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The world is made up of cities, and the spaces between them.
As stated on the synopsis page: HERO is a story about a perfectly ordinary boy with no memory of the past and no urgency for the future, who one day accepts a most extraordinary offer to travel to distant places and invisible cities.
It is a fantasy Web Comic with allegorical overtones, written and drawn by Malaysian artist Hwei-Lin Lim. Its plot follows the travels of the boy as he sets out to see the world and attempts to answer lingering questions about his identity. Currently it spans over 270 pages of a planned 300-some. The first page is here.
The comic itself is illustrated with flowing, watercolor-esque digital painting rather than cartoony artwork. In place of speech bubbles or other text boxes, the story is told entirely through custom Alt Text (actually DHTML tooltips). The thoughtful first-person narration is maintained even in action scenes, or other tense situations.
Hwei Lin Lim acknowledges influence by Italo Calvino (see: cities invisible and otherwise), Albert Camus (see: absurd heroes), and the Japanese band Mr. Children -- specifically their single Hero, which originally inspired the creation of the webcomic.
- A Boy and His X -- Averted, although the initial act(s) somewhat set the reader up to expect A Boy and His Cat. See: the image on this page, which is clipped from the end of the first act.
- Alt Text -- Narration and dialogue in one Alty package!
- Animal Motifs -- In abundance, pertaining both to individual characters (the Serpent is a pretty obvious example) and to recurring metaphors such as cats and dogs.
- Art Evolution -- Subtle, since it's pretty good to start with, but compare the main character here and more recently.
- The creator had planned for it to be a black and white comic, which is why it starts out monochrome, and gradually segues into full color.
- The Beautiful Elite: Women are alluring, men are handsome, children are adorable. Unless they're not meant to be.
- Cast of Snowflakes: No two faces look alike. Even siblings are easily distinguishable from each other.
- Cool Horse:
- Nyk is a piebald black and white unicorn who can change into other black and white creatures.
- Vin's horses can transform into clouds and have exaggerated long necks. As Valentine calls them "mad", they are either wild, hot-blooded, or indeed mad.
- The red rider's horse is white with a red mane and tail, who can fly and gallop over water.
- Environmental Symbolism -- In the use of different color palettes. For example, the opening act is very muted, with a lot of Deliberately Monochrome bits, perhaps in representation of the peaceful monotony of the protagonist's life before his story's inciting event.
- Golems -- Of the extremely human-like subtype.
- Magic A Is Magic A -- Two rules of creation are explicitly brought up -- A life once ended may not be remade and A golem once ended may not be remade -- and heavily affect the story. Others are implicit in brief mentions.
- Mood Whiplash -- The adjacent acts "City of Delight" and "City of Despair" are so named for a reason, but even with advance warning the whiplash is pretty jarring.
- Nameless Narrative -- It's not just the protagonist who goes without a name and/or a capitalized title. We have the witch, the priest, the fisherman...
- Odd-Shaped Panel -- Used frequently and without much fanfare.
- Oh Crap -- Several such moments, actually. Valentine realizing that D'Urfe's people are following them from the air, the protagonist and Valentine running into Ganymar and Juno just when they think they've escaped the enormous monster...
- ...OurMonstersAreDifferent -- Golems, gods, various implicit weresomethings...
- Painting the Fourth Wall: In the 'city of delight' act, one must click on images to get to the next page. Directions in the header segue from the helpful but clinical "click on the rightmost element in the page below" to directions like "take what is being offered in the last panel" and "give the Serpent a hug".
- Road Webcomic -- Through a surreal fantasy land, but still, traveling is both narratively and thematically important.
- Scenery Porn -- At times, heartbreakingly atmospheric and watercoloresque scenery porn.
- Schedule Slip -- Remarkable for commonly having delays of weeks or even months, but fortunately neither dying nor noticeably slipping in quality.
- Shout-Out -- Valentine refers to the plot of The Little Prince, without specifically mentioning names, in explanation for his decision to remain with the protagonist.
- Slice of Life -- How the story begins and what it seems to be for a while.
- Soul Jar -- Of the first subtype (and not without negative consequences), these are possessed by more than one character, including a main player: Valentine, the red rider, and possibly all the demons.
- Speech Bubbles -- During "City of Delight," which textually consisted of dialogue printed directly on the panels, each character had a different font/color. In the regular acts, (mostly the nonspeaking) characters may occasionally use pictorial "speech."
- Title Drop -- A buildup from page 120 leads to a sad and nearly-literal example on page 125.
- War Is Hell -- It killed Eira, for one, and what may or may not have been a different war killed Eira's parents.
Ganymar: Nobody can win a war. You can only hope to lose less than your enemy. And sometimes you lose the same thing. That's all.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human? -- The Serpent's answer: He's not meant to protect humans, he's meant to protect people -- and people are individuals who have "made spaces between each other."
- X Meets Y -- One reviewer, whose website unfortunately no longer exists, described HERO as "The Little Prince if it had been written by Neil Gaiman, set in the world of Final Fantasy VIII and illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano."