The Guild: Fawkes One-Shot Review (spoilers)

May 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

I knew I would love the Fawkes comic, but I had no idea how much I would identify with it. It returns to the theme of education so brilliantly explored in the Tink comic, but brings a new generational perspective to it. Rather than the short-tempered undergrad, here we have the dissertating graduate student. I should have guessed that Fawkes was a TA in a Philosophy department somewhere, considering how involuntary my laughter was at his every one-liner, but I would never have guessed that he was writing a thesis about gaming. The title of his thesis is really the highlight of the comic for me, and so I shouldn’t give it away, but I can’t help myself. It’s “Planting Destructive Social Philosophies in Online Gaming.” I would absolutely read that thesis, for the record, and I love this particular angle of exploration for Fawkes’s real-life troll persona. I see the moment he abandoned this thesis for the “Epicurean thesis” to be the real tragic moment of his narrative.

Back to the comic, Jamie McKelvie’s art is a treat, and I’m thrilled that he’s given the whole issue to show off his skills. While I think that the Tink comic was bold and experimental in its inclusion of so many different artists, I think that Fawkes’s inner life was sufficiently unknown as to merit a sustained and consistent exploration in the hands of Felicia Day and Wil Wheaton, for the script, and McKelvie for the art. McKelvie renders Wheaton’s portrayal of Fakwes beautifully, while bringing new depth to his navigation of multiple on- and offline personae. The other members of the Axis of Anarchy, particularly Bruiser, Valkyrie, and Venom, are also given new life by McKelvie’s hand, and it’s a pleasure to see all of them take to the comics medium. In fact, the very first page of in-game action in this comic may be my favorite such page since the Codex prequel; there is magic in the juxtaposition of the overwrought action sequence with Fawkes’s halfhearted dialogue celebrating the victory. The emotional resonance was surely already in the script, but McKelvie’s ambitious portrayal of the spectacle of the action, as well as the Axis characters’ clear pride at their in-game avatars’ achievements, invites the reader to pause over the page for a repeat engagement.

I was so excited to learn that this comic would explore Fawkes’s journey from his injury at the end of Season Four to his unmasking at the Megagame-o-ramacon in Season Five, because this is a character whose love for the world of gaming is, and should be, taken for granted. What I loved about the Codex prequel was the way it realistically depicted a young woman’s spontaneous decision to purchase The Game. However, I think that, for lifelong gamers like Vork, transmedia obsessives like Tink, and self-congratulatory trolls like Fawkes, the appeal of The Game is obvious. With Tink and Fawkes, the question is not what they like about The Game, but rather, in what other arenas they might use the skills they so consistently display there. (For Vork, post-caretaker position, it is clearly in foraging.) Tink and Fawkes are smart in ways that are not fully appreciated in-game, or, as is obvious to them, in the university. Tink found that the traditional classroom could not speak to her desire to understand the world through creative activity, hence, her eventual decision to declare a major in costume design. Fawkes found intriguing structures for living the good life in his philosophy coursework, but then found life as a philosophy TA insufficiently stimulating. He might have assumed that all of his students would share the passion he had for philsophical inquiry as a way of life. Unfortunately, as a TA his job is to help students write clearly about philosophical concepts deemed significant by curriculum creators. Often, these curriculum creators are far removed from the questions of extended adolescent rebellion that animate Fawkes’s lifestyle-based love of the discipline.

Before I go on explaining just why Fawkes is justified for his every socially damaging action, I should probably the elephant in the room that is fan service. This comic is written for, or at least with the clear knowledge that there are, shippers, that is, fans of the romantic relationship between Codex and Fawkes. While such fans may enjoy any aspect of their relationship, including its high potential for train wreckage, this comic offers plenty of opportunities for the romantics among us to enjoy Fawkes’s softer, Lisa Frank heart eyes, side. In fact, it’s all the better if we enjoy both of the aforementioned. The relationship between the two has been a delight since day one, reaching heights, I would say, in the first instance, with the “Highland Sextasy” painting reveal, and now, with the cover of this comic, or perhaps with the pages we see from Fawkes’s journal, revealing a MASH game in which he and Codex get married and move to Paris. Given that, in her real-life persona, Day hosts the Vaginal Fantasy Hangout, in which she discusses her favorite fantasy romance novels, I know that she is playing on these tropes with a wink and a nudge to her audience. However, a skeptical reader could certainly wonder if this particular installment of The Guild storyworld did not represent a hilarious distraction from whatever its broader message was supposed to be. (Only a curmudgeon with no room in his life for pleasurable excess would say such a thing, but he may be out there.)

Personally, I am a fan of every tangent taken thus far by The Guild storyworld, and I think that Day has plans for us beyond our wildest imaginations. However, even if this were the last installment, of course it wouldn’t function as the chronological ending of the series, because the action of the fifth season is just being set in motion as this comic ends. I point this out because there’s no chance, at this point, that Day is actually tying together the many narrative strands that constitute this storyworld with a false romantic ending. My personal hope is for more Axis of Anarchy comics, which explore the attempts at redemption of more trolls, and which envision still more possibilities for digital and fan citizenship and social life online. Sadly, Scott Allie says in the lettercol that no such plans are currently in the works. However, if a group of fans could take up the task of writing Lydia’s thesis on Spike, then surely some of us can band together and write Fawkes’s thesis on planting socially destructive philosophies in online gaming. At the end, an epilogue would appear about hetero-monogamy as the new anarchy. I can see it now. Full disclosure, though, that could be because I spent my weekend at a Queer Studies Symposium, where the shifting meanings of human relationships were lovingly explored by a vibrant scholarly community devoted to the preservation of the unpredictable effects of acting on desire.

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