or, why PFS is obsessed with [S] JOHN. RISE UP.
“To die would be an awfully big adventure.”
—J. M. Barrie
There have been several people who expressed interest in reading this, so… here we go.
It’s really difficult for me to put into words why this flash is so amazing to me, as so much of it has to do with the general feeling I get from it. There’s a feeling I get from this flash that is entirely different than any of the others—it’s similar to why I will sit there with the walkabout flashes in the salamander village up. The music and the imagery just creates this feeling of tranquility, regardless of the content matter (because come on, let’s be honest, [S] JOHN. RISE UP. is brought on by a main character’s death, and I am thinking of one very specific moment in the salamander village involving salamander firefighters armed with cans of Barbasol…). So the first thing to keep in mind is that it is largely due to feel, which definitely differs from one person to the next.
That said, there are a number of factors that play into this flash that aren’t personal! The largest one of them is probably what it means in terms of the flow of the story. This flash is page 4987 of MSPA—that’s page 3087 of Homestuck. That’s a long way into a story. We’ve been with John since page 1. We’ve laughed at his antics, we’ve rolled our eyes, we’ve watched him grow as a character and, well, we’ve gotten attached to the little fucker. As I mentioned way back in my character analysis of John, he is our everyman in this story. He’s the one that goes into the story with no idea what’s happening, and he serves as our link to the narrative. When John learns about the mechanics of the game, we do as well. Without him, we would have been thrown right into the deep end, lost amidst sylladexes and captchalogue cards and prototyping sprites and alchimeters. In a way, no matter what prompted you to start reading in the first place, John is our first real tie to Homestuck.
So by this point he’s our constant. Though everything and everyone around him is changing, John’s simple, optimistic nature remains the same. He’s still the same kid that began this crazy ride, and he isn’t affected by the sort of madness that’s taking hold of the rest of the narrative. He’s not involved in these crazy schemes like the other kids are; he’s just kind of shooting the breeze (pun totally intended) and going along with what everybody else is saying or doing, seeing where it takes him. He’s still the almost naïve ingénue we were introduced to at the beginning of the story, even though he’s grown a lot and is becoming much more capable as a player.
And all of this is why it’s so heart-stopping when Jack stabs him.
John isn’t the character that these sorts of things happen to. John is the hero, after all, the one we expect to come out on top no matter what challenges he faces. We’ve seen him making mistakes before, sure, but they’ve always turned out right in the end. Even when he does get himself into a mess he can’t wiggle out of, he’s got his friends to help him out (or a conveniently located pile of rocks awash in a sea of oil. Either one). Though he has died in the past, it didn’t happen onscreen. It was almost immediately reversed! Rather than showing us the reality of a main character’s death, Hussie only mentioned it through dialogue. He softened the blow. Here? He doesn’t shy away from it at all. You get one panel of John sleeping peacefully, Bec Noir looming over him, and bam, dead, stabbed through in a pool of blood while Vriska watches and is pleased with this turn of events.
That’s part of why this flash works so very well. John’s death and then rebirth into the god tiers signifies a very big shift in the story—for one thing, it shows us the kids’ vulnerability. In most games if you die, you just respawn. But here, there’s something very finite about John’s death. Even though he resurrects as a god tier, his physical body remains dead. He can no longer inhabit it. Consider: by this point, just about everything John has on him was created through alchemizing. His computers, his clothes, his glasses… everything on him is a construct. And with his resurrection, he’s shedding the last remnant of our world—his own body. His dream-self is a construct of the incipisphere; whether it was created by the game itself or if it existed prior to the creation of this session is unknown, but it is still not of our world. Sure, he has his house, the most visible feature of the Land of Wind and Shade, but by this point he has grown far beyond it. We can even say he’s grown even beyond LOWAS—after all, he’s at the top of his echeladder; it’s not as though much there poses a threat to him there any more. At this point, he should be able to defeat his denizen, even without having reached the god tiers.
When he reaches the god tiers, John moves beyond even WV’s reach—and this may be the reason this flash gets me the most. WV sees both halves of this flash: he sees what happens on the battlefield, where John resurrects, and then years later, sees it happen on the screens of the command station. When he sees John on the battlefield, WV is still quite young himself. He’s just seen the combined black and white armies decimated by Bec Noir, has just cast away his Dersite origins for the RAG OF SOULS that fell from John’s tower in the destruction of Prospit’s moon… and he sees the quest bed on the battlefield lighting up, watches the Heir of Breath coming into his power. You can see his awe in the flash as he watches. Then, hundreds of years later, after he’s been exiled to the remains of Earth and he discovers the command station where he can watch John, he recognizes him. He knows John is the Heir of Breath—he commands several times for him to do the “windy thing.” WV doesn’t necessarily realize that while he’s gone on into the future and aged, the version of John he’s viewing on the command screen is younger, hasn’t come into his power yet.
So when he sees John die at Bec Noir’s hands… that’s the end. WV is actually the one to type the command JOHN. RISE UP. in the first place, and it doesn’t seem to do anything. WV doesn’t know that he’s seeing the other side of John’s ascension. He sees John die, he sees the fireflies gather around him and the lights of his quest bed light up… and then nothing. You can see how stricken he is near he very end of the flash as John remains dead. Bec remains victorious. The archagent has won.
And then WV turns the screen off.
The motion is twofold here—on one level, WV accepts a loss and an end. He accepts that the Heir of Breath was slain by Bec Noir. But on another level, John is freed of the exiles’ influence. Much as WQ gives Rose advice and then leaves her to her own devices, John is now on his own as well. There will be no more help from somebody who has already lived these precise events. He must utilize the resources that area available to him: the advantages the game presents to him, the help of his friends, and the outside help offered to him by the Alternian trolls.
Which brings me to another reason why I love this flash so much: Vriska’s apparent betrayal. John has been tricked by the trolls before, led to his death by Terezi. Vriska appears to be somewhat different; she certainly views John as a pawn to play, but she isn’t just messing with him for shits and giggles. She’s somebody who always has a plan, and we reason that she’s got a plan for John as well. So when her plan to reach the god tiers ends in him dying… well. It’s a shock. At this point we don’t know yet that to reach the god tiers you must die on your quest bed, so it seems as though she’s simply led John to his death under the pretense of helping him out. The addition of her “8888)” to the final panel before the flash only adds to that idea.
Then we reach this flash. And John resurrects into the god tiers. And, regardless of if you like Vriska or not, you have to admit that in the end she assisted him here. She may have gotten him killed, but at the same time you realize that perhaps she didn’t tell him what was going to happen because she thought it would have been difficult for him to face. Facing your mortality is an incredibly difficult thing to face—would you have been able to go to sleep, knowing that as soon as you did you were going to be murdered? Could you face Bec Noir without wanting to fight back, to cling to life? Even if you knew you would be resurrected in the god tiers, there’s a natural inclination we have that makes us want to avoid dying at all costs.
Which brings me to the quote from J.M. Barrie I placed at the top of this. “To die would be an awfully big adventure.” That quote is all about not being afraid of the unknown, and this flash echoes that idea. Although it is very difficult to face our mortality—and in fact John really didn’t at all, or won’t until after the fact—it leads to the next adventure. A whole new realm of possibilities is opening before John here, and when you watch this flash you know that things aren’t going to go back to the way they were before. This flash is Hussie stepping Homestuck up to the next level. John’s ascension is such a big deal that it’s visible from all the other lands; we see Jade and Dave and Rose all stop what they’re doing and look to the sky, ostensibly seeing the light of his quest bed from Skaia. Even though they don’t know what’s going on, it’s enough to make them give pause—the entire world halts for John.
And all of this fell into the hands of a hero who had no idea what he was about to do. Who had no idea that he was about to change their entire game.
I love the animation of [S] JOHN. RISE UP., I love the music (I know I’ve mentioned before that “Savior of the Waking World” is actually the most-played song in my entire iTunes library; it’s over 400 plays by this point). The art and the music work so well together that I can just sit and stare and be brought into a state of utter chill. But that the flashes are great is a given. What really makes this flash my favorite by far is the content, is John becoming more than he’d ever imagined himself capable of, more than I had imagined him capable of. This flash showcases his growth—yes, his personality is (for the most part) the same as he began… but he’s grown so much, too. He’s become a leader, someone for the others to rally around. He’s stepped into his role as “Heir,” and in this flash he comes into everything that implies.
[S] JOHN. RISE UP. is a turning point for the entire story—and for that reason, it’s my favorite in the entirety of Homestuck so far. It’s amazing.