Wednesday Webcomic: The Order of the Stick

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Debuting in 2003 as a way for  Rich Burlew to drive traffic to his RPG resources site Giant in the Playground Games,  The Order of the Stick is one of the longest continuously running comics on the web, clocking in at issue #1151 as of this writing. What started as an excuse to crack wise about RPG and fantasy tropes has grown since then into a small publishing empire churning out comics, graphic novels, card and board games and even calendars and X-mas ornaments. Thanks to his plucky stick figure band of heroes, Rich has grabbed the brass ring that every gamer has reached for since Gary Gygax drafted his friends to help him staple together and ship the first D&D box sets off into the world, to make a life from his passion.

The story follows the eponymous adventurers, gathered together by Roy Greenhilt the Fighter, as they travel the land on a quest to fulfill the blood oath Roy’s father had failed to complete before his demise, to destroy the Lich Xykon before the undead wizard completes his quest to unlock the reality destroying Snarl and wreak havoc across the universe. They were also a regular feature in the late lamented Dragon Magazine, where they poked fun at the hobby with wit and flair. Those stories were collected in Snips, Snails and Dragon Tales, along with tons of new material. The final Dragon Magazine strip is a love letter to the legendary publication.

Far from being just a series of puns and gamer inside jokes, Order of the Stick has addressed a surprising series of interesting issues. Durkon Thundershield, loyal cleric of Thor has to deal with prejudiced humans and the moral failings of himself and his comrades. Haley Starshine has a secret mission to rescue her father that she has to weigh against the greed that makes her a good thief. The casually homicidal halfling ranger Belkar Bitterleaf learns that there are consequences to his actions he hadn’t imagined and the high elven wizard Varsuvious discovers that power is not always worth the price. Elan the Bard invents a religion all his own.

It’s worth starting at the beginning. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Tuesday TV: Star Trek: Discovery

As we discussed last week, there have never been two new shows so intricately linked at their debut as Fox’s The Orville and the tentpole for CBS’s All Access streaming service Star Trek: Discovery. Both Seth McFarlane’s light comedy homage to The Next Generation and Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman’s gritty action packed prequel saga are aimed at the same set of viewers, while at the same time diverging enough from the source material to upset and divide that fanbase. As Disney has discovered as they add to the Star Wars saga, fans can be unreasonably possessive of the franchises they love. To be seen as ripping off or mocking a show, as The Orville has been accused, or betraying the spirit or messing with canon as ST:Discovery seems to be doing is tantamount to treason.

While I love to talk about this stuff, the vicious nerd-fights over which of these shows is the real “Trek” is boring. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading Star Trek novels for decades, a space that has never been considered “canon.” But I’m simply not terribly upset by a Star Trek that tells the Federation story from a different angle. It’s the same response I have to folks shitting on the perfectly fine summer action films of the now apparently doomed “Kelvin-verse” movie franchise.

One controversy that I do understand is Discovery’s price tag. As the number of streaming services multiplies and the cost savings from “cord cutting” evaporate, Discovery needed to be realllllly good to justify the buy in. As Game of Thrones proved for HBO, even if a lot of folks are sharing that login, a great show can make up it’s cost and then some with this model. On the other hand it can really grate on a fanbase used to seeing Trek on broadcast TV. TNG veteran Marina Sirtis (Counsellor Deanna Troy,) revealed at a con panel this fall that she hasn’t watched the show…

“I have never watched it,” Sirtis said (via Trek Movie). “I am going to explain why I don’t watch Discovery before they all hate me. We were on the best Star Trek show. If CBS thinks I am going to pay to watch Star Trek, they are demented. I will wait until I go to England and watch it on Netflix, which I pay for anyway.”

Marinna Sirtis, who isn’t paying for this shit

So I’m well aware that a lot of folks may have not watched it yet, so I’m gonna try and be as spoiler free with my review/preview as I can manage. Set ten years before the original five year mission of the Enterprise, the main character of Discovery is Sonequa Martin-Green as  Michael Burnham. She was orphaned by a Klingon attack on Doctari Alpha, raised by Sarek and Amanda Grayson on Vulcan (one of the continuity issues that some geeks are upset about,) and booted out of Starfleet in disgrace after the events of the two part pilot episode that ended with her captain and mentor,  Philippa Georgiou (played perfectly byMichelle Yeoh) dead and the Federation and the Klingon Empire at war.

Micheal is given a second chance when the experimental starship the USS: Discovery rescues her from her exploding prison transport. Captain  Gabriel Lorca, played with gusto by Jason Isaacs, takes her under his wing… kind of. The rest of the cast is also excellent, Mary Wiseman is delightful as Sylvia Tilly, Micheals roommate and an earnest cadet with her eye on the command track. Doug Jones plays  Saru, Discovery’s first officer and Micheals former friend. A Kelpian, a species that was originally bred as prey for another species, Saru provides a unique and alien perspective. Wilson Cruz is Doctor Hugh Culber,  the partner of Engineer Paul Stamets, played by Anthony Rapp (who has made some non-Trek related news recently, and is also excellent at Twitter.) The two became the first openly gay Star Trek characters on TV.

As opposed to The Orville, which is designed much more like the original “planet of the week” format of old school Star Trek, Discovery is serialized rather than episodic. The show follows the crew and Micheal as they attempt to perfect the ship’s strange drive mechanism in order to win the war with the Klingons. There’s a lot more action than any previous iteration of Trek, and the special effects are movie theatre quality. Once again no spoilers, but by the end of the season there have been some seriously fun hijinks, some incredible drama and some awesome sci fi.

I loved it. Like anything Trek I can quibble. I have never been a fan of turning the inscrutable and cruel original series Klingons into the bat’leth swinging warrior race with bad teeth of TNG. And Discovery’s Klingon’s are even more like Space Orcs than Worf and friends. A lot of fans are disappointed in the focus on warfare, but I for one was happy to see the first war between Federation and Klingons hashed out.

Thursday promises another great season, as we’ll get to know Kirk’s predecessor in the captian’s chair of the Enterprise, Christopher Pike, meet Micheals adopted brother Spock, and solve an all new galaxy spanning mystery. I cannot wait.