(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized family reunion.)
If you only follow my webcomics posts, you may not know why there have been, well, none of them recently, which is that I’ve developed more of an emphasis on schoolwork recently. And between that and my football posts, I stopped reading OOTS for a while as well over the last few months.
So I missed this.
For all that it’s a revelation of Tarquin’s full Machiavellian plots (Haley was right about the Empress of Blood after all!) in a way not even Elan can ignore and that not even the people who had anticipated something like this could have expected, I would have made a post on it solely because of the penultimate panel, where Tarquin names among the former names of his empires the place we already knew was holding Haley’s father, which we had thought entirely dead and I had thought had been definitively shown not to have had anything to do with Elan’s father. A theory that had been treated as almost canon by the forums, then near-definitively squashed, swung all the way to very nearly confirmed in a single strip, even a single panel, even a single line, even a single word.
With how slow the early part of this book had been going, this might well be far and away the best, most exciting strip of the entire book to this point, and only the original revelation of Tarquin’s identity even comes close.
So as Elan slowly realizes that Haley was right about his father all along, he confronts Tarquin, they duel for a while, and after Tarquin gains the upper hand he reveals that he still plans to help Elan (who, the above-linked strip reveals, he believes to be the leader of his adventuring party). When they resume the conversation, it’s almost entirely about story structure, the sort of conversation you would expect of two people who spend too much time at TV Tropes, and is to the effect that Tarquin is entirely comfortable with his role as the bloodthirsty tyrant doomed to be overthrown by what he now realizes is his own son. I nominate this for the best, most mind-blowingly awesome fourth-wall-bending moment OOTS has ever had, maybe in the history of fourth-wall-bending. A fourth-wall-bending moment is critically important to the plot precisely because of its fourth-wall-bending.
This strip is critically important to the plot not only for its insights into Tarquin’s character, but because of the oracle’s prediction for Elan. Prior to this strip, it might have seemed that the only possible interpretation of that prediction would have had to do with the ending of the strip as a whole, and for all the twists (“Elan dies, or ‘ends’, happy”) and turns that the forum applied to that prediction, it was always in that context, and any speculation about it was somewhat muted as a result, certainly compared to V’s “four words” or Belkar’s death. While Elan did ask “Will this story have a happy ending?”, this strip still suggests an alternate interpretation: that the story of Elan’s overthrow of Tarquin would have a happy ending, and so Elan would get a happy ending that wasn’t necessarily connected to the main plot of OOTS. Which really doesn’t bode well for that main plot.
Haley puts the kibosh on directly confronting Tarquin now, citing the unlikelihood of putting him away for good, and instead runs to free her father, which is how we get to the current strip: Haley rushing into the block where Ian is held, talking with Roy and Belkar, and practically gang-tacking him. It gets only a couple of panels and hardly compares to Tarquin’s Empire Strikes Back moment, but it still manages to capture the emotion of the occasion. I expect the next strip to go all-out with the emotion, but this is a momentous enough occasion in its own right to make up for the previous missed milestones.
OOTS has officially picked up at this point. Tarquin’s unmasking got it going, and the past dozen or so strips have ratcheted up the tension considerably, despite a good number of them just being Elan and Tarquin talking. And the best part is, I caught up in time for it to just be getting started. I’m intensely interested in the next two strips and where they could be going. When I left, the strip was starting to bog down again, but for the first time in quite some time (since at least V’s turn to evil, possibly since the Battle of Azure City) OOTS feels like the strip I signed up for.