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Sean Boyle's Darkbolt

The plot has been done, the art style bears little to set it apart from manga of the late eighties, and the characters are relatively simple.

The "but" coming up after a sentence like that is almost tangible:

Buuuuuuuuuuut…

Sean Boyle's Darkbolt is likable, make no mistake. It's likable for showing the value of hard work and practice, practice, practice. It's likable for the plots you can almost always sense ahead of time, the characters whose reactions are obvious. You don't go to a ball game to be surprised; you go to support the show you love and to watch everything play out, one way or another. This webcomic is very much that ball game.

Darkbolt is perhaps what your average Shounen manga would be were it aimed at an older audience. It is unquestionably Epic (any heavily-plotted comic becomes epic given enough time, and the page count for Darkbolt is already up in the 900s), the story of four humans who become the bearers of demonic power but manage to use their evil powers for good…most of the time.

Other times, they blow up the world.

While the battles of will between the demons and their human hosts are interesting, the contrast between the perfectly evil demons and their hosts makes the humans look like moral exemplars. This is probably why they all look like such flat characters. Ikkou, the hot-tempered host for Destruction (The main demons are Destruction, War, Death, and Darkbolt, who gets a cool name because it's the leader and title character), is currently the character with the most moral depth, the Spider-Man in a world of Superman and Captain America. He makes mistakes…

Mistakes like blowing up the world.

Boyle's webcomic updates once a week, nearly always on time. It begins with what can only be called a demonic retelling of the traditional magical girl story, complete with transformation sequences, implied nudity and stock monsters. There is a point about two seasons into the story when the Dragonball quotient peaked, too. Between the presence of Destruction, who throws blasts of energy around as wantonly as the characters of the Dragonball series, and the blasted landscape that is something of a Dragonball staple (although Darkbolt actually provides a reason for it), the similarities are sometimes glaring.

Even with these comparisons in mind, every artist’s least favorite label, “Derivative,” is not one that necessarily applies to Darkbolt. Rather, it is fairer to say that the webcomic is influenced by the comics its author loves. For example, while the evil Tenma resemble Sailor Moon's Negaverse Youma in several respects, and while several of the enemies are set up like those of any given series of Shounen Manga (that is, as cannon fodder), the character relations and plot points are often fresh.

One of the best things about the comic is the fruit of Boyle’s ambition. At the beginning, it looks awful. He has little sense of proportion, his plots are simplistic (just the mildest of twists on an overplayed genre), and his fight scenes are occasionally incomprehensible. But he is ambitious. He did not shy away from scene designs or action sequences simply because they would be too difficult to draw. Thus, through tenacity and practice fueled by said ambition, his abilities have improved dramatically. Not only has he gotten better at drawing his characters, but he is better at setting them in spatial environments, as well as rendering them from many angles. His art is diligent; he pays constant attention to angle, frame, and how the frame's location on the page affects the timing.

Read this comic. It begins with poor art and mediocre plot.

Buuuuuuuuuuut…