One of the truly enjoyable aspects of webcomics is the utter freedom they give the cartoonist in both story content and concept. While the lack of editorial restriction does have a dark side (I’ve stumbled across comics that focus on school shootings, binge eating, and pointless graphic violence; these seem to rely on the subject matter to draw in readers rather than intelligent storytelling), this editorial freedom can also encourage cartoonists to indulge in philosophical concepts and story subjects that would likely not see print due to limited readership appeal. The utopian deconstruction webcomic City of Reality fits in the latter category, using both whimsical stories and more serious content to describe the utopian world of Reality, and several people who are part of the super hero organization SUEPR (though many of the “supers” use devices, rather than innate abilities).
No, that’s not a typo. The organization that deals with disasters, monsters, and other insanity is called “SUEPR;” I’m not quite sure what the acronym stands for, but the “Sue” aspect was deliberate, and several of the characters would be Sue-like characters, except for the deliberate deconstruction of the trope in general. Nor are the Sue-like characteristics universal with the entire cast; instead, it almost seems to be an innate aspect of the natives of Reality, in comparison with characters who emigrated from another world to live in Reality. Perhaps the best example of this lies with the leader of SUEPR 4, the teenage boy Todo.
Todo is, for a lack of better words, perfect. He’s handsome, articulate, compassionate, skilled, assumes the best of people and doesn’t judge them if they don’t meet those expectations. In short, he’s the type of character you’d hate (well, initially) if you stumbled across him in a fanfic or the like. But as the comic unfolds, it becomes obvious that Todo’s “perfection” is a veneer, and that the very aspects of him that appear so “perfect” in Reality end up hurting him (and his companions) when facing problems from other less utopian realities.
The two outsiders of the group are immigrants from worlds outside of Reality; A.V. is a young verbose lady who has a lot of talent and heart, but freezes up in social situations, while Hawk is an anthropomorphic dragonfly with a chip on his shoulder and the need to prove himself. It is these two that truly help the comic shine, with their reactions to the eccentricities of their new world (such as a sock puppet rabbit being the mayor of the City of Reality, or how everyone is just so nice to each other, even in the face of infidelity or being robbed.
Of course, A.V. and Hawk won’t be the only ones who’ll give double-takes at times. There are subtle and not-so-subtle images that will suggest how things could go; take the infidelity (which was told as a flashback story): when the guy is confronting his girlfriend after catching her in bed with another man, there is an one-panel flash to a handgun in the bedroom drawer. It’s never touched, and the two manage to talk things out (with the guy that was caught in bed cowering behind the bed looking quite nervous the entire time). Likewise, one of the very first things that happens in the comic is that a young girl is given a ride home by a shadowy complete stranger, taking a different route home than is normally taken… and she gets home safely and untouched. The entire world reeks of the Uncanny Valley effect; the inhabitants of Reality are (for the most part) human… and yet somehow not.
In many ways we’re being given a glimpse of the alien nature of a utopia. In order for a utopia to exist, people would have to resist those darker impulses that are a part of all of our lives… and do so consistently. And they do, with the exception of some of the immigrants from other realities where things are not so perfect. We’ve not seen A.V. react adversely to some of the almost inhuman decency among the citizens of Reality, though there are moments when you’re sure she’s going to comment, only to back away. Hawk, on the other hand, spends an entire chapter trying to break through their veneer of civility, only to finally conclude that somehow, Reality itself is one huge family (and not one of the more typically dysfunctional ones in our own world).
The rest of the cast plays primarily a background role; Froggie, a giant intelligent anthropomorphic frog is the scientist of the group, while Victor is the final member of SUEPR 4 and is, if anything, even more perfect and decent than Todo. Little has been done to date to expand on their personalities or backgrounds (though Victor is hinted at having a “mysterious past” which will undoubtedly become the basis of some future storyline). Finally, there’s Mayor Rabbit, a sentient sock puppet rabbit who single… um… handedly runs the entire government of the City of Reality. Much like the other natives of Reality, when he appears and talks about various things we catch brief glimpses that suggest things aren’t quite as perfect in Reality as appearances might suggest, but outside of a few disasters (all of which have been (indirectly?) caused by interactions with another reality called Magic World) we’ve had few glimpses at the possible darker side of Reality.
After the first two chapters (which introduce both A.V. and Hawk), the chapters tend to flow into each other. Indeed, the problems caused by Magic World products ends up being the motivation behind the CoR storyline that just concluded, where SUEPR 4′s three core members had to travel to Magic World to stop their own brethren, who are trying to eliminate the threat Magic World poses for Reality. Cartoonist Ian Samson manages to portray the members of SUEPR 1 as well-intentioned extremists that know what they’re doing is wrong… but that it’s for the greater good of Reality. Chapter 5 may be the best storyline yet in CoR, and undoubtedly we’ll see more of Magic World in the future, especially once Mayor Rabbit admits to the rulers of Magic World that some of his own were responsible for their own recent troubles.
Another interesting aspect of CoR is its update schedule: the comic is released twice a month with sizable multi-page updates. This helps create a better sense of story and continuity than even a daily update schedule would do. Samson has stated that this update schedule will be changing soon, but hopefully he’ll continue some form of multi-page update (perhaps similar to the update schedule of Sarah Ellerton’s The Phoenix Requiem).
City of Reality is one of those comics that will amuse, charm, and at times disturb you. It may also make you sit back for a moment and consider what Samson is saying here… and on the state of our own reality. For that alone I’d recommend it; the interesting deconstruction of just what a utopian world is and on the nature of “perfect” characters is just icing on the cake.
Addendum note: It appears CoR is switching to a MWF update schedule, for the time being.