It’s a new day, a new month, and a new year full of webcomics and way too little Gold Star Labris! Damn, I really wanted to get wasted for this, it helps me read stories about magic, especially when they involve magic schools like in Aetherwar by C.W. Vong. I am a scientist, I need to be drunk for suspension of disbelief to work at least a bit! What the hell is magic, anyway, if not bullshit or something that science hasn’t explained, yet? You tell me. I just took a sip of water and threw the glass against the wall in desperation. So, grrrr, this is going to be a…
That is, it will proceed orderly, just like soldiers marching to the rhythm yelled by their commander. Or an app, following an algorithm as you swipe your fingers on your phone to leave a sarcastic comment on Facebook about your friend’s latest selfie, as he smirks like an idiot for the millionth time. Good for you, by the way. So, here’s the order: general impression, the author’s blurb about the comic and my comment on it, story, characters, and then plot, dialog, pacing and conclusions. Warning: I won’t water it down!
Nicely packaged in professional-looking art, the comic moves into dangerous copyright territory with some unrealistic quirks. Still, this is a nice story with a young female protagonist who seems dense, but also independent and goodhearted. Her little sister, full of down-to-earth questions, shows more potential than the main character.
Author’s description of the comic
Harry Potter meets Cthulhu thematically in this epic fantasy adventure
That’s it, not even an exclamation mark. Or a period. A question mark would have been fun, too. Maybe the author’s intention is to make you add something to that sentence. Use magic! But in all seriousness, Harry Potter and Cthulhu together should be the ultimate coolness, I think (never cared for Harry Potter, but Cthulhu, yep, that’s good fun). They’re extremely famous, so they can do quite a bit for the comic, including copyright infringement. I’d be careful about that.
Set in a Victorian-looking era, with airships roaming the sky and a mysterious, magical aether pervading the atmosphere (I guess), the story focuses on a young toymaker named Elizabeth. Clueless about her magical abilities, she lives an apparently happy, if a tad boring, life with her father and her little sister Charlotte. But when a Harry Potter-looking guy called Agent Martin buys a toy from her and figures out it’s magical, Elizabeth’s routine turns into a big adventure. Will she master her skills and become a respected enchantress or will she be simply used and abused in some far-away war, as her father fears?
Our main character is a likeable , strong-willed toymaker living a rather bland existence. Not that she complains about it. She has a passion for her job, and she seems happy with her family. Yet, when she is given the chance to go on an adventure and learn about her magical powers, she takes it. It’s great to see young women wanting to fulfill their potential, rather than settling for a regular life, maybe with a husband coming along who will take over her shop (Victorian time, remember? Of course, this is not uncommon even nowadays), only to make it fail miserably. Well, that would be another story altogether. She’s also a good daughter, maybe too good for her own good: personally, I would have kicked my father’s ass for not telling me I have all this hidden potential in the form of magic. Parents should help their children turn into adults, rather than treating them as perennial babies! Which brings me to a side of Elizabeth I didn’t enjoy much.
Elizabeth is a natural: she can manipulate magic at a subconscious level! In other words, she does magic without realizing it. Which is a nice premise, except it’s made completely unrealistic by the fact that she’s a toymaker who doesn’t notice that her toys work even with broken parts. That’s really hard to believe. If you build something mechanical, you are supposed to know exactly what materials to use, which bit goes into which, and, you know, what a missing or broken piece does to your creation. So, how come she doesn’t wonder why a toy she has made with faulty parts is working anyway? Why can’t she see that her toy mouse is living well past its expiration date? Even her father says that everyone knows she can do magic, except her. Dad, is that your doing? Keeping her “protected” to the point of turning her into a dumb young lady? A look at her in the picture above seems to confirm that she’s not the brightest bulb in the box. At 19, she acts like a 10-year-old. See that smirk? Who makes a face like that at 19?
And things get worse. As Elizabeth finally accepts that she can do magic, her abilities unlock, one after another, during her rocky encounter with a goblin and her fight with a genie. Alas, this happens way too quickly, making her go from totally clueless to nearly the most powerful enchantress in the world in a mere couple of pages – that’s a Mary Sue for you. I think that reworking the premise about Elizabeth’s lack of knowledge about her magic (make her a bit more inquisitive, perhaps?) and her successive understanding of it (give her a few more pages to do magic? Do less magic in the same amount of pages?) would greatly help the plot. Just a suggestion.
Agent Spencer Martin
Here comes Harry Potter! Why, dear author, why? I thought you just wanted to take some inspiration from Harry Potter, but you’re throwing in this kid who looks exactly like him and is a wizard of the highest class… What happened to creativity? What about copyright concerns?
At the time of this writing, we haven’t seen much of Spencer, yet. He’s the one who finds out about Elizabeth’s gift, causing his superior to pay Elizabeth a visit, and he also helps Elizabeth fight off a dangerous genie. He seems a bit on the chatty side when it comes to magic or law stuff (I’m already envisioning Elizabeth ask him to stop blabbering, at some point), perhaps showing a hint of shyness. Could be a counterpart to Elizabeth in the making, if we are to expect the trite cliche of guy = logic and rationality and gal = feelings and instinct. I surely hope the author won’t go for it and beg to make a difference.
This little girl is the poster child for kids asking many questions, and poignant ones at that. Why, she wonders, do people die? And (paraphrasing her thoughts) why am I been given stupid religious answers? I like this kid. Seriously. These are extremely valid questions for a child, especially someone like Charlotte, who’s lost her mother. So, candid questions deserve candid answers. But Elizabeth is not exactly up for it. Far from validating Charlotte’s thoughts, she goes into a generic, airy-fairy explanation: “I think perhaps, just perhaps, to answer this question of why we die, we need to first answer the question of why we are alive at all?” What kind of answer is that? Apply magic? I hope to see more of Charlotte and her questions, and I surely hope she puts a grain of salt into her sister’s head.
Plot, dialog and pacing
The comic is extremely easy to follow, as the plot develops nicely, flowing smoothly from one panel to the next, taking the reader into a pretty fantasy world that doesn’t overwhelm.
Dialog is one of the strongest points of the story: character development greatly leverages on it to make each personality emerge in a very unique way. C.W. does an awesome job at carefully picking words and expressions for each character, making their interactions very natural and powerful. I wish more authors had this ability.
Pacing is perfect! Always straight to the point, scenes last just the right amount of time, so the plot proceeds seamlessly.
Expressive, disneyesque (with a touch of manga) art makes the comic very pleasant to the eye. And then there’s some horror that looks creepy enough to send a chill down the spine of younger readers, but not so much to keep them at bay. Backgrounds are masterfully executed, effectively immersing us in a pretty, rather dreamy, fantasy world of the Victorian kind, complete with large full moons and smoking chimneys. A very sweet touch is given by the animated toys in Elizabeth’s shop and home: essentially, they highlight each panel by participating in the emotions expressed by Elizabeth or making fun of others. Many modern webcomics would give these toys exaggerated, nearly grotesque expressions, but this is kept well under control by C.W. Well done.
Tight dialog and great art make Aetherwar a fun read for lovers of magic adventures. The plot unfolds smoothly, taking us into a world where bobbies chasing goblins doesn’t look out of place. The characters are beautifully portrayed, thanks to the unique language crafted for each of them. If the story won’t fall for the usual male/female tropes, Elizabeth is reworked with respect to her relationship with magic, and the references to Harry Potter and Cthulhu become less obvious (or, preferably, vanish), this comic will not only bring many pages of entertainment, but it could attain a higher level of creativity that is sorely needed in the world of webcomics.
© 2017, Infected Blood Comics