Friday, March 17, 2006

Webcomic Review: Questionable Content


The problem with "Questionable Content" is that it is, by definition, a "will they/won't they" story - the focus is almost entirely on Faye and Marten and their ambiguous feelings towards each other. Sure, there are secondary characters like Steve and Dora around, but they don't have any independent existence outside their connections to the protagonists.

Now, on a purely technical level there's nothing wrong with the "will they/won't they" model, aside from the limited scope: the automatic assumption is that "they will" sooner or later, because that's the only way the story can move forward. The denial of romance is only meant to create obstacles for the characters that will inevitably be overcome. Of course, once the lovers get together, the story's over because the question has been answered: try to stretch it any further and you end up with something like "Dawson's Creek".

What Jeph Jacques does is... to be honest, I'm not entirely sure. He's either saying "They won't" and building his entire series around sexual tension that won't come to fruition (which is a nice, if pointless, way of deflecting expectations), or he's saying "They will, eventually" and decompressing on a beyond-Bendisian scale. Because there's no sense of progress, however minimal. We know there's a reason Faye can't let herself love Marten, but that reason only becomes clear during a storyline that kicks off in the series' 500th strip.

That bears reiterating. Jacques spends 499 strips making fun of the tension, acknowledging its existence, but refusing to do anything with it. Faye gets drunk, makes an ambiguous pass at Marten, blacks out, wakes up and punches him, repeat ad nausem. And on the 500th strip he finally gets around to establishing the primary obstacle to the relationship. Not resolving it, not even beginning to deal with it. He simply tells the readers that it's there.

There is such a thing as waiting too long, IMO.

It wouldn't be so bad if there was something else going on, if the Faye/Marten story was simmering in the background while other subplots took the lead. But we don't have any real reason to care about Steve's dating problems or Dora's identity crisis, because they're not complete characters in their own right. Their stories are completely entangled in those of the protagonists'.

The end result is that "Questionable Content" is a mortifyingly slow read - the humorous aspects work well enough, specifically anything to do with Pintsize, but they're not as dominant in the story as they should be. Everything else is given over to Faye and Marten, who develop so minimally (if at all) that I just completely lost interest.