so the remainder of the Bringing Silly Back arc consists of a series of five parts called New and Old Flames. But given the general tone and content, it seems weird to count it under an arc called Bringing Silly Back. I think Dan Shive gradually abandoned the idea of it being a subpart of BSB as well.
New and Old Flames part 1
We open with a recap comic that helpfully informs us what threads are being tied up now. They are:
- Grace beating the shit out of Damien
- the mysterious cloaked figure at the graveyard who was disappointed not to have revenge on Damien, but swore to give tribute to Grace instead
- Grace joining the Anime-Style Martial Arts class
- Melissa being an absolute fucker and outing Justin to everyone
- all that magic exposition
Somehow all these are going to be mixed up in one big storyline? huh.
So the first sub-arc concerns the anime-style martial arts dojo, which Greg has decided to close upon realising anyone can gain magic, because great power great responsibility etc., and also poor attendance. On a meta-level, Dan Shive has apparently gone off the whole ‘anime-style martial arts’ joke, and is killing it off I guess.
This precipitates the conflict: Elliot realises this closing will mean he no longer regularly meet Justin. So he’s going down the comic book shop.
I feel like I should comment on the little bit of Grace learning-about-use-of-force characterisation but I don’t actually have much to say. Geek references aren’t actually as interesting as people making them tend to think?
New and Old Flames part 2
So it’s time for a bunch of geek/comic book stereotype jokes. Basically the whole ‘fake geek girl’ hazing thing except applied to Elliot.
IDK what to say. Gentle-hearted ribbing seems inadequate. Our ‘community’ is fucking awful. fuck geek trivia gatekeeping etc., fuck the conspicuous-consumption proof of ‘dedication’, burn it all, etc. etc.
anyway yeah it’s now time for Dan Shive showing off his geek knowledge/theories etc. but the casual hanging out is cut short by drama as Elliot transforms into a fire elemental or something?
imo Annie did it better (I say, making a mockery of whatever I was saying about geek references)
ok so actually the fire elemental is a random encounter and it’s time for Elliot in a normatively-female body with superhero clothes and the new ability to fly
New and Old Flames part 3
unfortunately the whole thing gets youtubed by the comic book patrons.
There’s an interesting thing about the timeline that Dan Shive has hinted at. While the exact year is kept vague, the timeline of the comic is progressing much slower than real life, but the technology references are generally up to date. Over the course of the comic’s run, YouTube has appeared and gotten huge. That said, so far any inconsistent timeline aspects are not too conspicuous - just stuff like Susan’s fancy TV having VHS and not Blu-Ray in about the same year as people are uploading stuff to YouTube on their smartphones.
Also Elliot’s transformation appears to have a mental effect on how much he swears. As Dan Shive notes, this is kind of alarming. We later learn he can overcome the compulsion to not swear.
Oh yeah also news reporter Carol is now Sarah’s sister, we should probably have a note of that.
Dan Shive has this really weird attitude about swearing. Like, incredibly mild words like ‘damn’ are treated like heavy swear words; ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ or whatever will definitely not even be considered. It always surprises me. Here for example they say ‘s-bomb’ instead of shit. It’s kind of adorable on one level and distracting on another.
Anyway it’s time for the gender shit! So there’s this rather complicated hypothesis which, given the emphasis it’s receiving, is undoubtedly true: the magic is confused and keeps giving Elliot Girl Spells because it keeps thinking they don’t properly reflect him and needs to iterate on the whole Girl Spell thing. Elliot needs to be satisfied with a Girl Spell so the magical can be all ‘job done’, or as Tedd puts it, Elliot has to ‘want to be a girl’.
As a way of making another one of your characters trans this is… a… striking one?
So yeah we get… well we’re back into the whole autogynephilia thing. Which is to say, Grace makes an argument to Elliot that he should basically transform for sex reasons and that way he’ll be satisfied while still remaining a Proper Straight Man. Trans women (and especially lesbian trans women) are, of course, very very often written off by medical professionals as ‘just a straight man with a fetish’ and therefore unworthy of any medical support now matter how badly they want/need it under precisely this logic. So yeah. Kind of weird reading it spun in a positive way here.
We meet Tedd’s dad’s successor, whose name is Arthur. And he blows the lid on the whole paranormal deal. dun dun dun etc.
but it’s back to Gender Fun Times as Elliot tries to find a transformation he finds sexy… He settles on goth.
i feel weird about this storyline. what is being said through all these antics?
New and Old Flames part 4
idk Dan Shive tried to ‘comment on teenage girls’ but got to the point of realising that he was full of shit or something? but now it’s time for Corset Discourse? but this is mostly besides the point. but we do get a sketchbook comic with the phrase ‘swarm of large breasted women’. Stay classy, Dan Shive.
A character gets (re)introduced: Rhoda, who featured on the news segment where Pandora appeared. (cw: CSA implied) There’s more of Dan Shive’s reticence about ‘unnecessary violence’ which is weird when he’s made a comic that so often goes to fights, and, honestly, this was a case where violence was entirely appropriate?
Introduce Noah. And Ellen and Nanase are happy to be smooching in public, which is cute.
even more minor characters from around the school are getting names and personalities. I should probably make a list… except actually there is undoubtedly a well-edited fan wiki for a comic as big as this one.
New and Old Flames part 5
George the comic book guy is onto Elliot being the superhero.
After a chance meeting with Elliot and a deserved death-glare, it’s time for “Melissa’s side” of the outing-Justing-to-the-entire-school story. It’s going to be pretty hard to spin this.
So, reveal: she told only one person, her older sister, who told everyone else. Except: she never apologised, she continued to creepily stalk Justin, she refuses to accept that he’s gay even after outing him, and she had every reason to know her sister was such a gossip? I don’t think this does anything to exonerate her.
Elliot responds reasonably and does not cheerfully forgive Melissa? Noah believes that if Justin forgave her she would stop being such an asshole to him, but - nobody is not entitled to forgiveness. Which is to say, Justin is not obliged to forgive her in any sense? Noah figures it’s unfair of Justin to hold a grudge this long because it was not malicious when she outed him, but that’s not how it works?
Grace is getting pretty pissed off with the world and wishing death on people etc. I’m really not sure actual historical/present violence is a suitable topic for this comic - it breaks the metaphors, and suggests all sorts of stuff that this comic is not equipped to handle given its tone.
Elliot puts his foot in his mouth trying to get Justin to talk to Noah. I’m expecting this is going to lead to a forgiveness plot :/
so yeah now Ellen is going to get on Justin’s case to get him to talk to Noah, for whatever contrived reason Noah can’t just send the message via an intermediary or an email or something.
Anyway at least Ellen isn’t pressuring Justin to forgive Melissa so that’s something. I guess I’m mostly OK with how this is developing actually.
Justin finally agrees to talk to Noah and before we can find out what they’re going to talk about a weird skeletal black figure shows up. Later on we learn it’s called a ‘shade’.
In the spirit of obligatory geek references, Susan and Justin are chatting in the background about Firefly in contrast with Star Trek. Susan, while on the Trek side, says she’s ‘not anti-Mal [Reynolds]’, which is… completely un-Susan imo. Like honestly. Mal Reynolds is a misogynist jerk who constantly treats Inara like shit but this is ok because joss whedon empowering feminist something something? I would be disappointed if Susan was cool with that.
Dan Shive abruptly shuts down the sublot about George the comic book guy and it’s for the best, really.
New and Old Flames Part 6
So… we are getting the forgiveness plot after all. Justin thinks about whether he was unfair on Melissa. Obvious thrust of the comic: he was. idk how I feel about this. Like I don’t want to categorically say ‘never forgive someone who outed you’ or something like that, but also like, I feel uncomfortable with the ‘forgiveness is always right’ thrust the comic is pushing.
We finally find out what Noah was going to ask Justin. It turns out: just some questions about the monster. This entire awkwardly forced forgiveness plot for that? Like…
SUBJECT: Important questions about the monster
I know you have good reason to be reluctant to talk to me, but Mr. Raven and I believe we may be able to identify who summoned the fire monster that attacked you.
Please would it be possible to ask you a few questions about the encounter?
Thank you for your time,
anyway despite a red herring, it’s actually the ‘creepy hollow-eyed nerd’ character who summoned the thing. :/
well there’s a fight sequence. Elliot, Grace and Greg vs creepy comic book guy, who summons a dragon thing. Dan Shive’s getting better at choreographing and shooting fight scenes but a fight scene is still a fight scene.
after Elliot takes a big hit, to further her redemption arc, Melissa shows up and screams at the dragon.
So official Reveal time: mysterious graveyard person = Noah. who is also the high-level player in Dan in the MUD.
creepy comic book guy reveals vague motivation. probably possessed or whatever.
There’s a cute scene where Greg gives Grace an impromptu lesson in martial arts holds on the fire elementals. Ultimately this saves the day when she knocks the comic book guy out just in time.
So Noah finally catches on that ‘a woman of Grace’ is ‘Grace’. One less somewhat contrived mixup!
Revelations time: like Susan, comic book guy (whose name is Dex, I think that came up earlier but I couldn’t be bothered to check) had a magic mark that let him access magic without properly Awakening. And an amulet was used to make him vulnerable to suggestions.
Naturally, once the amulet is gone, he’s a nice enough person. He can summon fairies, not unlike Susan summoning the fairy-doll.
June 2011 means we get a My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic reference in the commentary. Hopefully that will be all.
Elliot creates a new transformation form. Again with the personality effects. Now we have a bubbly, cheerful ‘party elliot’.
…that wasn’t all on MLP:FiM. Like, I’m not surprised Dan Shive got into it given the general webcomics/anime-ish geek spheres he moves in, but please don’t overdo it…
So to finish up this arc, Justin goes and talks to Melissa with an intent to apologise. She says she doesn’t really want to make up after all, and she’ll stop bothering him.
Dan Shive says:
I didn’t set out to have a specific message with this particular Justin and Melissa arc. I wanted both characters to do whatever came naturally to them, which I thought I had all figured out long ago. I was wrong. Throughout New and Old Flames, what wound up coming naturally to both characters was not what I had expected, meaning there was a point in the storyline when even I didn’t see this coming.
That’s the weird thing about writing character driven stories. When one really gets into the heads of one’s characters, it becomes apparent that they have minds of their own. I’m assuming not literally, but hell, maybe they do on some quantum level. Perhaps.
Which is all well and good, but, stories are implicitly shaped by the beliefs, attitudes, politics etc. of the author?
My reaction to this development is ‘hmm’. I’m glad it isn’t just water under the bridge. I do feel that the arc so far has largely been working to exonerate Melissa and make Justin out to be unfair in refusing to talk to her. Perhaps that is an unfair reading.
Melissa goes ‘we can never go back to what we had’ but I didn’t get any impression that Justin wanted that - I think he wanted to stop being at each others’ throats, but I didn’t read it as him wanting to get back together (he is, after all, gay). But I guess it is in-character for her to be so focussed on the past relationship?
Anyway, she promised to leave Justin alone. So at least that’s an end to the stalking and homophobic abuse. Given that Justin wanted to make things up between them, and Melissa has been so focussed on getting back together with Justin, I’m expecting neither of them will be happy with that in the long run.
After some discussion between Noah and Raven that clarifies that Raven is Noah’s guardian, not a parent (and that reminds me that Noah’s parents are dead)… in the final stinger, we learn that Justin also has a magic mark! His is a small flame. This is consistent with signs of fire powers we saw earlier when he fought various enemies. It’s not clear whether Justin is aware of the mark and concealing it from his friends, or if it’s been placed there without his knowledge. Either way, Pandora is almost certainly responsible.
I doubt I’ll have much to say here so let’s plop it on the end of this long post.
Time travel is categorically ruled out so that pretty much shuts down the Homestuck comparisons.
Okay, yes, I brought up My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic again, but gosh diddly darn it, it works here.
No Dan, it really doesn’t. Is this what I was like that year? I know the answer: it was, and I feel very sorry for anyone who had to put up with me.
There’s a rather uncomfortable strip about ~straight women who pose as lesbians to attract men and what it does to the poor lesbians~ but… idk, closeted lesbians are a thing? Bi women are a thing?
Dan Shive heavily implies he’s not sure about Susan’s sexuality yet.
And we’re done with this long arc. We’re now on #1296, so we’ve got about 700 strips left to go! Hope everyone’s enjoying the