Mea culpa. I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, it's been too long since Part 1 of my binge-read through Andrew Hussie's juggernaut webcomic-cum-multimedia-phenomenon Homestuck. My early cockiness was ill-founded. This is a long-ass webcomic that demands enormous dedication, which may explain why it attracts hardcore fans: cosplayers, shippers, epic fanfic authors and fanartists, and probably otherkin. There have to be people who believe they're literally Homestuck characters, right? I'm disappointed with the Internet if this isn't a thing.
This installment covers Act Five, which is at least as long as Acts One-Four put together and is in turn dwarfed by the even more massive Act Six. This is Zeno's Webcomic: I've reached the halfway point several times now, only to find just as long a stretch still looming before me. It defies Aristotelian logic, but so do most webcomics.
Let us continue the ascent:
ACT FIVE, PART ONE
Sometimes characters die, and I don’t know if I should feel sad or if it’s part of an alternate future, or a dream, or if they have extra lives, or what. I’m not sure what emotions to be having, is all.
Another wall-of-text plot recap, which is good because I’ve lost the thread again.
Actual paragraph: “Harley was locked onto by the frog temple's equipment. DD activated the device, and produced a paradox clone of Harley combined with the controversial MEOW code to create puppy Bec. The spectacle terrified AR?, leaving a major impression on him. He would recognize Bec's silhouette carved on WV's pumpkin years later. The pumpkin commanded his fear, and caused him to surrender.” Shit, this makes less sense than manga.
The question mark after the “AR” in the above is the shorthand Hussie uses to indicate we’re dealing with the character in a different time period. I don’t remember if this was ever explained, or if I had to learn it off a wiki. That’s how you get diseases.
Act Five gives us the backstory of the trolls, who, we learn, destroyed their planet playing Sburb. “Their adventures are going to be quite extensive and convoluted,” says the narration, “to an even greater degree than one perhaps may be accustomed.” Don’t even joke about that, Homestuck.
Trolls have demonic versions of human pop culture, and Troll Will Smith got his start on The Thresh Prince of Bel Air. That’s pretty good.
Troll computers are made from beehives and run on beenary code. It probably doesn’t speak well of me that what I enjoy most in Homestuck are the puns.
The introduction of the trolls deliberately mirrors the introduction of the human protagonists back at the very beginning, except that there are twelve trolls so it will be three times as long. Also all their interests are weird slimy evil versions of human interests, like jousting.
When Homestuck was serializing, it went through several major hiatuses. Hiati? Presumably fans pounced on each long-awaited installment and read all the new character chatlogs, no matter how long, instead of chuckling at a couple of lines before impatiently scrolling down as I’m doing now. I’m not in the right frame of mind to read 700 words of alien trolls dissing each other in L33Tspeak. That such a frame exists is faintly shocking.
The trolls are developing into fun characters; it feels like Hussie is rewriting the early chapters of Homestuck to incorporate everything he’s learned about characterization and storytelling since then. That said, the fact that there are twelve of them, all similar-looking due to the limitations of the simple sprite art, makes their adventures hard to follow even when the comic isn’t being deliberately obtuse.
In an essay for the manga Kingyo Used Books, manga store owner Hiroshi Hashimoto speculated that the massive success of Sailor Moon was due to its large central cast.
“Up until then,” he wrote, “it was customary to have no more than five main characters in an action manga, as seen in the Super Sentai series Goranger. By increasing that number to ten, (Naoko) Takeuchi gave every reader at least one character with whom to closely identify.” Homestuck is building on the same strategy. Between four humans, twelve trolls, and miscellaneous side characters, you’ve got to identify with somebody.
I was the English-language editor for Kingyo Used Books, in case you’re wondering how anyone remembers the bonus essays in an out-of-print manga about book collecting.
The trolls have intense friendships and frenmities. I can see why this fandom gets into industrial-grade shipping.
Hussie must be chafing at the limitations of always drawing his characters as super-deformed sprite figures, like Link in The Legend of Zelda. From time to time he now draws them lanky and adult-proportioned, like Link in Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I just learned from the Internet that I’m the only person who liked that game.
Oh my god, the trolls are so shippy they even ship each other. In fan comics. That they draw themselves.
Now there’s a chart to explain the cultural and evolutionary theories behind troll shipping.
There’s a lot of engaging character writing and relationship drama, but I’m having so much trouble keeping twelve friggin’ trolls straight. Which is the one who allied himself with Jack Noir? Who ate the mind honey? Which ones are dead right now? I can consistently recognize the two aquatic ones, the catgirl, and the one in the wheelchair with the Peter Pan fixation, and then I start getting confused. And this comic is walking on thin ice by introducing a catgirl.
I spent several pages trying to figure out which troll I was looking at this time before realizing it was supposed to be cartoon Andrew Hussie in a troll costume. Dammit, Homestuck.
Cartoon Hussie is leveling dark threats: “I could snap my gray smudgy fingers RIGHT NOW, and make you read all the troll romance exposition segments all over again, BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK TO BACK.” This is terrorism.
The Land of Little Cubes and Tea is my favorite land name.
We haven’t had a big animated cutscene in a while, and now we get an epic one, full of battles and badassery.
Unfortunately, I’ve lost the plot thread again and have no idea why anyone is doing anything.
ACT FIVE, PART TWO
Exposition! We learn that our universe was created by the trolls during their playthrough of Sburb. They were supposed to rule like gods, but luckily they screwed up in some unclear way, probably while they were all bickering and cutting each others’ arms off. Stupid pissy trolls.
Hey, the human kids are back! And they all took a level up in badass!
Everybody has variant outfits like Star Wars action figures.
The comic suddenly remembers that John used to be followed around by a sprite in the shape of his grandma’s ghost.
Now she’s back after about ten thousand pages.
Hussie is switching up the art like a madman. In addition to the two previously established modes, characters sometimes appear in semi-realistic hand-drawn art, and as tiny super-pixilated figures in the style of the original Final Fantasy.
There doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes you get trying of drawing a way, I guess.
I’m flying past a lot of material here because there isn’t much going on, story-wise. The humans and trolls stop being deliberately obnoxious to each other and start getting real, which means now they spend most of their time either making maddeningly oblique comments or kinda sorta flirting. OMG the shipping.
Jade calls the trolls on their distracting l33tspeek: “sorry but could you please not use all those stupid parentheses????? i can hardly read what you type and its giving me a migraine.” Even though her texting style is only marginally more tolerable, she speaks for me.
This is the kind of comic where characters react to being killed by posting this emoticon: XC
XC: The emoticon of being sad that you died.
Jade is kind of the greatest character, if only because of the decreasing patience she has for her universe and fellow characters and all the other bullshit of Homestuck.
It’s unfortunate that Hussie chose Bill Cosby as one of the ironic celebrity images to copy and paste into the comic, Bloom County-style, over and over. But in 2010, who knew that was going to be an issue?
Holy shit, am I still in 2010?
Aw, there’s a minigame where you walk John around a salamander village while a soundtrack that sounds like a Donkey Kong Country water level plays. It’s soothing.
Update: Some people have died, sort of.
It’s treated as tragic even though everybody has various types of backup lives, which mitigates the impact significantly in my mind.
After all this time, I still haven’t been able to work up much interest in the post-apocalyptic characters and their queen and the whole parallel adventure they have going on. When the action switches to them I tend to space out, and as a result I have even less idea what’s going on with them than with the other two casts of characters.
There are a lot of characters, is what I’m saying.
Now the trolls are going crazy and spree-murdering each other, and it’s very exciting but I’m not sure why it’s happening. I’d go on a murder spree if I was stuck in an asteroid having endless IRC conversations with these characters, so it makes sense to me on an emotional level, but I missed the story reason.
I really like the old-timey phonograph soundtrack embedded in one installment, especially the peppy song “I’m a Member of the Midnight Crew.”
On the other hand, while I was clicking through one of the convoluted multi-stage battle scenes, my husband happened to turn on 1960s Batman fight music, which worked even better.
If you can figure out the passwords, you have the option of diverting from the main storyline at several points to see how things work out in alternate timelines. I did this once or twice and now I can’t remember what the status quo is in any version of Homestuck reality, so I’ve kind of given up on that.
I’m going through a series of pages with multiple clickable embedded images, each leading to a different set of characters so we can see what everyone is up to right now. Or in the past. Or the future. Or the afterlife, or alternate universes. Or screw this story, let’s go learn about some troll ancestors from the distant past and their heretical religion that hasn’t been mentioned before but is possibly important, or not. It’s like Homestuck itself no longer exists and I’m just getting piles of overly invested Homestuck fanfiction.
Big animated sequence, like ten minutes long. The kids scratch a giant record to alter reality. Some of the characters get resurrected to godhood, which mostly means wearing a hoodie and being able to fly. Fights happen. Noir kills a bunch of dudes. Everybody gets to be drawn as lanky anime-style characters with heretofore unseen detail. END OF ACT FIVE.
(Hussie is getting really good at this type of limited animation, BTW.)
Holy crap, is it really the end of Act Fice? This may not be clear because I’ve been skipping over a lot, but Act Five is roughly three billion pages long and I’ve been reading it since the dawn of time.
I can no longer remember an existence in which I was not reading Homestuck.
Onward to Act Six…