Wednesday, June 4, 2014


Among science fiction webcomics, it's hard to find much "hard" SciFi content, and really it does make sense. Comics after all excel at whimsical instant gratification and not lengthy exposition (though the wordier ones tend to be more interesting.) Freefall is sort of an odd duck in this respect, its almost constant goofiness and short format belying some very thoughtful commentary on the development of intellect. It's a counterpoint to the common academic concern that our modern snippet-obsessed, 140-character culture has lost the ability to convey complex information.

Unfortunately it did sort of take a decade and a half for those three panels a day to add up to one multifaceted story. It also cannot compete with "artsier" comics visually, as it has remained a very basic newspaper-style strip throughout its duration.

Though it may sound shallow of me to say so, Freefall's most unique and endearing quality is probably its format. Three panels every odd weekday since 1998. No reboots, no retconning. No ads. No babies out of the blue to boost ratings. (I'd say "no amnesia" either, but there's actually been quite a bit of it - at least it was anterograde.) No crossovers. No pushy donation "incentives" aside from good work. Just a story about artificial intelligence, interspecies relations and a hint of transhumanism, calmly, gradually unfolding in its own little corner of the web. You've heard of internet phenomena? Well, Freefall is an internet noumenon. To thine own strip be true.

And though it obviously has an over-riding narrative nearing its grand finale (in another few years or so) its pacing has remained as low-key as its format. While I generally prefer my storytelling to build in dramatic crescendo to a thundering finale, Freefall's unbroken stride undeniably works for its purposes. From old-timey Benny Hill or silent movie inspired pie fights and chase sequences to very gradual character development to, how did the author put it... "altering social structures on a planetary scale" it rolls things along one punchline at a time, resisting the temptation to escalate.

As a last, somewhat personal note and coincidentally a taste of the strip, it bears mentioning that Freefall's expansive cast of minor characters created to fit a punchline or as plot devices are more interesting in themselves than central characters in other comics. From a romantically open-minded parasitologist to a bureaucratic suck-up plagued by an inconvenient trace of a conscience to a stoically genocidal old robot to a tragic villain illustrating the old rule that there are no first-person villains, there's apparently something for everyone. Even me.
I'm always fascinated by the notion that I'm a "type" easily portrayed by fictional characters. Dr. House or Sheldon Cooper, just off the top of my head, have frequently echoed my own lines almost verbatim. And as I get more fed up with the world's stupidity, sick and tried of trying to converse intelligently with a species incapable of understanding anything but the crassest insults and simplest delineations, there's one minor Freefall character echoing my sentiments. Then again, I was also quite sympathetic to Marvin the Paranoid Android, but I digress.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Edge the robocidal robot. Soldier on, my green steel lupine brother.

No comments:

Post a Comment