I first stumbled across the science fiction webcomic Needle at ConnectiCon last year, with cartoonists Richard Errington and Thomas Chang selling print compilations of the first 24 pages of the story (which I must admit is one of the more innovative methods of advertising a webcomic, though also risky as not everyone would be willing to spend $3.99 on an unknown). What stood out about Needle was that the print compilation revealed more of the story than was available online – I ended up waiting weeks after purchasing (and reading) the comic until finally the web-based version caught up with the special edition compilation.
The comic follows the adventures of Colonel Eric Stevens, part of an Earth military expedition to a planet of “Utopians” (which I assume are a subset of humanity who are rebelling against Earth) whose fighter is knocked off course when it was about to engage its Faster-Than-Light (FTL) engines and ended up lost. Alone but for the virtual company of Rez, the ship’s artificial intelligence (AI), Stevens ends up encountering three hostile alien species (who are fighting each other) and due to his fighter possessing better technology (their weapons are unable to penetrate the fighter’s shields), and his use of a ramming attack to destroy one of the alien battleships manages to cow the aliens into surrender.
There are some discrepancies in the comic, such as the fact the three alien species have been fighting over this planet for a thousand years with sublight ships, but have not had any significant upgrade in weapons technology. You would think that after a thousand years of conflict, the aliens would have developed more advanced weapons; a sole human fighter developed due to a conflict that is likely decades old, managed to outperform all three alien species. It just seems odd to me. For that matter, humanity also managed to develop FTL drives and sentient AIs that are able to handle instantaneous two-way translation of alien languages (thus allowing comprehension between the aliens and Stevens).
Admittedly, the aliens are revealed (via information dump) to have been “uplifted” technologically (and socially) by probes launched by an older alien species; it may be that as the aliens back-engineered the alien technology, they are less capable of developing new technologies on their own. But this conjecture is based on random speculation, rather than anything hinted at in the comic itself. It may be nitpicking (and the comic isn’t even 50 updates in yet), but such incongruities can distract from the story as a whole. As to what the story is (outside of a survival tale of a lone human among potentially-hostile aliens), I’m not entirely sure.
We’ve had glimpses of Stevens’ memories (which could give us a Man vs. Self narrative conflict) and Steven’s own struggle to survive in an alien environment with nearly no supplies (Man vs. Nature), but what the purpose of the story is remains vague. Artistically Needle is a fairly simple black-and-white comic with the exception of pages 10 to 12; given the lack of color before and after this segment, it does feel out of place. In addition, there are some places where dialogue bubble placement can be initially confusing. But these flaws are fairly minor, and the comic shows promise. Science fiction fans will likely enjoy the comic, and as it is fairly new, an archive crawl won’t take much more than an hour. And even with its flaws, the comic is enjoyable and well worth reading.