The world of comics is littered with examples of shameless cross-promotional product tie ins. These range from the beloved yet corny one-panel Hostess Fruit Pie ads to the Crest Cavity Fighting Team, which probably came in the same baggie you dentisted gave you with the free toothbrush and floss. And then there were Alex and Shanna: The Tandy Computer Whiz Kids. I think I received one of these notoriously cheesy comics when I was in grade school. Together, these middle school ragamuffins fought drug dealers with their awesome array of Radio Shack products. (Radio Shack doesn’t even sell half the stuff shown in the comic anymore. The Tandy, the kids’ namessake, is a defunct computer brand that’s now best known as Strong Bad’s first and worst computer. Heck, the last time I went to Radio Shack, it was to get some ethernet cables. One shudders to think how the secret war on drugs turned for the worst when Radio Shack began to reduce their product offerings.)
And, of course, there ae the comic books handed out by your local electric company or water waste treatment facility urging kids to turn off the lights or save a billion gallons a day by turning off tap. It’s all pretty innocent stuff … except the PETA comics, which tells kids that their dads are vicious psychopaths for going on that fishing trip.
The Simpsons payed homage/made fun of these comics in their episode “Worse Episode Ever,” where a naive Milhouse purchases 1,000 copies of Biclops (presented by Lenscrafters) for the comic book store. It was only a matter of time before the much mocked genre made its way into webcomics.
Or … is it?
WICKEDPOWERED was created by Owen Gieni and Chris Crosby. Both are responsible for the writing, and Owen Gieni is the illustrator. The two also collaborate on Sore Thumbs, which I admit I have not read yet. I know next to nothing about Owen Gieni other than his illustrations tend to be manga influenced. Chris Crosby, though, has a Wikipedia entry, and it turns out that he’s a co-founder of Keenspot.
Kind of weird to have the founder of a webcomics portal to be writing what amounts to be a giant ad for Wicked Lasers, don’t you think?
The story centers around our “hero,” Wiley Schlub. He is the most annoying sort of hero: the kind who is an total nerd with no social skills and yet turns out to be some sort of Chosen One. In other words, he’s a total Gary Stu (the masculine Mary Sue).
To top it off, he’s approached by three women of high aesthetic appeal, all named after lasers: Pulse Parks (the blonde one), U.V. Jones (the pink one), and Joule Lee (the green one). They roughly similar to the Powerpuff Girls in personality, except this time around the blonde one is the leader and the pink one is the childish one. (The Pulse/Buttercup parallels remain in tact.) To be honest, though, Pulse is the only one that counts. Over the course of the comic, the other two disappear into the background while Pulse is the only one who does anything to significantly make an impact.
Mainly, they’re there to provide readers lots of fanservice … and lots of references to lasers.
Gieni and Crosby seem to anticipate the criticism to pandering early on. However, their self-deprecation seems empty and needlessly apologetic. How do you excuse the other sins in their webcomic? What of the embarassingly poor characterization of the strip’s minor characters? What of the shameless pandering to the comic’s non-conformist and otaku readership by making them Wiley’s friends? What of the one-dimensional villification of jocks?
At around this point, I was ready to say that while to story has decent artwork, the Gary Stu storyline made the entire thing unappealing. I would have given this webcomic 2 stars, maybe.
(NOTE: From this point on, several of the links are going to be spoilerific. So if you want to retain your fragile sense of awe and wonderment, don’t click on the links and read instead the mostly spoiler free text.)
When that happens, everything that’s gone before gains a totally new perspective. It’s all a cleverly concealed spoof. Wiley, our hero, isn’t so heroic after all.
The part where all the girls are falling for Wiley despite his obvious unattractiveness? Lies.
And, ultimately, the whole notion that WICKEDPOWERED is a shameless webcomic that was made to sell lasers? To be honest, I’m ashamed I didn’t see this coming. I should have known that the typical webcomic readers would not shell out $1,700 for a laser. (I’m pointing out this particular model because it’s mentioned by name in the webcomic.)
I was wrong about WICKEDPOWERED. It’s actually a surprisingly clever parody of those ridiculous cross-promotional comic books. And from this point on, I was hooked.
Gieni and Crosby go on to validate my suspicions by given Wiley the most screwed-up yet creative origin story ever. If I had any lingering doubts that Wiley really wasn’t a Gary Stu, they came crashing down at this point. What kind of escapist fantasy figure would saddle their main character with origins this … perverted?
The writers seem to have a total ball with the material, lampooning everything from bishounen anti-heroes to furries to the silly anime deux ex machina where love (and singing about love) saves the day. The comic ends on a crazy plot twist that retains the madcap spirit of the comic and reboots the series at the same time.
For now, it seems that WICKEDPOWERED is on hiatus. The series is on a permanent time loop, repeating the series from the beginning. Chris Crosby explains on the site:
The facts are, this is a sponsor-based comic (thanks to our friends at the real Wicked Lasers), and financial realities had to come into play eventually. We had a great run for a “sponsored entertainment product”, eight happy months and 107 wicked pages of lasers and monsters and pretty girls in brightly-covered clothing. And Owen and I would love to continue creating new WP-1 adventures for your reading enjoyment, and I believe we will again someday. Not yet, though, because it costs time and money to make them. But WICKEDPOWERED’s triumphant return can be sped along with your help!
This is a shame. WICKEDPOWERED seems to still have a lot of fans. As of this writing, WICKEDPOWERED is the top download for graphic novels at the WOWIO electronic book site. However, there’s some promising news on the horizon. Chris Crosby not only has left the door open for future episode, but also is playing around with developing a WICKEDPOWERED animated series. Good luck on both endevours.
And about the webcomic? Now that I’ve read the entire comic, I’m amending my earlier statement. The story has decent artwork, and it’s the most delightfully clever and screwed up comic you’ll ever find on the web.
Rating: 5 stars (out of a possible 5)