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Schism by Leigh Bader, reviewed by Chris Daily

Leigh Bader's Schism tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world, full of mysterious figures and shady dealings. Technology reached a high point, then crashed in an event known as the Schism, and now it’s in the rebuilding stage. Electronic communication is highly monitored to prevent another disaster.

But don’t worry -- there’re a lot of hot guys running around, which makes everything okay.

Leigh Bader's Schism tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world, full of mysterious figures and shady dealings. Technology reached a high point, then crashed in an event known as the Schism, and now it’s in the rebuilding stage. Electronic communication is highly monitored to prevent another disaster.

But don’t worry -- there’re a lot of hot guys running around, which makes everything okay.

Schism claims to be Shounen-ai manga, (most simply defined as male/male relationship manga) but it’s really an online comic book with influences of manga. As for the male/male relationships, it’s never really dealt with, but we’ll get to this later. The story focuses on young and hip DJ Jiko, who also happens to be a school teacher. On the way to his first day of class, he rollerblades right into a mysterious gentleman, who disappears before Jiko can hand him his glasses back. After Jiko figures out that the glasses are configured with a wireless modem, he freaks out, knowing that such a thing is highly illegal and his own life might be in danger for activating the device.

Before he can destroy the glasses, mister mysterious himself shows up again to get the glasses back. In return, he confesses to being Shikai Hitasura, the only known name associated with the Schism event. Later in the story, other characters pop up that broaden the scope of Jiko’s supposed dilemma. We learn that a villainous guy named Quay is searching for Shikai for some unexplained reason. Jiko also has a mentally ill twin sister, Kitoku, who was seriously affected by the Schism. In another unplanned run-in, Shikai informs Jiko that, because his sister survived this event, other people might be looking for her.

Schism is broken up into chapters (up to chapter 3 right now), and a new page is posted every two weeks. Each page is a part of the whole chapter, and as such, rarely works as a stand-alone comic. The long gap between each post makes for a very slow story progression. To make matters worse, some pages sometimes only serve as colorful character pin-ups, which might be frustrating for readers who want to see the story move along. Bader doesn’t help at times, creating a world with a lot of questions but not that many answers. While it’s good to not want to give everything away for the sake of suspense, such a slow, diffused posting of the entire story makes it easy for readers to get impatient. The site is well laid out, however, so it’s a breeze to go back and ponder over previous pages for as long as you like, while waiting for the next hopeful update.

Bader’s artwork in Schism is particularly strong, and in some panels, magnificently rendered. While the influence of Manga style is prevalent, Bader applies a sketchy kinetic line to her figures, word bubbles, and panels. This unsettled linework enhances the mood of the story, as well as makes it more unique among other online manga-esque strips. The first chapter is primarily black and white, using greytones that have been digitally enhanced with textures and brush stroke effects. Bader starts using color about 30 pages into the first chapter, and since then has offered bright, digitally-painted renderings. The painted look to the comic adds to the atmosphere of the characters, but also takes away some of the high-tech feel of the world, because things are more sketchy than technically laid out. This more loosely-painted style also yields some panels with rather skewed perspective.

Schism also taps into its future tech theme by implementing interactive animated elements on some “pages”. This makes the comic a little more unique and fortifies the story theme significantly.

The strongest artwork on the site however, is in the Gallery section. Here, Bader has a collection of beautifully-rendered character pin-ups showing the characters bonding in ways they never get to do in the comic. This is where the “male love” aspect of the comic becomes clear. One might wonder if the comic only serves as a catalyst for these character pin-ups to be created.

While there are some questionable plot points, and while the update schedule is discouraging, the overall outlook and feel of Schism is strong. Leigh Bader has created engaging characters, beautifully-rendered art with lots of energy to it, and a semi-intriguing storyline that holds promise of getting better. The occasional interactive elements enhance the futuristic theme, while the implied subtext of strong male characters hints at a softer romantic element. It clearly fills a niche audience that enjoy seeing cute manga boys bark threats at each other, only to live out their erotic dreams in the gallery section of the site. Here’s hoping these boys find peace with each other someday, because they’re not quite complete right now.