March 10, 2015

8 Things I Love About Worm

So, I don't really review web-based material... or normal books for that matter, so this might feel like it's coming from left field, which I guess it is, but I just have to talk about this web serial! As you may or may not have read, I published an article in my school paper about it in February, but being limited to 500 words or so really cut down on what I wanted to say. So I figure now I'd just sit down and hopefully get most of what I want to say out here now, and what better way to do that than in a Top 10 8 post (because I'm lazy and busy with school)!

Worm is about a teenage girl, Taylor Hebert, living in a superpower-normalized world, with heroes and villains alike running rampant around the globe. Taylor herself has powers, and she quickly gets swept up into the "cape" political scene, befriending a group of villains and having her world view change and be challenged by circumstance and by the powered community. It truly is a remarkable story that becomes more enlivened and more complicated as it progresses. John McCrae, the genius who wrote this thing, should be proud of what he's done. Plus, the dude's a writing machine; he never misses a deadline and he's currently on his third web serial following immediately after his second! I haven't read either, mostly because I'm still reeling from the ending of Worm, but I hope to give both a shot some day. But anyway, here are eight things that I love about Worm!

Obviously, there are spoilers for the entirety of the serial. If you haven't read all of it, go do so for your own reading pleasure (but also to avoid being spoiled here).

8. The Tone
There's a lot of sources from which Worm draws, the most obvious being a lovely nod and expansion of much of what DC had been doing in the late '90s and early 2000s with a bit of modern Marvel thrown in. As such, many of the elements (the PRT, the villain groups, and the various "cape" legal systems that are in place) have a a kind of real-world-ish tone to them. Taylor's life is pretty bleak, all things considered, and that plays into the tone of this work all the time obviously, since she's the main character and all that. I liked that this serial is bleak, but it isn't a "no hope" bleak. It's more of a "there's hope, but the price is pretty damn high" bleak, like a bleak that makes you realize that these people might not want to save humanity if it means giving up power, or if it means recognizing the worst aspects of yourself in order to do what's right. Those are great moral, personal, and ethical dilemmas, and the serial has no problem exploring and twisting those around as it progresses. The characters, especially Taylor, struggle with their lives and their minds when faced with this responsibility and powers, and each does so in such a way that puts Peter Parker's struggle and Uncle Ben's infamous quote to shame. Not to say that Spider-Man is a bad character or anything, but in terms of just breaking out of that normalcy, Worm is a huge winner.

7. The World-building
One of the staples of science fiction is world-building, creating a world and then doing stuff with it or in it. The world of Worm is complex, it's intricate, and it makes a kind of internal-logic sense. The world of the cape community is established and expanded upon in a believable way with internal politics and personal agendas being common-place amongst the heroes and villains. I love how many of the superhero teams are organized realistically, be it within government control, or operating more as units than as individual people mashed into a group for the sake of it. The nods to other superhero stories are great to see too; how people in this universe make their costumes or get their names to the reputations of the heroes and villains being as important if not more so than actually protecting civilians or robbing a bank. It all made this feel like an established, lived-in world instead of a world that was being built as each chapter was being released.

6. The Battles
Undoubtedly, one of the things that superhero stories are going to have are big fights, and Worm has no shortage of those, but the scope of battle does fluctuate thankfully between small skirmishes and huge fights with the Endbringers. I love how the dynamics of the powers within the teams of heroes and villains often work off of or with each other during a fight, and the different forms of combat, be it hand-to-hand, a firefight, or long-ranged power fighting, makes every fight unique and interesting. The first huge fight we see is in Arc 8 with the whole of the Brooklyn Bay cape community, heroes and villains, fighting against the Endbringer Leviathan, and this was the arc that made me go from liking the serial to absolutely loving it. It wasn't just that the fight itself was suitably epic and properly cinematic, but the fallout from this has repercussions throughout the rest of the entire story, from big to small, and it was awesome seeing how the cape politics worked regarding the Endbringers, again giving this world a lived-in and three-dimensional feel.

5. The Plots
Worm is full of twists and turns, and the plots become more complicated as the narrative moves along. From Cauldron's plan to take over the world to "protect humanity", to how the capes are going to deal with an Endbringer attack, all the way to how Taylor is going to be able to work around all these obstacles to meet her dad for lunch, everything is handled deftly here (for the most part). Because the plot moves the decisions that the characters make feel natural and because the stakes not only get bigger but also deeper, you really feel like these people are making decisions in the spur of the moment rather than all of this being contrived by the author. The choices that the characters make are often personal, and the characters themselves have to often times choose between doing the right thing for the wrong reasons or doing something noble but ultimately making a bad situation worse. The middle of Worm is thick with a lovely complicated story and I honestly didn't know what was going to happen next! It's a very Ice and Fire type of atmosphere here; not as much beheading, but plenty of "holy shit I did not see that coming" moments. The ending is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of pacing, but the way the whole thing wraps up is beautiful!

4. The Powers
Taylor controls bugs; Lisa has superhuman intuition; there's a minor character who's power is superhuman singing ability. In any other world, hell in the real world, we would throw these powers out there as jokes! But here, these powers are used to brilliant effect! Watching Taylor learn about and expand and experiment with her powers, seeing her power develop over time in line with her personal situation and mental development as a super-villain is such an engaging experience, taking a page from Batman Begins in that we get to see Taylor use trial-and-error to see what's most effective on opponents. And many of her opponents are more powerful, both physically and superpower-wise, and so that makes all of her victories all the stronger. I also love how the power classification system works. Having the various capes get thrown into categories according to their powers is something that I can see happening in the real world if capes were to ever show up, and it's used nicely here. Again, this lends an element of realism and believability to the piece that I found meshed very well with the story. Powers are often used outside of fighting too; Taylor has her costume made out of spider silk; almost all of the Tinkers have armor (I think the only one who didn't was Blasto), and so on. The story behind the powers here is also one that makes sense for this universe, and I loved how the powers themselves worked; for every advantage that you get with a power, there's a clear line that that power can't cross (or in Taylor's case, she crossed it, but it cost her pretty much everything in the end). I liked that every power came with a limit. It explained away a number of general questions concerning superheroes in comics past. And this also had the added benefit of making the powers themselves have interesting consequences; the story seems to imply (and later verifies) that the more powerful you are, the less human you become, and that's such an interesting position to put these characters in, because it means that they're constantly having to keep their powers in check and whatnot. Super interesting and unique! I loved the creative use of the powers throughout the story, whether it be on the battlefield or whenever the Wards or the Undersiders were hanging out. This is another element of the serial that grabbed me early on, and thankfully, most of the powers don't get stale over time.

3. The People
Taylor is not the only character who engaged me as a reader. Tattletale, Armsmaster/Defiant, Dragon, and virtually the entire Brooklyn Bay Wards team were all really memorable characters. While Worm is mainly and plot-driven, that doesn't mean that characters are vacuous. I loved Defiant's and Dragon's relationship, and I liked that many of the heroes, particularly the non-powered people in charge, were generally not good people. Armsmaster himself isn't a nice guy in the beginning, and his reformation story was one that I cared about more than I thought I would. His relationship with Taylor was one of the strongest despite only interacting like four times before Taylor becomes Weaver, and I loved how their characters grew because of each other. Dragon's character is also really awesome! Her story is tragic and interesting, but gets a little old in the climax, just after she's taken down by Saint, and then brought back and then taken out again, it felt a little repetitive (indicative of the final battle, actually). But regardless, she was one of my favorite characters. The Wards teams were awesome; most of their personalities were distinct (especially the Brooklyn Bay and Chicago teams). For the most part, they have dialogue that sounds like how teenagers talk, which is kinda funny because for most of the time, the Undersiders sound more like full adults than teenagers. Still, the Wards were really fun. Often times for many of the other characters, their power tends to overshadow their personalities, but if they get an Interlude chapter, they're generally fleshed out to a respectable degree, and I very much appreciate it. I loved the group dynamic between the Undersiders, too. There's a real spark and bond between the group, even as Taylor is introduced to all of them. They work well as a unit and play off of each other, and besides that, there's also plenty of inner-group conflict going on.

2. The Pace
It's definitely not perfect; the latter half of the middle and especially the end fight are both wrought with weird and unfortunate pacing issues, but when Worm is on its game, man, does it fly! There's such a great feeling to reading this; because the conflicts are multi-faceted and multi-layered, rarely is there a dull moment even if we're not witnessing a giant battle. There's always something going on in Taylor's head that is intriguing on its own, and seeing her work out her various plans and wrestle with her moral center is just as engaging if not more so than any Endbringer attack ever is.The story moves, and the plot, characters, and themes develop and move with it at a fast and appreciable pace. The pace does hit a huge wall when the time jump happens, and even McCrae himself admits that he wants to rework this prior to publication; it's a risky move to be sure, and it real throws a wrench into how the day-to-day flow of the story was progressing. I was also not a fan of the final fight with Scion. This takes place over the course of three arcs; it's not all battle for Taylor- she has some downtime and there's a sub-plot with Cauldron- but in the background, Scion is just killing everything. It makes the deaths that do matter here less effective, and makes every time Taylor or any large number of heroes engage Scion seem less and less noteworthy. The idea here atmospherically is that we're supposed to feel the sheer protracted nature of the conflict, but pace-wise, this takes me out of the story. Even when Taylor does get her mental block removed, it takes a while for the story to pick up momentum. When it does, it's fantastic, but getting there is a bit of a drag. Those two issues aside, ,though, the pace is excellent! The web serial format helps with the feeling of constantly moving, too.

1. The Voice of Taylor
One of the first things that struck me about the serial, and thankfully only strengthened as it went on, was the narrative voice. Written in the first-person, Taylor's voice is one of the most engaging I've read, certainly in the sci-fi/fantasy genre; every decision she makes is calculated and worked through, and seeing the wheels turn in her head as she assesses her situation and then makes the appropriate call is engaging as hell, whether she be operating in combat or just talking to her friends. Taylor's journey is the principle one, obviously, and much of that entails her descent from mild-mannered teenager into hardened tactician and villain, and her voice, tone, and how events and people are described to the reader reflects that, particularly at the end of the book. I love how her brain works, and I love that her views of the world change throughout the story. And the reader gets to see all of that play out because of the first-person narrative! This represents some truly effective writing skills, and Taylor's transformation is one of the most well put together character developments I've ever read. If nothing else, give Worm a read for this experience alone. It's damn good.

So, those are my reasons for loving Worm so much! I have a lot more I could say, and part of the reason this list took as long as it did to complete was because I was trying to articulate so much thought into a relatively unstructured format, while trying to not veer all over the place. I probably won't do a full review or overview of this or anything, but if I do, I promise it won't be short. Anyway, if you read all that and yet haven't read the actual book, well, go read the book here! It's one of the most unique experiences I've had in the superhero genre in my life! This is one that I will cherish for some time to come!

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