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Worm Is Amazing: Update!

By Asmora, member

Aug 27, 2012: I am glad to say that Worm has just become my favorite ongoing web serial, surpassing my long-standing love of Tales of MU. As a superhero story, Worm shines by taking a much more realistic approach to the social and personal impact of superpowered individuals than I’ve seen anywhere else. The heroes act like police and soldiers and human beings, not caricatures or mythic heroes. The villains (most of them) are similarly realistic and well-developed, acting out of the sort of motivations that lead real people to lead lives outside the law. The story definitely focuses on the villains a bit more than the heroes, and Wildbow shows us an extremely wide array of motivations for characters who wind up with the "villain" label, all of whom have different morals, agendas, and M.O.s, ranging from the Undersiders, a group of teenagers who are initially in it mostly for the thrill, to the Slaughterhouse Nine, a pack of truly horrible murderous psychopaths, to Kaiser, a white supremacist, to Coil, a businessman. Just as importantly, the interplay between hero and villain and the unwritten rules of those interactions are shown to be a careful balancing act, with neither side resorting to killing or unmasking unless the other side does so first. These "rules" aren’t the clear-cut morals of four-color comics, with Batman refusing to sink to the level of his murderous enemies. They’re a complex, subjective minefield that even the most evil villain pays attention to, even if that attention is merely to note the location of the line as he crosses it.

The morality of Worm is a large part of what makes it transcend its genre. It is not simply a superhero (or supervillain) story. All of the main characters, especially Taylor, the protagonist, repeatedly find themselves in situations that force them to question what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals, what those goals should be, and what they’re willing to risk. Best of all, while the story focuses on these vital questions, it never gets bogged down in them. The action is extremely well-paced, compelling, and well-narrated.

Another great strength of Worm is its setting. After writing hundreds of unpublished snippets and short stories, Wildbow has created a large, well-developed world in which to let the story of Worm play out. Dozens, if not hundreds, of characters fill the world, most of whom receive enough spotlight to show that they are realistic, well-rounded characters with interesting, original powers and compelling motivations. Despite the large cast, there is never a Robert Jordan feeling of being overwhelmed. Those that are meant to remain relevant receive enough ongoing attention that the reader can easily remember them, and those that do not remain relevant receive an appropriate re-introduction if they come up again.

Worm starts out disguised as a teenage angst story (a well-written one that deals with the issue of bullying in a way that is neither offensive nor heavy-handed), but it quickly reveals that this is only its civilian identity. Once it dons its costume, the story reveals its superpowers of compelling writing, fascinating characters, and unreasonably frequent, long updates. Mere mortals cannot hope to stand against the might of such a superstory.

UPDATE: Six months later, the Wormverse continues to grow, surprise, and astonish. The plot advances, the characters develop, and the tension builds.

Spoiler alert: Taylor becomes an even more amazing individual without diving off the deep end into Mary Sueism.

The contributions of readers have led to many more Interludes, which give the story and the setting incredible depth and breadth without neglecting the main story. Most recently, Wildbow did an "event week," which consisted of writing an update EVERY DAY for a week, resulting in the Migration story arc. Aside from the fact that writing 52,525 words in 8 days is a jaw-dropping accomplishment, this pulse-pounding story arc tells an incredible story that sheds light on how things got to where they are now and sets up things to come. (Sorry to be vague, but I want to avoid spoilers.)

I’ve already touched on the quality and ingenuity of Worm, but the sheer quantity of it continues to astonish me. With a bare minimum for two 4k+-word updates per week, following Worm almost feels like I’m still archive binging. Each update is meaty and substantive. While I’m always left wanting more, I feel satisfied by each update, unlike many serial fictions.

When I first got caught up on Worm, I felt like Wildbow was one of the better authors doing amateur webfiction. Now, I feel like I’m getting in on the ground floor of following an author who is destined to go on to much bigger things. Watch Wildbow. He’ll surprise you.

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My (long) take on Worm.

By John Deathcall, member

Sep 1, 2016: So . . . Worm, by Wildbow.

I’ve got a lot to say, but it’s more for the author’s benefit than for any possible reader so before I jump down into it I’ll just go along and recommend it. It’s a mix between The X-Men, Watchmen and some other dark(er) and gritty comic book series (though completely original). It’s got flaws, just how many and grave depends on your perspective, but it’s worth the read if only for the author’s amazing creativity.

Before getting on with it, let me warn possible readers: I’m going to be spoiling A LOT of things, so please have that in mind if you decide to continue reading.

This review ended up being way too long so I added a TL;DR at the end, feel free to skip all my rambling and head straight down into it.

Alright. Gloves off.

I’m willing to say that my initial experience with Worm is somewhat unique. You see, I’m signed up as a beta reader at the Fan Fiction Net site. Two months ago, a stranger asked me to help him with “betaing” his story. He described it as a self-inserted crossover among several “universes”, Worm being the initial “arc”. I told him that I had never heard of “Worm” so I doubted my ability to help but he still asked me to read through his work, claiming that he could benefit from the “unbiased” perspective. I spent the following two weeks giving him feedback, slowly learning the basics of the Worm universe. Soon, though, I couldn’t help but to wonder just how far he had departed from the original so I decided to start reading it.

By the time I read the first chapter in the original story, I had a slew of pre-conceptions. Be it because of my own prejudice or the fiction’s alternate storyline, I wasn’t really expecting much. I could throw in a cliché line here and say something like: “Boy was I surprised!”; but the truth of it is that it took me a few chapters to get into the story.

The initial arc, where we are introduced to Taylor Hebert, was underwhelming, borderline annoying. Perhaps it’s because I never suffered from bullying when I was at school (the few times someone tried to pull that stuff on me I made it quite clear I wasn’t going to sit and take it) but Taylor’s attitude literally pissed me off. I kept telling myself that if I were on her shoes I’d do this or that, not even using her power. Common sense stuff, even for a teenager, but the character was deeply set on her passive stance so I endured. I kept telling myself: You can’t project your personality on someone else, people deal in different ways, etc., etc., and I coped. Still, I had this lingering feeling that Taylor was a victim of her own personality more than the bullies, which perhaps was the intention all along. Then there was that short scene when she interacted with two other classmates who were also sort of outcasts, and I came to a realization: Taylor would be a bully too, if she had the power. I got pissed again, but after consideration I could only admit that the character was eliciting emotions from me and, like it or not, that was good. The problem now was finding out if it was deliberate or just coincidental.

So I read on.

I reached the Undersiders introduction arc and found myself pleasantly surprised. Here, I thought, is where this author starts to shine. Things started to fall in place and I could see the direction they were going. That’s when I started to get invested, looking forward to the next exchange between characters, the next hurdle, the next use of their powers. The gloomy, annoying feeling I got from Taylor slowly faded into the background and got replaced by admiration for her intellect and versatility. Room was made in the stage for a little bit of friendship and an even littler bit of romance, but that alone was enough to temper the story and help grease the gears of the overall plot. People getting emotional, hurt or even dying, that only has impact if I know and somewhat understand them as characters, which is why the short amounts of “slice-of-life” were so vital.

I was starting to get hooked . . . and Leviathan showed up.

It was puzzling. The story was following a rhythm. Was this an error or a clever way to shatter the reader’s expectations and switch things around? The stakes rose so suddenly, so dramatically that I was forced to stop for a moment and consider: Why? Why is the author going this way? It was almost like a sucker punch, the Endbringers had been mentioned but until then they were only an abstract looming threat. Out of nowhere, one of them was dropped right in the middle of things. As the monster destroyed more and more parts of the city I understood that things weren’t going to return to the previous pace. The story was about to make a huge turn and a lot of things I had been looking forward to flickered out of the realm of possibilities. After the arc was done, I stood divided. On the one hand I thought the whole thing had been a mistake, I resented the abrupt change in rhythm and the smothering of so many good storylines that could have followed, but on the other I realized . . . that was the very nature of a walking disaster such as Leviathan. A stroke of genius or a convenient way to steer things in the direction the author wanted them to go?

Maybe both.

Then the “No Man’s Land” arc came, and I immediately recovered interest. Honestly, the comparison came naturally to me. I don’t know if you’ve read the “Batman Cataclysm” and “Batman No Man’s Land” comic books but this arc has pretty much the same exact concept. It’s like comparing two city builder games, sure the mechanics may be different but at their core they are about the same thing. The story quickly fell back into a new rhythm. Things had changed yes, but the good characters and dialogues were still there, so I leaned back on my chair and enjoyed it . . . 

Until the Slaugtherhouse Nine showed up.

Another disaster? Dust was still settling from the Leviathan attack and now this? Once more, I stopped and took a moment to consider, leaning on my elbows and bringing both hands to my face in very Gendo Ikari manner. Why? I looked at the story’s timeline. Had it truly only been a handful of weeks? Why is the author rushing so much? Is it just to keep the readers on their toes or does he simply not know how to fill in the arcs between these “epic” events? The story’s gears had only had a thin layer of grease before they were forced into action once more. Still, they turned, creaking a bit perhaps, but they did. New dynamics between characters and a set of interesting antagonist helped. The arc came to a conclusion and I was satisfied. As horrible as the Nine were, perhaps even more catastrophic than Leviathan in some aspects, things hadn’t been so stirred that they couldn’t return to their previous rhythm. Well, I guess that’s true for most . . . Panacea’s situation seemed a bit forced, but I understand that if she was kept around it would remove a lot of the tension from the story.

The pattern was clear though . . . 

Soon it was time to deal with Coil, and that happened so fast that I barely remember any of the details. I was left with a bit of an anticlimactic feeling. The big baddie in town, trumped down somewhat effortlessly, if not even cheaply. The protagonist killing him in cold blood didn’t stir much emotion from me even though I knew it was some sort of turning point for her. Coil didn’t measure up to expectations. Even in his final moments I felt nothing but disappointment in how he had turned out. Potential . . . thrown into the wind, or splattered on the floor, if you aren’t in the mood for metaphors.

Peace? No peace . . . Echidna’s turn came right after.

Another S threat thrown in, this one with a personal grudge. Unlike the Nine, however, she wasn’t really all that interesting. My mind had been sort of numbed after so many critical events and this one didn’t really keep me on edge at all, especially after confirming that for someone being called a “nascent endbringer”, she had a pretty low kill count. I liked the Travellers well enough but the decision to write them off at the end of the arc puzzled me, more so after just having read through many chapters specially dedicated to exposing their past. Why? Why build up their personalities and then do away with them? Had they already outlived their usefulness? It was sad to see them leave the stage, and perhaps that was a good thing on itself yet . . . so much lost potential, so many possibilities cut out. Thinking back on it, the Travellers as a group probably had the most “screen time” after the Undersiders.

In any case, it was the author’s prerogative, so, once more, I coped.

I expected that the big reveal during the Echidna fight would have bought the Undersiders some time to settle down and get on with their villainous lives somewhat unmolested . . . For a while I even thought that the pattern had stopped, but no. It was still there, just a bit more subtle than before. Soon, Taylor’s life was thrown upside down once more. The entire justification for bringing her identity out in the open was sketchy, but the thing that bothered me the most was the audience with Alexandria. For me, that’s the most nerve wrecking scene in the entire story. Seeing Taylor get brought to the edge, having her friends being picked off one by one . . . it managed to transfer some of her tension to me. I was truly invested . . . but in the end, it was a cop out. A shameless one. After so much death and destruction, after so much grief and gloom, the author couldn’t bring himself to kill one of the main characters, not even injure one. Body doubles was such a poor excuse, almost insulting to a degree. All that build up about how she was being deprived of her swarm, just for one to pop up at the convenient time? Cheap. Alexandria’s “death”? Plot device. Given her powers, she should have easily avoided the situation all together or, in the worst of cases, survived it. There are a myriad of ways she could have saved herself. Hell, going by her super strength, blowing her nose would have sufficed. Worse yet, the entire thing was unnecessary and became pointless not long after. Why? Did it truly make a difference in the end of things? What consequences, good or bad, did that event have? Sending Taylor to jail? Killing the PRT Director was sufficient for that. Removing Alexandria from the picture? She was “brought back” not long after. Getting Taylor some street cred? It came up only sporadically and to little effect. I don’t see it, nor do I understand it. It’s not that I really cared about Alexandria’s death, it’s just that it didn’t make sense to me.

Until then I had only minor qualms, “differences of opinion” about how things had turned out . . . this was the first time I thought that the author had dropped the ball. Still, after so much solid ground, one pebble on the road wasn’t going to make me stop reading.

So the new arc began and, once more, I sat back on my chair and tried to enjoy it. There was a welcomed change of scenery as well as a new(ish) cast of characters set around Taylor. I resented cutting the Undersiders short but I was willing to give the new ones a chance. The story seemed to fall into a new rhythm, almost episodic, which wasn’t bad since it allowed for new perspectives and story lines. However, the pattern wasn’t going to let me put my legs up on the desk and relax. Of course not. Just around the time things started to flow in a certain direction, Behemoth showed up. After the lengthy battle, and the first heroic though painstakingly simple casualty in the main cast, I hoped against hope that we’d get some well deserved R&R . . . 

Instead, we got a one and a year timeskip in the middle of a chapter.

This was so abrupt that even the author himself mentioned being worried about it in the comments. I think I’ve done my good share of reading in my life but this is the only time I remember someone doing such a huge timeskip mid-chapter. Of course, we were put right in front of yet another major crisis. Once more, I found myself puzzled. Why? Why this insistence in driving the reader from epic event to epic event? I understand trying to keep us unbalanced but this recourse is abused too much. By then it had become blatantly obvious to me that the author wasn’t about to let up, so I sat back and “disconnected”, turned off my emotional attachment and resigned myself to just plowing through all the action in the hopes of, somewhere down the path, being treated to those moment of geniality many of these characters are capable of when allowed to “do their own thing”.

I was in for a long wait . . . 

So the Slaughterhouse Nine showed up again, and while that first sequence at the abandoned town had me invested at first, the entire concept was washed down by the “clone war” syndrome. Truly, the author grabbed all these cool villains that had interesting concepts and just made more of them. It completely depreciated their value, making all of them look worse for wear. Even the characters themselves agreed on this. It seemed like a cheap way to “raise the stakes”, yet most fights felt dull or forced. Given the fact that one member of the Nine had given them so much trouble before, it’s almost inconceivable that ten or more put together were actually easier to deal with. In any case, following the pattern, the crisis was quickly resolved in order to immediately cede the stage to an even bigger one . . . 


So everything boils down to this: Scion, the resident Superman, is some kind of space worm/monster that travels through the universe, and apparently parallel dimensions, with his partner, consuming planets and civilizations while gathering their knowledge and skills, only to seed those on other planets inhabitants through “shards” so they can “mature” and be consumed later on, thus continuing the cycle. Him and his partner choose Earth and descend onto it but by some rare, not fully explained, reason the latter gets killed. Scion, having assumed his “human” form is left virtually purposeless until some guy basically tells him to “be good” so he starts helping around Earth as a way to kill time. This lasts until some other guy tells him to “be bad”, so he decides to destroy Earth, or “Earths”, as he jumps between dimensions to maximize his destruction spree. This is the big reveal in Worm, this is the “end of the world event” that was talked about through the majority of the series. I, and let me emphasize that this is just my opinion, found it underwhelming. Just the author furthering his rhetoric of how feeble the concepts of “good” and “bad” are.

Oh, the irony . . . right?

Well in any case, the fight against Scion rages on through several chapters. Somehow, they manage to bring the Endbringers on board, not that they are much help anyway. Eventually the secrets behind Scion’s origins are revealed but without proper coordination there’s no way the surviving capes can fight him so the main character exchanges severe brain damage for enhanced power so she can control pretty much everyone. She effectively turns herself into some kind of RTS “top-down” commander, sending every useful cape from multiple parallel worlds into the fray, whether they want to or not. Sadly, she burns herself out before she can truly finish off Scion, but no matter, they find his true weakness in his “human” side and exploit it by pretty much teasing him about his dead girlfriend until he sort of gives up on life and allows himself to be killed. In the end, bullying saved the day . . . 

Making my initial thoughts about Taylor becoming a bully if she had enough power kind of prophetic now that I think about it.

So well . . . Taylor, too damaged to talk or even recognize speech, is convinced to let go of her final minions and taken off to some hill where she’s promptly killed for being too dangerous. Or so we are led to believe until the last chapter in the epilogue where she’s revealed to have been lobotomized of her powers and sent to another parallel Earth where she can hang out with her believed-dead father and meet with her alternate-mother, thus finally catching a break.

The (weak) End.


Worm is a great story, but it suffers from serious pacing flaws, weird plot twists and an overabundance of conflict that drowns out what I believe is the meat of the story: it’s characters. Wildbow writes really likeable characters but is too quick to put them away or kill them off. He teases at amazing character development possibilities but cuts them short in order to cram in way too many action scenes. Character development is great, when we get to see it, but most of the time we are only given a little glimpse at people before we are flying off into the next major threat that needs attention. This trend starts with the Leviathan encounter and doesn’t let up until the end of the story. It’s like an adrenaline rush that never ends, eventually you just get used to it and it’s not much of a rush anymore but a drone in your ears that never seems to stop. Towards the end of the story exposition and characters are thrown at you so fast it’s like someone has a gun to the author’s head.

If I were to get into the fine details this section would lose its purpose so I rather cut it short here. Bottom line, Worm is worth your time, more the first half than the second in my opinion, but you should definitely check it out by yourself.

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By Aluminumfoil, member

Nov 23, 2013: Worm is well-written and compelling fiction, but there is lots of well-written and compelling fiction for you to read. There is even lots of well-written and compelling superhero fiction. Worm is better than most of it.

Why? Because Worm delivers what only the best of speculative fiction delivers: consistently intelligent use of fantastic abilities.

People think about their powers. They fight to win. They’re not omniscient and sometimes they overlook things, but they learn from their mistakes. They use their powers in intelligent, innovative, and sometimes hideously creative ways. In a genre saturated with contrived circumstances, plot-holes, and "why didn’t he just" moments, Worm delivers a believable narrative about intelligent, motivated people fighting for high stakes with superhuman tools.

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