The Order of the Stick has just weblished its 450th comic, this semi-round number landmark coming just as the epic Battle of Azure City has reached a tuning point in favor of the Good Guys (and Belkar, who has always fought with the Good Guys but we’re not too sure of, because he just enjoys the killing a little -no, a lot- too much). But at a great cost, since the Sapphire Guard were pretty good as living warriors, but as Ghost Martyrs, they are awesome! These big battle scenes, often in a larger-than-the-usual-large-format-size have been impressive, especially how OOTS-master Rich Burlew puts dozens of fighters in the same frame and no two are alike (well, at least among the Good Guys; those orange Goblins are pretty much cannon-fodder, but even some of them show signs of uniqueness). I’m sure that Burlew’s stick-figure character design makes the process easier, but he really does get the most out of this very simple design. That is what first drew me to this webcomic, undeterred by the warnings that half the humor would be lost on anyone who wasn’t into Dungeons & Dragons. Well, let me state that I have NEVER played D&D or any other Role-Playing Game, on-line or off, Massively or Minimally Multiplayer, and I still ‘get’ the meaning behind most of the references to “spot-checks”, “rounds” and “XP” and they make me giggle.

There is another thing that can be off-putting about a comic with a BIG STORY, and I mentioned it in my post about the latest Schlock Mercenary, and that is the problem of bringing in new readers right in the middle of all the action. And it’s even harder when you reference a running joke from something like 300 comics earlier…

oots_roy_splat.jpgHere’s the case. Probably the single worst casualty of this battle is OOTS leader, warrior, hero and if not the most beloved character, certainly the most likable, Roy Greenhilt, whose apparent demise (I have to say apparent; so many characters in these things refused to stay dead) was caudsed by a very long, hard fall, documented in #443, a strip that was 270 pixels wide and 4550 pixels tall. This must have given ‘infinite canvas’ proponent Scott McCloud a warm, fuzzy feeling, even while killing off a hero. Then the next comic, #444, shows Roy’s allies’ reaction, ending with a punchline with two monster-thingies resembling albino jellyfish crossed with the ‘Flying Spaghetti Monster’ of Internet Alternative Religion fame, definately a thing that majes you go “huh?” unless you had been “on The Stick” from its very beginnings.
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Because very early on in the saga (#55 to be exact), they were introduced among the denizens of the “Pit of Monsters Never Updated to 3rd Edition”. (Maybe D&D players might recognize them, but I doubt it)
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In #74, these creatures’ “special quality” for cushioning falls is discovered and used twice…
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They show up again at the right place at the right time (just not for them) in #120, the final chapter in the first OOTS book. After that, they made two cameo appearances in #174 and #271, and show up for an unrelated punchline in #210 in which they encounter a different duo of strange monsters (an encounter that I thought would result in them getting eaten, but there they were later, still complaining about the OOTS). Soon after their last appearance, the monsters miss another chance to cushion someone’s fall as Belkar takes advantage of a giant, fortuitously placed bowl of soup. But then in #346, one of these hapless whatever-they-ares once more comes ‘in contact’ with one of our central characters and it does kind of appear to be its last (It is talking about ‘heading toward the light’).

But the falling keeps on happening. First, Miko the Misguided Paladin, crashes to the ground, uncushioned by anything (and ends up cushioning her horse’s fall). Elan and Thog are thrown off a flying boat (their landing is not shown). And twenty strips before Roy’s fatal plunge, the androgynous wizard Vaarsuvius has to invoke the “feather fall”.

I guess it is the prerogative of the webcomic artist to decide when and where for a running joke to run free, but it can be frustrating sometimes waiting to see if it’s going to land on its feet or its head. I have no idea what that means. But I just like those low-budget spaghetti monsters and wish they’d show up amongst the Sticks more often.