Order of the Stick Volume -1: Start of Darkness Review

Start of Darkness is a prequel story featuring the villains of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic. It is the second “print-only” OotS book, featuring material not available on the website.

As with the other print-only collections, this trade is in greyscale due to cost concerns (except for a 9 page section in the middle).

Start of Darkness is 112 pages long, and features background on Xykon and Redcloak. It’s got light touches of humor, but is mostly a dark tale, as befits the embodiments of evil plaguing our heroes. Without going into spoilers, there is a TON of information here that gives great insight into the characters and their motivations.

Although I recommend reading all of the OotS books, I found On the Origin of PCs (Start of Darkness’s hero analog) enjoyable but not strictly necessary. In contrast, while like with Origin there’s nothing here vital to understanding the main story, there is great depth added to our villains here (particularly Redcloak) that shouldn’t be missed.

A fantastic side story to the central quest, Start of Darkness really is a must read if you’re following the main comic.

While the volume number -1 is appropriate from a “in-comic” time perspective, it doesn’t tell you when you should be reading this volume. As the author states in the introduction it can be read after Volume 2 without spoiling anything, but I’d recommend reading it between Volumes 3 and 4 (along with Origin, if you choose). 

Order of the Stick Volume 4: Don’t Split the Party Review

Don’t Split the Party is the fourth volume of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #485-672, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

** Note: there are no spoilers for Don’t Split the Party in this review but are MAJOR spoilers for the first three OotS volumes. **

This being the fourth volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

The events of War and XPs cut our heroes to the bone (and further) and this volume picks up following their defeat at Azure City, with Haley and Belkar left hiding out in the city and Durkon, Elan and V having escaped with the paladin fleet (and Roy… well, you’ve read War and XPs. RIGHT?). Their stories move in parallel, highlighting the difficulties the Order has when forced apart and the toll events up to this point have taken on them. Some of the supporting cast grow into more prominent roles, and most of the Order have pivotal character moments within these pages.

Don’t Split the Party has a somewhat different feel than the rest of the strip up to this point, since the team is not working (nor even adventuring) together. This doesn’t hinder it though, as the personal journeys are important to the characters’ growth and their ability to function when rejoined, and as usual everything is OotS carefully lays groundwork for future events.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. The humor grows fairly organically out of the characters and situations, and by this point readers should have an idea if it’s to their tastes.

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art as time progresses.

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and Don’t Split the Party continues to reenforce it’s excellence.

Order of the Stick Volume 0: On the Origin of PCs Review

On the Origin of PCs is a prequel story featuring the heroes of the Order of the Stick webcomic. It is the first “print-only” OotS book, featuring material not available on the website.

As with the other print-only collections, this trade is in greyscale due to cost concerns.

On the Origin of PCs is 72 pages long, and features a short tale (or two) about each of the members of the OotS, as well as their formation as a team and first mission together. It’s a well done, humorous set of stories, but there’s nothing here vital to understanding the main story (nor anything all that important or illuminating really). But the background for Roy, Durkon and Haley is interesting, the trade as a whole is enjoyable, and it introduces some characters that would later appear in the “proper” trades (ie the thieves guild).

All in all this is a solid and enjoyable, albeit not totally necessary, addition to the OotS library. I wouldn’t call it “only for completists,” but you could skip it without losing much if you were so inclined.

While the volume number 0 is appropriate from a “in-comic” time perspective, it doesn’t tell you when you should be reading this volume (although the author somewhat does, in the introduction). I’d recommend reading it between volumes 3 and 4. This will prevent anything here from spoiling elements of the main story, and will allow you to get to know the characters before learning about their backstories. 

Order of the Stick Volume 3: War and XPs Review

War and XPs is the third of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #302-484, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

** Note: there are no spoilers for War and XPs in this review but are some for the first two OotS volumes. **

This being the third volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

Wars and XPs is, as the author relates in the forward, the first OotS book entirely plotted with the overarching story in mind. This really comes through in the pacing, ebbs and flows of the plot, and sense of scale present in the story across these strips. 

We resume our tale in Azure City, and after the revelations from Shojo last volume Roy and company set out to find a new lead on Xykon. Other long running plot threads will also take center stage, including Haley’s speech impediment and the Linear Guild’s nefarious plans. 

The story as a whole is magnificent in War and XPs. There are consequences for actions and oversights, well developed character arcs, and incredibly escalating stakes for our heroes. 

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. The humor grows fairly organically out of the characters and situations, and by this point readers should have an idea if it’s to their tastes. 

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art as time progresses.

I highly recommend The Order of the Stick in general, and War and XPs is where the comic truly begins to feel epic. An outstanding volume of an already impressive comic.

Order of the Stick Volume 2: No Cure for the Paladin Blues Review

No Cure for the Paladin Blues is the second collection of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #122-300, plus a number of new comics and author commentaries.

This being the second volume I am going to assume anyone reading this review is familiar with the basic concept of OotS. If you are not I highly recommend going back and starting with the first collection (Dungeon Crawling Fools). 

Particularly since Paladin Blues is where our story starts really starts to build. While humor remains a vital (and generally excellent) part of the comic, there are less “D&D jokes for the sake of D&D jokes” than in volume 1 and the humor is intertwined more tightly with the escalating story. Volume 1 was a dungeon crawl, and while it had a decent progression it was in some ways a prologue. We’ve met the main players and now the Order leaves the dungeon and begins to face a much larger world (with much larger threats).

Roy has to find a reason to keep his party together now that they (incorrectly) think they’ve accomplished the task he hired them for, and various consequences from volume 1 will plague our heroes. This leads to Roy starting to learn what it really means to be a leader, as well as the expected rip-roaring adventures. The Order (and the readers) learn a great deal about their world, a major threat, and what their next mission should be.

We also see glimpses of other characters and forces putting their own plans into motion. The threads and conflicts that will be woven together in future volumes begin here.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. D&D parody humor is still used, but less so than the first volume and the comedy grows more organically out of the characters and situations from here out. 

As always OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly, and even with this style you can see the evolution and refinement of the art compared to volume 1.

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and No Cure for the Paladin Blues is an excellent follow up to Dungeon Crawling Fools that raises the stakes for our heroes considerably and gives the first glimpses of the sprawling epic it would become. 

Order of the Stick Volume 1: Dungeon Crawling Fools Review

Dungeon Crawling Fools is the first collection of The Order of the Stick (OotS) webcomic and contains strips #1-120, plus 18 new comics and author commentaries.

OotS has become an epic tale and is the most consistently excellent webcomic there is. It features a group of adventures in a Dungeons and Dragons setting. Literally – these are the adventures of D&D characters who are self aware, and a lot of the comedy in this first volume revolves around the author’s skillful blending of game mechanics into his characters’ dialog and actions. The fourth wall is optional when it comes to the good of the comedy here, and in this case it’s a great choice.

Familiarity with D&D will add depth, and no doubt make some of the jokes funnier, but is not necessary to read and enjoy. D&D parody humor and stand alone jokes are particularly prevalent in this volume as Burlew starts to decide what direction to take with his comic, but grows more organically out of the characters and situations in later volumes. Even by the end of Dungeon Crawling Fools, the plot starts to coalesce and several twists and key confrontations have occurred. 

OotS’s art uses “fleshed out” stick figures. See the cover for an example. This “simplified” art style is used to great effect and fits the comic perfectly. 

I highly recommend Order of the Stick in general, and the beginning, of course, is the best place to start. Dungeon Crawling Fools itself is highly amusing and comprises a complete story arc, but still plants the seeds of future adventures.

Hemlock Volume 5 Review

This is planned to be the penultimate volume of Hemlock, with significant reference to what’s come before. Don’t start reading here – go back to the beginning.

Lumi’s story is building to a crescendo and this volume shares a lot of context and insight into both the present and the past. Some things were easy to predict and others well done surprises, with it all developing in a natural feeling way. A bit of this feels like a breather after last volume’s developments and revelations, but done well without any loss of story momentum and while putting pieces in place for the finale. I have no real idea where it’s all leading, but there have been tons of little hints throughout all the books who’s significance I’m sure will continue to become clear.

Hemlock has been on hiatus for couple of years now, with no set timeframe for return. But Fenton has given updates and does still intend to complete the next (final) chapter at some point. Even with a rather harsh cliffhanger and the uncertainty behind of when this may continue, I’m still glad I revisited it and caught up. I find Hemlock extremely engaging, and I look forward to hopefully following Lumi’s tale through to the end.

Hemlock Volume 4 Review

Hemlock volume 4 builds off of several ongoing story threads. Don’t start reading here – go back to the beginning.

While I think it’s great that the author allows each chapter to vary in length as needed, it is nice to be back to a longer installment after the (relatively) short volume 3. There’s a wonderful amount of information and development, including glimpses of Lumi’s past, Simo’s plots, and the third son of Baba Yaga.

But the true treat is Lumi and Tristan going to visit Sindri. Their relationships are weird, complex, and carefully conveyed through natural sounding dialog and the slice-of-life feel that seems so at odds with the subject material yet works beautifully. Subtle touches in both art and plotting add depth and resonance to Lumi’s dilemmas and help to thoroughly engage the reader.

My favorite volume yet of this gloriously unique story of a witch and her familiar.

Hemlock Volume 3 Review

Volume 3 is fairly self-contained but builds directly off of previous volumes. Starting at the beginning is best.

** This review contains no spoilers for Hemlock volume 3 but will have them for previous chapters. **

This installment of Hemlock feels different, as it’s both shorter and more focused on a single story than before. The combined effect makes it feel even shorter than it is (still a very respectable 46 pages). There’s a brief flashback to open, then the remainder of the chapter features Tristan’s cousin Kolya looking for some answers regarding Tristan’s death. It doesn’t feature the slice of life feel previously established nor provide a lot of information, but it’s still a nice character tale that follows up on the status of Tristan’s family and drops some tantalizing hints about future story progression.

Though a bit of a departure to the established and not quite as strong as the first two parts this installment of Hemlock is still a good entry in the series that fleshes out a supporting character and adds to the overall mythos being built.

Hemlock Volume 2 Review

Volume 2 of Hemlock stands relatively well alone but builds directly off of volume 1. Starting at the beginning is best.

** This review contains no spoilers for Hemlock volume 2 but will have some for volume 1. **

This volume continues the everyday adventures of the quiet witch Lumi and her new familiar Tristan, the three eyed frog. It took me a little bit to get into the comic’s initial volume but I ended up really enjoying it. Here that momentum is kept and the story is intriguing and compelling from start to finish. We get a lot of information about Lumi’s past and present, including things about her last familiar, her husband, and other witches. Everything is logically connected, well layered, and nicely paced. Like volume 1 what’s here is a complete tale on it’s own but sets up future developments and plot lines.

The thing I like most about the comic is how well formed and interesting the characters and world are. Lumi and Tristan are terrific leads and really make me want to read more about them.

The art is quite good. Appropriately dark but very detailed and incredible as far as expressions and body language. The author is excellent at conveying emotions of the characters and situations.

Hemlock is shaping up to be an excellent comic and has a ton of potential going forward.