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Friday, January 06, 2006

Getting the monkey off my back: A review of Zap


A good shot of pretty much all the characters in Zap!

Ok, I've sat down to write this review like four times, and failed miserably every time. It's getting written this time, come Hell or high water!

So let's talk about Zap. The first thing that struck me about Zap is how much it reminded me of those old adventure shows, with the hero sporting a leather jacket and sturdy brown-green pants, the girl in a bright orange jumpsuit. Even the name of the website sounds like an old 30s or 40s serial: "Zap! in Space!"

With character names like Zap Vexler, Reona Lightstar, and a robot named "Robot", and with our forces battling evil empires and psychics, Zap (the comic) seems to draw heavily from that old style of storytelling. When reading through the archives I half expected a disembodied narrator voice to start talking at the end of every strip: "Will Zap and his friends be in time to save the ship? Can they overcome the evil of the Galactic Earth Federation? Will Zap and Feona every express their unrequited love? Tune in next time for another exciting episode of..." (with heavy echoing effects) "Zap... in... space!"

So let's talk about the comic itself for a moment. The strip centers on the adventures of the crew of the starship Excelsior (which, I believe, was at one time a ship on Star Trek as well). Zap Vexler is the captain, who was chosen by the ship and seems to be somewhat slow in the head, despite possessing powerful psychic powers. Zap also suffers from amnesia. Reona Lightstar is the first mate, who is still trying to find the previous captain of the ship who has gone missing, but is unintentionally beginning to fall in love with Zap. Grontar is the mechanic, he's a giant four-armed alien who seems to be fiercely protective of Reona and the ship in general. Robot is the pilot and is insufferably acerbic and always ready to put Zap down. Together they fight against the Galatic Earth Federation, pirates, and whatever else seems to come across their path. There's also a lot of minor characters worth noting and a fair amount of political intrigue over on the bad guy side, but it's too much to go into for a short summary. Zap does a good job of weaving an intricate plot onto a relatively simple premise, so while you may get confused as to what exactly is going on at any given moment, you've always got a pretty good idea where the series is going and how the characters will react.

The artwork in Zap has progressed substantiall as the series has worn on, as seems to be the case with most every webcomic. I think it would be a great encouragement to many people to go back and look at the beginnings of most of the big webcomics out there. They'll probably find that in almost every case the artwork has substantially improved as the comic has matured. And it's encouraging to think that your pathetic scrawls you're putting up now will probably evolve into something much better if you just keep putting the time into it.

And, at it's core, Zap is nothing more than what it appears to be. It is a space opera. The characters are pretty one-dimensional, the storylines are very episodic in nature, and there's no real building of suspense or intrigue as the plot winds on. They solve their problems on one planet and then they're off to the next to engage in new and exciting adventures, leaving their enemies shaking their fists at the sky and vowing revenge.

But is that so bad? Sure, the relationships and drama don't run as deeply as they do in Megatokyo, and the humor isn't as daily funny as in Starslip Crisis, but Zap does have that sense of wonderment that is lost in most modern sci-fi. Everything in Zap's world is brightly colored, fast-paced, and just generally exciting. It hearkens back to an older era when people were still amazed by technology and what feats it could perform. When the idea of spaceflight and psychics and casinos in the stars kept young kids up late at night just thinking about the possibilities and dreaming of what might be. Zap has that certain sense if giddiness that seems to have gotten lost as our technology has been approaching the level of our dreams and we're content to play with what we have instead of imagining what we could have. And it's a roller-coaster ride that I for one find refreshing.

So if you like sci-fi strips, and you like bright colors and exotic locales, dashing heroes performing deed of derring-do, evil villians, and romance, then stay tuned for Zap... In... Space!

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