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Diana Goes Digital #600: The Water’s Rising But I Know The Course

Brian Hibbs

Are you still trying to figure out how a man who once tried to sacrifice his nemesis to Magical Goblin People now seems to control the American government? Have you been stunned speechless at the sight of Bat-Signal Jazz Hands? Do you have the distinct impression that this is your daddy’s Flash?

If the answer to any of the above is “YES MY GOD MAKE THE HURTING STOP”, then you probably understand my current near-total apathy towards mainstream comics. And that’s really why I haven’t been as active here as I should be: every week I take home a bunch of comics, and I read them, and I find myself with absolutely nothing to say. We’ve even passed the point where creative failures are interesting enough to merit discussion: I had a lot to say about CIVIL WAR #7 despite it being one of the worst comics Marvel published that year, but Wolverine’s Sword of Otaku? What-ever.

And so we return to the Webcomic Review! I let this project lapse a while back on account of Too Much Damn Work To Do, but in the words of Mark Hammill: “I’m tanned, I’m rested and I’m ready to give this town a wedgie again!”

Let’s start with SKIN HORSE, the latest from webcomic mastermind Shaenon Garrity. Some of you may recall my high praise of Garrity’s previous series, NARBONIC – one of the best webcomics I’ve had the pleasure of reading – and I’m glad to say that SKIN HORSE retains a lot of those strengths without feeling like a rehash.

As with NARBONIC, SKIN HORSE derives its humor from its delightfully madcap premise: the title refers to a government task force that deals with “nonhuman sapients”, such as human/lion hybrids and opera-singing silverfish. The team consists of Sweetheart (a genetically-engineered canine), Unity (a zombie) and Tip (a crossdressing heterosexual therapist), and they constantly find themselves having to quell an uprising of Canadian werewolves or to placate a sentient attack helicopter addicted to “World of Warcraft”.

It might take a while to warm up to the characters, because Garrity has avoided using the archetype of the “straight man” as a way of easing us into this world; even Tip, arguably the most grounded member of the cast, has his quirks and isn’t at all phased by the rampant weirdness. But once you jump that hurdle, I defy you to not be amused by Sweetheart’s penchant for goblin erotica or the misadventures at the Department of Irradiation.

The series has been running since January 2008, but every storyline so far has been self-contained (unlike the “Uber-Arc” that ran throughout NARBONIC). Obviously, this strategy has pros and cons: on the one hand, every arc is theoretically accessible on its own, so if you’re pressed for time you could just start with the currently-in-progress Dead Dogs and fill in the backstory at your convenience. On the other hand, my #1 favorite moment of NARBONIC was that exact moment where all the pieces started fitting together, where Garrity’s long-term plan was finally revealed. Now, it might be too early in the series’ run to completely dismiss the possibility of a “bigger picture”, but so far there haven’t been many plot elements carried over from one storyline to the next.

Still, those are minor quibbles given the consistency of Garrity’s artwork and her fourth-panel punchlines. A lot of craft goes into this comic – check the filenames of each strip and you’ll find the Secret Origin of Tip Wilkins – and that’s no small feat given its daily format (story strips are posted Monday through Saturday, with Sundays set aside for sketches and fan-art). An EXCELLENT series with plenty of potential to get even better over time.

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