I love webcomics. I’ve been following this “new media” since the late 90′s, and I’ve seen a lot of good and bad works come and go. Some stick around for years, and thrive, while others linger like an unpleasant medical condition, and thousands more never make it past infancy.

I have spent my entire morning so far reading a relatively new comic, Otherworld by Toby Gard, and I really hope this one doesn’t end before Toby finishes his story. He’s on to something interesting here, and I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Before I get started, I will say that this review is not going to be all smiles and gushes. I like this webcomic a great deal, but I’ll be the first to admit it has some faults. Minor ones, but faults nonetheless. I bring up these issues because I believe they can be fixed, and I’d like to hope that some constructive criticism will do the comic some good. I want this comic to succeed, and I know that there’s some real potential in what is already a strong start.

Since the story is so far only on its third chapter, I’m not going to go into great detail on the plot; you’ll benefit more from reading it yourself. I will say that the two main characters are Katlyn and Eden, two young women with very different mystic abilities, trapped in a very dangerous situation that takes them both to the eponymous Otherworld. The focus so far has been on fast-paced combat, combined with some interesting worldbuilding as we find out who these characters are, and what obstacles lie ahead for them.

The art is straightforward, and serves Gard’s purpose well. The lines are clean (mostly), the action choreography clear and well-explained, and the character’s physical presences are distinct and interesting. Gard is most famous for creating Lara Croft — yes, the one you’re thinking of — so it’s no surprise that his two female protagonists are attractive and memorable. And before you ask, no, neither of these women are as famously chesty as Croft. Both are actually quite slender and have realistic figures, so let’s not drag in anyone’s biases about Tomb Raider into this discussion.  I do have a minor gripe about the character’s mouths, however.  There are a few pages where Katlyn’s upper lip is drawn in such a way that she appears to have a mustache.  It’s a small thing, and you can tell what Gard is trying to draw there, but it’s something that does draw the eye.  Again, only a minor fault.

The main mode of combat we’ve seen so far is a sort of mystic swordsmanship that draws inspiration from quite a few places. Chinese wuxia action films are the most obvious source, and you’ll see similarities to Star Wars lightsaber/force-wielding combat in here as well, with dashes of The Matrix and a hint of DragonBall.  Let me be clear here — none of that is necessarily a bad thing!  While there’s nothing exceptionally new here (yet), the action works extremely well.  The advantage of these homages is that the reader “gets” the combat very quickly, without Toby having to stop the action and explain the rules to you so you can understand what he’s showing you (*coughHonorHarringtoncough*).

I’m hoping that we’ll see an expansion on these combats, where new details will be added that further enhance the action, and give it a unique feel that doesn’t depend too much on existing styles.  Right now, Katlyn’s swordfighting is almost too Jedi-like, with mystic abilities that function almost exactly like Force telekinesis, even down to the gestures used.  Gard’s made a good start, and I’m confident he can pull this off the needed touches to make his combat distinct as time goes on.  We’re already seeing hints of this in Eden’s emerging abilities, and I can see some real possibilities in how he might use her illusion casting down the line.  Time will tell if this pays off.

The story is still unfolding, so we don’t yet know the full scope of everyone’s motivations, or what their long term goals are, beyond survival.  But that’s okay, it’s still early.  Eden makes for an interesting surrogate for the audience, as the questions she asks are the ones you’d ask if you were tossed into a new world.  At the moment, she’s more of a sidekick to Katlyn than anything else, but there are hints that this won’t always be the case.

Be advised that this is an R-rated comic, and Gard makes a point of putting the Rated-R symbol right on the front page.  This unofficial rating is mostly for the violent content — the swordfights get extremely bloody, particularly since these mystic swordsfolk can heal themselves out of graphic gutripping wounds.  There is also a tiny bit of nudity so far — a brief topless scene with Eden as she’s changing clothes.  A touch on the gratuitous side, but the “camera” doesn’t linger salaciously on her naked breasts, and the scene isn’t presented in a sexual manner at all, so it’s really no big deal.

If you’re looking for a new webcomic to follow, Otherworld is worth a solid look.  The rough edges are slowly getting sanded down, and there aren’t many rough spots to begin with.  It’s a smoothly told action-adventure, with room to grow and plenty of potential to trap.  Consider it a Threat to your valuable websurfing schedule!