Once upon a time, there were a group of teenagers who were very excited to be heading off to college and on their own. Sure, there were sacrifices that needed to be made. Friends from high school left behind. Social perils to be faced. But for Danny and Joe, Joyce and Sarah and a wide cast of other minor and major characters, it was really a place to find out more about themselves. To find out who they would become, and maybe who might be willing to grow old with them.
But then some shenanigans happened, and maybe an alien invasion or two. And the story became less about college than it did about a very immature young man as he lead the fight against a full on, end of days scenario. The tale outgrew itself, and the peaceful days at college were gone forever.
Or maybe not. Dumbing of Age is the fifth web comic created by comic veteran David Willis, and is the first to deviate from that original universe or aliens, to hopefully find out what might have happened to our hapless scholars if those aliens hadn’t started abducting everyone.
I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m not a fan of universal reboots. Every time I hear that Batman’s personal history is being reworked from the ground up I can’t help but to groan inwardly a little bit. See, I have a hard time just forgetting the last 40 years of Batman’s history, and I can’t help but feel that any attempt to say “oh, well none of that happened now” demeans the entire shebang up until that point. For my money, I’d rather see things end. Batman retires. Or dies. The Joker hangs up the acid spitting flower. Robin finally goes to school.
From there, the creators are able to focus their efforts elsewhere. To new characters and stories. Which, if you really read into what “re-imagining the characters” really means, is really what they’re trying to do anyway.
It shouldn’t have been much surprise that Willis decided to go the same route with Dumbing of Age. He is a dedicated comic fan and toy collector. To him, a universal reboot is just a thing that happens. But for me, it’s still hard to swallow.
Here’s the rundown. Back in 1997, Willis started his first comic, Roomies!. This was your standard college web comic, which featured the wimpy everyman Danny, the womanizing Joe, stalkerishly pure Joyce, and a bunch of others. Roomies ended somewhat suddenly when, after a humorous lighthearted interlude involving aliens, Joyce was essentially spirited off into some facility somewhere and recruited into the battle against aliens in a round about way.
From there, Willis’ comic It’s Walky! picked up (exclamation marks are a key for the first few comics here). This comic followed a group of 20 somethings as they battled the somewhat dithering and silly aliens, and eventually saved the world. It’s Walky had a lot of humor in it, mostly stemming from its title character, David Walkerton and his shenanigans, but near the end was breaking down into scenes of main characters bursting into tear, OVERWHELMED WITH ANGST.
And then that ended. And thus began Joyce and Walky! which followed the two aforementioned characters as they resume their lives as civilians. Hilarious shenanigans therein. Actually I dunno a whole lot about Joyce and Walky. It was the only one of Willis’ comics that required a subscription fee to read.
Also following the events of It’s Walky! is the comic Shortpacked! which started more as a vehicle for Willis to poke fun at the toy, collector and comic industry than as a regular story comic. Shortpacked! follows the adventures of a group of toy store workers, some of whom are fresh off the front lines of the alien invasion. Honestly, it doesn’t come into the story too often. All you have to know is when Robin makes vague statements about her “former government job” she’s actually telling the truth, and that when someone substitutes the word God for Cheese, they’re… not being cute.
And then after 13 years of what the fans refer to as the Walkyverse, Willis decided to go with something a bit simpler. I’ve gathered he always kind of regretted ditching the college atmosphere in Roomies! and had always wanted to return to it someday.
And so he has. Dumbing of Age is a college comic, about coming of age, corruption and innocence and about hot button topics like sleeping with someone and then posting it on the internet. It features characters introduced throughout the entire spectrum of the Walkyverse, from Daniel and Joe to more recent additions like Ethan and Roz. But the jokes are delivered with a sense of timing and humor that is only afforded to an expert in the field.
I don’t know if Dumbing of Age is really a comic for me, however. Like I said I have a hard time ignoring 13 years of history just for the sake of a more lighthearted comic using the same characters. Like there’s Tony! He was murdered by aliens and resurrected as a hideous rage filled shell of his former self. And there’s Ruth! Didn’t she die in a car crash? And wasn’t that one extra walking in the background eaten by a zombie or something?
But as college comics go, you could do a lot worse than trying Dumbing of Age.