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Yuoma's Twelve Dragons, reviewed by Justin

The thousand year war, foreseen and foretold by the fates, has begun. Humans, Dwarves, Elves and most of the other Pangean ruling races are in a great fight against one another. Winner takes all and the ultimate losers get to be erased from existence. Sadly, as in all other wars, the only real victims are the innocents, too weak and weak to fight back.

This is how Yuoma sets up the premise of Twelve Dragons. It obviously borrows from Tolkien, as do many fantasy stories that followed his novels. Like The Lord of the Rings, Twelve Dragons takes place on a "Alternate Past" version of Earth, when the land was vibrant with flora, fauna, and magic, unsullied by the greed of Mankind. Yuoma eclipses our own historical context even closer as the story occurs on the supercontinent Pangea, placing it somewhere between the dinosaurs and the dawn of the Modern Age.

If you're expecting pious elves and noble men, however, you're in for a surprise.

The main storyline follows three adventurers: the halfing warrior Krok, the childish changeling Grog, and Milinda the hellhound. The trio is, apparently, destined to discover and defeat what has been killing off the dragon families across Pangea. Although the comic's around two years old, one gets the impression that Yuoma still has the lion's share of the tale to tell.

The story is presented in black and white, with comic-book style page updates. There are stints of full-color pages, but color is usually just a tool in Twelve Dragons - its sole purpose to represent magic. The art is appealing, confident, and distinctive – Yuoma clearly practised and experimented some, in order to get comfortable with his style, before drawing the first actual panel of the story. That said, his art continues to evolve as the story does. His fantasy creatures are imaginatively rendered and displayed, and his lineart crisp and distinctive, if a little awkwardly posed at times, especially near the beginning of the story.

There's a delicate balance that needs to be maintained when webcomicking in the comic book style, because one can't give out 24 pages at once and still update constantly. The author doesn't want to clumsily compact five pages into one, but they do want some "punch" in every update (a joke, a plot point, etc.) to satisfy regular readers. Yuoma's punches are usually some sort of off-the-cuff joke, or, failing that, boobs.

He works as if borrowing a page from Sam Raimi's Hercules and Xena storytelling how-to guide: Construct a large, yet tightly-woven fantasy world, but don't make it too proud that it can't tell a fart joke or flash some T&A. At its worst the dichotomy is distracting from itself, and at its best it balances out with proper pacing. Those put off by fantasy stories because of the "What bringest thou, good helmsman?" style of dialogue will be pleased to know Yuoma doesn't use it. Like the Shrek films, Twelve Dragons is set in a fairy tale land with characters who act and speak in modern laymen's terms.

Speaking of fantasy creatures, Twelve Dragons features more than its share of sex objects. In fact, the entire saga begins with a shocking near-rape scene between some ogres and hapless female victims. While the sex sequences are usually good-natured rolls in the hay for the horny, young Grog, I think it's fair to warn potential readers that there's a lot of "not for the kids" stuff in this fantasy story (though it should be noted that the whole pre-Disney fantasy genre would probably be rated "M" for Mature by today's standards).

There may even more skin in Twelve Dragons than your average adult webcomic, if taken on a page-by-page basis. Whether that's shameful or ballsy depends on the reader's perception, but it's worth pointing out before anyone dives in. As a smaller sidenote, there's a fair amount of gore in the comic, but it's not nearly as frequent as the nudity, and doesn't really take you by surprise.

Twelve Dragons' rather busy-looking website can by itself get on a reader's nerves. There's a Penny Arcade sort of "pre-blog" clickthrough before you get to the comic, but it usually just announces when a new comic has arrived, so one can't be sure why Yuoma doesn't just plop the comic there. In addition, there's no navigation other than the standard "First" "Previous "Next" and "Last" links. This would be fine if he was doing something with loose continuity like Sinfest, but Twelve Dragons has hundreds of pages of obligatory backstory, and it's hard to reference specific plotlines in the older stuff. Something like an easy-access Table of Contents, or even a chapter dropdown, would be a great help for readers.

That said, Twelve Dragons plants the seeds of a large, compelling action-drama, though the major plotlines are just budding. Yuoma's next task will be to let these plotlines grow together without forcing them, and without letting them sprawl too far apart in the meantime. This is where the audience will discover what sort of garden Yuoma's been planting all along.

Justin is a staff contributor for Comixpedia. More Details.