(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized loyalty roulette.)
Remember my Gunnerkrigg Court review, when I mentioned my inability to handle intensely dramatic scenes? Well, The Order of the Stick triggered it twice a few months back.
The first came when Belkar delivered the news of Durkon’s death to the rest of the group and Roy, to put it lightly, did not take it well. I was all set to write a lengthy post examining how Roy’s extreme denial, to the point of threatening to kill Belkar himself, was incomprehensible to those who hadn’t seen the deeper context to Roy and Durkon’s relationship in On the Origin of PCs… but I couldn’t bring myself to reread the comic, certainly not the sort of close, in-depth reading required to write a post, when I had already only skimmed it on first reading to avoid having to go through the intense emotional swings that were the very reason I felt the need to post. I could have just as easily posted on the following comic, where Roy is just about ready to give up on the entire quest before Belkar of all people snaps him out of it, but it also didn’t help with the emotional torque problem.
Then as the Order are walking down a corridor, they happen to bump into Xykon and company and engage in a battle involving the anti-climactic death of Belkar and Roy using his anti-magic-user trick he learned from his grandfather in the last book to ultimately put away Xykon… just in time for it to be revealed to all be an illusion caused by one of Girard’s traps. By itself, I could handle this, though it’s another painful strip to re-read… but the illusion keeps going, showing all sorts of events happening in the aftermath of the story, all of which only served to convince me that none of it would actually happen by virtue of its depiction in the illusion, all the way to the anti-magic-user trick I was convinced Roy would never get to use for real, and which left me and many of the fans wondering just how long the Order was standing there, struck dumb by the illusion. When it got to the point of a comic depicting the reunion and re-marriage of Tarquin and Elan’s mother, I didn’t even bother to zoom in to the strip on my iPhone. And I hadn’t read a single comic since.
Before starting work on this post, I would have figured the wedding being depicted was that of Elan and Haley, because that would have made sense (Malack’s presiding over the proceedings notwithstanding). As it turned out, the rather unconventional choice, which solely reflected Elan’s own wild fantasies, had a method to the madness, as Elan became tipped off to the nature of the illusion by the fact that his own self-admitted “childish ideas that should never have happened” still ended up happening. This by itself could have inspired another post about Elan’s own self-awareness and whether or not it might serve as the catalyst for further character growth, but I never would have been able to write that post either; fortunately, Robert A. “Tangents” Howard did (though I personally think it’s just as easy to see this as yet another point towards Elan’s Mary-Sue-dom).
(I also might have had plenty to say about Belkar’s own fantasy, but that’s another story.)
So what else did I miss? Well, the Linear Guild shows up again only to discover Girard left a Mario reference behind, but the OOTS doesn’t over-rely on spells to determine the situation and uncovers how it really hid the gate – which prompts Roy to unveil his plan to destroy it, on purpose this time. Vaarsuvius, having now travelled to directly underneath them, attempts to warn them not to do it – but it’s at that moment that the IFCC call in their little “favor”, bringing us to another point I might have posted on. Despite much speculation that the fiends would use it to control V for their own ends, they don’t really need to; all they really need is to stop him/her from warning the rest of the group.
So yeah, just like that, Girard’s Gate is destroyed just after Xykon and company arrive, the other four members of the OOTS get their look inside the rift, and we finally get to what it is that did prompt me to post: a look at the ongoing internal dynamics within Team Evil. Redcloak and Xykon are all set to begin Round 3 with the OOTS when the Monster in the Dark intervenes, not wanting them to attack a group he recognizes as allied with O-Chul. I don’t believe I’ve said anything about the MitD’s character development in the last two books, even though, as this comic proves, it has as much to do with the future direction of Team Evil as anything involving the relationship between Redcloak and Xykon themselves. The MitD has always tended to come off as more amoral than evil, and I wouldn’t say O-Chul’s influence has exactly turned him good, but it has given him a connection and loyalty to someone outside Team Evil, a connection and loyalty with the potential, and in fact the actuality, to clash with his loyalties to Xykon and Redcloak.
Despite stumbling to come up with a good justification why they shouldn’t attack the Order, the MitD actually manages to convince Xykon that O-Chul is the real hero of the story, and that the Order’s presence without O-Chul is a sign that this is just a diversion to weaken the team, despite the fact they just blew up the gate right in front of them. It’s apparent that Xykon’s willingness to listen to the MitD is influenced by how pissed off he is at what happened when he stayed at Azure City so long, and his willingness to listen to Redcloak’s more sensible thinking is compromised by his role in that and ulterior motives for taking that role. Whereas before Rich used that relationship to keep them in Azure City as long as possible, now he’s using it for the opposite effect, getting them to the next gate as quickly as possible. Although Redcloak’s increasing spine-growth isn’t directly a factor here, one wonders if Xykon’s own increasing resistance to Redcloak’s advice, even his good advice, may provide fuel to that growth and accelerate any eventual breakup of Team Evil, regardless of who triggers it. In any case, Redcloak does manage to leave one last parting shot, summoning a sand monster to take out the OOTS in their absence.
Some of the recent strips have given me an impression of Rich trying too hard to accelerate the end of the book, which has lasted well over two hundred comics (the last book was the longest to that point at 168, this book is already over 225) and close to four years, meaning we’ve spent as long in real time in this book as we had in the previous two and a half books (admittedly not helped by the Kickstarter and Rich’s thumb injury), slowed down immensely by just how much of the 700s we spent in the Empire of Blood, but even in the 800s it seemed like Rich was too eager to take his time to get everyone set up at Girard’s Gate for a confrontation that basically amounted to nothing, a brief clash between the Linear Guild and OOTS notwithstanding. Regardless, we appear to finally be reaching the end of this book and setting up the pieces for the next one… which may well be the last one, if Team Evil are already zipping off to Kraagor’s Gate.