(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized rebirth.)
Despite what some forumites have thought, I never believed Belkar’s little encounter with Malack was in any way leading to the former’s death; it seemed like it would be too anticlimactic for me. The sequence itself hasn’t been particularly well-done; I feel like Rich has been a bit rusty since his return from thumb-injury-forced break (the first strip back from it was at least the second time in recent memory OOTS‘ penchant for metahumor worked against it), and while I’m normally willing to put up with Rich’s nonexistent update schedule these comics have been too mediocre for me to put up with just one or two a week. Belkar’s vow in the previous comic seemed overwrought and irrelevant, and Malack’s realization in this one similarly seems to come from out of nowhere (even if it might be a reference to a previous comic I’ve forgotten).
I think most people felt – certainly I did – that whenever it happened, Belkar’s death would be the climax of a thread of character development stretching back throughout the book and ultimately reaching back to his conversation with Lord Shojo. But while Belkar has gone through some character development, it hasn’t been much more than what’s described in that post, and that may have been intentional; after all, having “something to fight for” may have only had the effect of changing the nature of Belkar’s assholery. As such, I think I wouldn’t have had as much of a problem with this sequence if Malack had actually been a threat to Mr. Scruffy, yet it seems like it’s a big part of the point of the sequence, and of Malack’s character, that he doesn’t really have a beef with Mr. Scruffy or Belkar. If anything, this is more a result of Belkar being too quick to jump into a fight he can’t win, especially when neither of them really has a reason to fight the other.
I also continue my exasperation regarding Rich’s penchant for confirming wild forum theories, and the notion that Belkar would become some sort of undead was the ultimate wild forum theory, one that was extant in various forms as far back as the oracle’s “last breath” prophecy. Yet here we are, and I’ll admit it will be interesting to see whether Belkar becomes a full-on servant of Malack’s, or will remain free-willed enough, and retain enough of his previous personality, to continue adventuring with the OOTS in undead form. (Given Malack’s thought process in the previous comic, it may well be both, at least in the short term.)
Of course, if Belkar does continue adventuring with the OOTS, we do still have one more death prophecy to potentially permanently reduce the OOTS’ numbers…