However! Today is kind of special, because we have not one, but TWO guest reviews! One is in favor of today's strip and one is against it, so you get both sides of the story. We're nothing if not objective here, folks. I'll start with the positive review, move onto the negative one, then post my own thoughts afterwards. Enjoy!
Title: Caroling; alt-text: For a thousand generations we vowed never to forget how his soldiers feasted on our brother Stephen.
Comic 959: Does Randall Read This Blog?
I like this comic. I mean, it's by no means perfect, but hell, I'll take it.
The setup is simple: Some kids are singing Christams carols (presumably on Mr. Hat's doorstep; I'll get to this later), and Mr. Hat stops them with a cruel remark. And it works. This is exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned the "show, don't tell" rule in my last review: Don't have Mr. Hat talk about how he's being a dick, SHOW him being a dick.
The strip avoids the usual pitfalls: It's short, to the point, has no post-punchline-dialogue and even makes effective use of a beat panel. I could argue a case of bad history (King Wenceslas didn't actually massacre anybody), but since this is Mr. Hat ruining a carol for a bunch of kids, it can be written off as a creative lie.
The art is also passable. The kids apparently exist in a featureless void (seriously, some background would be nice), but as Randall has proven multiple times now, he's good at shading. I, for one, would like to see that in more strips.
The alt-text... Well, I'm not really sure what to say about it. It doesn't really do much more than broaden the strip's punchline, but to be honest, it DID get a chuckle out of me. Maybe you people will have more to say about it.
In view of my last review, it seems to me that Randall does indeed read the blog and is willing to learn from our criticism. Maybe I'm wrong and this is just a coincidence, but if not, well... More power to you, Randall. Cheers.
Comic 959: Winter in Coming
When I woke up this morning I brewed myself a cup of coffee and headed down to the computer in the basement that is good for little else then to browse web comics and blogs and loaded up xkcd-sucks because I hoped Gamer2K4 would have posted a "Sucks Less" for last week. Because there was none, I skipped over to xkcd itself to see how much it sucked.
The short answer was "a lot" and so I left for the bus doubly disappointed.
On that trip I briefly entertained resentment to Gamer2k4 for not having posted a "Sucks Less" despite me having submitted numerous options for him to choose from. Then I thought to myself, "Perhaps he is busy. I could be proactive and send in a guest review and then he would have time to post my amazing 'Sucks Less' entries." I tend to be long winded so, to this point, I have typically refrained from doing so but... this comic was particularly ripe for criticism.
To begin: Randall is making a joke about a Christmas carol on the first weekday of October which makes me think that he has had this joke in his mind for quite some time and thought that it was now close enough to Christmas to post it. Sadly, this indicates that, in his mind, this joke was so astonishingly funny that he could not wait a minute longer to share it.
Next: It is not even funny to begin with. This "joke" is very similar to how, when people make jokes about person's parents and then the person says, "My father is dead." to ruin the joke. This is not humour, this is buzz-kill.
Also: While I feel like Mr. Hat (who I like to call Black Hat Guy [or BHG for short]) is being a dick who doesn't care about social mores for personal gain... he is again doing so in a way that feels (as mentioned in the 958 blog) to fall short of his character.
Finally: The alt-text IS the joke... it took me a coffee and a half to wake up enough to get it but, given that it is likely the only enjoyment you will garner from the comic I will leave puzzling out the terrible pun as an exercise for the class (which is elitist intellectual for "let you figure it out for yourself").
While the pacing is well done, the comic shows instead of tells and the expressive use of the traditionally minimalist style is put to good use... the lack of "funny", post punchline pun and "not quite right" use of BHG causes the whole experience to fall flat.
In short, xkcd 959 sucks because it is disappointing.
And now for my own thoughts. First of all, thanks to both T-Jack and SinbadEV for their efforts. As I say in the blog header, this comic wasn't supposed to be a one-man effort, and if we can get the community involved (the REAL community, not the 4chan wannabe cesspool in the xkcdsucks comments that Rob and Raven call the community), so much the better.
Secondly, I have my own opinion on this strip. It sucks. A lot.
The two aspects of the comic - the context and the joke - are both out of place. We JUST hit October; it's not even close to the right time of year to be posting Christmas comics. But the joke somehow manages to be worse than that! T-Jack is right (to some degree) that this is technically showing, not telling, but it's "showing" a conversation in progress. As in, it's doing the same thing the "stud finder finder" strip was. And THAT'S where Mr. Hat always falls flat.
The strip itself is ridiculously forced. I imagine Randall read something about the "Feast of Stephen," thought, "ha ha wouldn't it be funny if it was actually about eating a guy named stephen," and extrapolated that to "oh man what if that made wenceslas a mass murderer." KOMEDY GOLD, right? I know! But how would he get that across to his adoring fans? How could he make yet another of his "what if instead of this, that" strips? That's right: by putting those words in the mouth of Mr. Hat and making the strip about caroling.
That's why this feels so out of place, and that's why today's strip is so terrible. Randall's no stranger to writing jokes that require stupid, contrived setups, but here he goes so far as take someone who is canonically a saint and by all accounts was a great person, and portrays him as a mass murderer for the sake of a joke. Yes, I know. Mr. Hat is LYING. That's what he does. But still, without the alt-text to make the joke (as SinbadEV alluded to), this just comes off as lying for the sake of lying. Imagine this comic as follows: In the first panel, people are waving "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS" signs. In the second, Mr. Hat says, "Marines eat babies." In the third panel, the sign holders are kind of standing there, stunned.
IT'S THE EXACT SAME COMIC. And it's just not funny.