When I first reviewed 8-Bit Theatre almost four years back, I commented on its twisted sense of humor and a surreal storyline that was part parody and part homage to the old 8-bit games of old. Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to 8-Bit Theatre. Only two things keep this comic on my reading list: it’s bookmarked on my computer, and the epic storyline that began back in March of 2001 appears finally to be drawing to a close. In the years since I last commented on the strip, the character glut hasn’t diminished, and the main cast has sunk into a mire of inanity and one-dimensional characterization.
Okay, I’ll admit that 8-Bit Theatre was never a comic with epic characterization. The characters were designed as caricatures and parodies, and never really developed beyond this (with the exception of Black Mage, who suffered the most character development while never really growing beyond his twisted roots). But over time, rot has sapped away the strengths that I found early in the comic’s run, and I lost any and all interest in both primary and secondary casts. Even the early gems of growth that Black Mage showed were sublimated into a cycle of inanity and stale jokes retold with disturbing regularity.
Even recent events failed to catch my interest. I have almost no interest in whatever nonsense master manipulator Sarda is up to with the Orbs (four elemental-based Mac Guffins). Nor did I even bat an eye when Black Mage ended up sending “evil black energy tendrils” through the chest of the one person he actually cared for, and turning against the rest of his former compatriots. The comic, which was never one to rely on artwork and relied on pixilated sprites copied over various backgrounds, has turned into a massive talking-head exercise in boredom and futility.
I suspect that the last several years of the comic could easily have been condensed into a couple of months. If the secondary storylines and the zero-dimensional tertiary characters had been abandoned (as they honestly lack any relevance to the story as a whole) and the huge pages of dialogue pared so that fans aren’t forced to read a page of text with each update, then we could have led up to either a confrontation between the so-called “Heroes of Light” and Sarda… or between Black Mage and his former compatriots.
Instead, 8-Bit Theatre has become an object lesson that comics can run too long. When I look back at early comics, I can sense the seeds of inanity. Entire pages of monologues happened from time to time in past strips. The characters themselves refused to evolve, and even the tiniest of lessons learned from the cast would be cast aside to keep the cast as unchanging as Garfield or Family Circus. Except I suppose that’s unfair to Garfield, seeing that Jim Davis has been livening up the comic lately. Add in years of repetition, and what little originality the comic had has been squandered while the comic grew stale and unappealing. But unless Brian Clevinger has some truly unexpected twist to pull at the end, 8-Bit Theatre will go out not with a bang, but with a whimper.