way, I like the Nova portrayed here. She's trained to be a weapon, and she acts like one. While I would never have thought to put the two of them together, she makes an excellent foil to Donny, the physical coward, by being a moral coward who's never more than a few steps away from doing monstrous things. On the other hand, can she truly be blamed for her jorium obsession? After her terrazine dose, she needs the stuff to live. Anyone would be anxious -- and you don't want the deadliest assassin in terran space to be anxious.

As in Part 1, the skillful use of backdrops continues in Part 2 -- particularly the Mengsk poster overshadowing Yoo's initial conversation and the playground where Reigel confronts Nova. Both serve to insert ideas that emphasize the point being made: that the former emperor bears ultimate responsibility for the disaster, and that Nova really ought to be more humanitarian in her mindset. Watch also the hydralisk claws (and shadows thereof) that appear in three out of five panels on Page 3. The coup de grace, though, is the propaganda poster on the park bench at the end, its meaning changed by context.

Dr. Yoo is clearly carrying a sin of silence, and that silence likely had something to do with Tartarus' destruction. Indeed, her burden would be heavier than most soldiers', made all the worse by being so far removed from violence. Her shaking hand strongly implies that she never even held a gun before the zerg came -- and her not recognizing a former UNN heavyweight suggests she's been sequestered for a very long time. Depending on her culpability, Yoo may not survive this.

Other details that could matter going forward: Whatever was jamming Donny's signal could be the reason why no help came. (Could that little orb really broadcast over interstellar distances?) It would be a classic Arcturus Mengsk move to leave a psi beacon as a failsafe, baiting the zerg to destroy a sensitive facility in case he fell. But something would have to have triggered it more recently, because more than a month has passed since Heart of the Swarm concluded. There's also the problem of the hydralisk: It saw them, and what one zerg knows, the whole brood knows.

There's an argument to be made that the story could have been packed more tightly, but Alexander used the space to create a more natural flow. He leaves plenty of questions to hold interest into Part 3, such as: Where to you bunk down on a zerg planet? They will find you. How are these few going to move biggest jorium stockpile in the sector? What uses does jorium have that would justify an industrial-scale refinery? Were the zerg intentionally keeping Yoo alive? They've been known to do that. And why have the people of the Twenty-Sixth Century stopped using pinyin to spell Chinese names?

We'll have to wait for Part 3 to find out.
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Last edited by DarkAngel; 08-31-2020 at 11:27 AM..
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Old 09-29-2020, 03:54 PM
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Orb of Venom Nature of the Beast: Part 3 Commentary and Analysis

Nature of the Beast, Part 3, follows Part 1 and Part 2 as the final comic to accompany War Chest 6. (Or is it? We'll get to that.)

First, the breakdown:
Nature of the Beast, Part 3
Brian Alexander
8 Pages
Main Idea: Nova discovers a lost cache of spectres.
  1. opening conversation (7 panels)
  2. Jun-Ho infested (7 panels)
  3. at refinery (6 panels)
  4. the tunnel (6 panels)
  5. training room (5 panels)
  6. Donny release (6 panels)
  7. escape through door (7 panels)
  8. reveal spectres (3 panels)

One thing that's noticeable right up front is the way Part 3 has more panels per page than Part 1 and Part 2, likely because it has a longer list of plot beats. The story has more to get done in those traditional eight pages, and that means some degree of compression is necessary.

Nonetheless, Alexander eases in slowly with a (very) brief opening monologue by Nova. This isn't her first time in a zerg-infested city, and they're generally not places where one has positive experiences. She's keeping watch from what appears to be a control tower while the rest of the party sleeps -- Donny with his camera orb tucked in like teddy bear and Reigel on his back, which may have something to do with his amputee status. Dr. Yoo is also awake, and engages the ghost in a conversation that does much to humanize her after the selfish side seen in Part 2. Yoo explains that Nova's headache and insomnia are caused by the psi-dampening properties of the jorium, to which Nova adds that she's been like this ever since she started her jorium collection campaign. This may be a minor retcon, since jorium had previously been described as "stabilizing" psychic activity, not "interfering" with it. It's also the first mention that being near large amounts of jorium causes problems for psychically active beings.

The conversation takes a nasty turn, however, when Nova spots a growth of zerg slime on Jun-ho's leg. Yoo is immediately defensive, and insists it isn't a problem because she has a serum to slow the spread. Nova reminds her this is only delaying the inevitable, her face drawn with a remarkably gentle expression for her harsh message. Clearly, she has a soul.

The next morning, the party arrives at the refinery. Nova is surprised by how small it is, which prompts heightened suspicion of Yoo. Reigel finds a large tunnel that he says must have been burrowed by the zerg -- outward, not inward. When questioned, Yoo demurely tells them she has no idea why the zerg would start at the refinery. Nova decides to use the tunnel as her entry point, but Reigel objects to bringing civilians. Nova overrules him, noting there's no reason to build such a big city to support such a small facility. She considers this proof that Yoo is hiding something.

(Personally, I don't see Reigel's point. The civilians would be in greater danger if left unguarded on the surface -- unless he thinks the refinery is a nest. But if that's true, he should've said so.)

As the party descends, a sequence of panels follows Nova's feet, a technique commonly used to create suspense. Here, though, it feels a little out of place, since a ghost of all people would have the training and equipment to silence her footfalls. Was it meant to represent the zerg perspective? Whatever the case, it might've been better to use the others' feet disturbing debris and making noise, which would further suggest Nova's choice to bring the civilians was unwise. The tunnel ends at a metal wall with a hole torn through it -- a hole notably smaller than the entrance at the surface. While an ultralisk could easily pass through the latter, there's no way it got through the former. Reigel remarks that the zerg didn't make it, but it's unclear whether he means the wall or the hole. (As an aside, I thought glowrods were a Star Wars thing. Maybe not after Disney got done.)

On the other side of the hole, the party finds itself in a room outfitted with both weapons and surgical equipment -- and a mummified ultralisk head. It's never explained how emergency lighting is still functional after a month, but that can be forgiven when one considers the alternative: three pages of black, indecipherable panels. Nova immediately identifies the chamber as a training facility and grabs Yoo in a fit of anger. Their scuffle, however, is interrupted when Donny uses a discarded ID card to open one of the large doors along one wall. This releases a zerg queen, which promptly attacks the party.

Despite being in easy reach, the monster ignores Donny and focuses on Nova, who opens fire on sight. Alas, the Hellfire has no damage bonus against a queen, and poor positioning has left all of them cut off from the entrance tunnel. Donny suggests opening the door that happens to be behind them, which Yoo hesitates to do -- but when she realizes it's the only way to save her son, she swipes her card. Nova covers their exit, no doubt made easier by the queen's slow movement off creep. When she slams the door behind them, Nova finds herself bathed in a blue glow, staring in horror at its source. In fact, Yoo is the only one who isn't staring in horror. (It does, after all, take a LOT to horrify Nova.)

The glow is coming from a bank of hibernation pods, all holding men and women in suspended animation. Nova identifies them as spectres, finally delivering on the the terrible legacy of Mengsk promised when the series was announced. How does she do this? That's not explained. Maybe spectres have a distinctive psi signature that's detectable even when they're unconscious. Maybe Nova recognizes one or more of them as having been involved in Project Shadowblade. Whatever the case, she just knows.

Once the secret is known, however, there's a lot of behavior that makes a lot more sense -- both Yoo's and Nova's. Let's go back and re-examine the three panels that bisect page 5. On the first time through, a reader would be inclined to identify the middle one as most important because it's advancing the story and setting up what Donny is about to do. Nova's sudden hostility is mystifying -- but once the secret is known, it makes perfect sense. She's reacting to the first of the three: the rack of rifles. If you squint a little, the weapons could plausibly be AGR-14s, the preferred weapon of spectres; but these are so widely available their presence means nothing in the absence of other cues. (They are clearly not the blockier C-14 used by marines, and lack the more streamlined scope and longer barrel of Nova's C-20A.) The association also explains Nova's emphasis on the word 'who' as she confronts Yoo at the bottom of the page.

At the same time, Yoo's reticence becomes much more understandable once her degree of involvement is revealed. There's been a slow drip of hints before, but it's now obvious -- even if not explicitly stated. Yoo knows about the psychic properties of jorium, and she knew what was behind each door in the facility. That means she was in deep enough to know the real purpose, not just a quality control expert watching an industrial process. It also explains how she had access to a handy stockpile of anti-infestation serum.

The scheme makes a lot of sense if you think about it: Spectres need jorium to stay sane, and hiding under a refinery offers an endless supply. Why so many were in stasis and if any were active at the time of the disaster remains unknown. Also unknown is how the handful of zerg kept for target practice was enough to destroy a city. Since they appear to be in a feral state, they'd be both more aggressive and less coordinated -- unless one of them was an overlord. But keeping an overlord in this situation would be somewhere between pointless and stupid.

Otherwise, the use of visuals for non-action impact was somewhat lessened compared to Parts 1 and 2 -- though this could be chalked up to the faster pace. However, Page 2 is still worthy of consideration. The final panel on Nova's rifle cries out as foreshadowing, and the small panels on her eyes are an excellent case where having less information brings both focus and uncertainty.

One thing that's notably lacking in Part 3 is humor, at least when compared to Part 1 and Part 2. Part 1 was Donny's show; Part 2 balanced Donny and Nova. Part 3 is fundamentally about Nova and Evelyn, and the sliver of time given to Donny leaves him looking more like a plot-controlled idiot than comic relief. If there's a lesson to be drawn from Part 3, it's that Donny's character works better as a victim than a perpetrator -- and that it's hard to make angry faces look good.

Going forward, much has been revealed about Nova's self-assigned mission. She's collecting jorium everywhere she can get it -- but it's not because she needs it after her terrazine exposure in Covert Ops. She's collecting it to keep it away from someone, and it's pretty obvious who that someone would be. Just look at her snarl when she says the word in the last panel. With a stockpile big enough, she'd be making herself an irresistible target for Gabriel Tosh and his followers -- though, once he finds out about the preserved spectres on Tartarus, Tosh might be coming to collect them regardless.

This raises a lot of questions. For example, why is Nova so focused on spectres out of all the other threats in Terran space? Is she truly free of her neural programming? Does she need any jorium for herself? Are one or more spectres already loose on Tartarus? Might she and Tosh fall back in love once they finish smacking each other around? If large amounts of jorium cause trouble for psychically active beings, would that include protoss? Or, if the resonant frequency is different, is there some other material they avoid?

How long can Jun-ho's infestation be slowed? Are infested terrans dangerous without a controlling intelligence to make them hostile? Would Stukov adopt him, given the chance? Would having a son give his life the purpose it currently lacks?

And where did those defense satellites come from so quickly? It would appear their purpose is not to contain the zerg, but the spectres. Was this Valerian's doing?

We may soon be getting answers to some of these questions -- because Nature of the Beast isn't over. Contrary to my expectations, the concluding emblem says "to be continued," not "END," and that means the three-part pattern of other comics is getting broken. Perhaps it was Shadow Wars that was the rule and This Sacred Land that was the anomaly. In any case, there's no reason to throw in the additional complication of Jun-ho's infestation if the story isn't going to deal with it. It might even be that the "beast" in the title isn't Mengsk...
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