Pandora-monium! Character change in El Goonish Shive

Steve and Jason’s Webcomic Colonic this week got me thinking about the way webcomics change over time – like Steve says, the webcomic you’re reading today might not be the one you signed on for when you first started reading. The longer a comic runs, the more fundamental these changes can get.

Now, as I mentioned back in May, I’m a bit of a fan of Dan Shive’s El Goonish Shive. There’s a lot about the comic to recommend it – the (current) art style, the excellent writing and story structure, the themes it deals with regarding gender issues and the diversity of its cast. Recently, the comic has been expanding the history and role of character Pandora (Chaos) Raven – Immortal being of immense power and (until this examination began?) one of the primary antagonists of the comic. So do the recent changes to the Pandora character in El Goonish Shive suggest a fundamental change to the comic itself? Or is it, as Jason puts it, the privilege of watching the writer’s perspective change over time?

When we first saw Pandora back in 2009, she was unquestionably a villain, scheming from the shadows and responsible for most of the major plot points to that date. And if this didn’t give us enough reason to fear the often invisible shape-shifter whose favourite form was a demonic, sharp-toothed child, we soon also learned that she was unstable and insane. Oh, and promised to destroy the world, which is usually, you know, not great.

Pandora’s proclamation set off the next major arc in the comic: the steady increase of magical incidents in the town of Moperville, a result of Pandora empowering random people with magical marks and setting them loose to cause unwitting havoc. In fact, until the beginning of the “The Will of Magic” storyline in 2016, Pandora had spent the better part of seven real-time years setting up this chaos – her ultimate goal being to destroy the world, and replace it with another.

Or was it?

Over the past year, the examination of Pandora that began with the Legacy story arc has revealed Pandora’s motivations to be – whilst not exactly good, at least more sympathetic. Her art style has also shifted, with her ears and teeth becoming less pointed, her clothing and form more composed, and her instability of mood and form almost a thing of the past (surely it would have happened here, if anywhere). On top of that, we discover that she had in fact been asleep during most of the chaotic events that resulted from her running around marking everyone – it seems there’s been a new villain in town all along. Whether or not this is a retcon of Pandora’s motivations and the level/diabolicalness of her meddling is up for interpretation: as is the question whether this marks a general shift of her character from an-tagonist to pro-tagonist in the comic.

Personally, I like the idea of the villain whose motivations are evil only until you get to understand them. And it’s worth repeating that character change can be good. Whilst there is a certain purity to keeping your villains as villains in a longform story, some (not all) of the most interesting and satisfying storytelling can come from bridging the gap between them and the heroes. Is Pandora’s shift from nigh-omnipotent immortal puppetmaster of the EGS universe, to concerned and emotionally devastated fairy godmother a shift in the tone of the comic? Probably. Is it worth staying on to see where it goes? I’d say yes.

What do you think? Are the changes to Pandora too much for you? Or does El Goonish Shive survive your colonic as well? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter, and until next time, remember: don’t eat the clickbait!



0 thoughts on “Pandora-monium! Character change in El Goonish Shive

  1. You have to remember that Dan Shive loves red herrings. Some of what look like retcons are actually years-long misdirections. (And some misdirections are actually retcons.)

  2. Haha, it’s the second half of that statement that really keeps us guessing 😉
    Honestly, I don’t have a problem with ret-cons creeping in – especially when you’re looking at a work spanning decades. I’d rather have some plot points being changed to keep up with a developing and improving storytelling style, rather than the author being hamstrung by concepts they put in place years ago that no longer work (I imagine I’d have ended my run with the comic long ago if Tedd was still dedicated to the immature comments/concepts that characterised his early run). I *did* enjoy Pandora as a straight-up villain, though – and hoping that our getting to know her better is a prelude to our hearts being ripped open when she ultimately goes full crazy towards a cast member (so yeah, being a red herring rather than a re-con all along :-P).

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