Analog And D-Pad

⭐⭐⭐⭐½ based on 2 reviews.

Written by Tim Buckley.

tl;dr: An extremely fun mash-up of gamer culture and superhero tropes that breathes new life into these beloved characters and begins building a world that I'm definitely intrigued by.


Graphic Novels

Volume One

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

I've been reading Tim Buckley's webcomic Ctrl+Alt+Del since I was in sixth form, so when that series officially came to an end it hit me like a genuine loss. I've never felt that Buckley was wrong to end what has become known as CAD 1.0 – the story had become overly complicated and it was clear that they had bigger ideas that couldn't find room to breathe under the weight of a decade-plus of lore. But, still, I couldn't quite face going back the site for a while and, once that habit was broken, it never really recovered.

The few times I did pop my head back through that door I was really intrigued by what I saw. The characters that had once been core to CAD 1.0 had been rebooted into a new series: Analog and D-Pad, a videogame inspired spin on superhero tales. The main characters, Ethan and Lucas, still owned an indie game store, and still had most of their loveable charm (though Buckley did take the time to slightly ground both of them, which I appreciate), but now they also had superpowers. Quite fun superpowers, at that.

Don't get me wrong, they're both pastiches, but that's sort of the point. Ethan's attempts at the dark, brooding, Batman analogue are deliberately undone by his underlying character, but they also match his "infinite continues" actual power well. On the other side, Lucas is very much brawn, though his lack of immortality makes him also at much greater risk, so the Green Lantern inspired hard-light arrows make for a very fun combination. Throw in Scott as a typical "man in the chair" and you have a fairly compelling and original set-up that wears its inspiration proudly.

And speaking of chairs, Buckley clearly took the time in the reboot to think about creating a more diverse cast. I understand why CAD 1.0 was quite so white, straight, and male-dominated – like most writers, Buckley used his own life as a clear reference – but A+D broadens that scope considerably, without ever throwing it in your face. Scott is disabled now, something which has been used in a couple of sarcastic one-liners but is largely just not mentioned. A new character, Captain Prime, is not only the most powerful superhero in the region, but is also a black woman. Lucas feels even more Italian-American than he did, with noticeably different skin tones throughout (though this may be a reach, it's never explicit). Could the diversity go a bit further? Sure. It still definitely leans heavily towards white, male, gamers, but the steps it has taken are nice to notice and the lack of fanfare around it feels broadly positive.

As for the plot, I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging and fun it was. Buckley has always been good at crafting multi-episode arcs, but being unchained from his past requirements of having each page end in some kind of gag allows for a lot more depth and subtle nuance to his characterisation and stories. At the same time, his ability to land a good chuckle hasn't dulled at all, whilst his satirical reworking of comic book tropes or classic villain motifs has massively upgraded from earlier attempts at similar gags. At the same time, A+D has a clear tone, one that doesn't ever take itself too seriously. There's clearly been a lot of passion poured into it, but it never loses sight of the fact that, at the core, this is a bit of a parody, smashing together gaming culture and superhero culture whilst poking fun at both. That said, it also isn't afraid to take a harder look at the ethics of vigilantism and the mental impact that having disproportionate power over others can have, which gave the story and characters an extra layer of depth I wasn't really expecting.

Villains like the Troll and the Anti-Tech League are fun, clever reworkings of (mainly) Batman rogues, in this case the Joker and Ra's al Ghul's League of Shadows, obviously with a gamer/internet culture twist. That the latter introduced Zeke back into proceedings was a surprise, but a pleasant one, and I look forward to seeing where that plot thread goes – the stage has clearly been set for them to break away from their villainous master, and I could definitely see a Deadpool-esque take on the character happening further down the line. The other main villain featured, who I'll refer to as the Hacker, is a more original concept that worked brilliantly and clearly had been a lot of fun to create.

Combine this with a decently rich wider world, excellent art, solid pacing, a few interesting one-shot style comics that occur between the main episodes that help to flesh out the core cast as people, a surprisingly simple yet coherent origin story, and even a short Winter-een-mas tribute (I'm a big fan that this is just a thing in this universe 👍), and I really enjoyed volume one. I know that the webcomics are several more issues ahead, but given the intense quality of this collected hardback, I think I'm happy to wait for volume two before I continue what has become an intriguing and loveable reboot of one of my all-time favourite series 🙌

The Originals

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Included at the back of volume one are the original three issues of Analog & D-Pad that existed before the Ctrl+Alt+Del reboot. From what I understand, they were mainly created as a side project and sold at conventions, rather than being made available online (they were certainly never released as part of the main webcomic run). As a result, I've seen plenty of screenshots and cover art for them, but never read them until now. I'm kind of glad that's the case.

It isn't that the OG concept is bad, but that compared to the modern incarnation it feels distinctly half-baked. You can see a huge evolution in Buckley's storytelling capabilities, a maturation of his humour, and a general levelling up of his understanding of what makes his comics work. The OG stories suffer from poor pacing, inconsistent logic, and a shallowness which I'm glad to say the rebooted, canonical stories lack entirely. Again, they aren't necessarily bad, but they lack a lot of the polish I've come to expect.

Villains like the Quarter Master are fun ideas, but their scheme makes very little sense, to the point of absurdity. That Ethan even openly mocks the plan in-panel doesn't make it any better – if anything, it just drives home that this was an underbaked idea. The Frag is a slightly better concept, though again just doesn't seem that interesting. It's a Hulk parody, but lacks the Jekyll/Hyde dynamic that makes that kind of character interesting, and isn't helped by the slightly laughable setup around GPU technology.

You can see a lot of what makes A+D great hidden within the stories here, and I find it genuinely interesting to see how much of what Buckley thought up in those early strips has carried over. The core character designs and set-up are all pretty much the same, though I much prefer their civilian jobs as game store owners, rather than world-famous pro gamers 😂 That feels a little more egotistical than it needs to be!

The result is that these were a fun read in contrast to the rest of volume one, but definitely not worth actively seeking out.

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