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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I would have at least revised, if not done away with, the third-to-last panel. Awk-ward.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized anti-climax.)

Once again, this post has nothing to do with politics, despite my spending two days and a weekend without a word on the subject. I should be returning to it later today.

"I bet everyone was expecting a big battle for strip #600."

Apparently Grandpa really hasn't spent much time looking at the world of the living.

There are a lot of things that people were wondering about for strip #600. Perhaps a return peek at Team Evil, with potential huge ramifications, or a look at some other faction we haven't looked at for a while. Perhaps contact finally being made between the two halves of the Order. Perhaps the prophecied death of Belkar. The previous sequence of strips probably led many to expect either a confrontation or alliance between Vaarsuvius and the imp Qarr. The start of this strip led me to wonder if it was going to end with Roy being called to be resurrected.

But a "big battle"? Not given the state of the OOTS right now, where they'd settle for being in one piece. The closest thing anyone would have predicted to a "big battle" was a confrontation between Haley and the Thieves' Guild's Crystal. Maybe, before #599, a confrontation between Vaarsuvius and the rest of that half of the OOTS plus the remnants of the Sapphire Guard.

Since nothing big happened in #600 (unless you count the start of the switch back to Haley, Celia, and Belkar), it's looking increasingly likely that none of the major objectives of this book will be completed until it's about over. No resurrection of Roy, no union of the two halves of the Order, no retaking of Azure City, nothing.

Now, given the pace at which Rich Burlew writes, it's possible that "it's about over" may be sooner than many of us think. Certainly the union of the Order and resurrection of Roy are things that should probably be taken care of by the end of this book if they are to be taken care of at all. Those are things that need to be set up in turn, and that may take multiple tens of strips. Judging by the last two books, we'd expect this book to end somewhere in the 660s, which means we might expect one of those objectives to be completed possibly as early as the 640s. Or maybe the build will begin about now, considering how much into high gear both plots were starting to move last we checked.

But it's becoming apparent that this section of the OOTS' story is going to have far-ranging consequences that could prevent some of those goals from ever being completely fulfilled. This first really became apparent last strip, where Vaarsuvius announced his departure from the ship to find Haley and Roy's body without distractions, referring specifically to Elan and Durkon. And announcing "I have no intention of returning". And that he might decide to arrange a meeting between Haley and Elan/Durkon elsewhere... "but probably not".

It may well turn out that with this action, Vaarsuvius just unilaterally, in an instant, without Roy even being alive to object, kicked Elan and Durkon out of the Order of the Stick. This is especially likely when you consider this strip, in which Vaarsuvius not only fails to grasp who Therkla is but comes to the conclusion that she was Elan's active girlfriend (despite being present in disguised form when Elan brushed her off). If V can convince Haley of that idea, (s)he might dissuade her from pressing V to chase Elan and Durkon back down.

(Incidentially, early on in my reading of OOTS I had trouble seeing Vaarsuvius as anything but female, partly because of the hair... but as he's grown more insane and his hair has become more frazzled I've found myself using male pronouns more often. Is that worth reading anything into?)

Now comes evidence that Roy hasn't paid any attention to the travails of Haley, Celia, or Belkar since this strip - he's still talking about that group having reached Cliffport by now. Which sort of makes me wonder if he'll even be able to find them. Unlikely, but he will have no idea what's been going on. (And neither will we. No way "weeks" passed between #572 and the end of our last look-in on Haley/Celia/Belkar.) In a more important development, Roy probably will even be confused by something in evidence towards the end of the last check of Haley and Co.: the curse of the Mark of Justice potentially starting to wane from Belkar.

And there are other far-ranging consequences that have been built for a while that seem inevitable. Vaarsuvius' insanity won't be fixed just by finding Haley, or even by finding Haley and a good, long trance, because the last strip seems to suggest V has given up trances for good. Belkar's been afflicted by the curse of his Mark of Justice and "will draw his last breath - ever - before the end of the year. (That's an "in-comic" year, not a real-time year, Oracle fans!)" Unless Roy keeps all his memories of what happened while he was dead, including his memories of his conversation with the Oracle, it's likely that, at the least, something important will happen before he's resurrected.

It is even entirely possible that no one's predictions on the future or ending of the comic are correct, because they all assume that the composition of the Order at the end of the strip will consist of some combination of Roy, Haley, Durkon, Vaarsuvius, Elan, and Belkar, and almost always all of the above. The revelation that Belkar's death would come "before the end of this [in-comic] year" first put a wrench in those plans, but one could easily deal with that. But now that it's possible that, for the moment, Elan and Durkon are no longer members of the Order, we could be looking at a semi-full-fledged Order of the Stick at the end of this book that shares only Roy and Haley with the Order of the first 500 strips or so (with V insane or even a god, Belkar dead, and Celia officially one of the new members), one that spends as much if not more time trying to find and rope back Elan and Durkon than trying to foil Xykon's plot. And the prospect of a very different Order of the Stick becomes especially chilling when you consider the Oracle's prediction of a "happy ending - for [Elan], at least". If Elan is no longer a member of the Order, what does that say about the Order?

And who's to say this wasn't an incredibly important strip... in its very lack of importance?

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