Reading Resolution: “The Order of the Stick: Book 1/2 – Good Deeds Gone Unpunished” by Rich Burlew

17. A graphic novel: The Order of the Stick: Book 1/2 – Good Deeds Gone Unpunished by Rich Burlew

List Progress: 5/30

When thinking about this book, I realized that I have been reading the fantasy webcomic The Order of the Stick for at least 14 years, mostly-continuously. And I didn’t even come in at the beginning! Writer and artist Rich Burlew has been creating this one comic with its single continuous storyline, following a party of off-beat characters in a Dungeons and Dragons-style world trying to stop an evil lich and maybe save the world while they’re at it, since 2003, for 17 years. Recommending it to newcomers feels incredibly difficult, with how monolithic the archive is and how the first 100 comics or so don’t really stand the test of time (which Burlew himself freely admits). But The Order of the Stick has been a staple of my reading for a huge portion of my development as a writer and an adult, and it and the characters will always have a place in my heart. The final plot arc is starting in the main comic this February, and if anyone wants to dive into a great, funny, sprawling story with a lot of art, drama and comedy (and a lot of D&D jokes), now is a good time.

But as to this book specifically! Burlew has published 3 prequel books, stories that are canonical and add nuance and backstory to characters in the comic, but are not strictly necessary to understanding the main story. The first, Book 0: On the Origin of PCs, adds some nuance and color for the main protagonists of the story, but was mainly a fun romp. The second, Book -1: Start of Darkness, tells the story of the main antagonists, Xykon and Redcloak, and I consider it an absolutely essential piece of the story. Redcloak has emerged as one of the most rich and complicated characters in OotS, and this comic lets you understand him in ways you never could in just the main storyline. Book ½: Good Deeds Gone Unpunished, falls somewhere between those two. Divided into 5 mini-stories instead of the one narrative of the previous two books, it follows different side characters from the Azure City. The first four, following commoners-turned-nobles Kazumi and Daigo, the royal cat Mr. Scruffy, half-orc assassin Therkla and paladin Lien, are fun. That’s about it, they’re fun, with a lot of fun call-forwards, and the Kazumi and Daigo story gives a nice peek into how the Azurite refugees have been doing in the main comic.

The main seller of this collection is the story “How the Paladin Got His Scar”, which was previously released in a Kickstarter. Burlew is refreshingly honest in the introduction about how the reason for the entire book is “How the Paladin Got His Scar” is slightly too short to economically publish on its own. It tells the story of how O-Chul, the gruff but moral captain of the Sapphire Guard, first became a paladin and started on his life’s work. It does not directly influence the main plot-arc of The Order of the Stick, but it adds a lot of fascinating world-building. The hobgoblin settlement outside of Azure City was only ever a tool in the main comic, a way for the antagonists to swell their numbers of minions, but here it becomes its own location with a population, stake in the local politics, and position to defend. And with O-Chul as a commoner, the audience gets a citizen’s view of what the lofty and righteous Sapphire Guard look like to everyone who doesn’t know the context of their holy mission. While the world of OotS has always had characters outside of the main story, this is the first time that the audience is put in their shoes. It’s a good effect that definitely justifies this prequel’s existence.

Obviously this is only for people who have already read several hundred comics worth of OotS. If you are a fan of the webcomic and are deciding if you want to read one of the prequels, I would recommend Start of Darkness as essential reading, but Good Deeds Gone Unpunished is also a great one to check out.

And if this has sparked your interest in The Order of the Stick in general, I definitely recommend giving it a shot. If the D&D humor leaves you cold at the beginning, consider looking up a plot summary for the first plot-arc and starting at comic 122.

Would I Recommend It: Yes, for any slightly-more-than-casual OotS fan.

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