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"Sugarshock" Comic Book - Popmatters.com Review

Tuesday 19 April 2011, by Webmaster

Don’t be a Viking!

In a changing world of media engagement, traditional methods of storytelling and distribution are changing. New media is changing the way we intake material. The rise of the Internet has seen the readership of print-based news fall. In fact, all print-based media has been faced with the question of how to adapt to the digital world. While many have been concerned about the affect these changes will have upon newspapers and books, we should not forget the comic book.

Just like Joss Whedon had used new media to give us Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, he used the comic book industry’s exploration of new distribution models and marketing to give us a short, rather hyperactive three-part adventure through music and space with the Eisner Award winning Sugarshock!. Written by Joss Whedon and illustrated by Fabio Moon (best known for his work on the comic book Casanova), the first part of Sugarshock!, entitledSugarshock! Battle Royale with Cheese launched on August 1, 2007 on Myspace Dark Horse Presents. As a monthly anthology Dark Horse Presents would feature a number of strips, and many of the more popular ones would spin out of the book and become an ongoing title. In an effort to broaden its demographic and to engage a younger audience, in 2007 the book was relaunched online. The first issue of the new Myspace Dark Horse Presents featured Whedon’s Sugarshock! in an attempt to capture fans of Whedon’s work, and arguably to draw people in with a relatively known name such as Whedon’s. Sugarshock! proved so popular online that it was later also released as a printed issue in 2009.

As with all Whedon’s work, the most important and interesting part is the story itself. In a world of fantastic adventures, robots, intergalactic space battles, rock music, secret government agents, and—let’s not forget—Vikings, comes the adventures of Dandelion Naizen, the lead singer of Sugarshock. The red-haired lead singer of the titular band is joined on her adventures by fellow band members Wade and her sister L’lihdra, and Robot Phil. These characters feel like we already know them. These are not what could be described as typical characters; they are not clones or copies of his others characters. They are, however, typically Whedonesque: strong, punky, fresh, and, regardless of how fantastical, real.

The story begins with the band Sugarshock losing at a battle of the bands competition. The adventure continues as an armored alien falls from the sky, smashing the roof of the car, interrupting two pages of superb Whedonesque conversation. Handed a scroll inviting them to an intergalactic battle of the bands, the group races on, not realizing that the translation of the scroll may not be as accurate as it seems.

As their spaceship lands at its destination, we become aware that it is not in fact a battle of the bands but a battle for survival. Attacked by an alien warrior, they realize the truth about their adventure as well as the truth about two of the members of the band. As with many of Whedon’s characters, there is much more to each character than what we first see. In the case of Sugarshock!, Wade and L’lihdra are not sisters as readers first think. Wade is actually an exiled Princess, L’lihdra her bodyguard, and the “battle of the bands” a ruse to lure them out into the public.

As the battle intensifies Dandelion resorts to music to save the day with the “Saddest song in the world.” The fast pace of the story continues as Wade’s love, her reason for exile, comes back for her. Her love, a “groupie,” has manufactured these events to bring Wade back. The pace of the story remains hyperactive, as Wade’s “groupie” is ultimately killed by L’lihdra in just 11 panels. When the battle is over, the pace does ease up; as they head back to Earth readers are teased with possible future adventures as the planet is missing.

As an insane ride through space, music, and love, readers only qualm is there are only three parts; having only just met these characters and readers want more. Teased with questions such as whether Dandelion works for a secret government agency or if she is simply a little bit mad, fans are left wanting to see more of the world of Sugarshock!. Robot Phil exists mainly comic relief but it is hard to imagine further adventures without Whedon exploring ideas of personhood or the role of robots in society, themes he has toyed with in other places. The character “Sensitive Guy” could easily become a recurring antagonist, a comical one at that. Perhaps most of all readers would like to learn the reason for Dandelion’s intense hatred of Vikings. Be it online or in traditional formats, fans of the comic want more.

Many describe Whedon’s Firefly as being too original, but in comparison Sugarshock! makes Firefly looks hackneyed. Sugarshock! might not have been as successful if it had been a television show, movie, or even a comic book released using traditional distribution methods. Not easily describable in terms of genre or tone, the book lacks distinct categorization. The direct approach through online comics allows it to reach its audience with much more ease.

The comic book industry is one based on tradition, the tradition of comics on news racks and in corner shops changed with the birth of the direct market and the dawn of the comic book shop-era. While the era of the comic book shop is not over, the industry is having to reassess the situation as publishing houses now have direct contact with their audience. The distribution of online comics is also cheaper, with no printing or delivery costs. And with more and more software programs and hardware being developed day-by-day to make reading comics online easier and more accessible, maybe it is time not to get stuck in past traditions, to not be Vikings of the past but instead embrace the future. While comics fans continue to love their local comic book stores, if online comics means that they can read more books like Sugarshock!, which in other modes of distribution might not be viable, then perhaps they will have a “battle royale with cheese.”