Sometimes advertisy brings out the best in heroes. Other times it just makes things much, much worse. The Order of the Stick: Don't Split the Party is the latest webcomic collection of the stick-figure D&D adventurers -- and things have seldom been worse.

Following the disastrous events in the last collection, War and XPs, the title group has, indeed, been split in three directions. (Spoilers follow, if you haven't read that collection.) Roy, the leader of the party, is dead -- and the afterlife is tricky even in a world where characters get raised from the dead all the time. Haley and Belkar are busy trying to find the others -- plus lugging around (and losing) Roy's corpse. And Vaarsuvius, Durkan, and Elan are at sea with the survivors of Azure City.

Old villains are back -- the Lich Xykon, the Thieves' Guild -- along with a few new adversaries. There's a love triangle, the corruption of ultimate power, prophecies fulfilled, and one character dressed as Aquaman. (Seriously.)

The Order of the Stick: Don't Split the Party is an interesting phase in the OOTS saga. While this story doesn't develop much with either the battle against Xykon or learning about the Snarl, it does give us some of the most character development to date. Author and artist Rich Burlew's commentaries on the strips -- both in terms of individual character and overall effect -- are fascinating, as always, as he delves into the challenges and results of having his protagonists too powerful. Without Roy to guide them, the party members each go in their own directions, with results ranging from inconsequential to tragic.

And, as always, OOTS is funny. Even in the midst of the travials of the characters, there's plenty of comedy (except for Vaarsuvius' dark journey) and lots of laugh-out-loud moments. This starts with Belkar's "recap" -- that ranges from Charles Dickens to Law and Order -- to Belkar's "enlightening" hallucination to the eventual party reunion.

The Order of the Stick: Don't Split the Party is the fourth collection of webcomics, so you really need to read the earlier collections to know what's going on. Once you do, or if you did, this latest collection is a wonderful read.

Overall grade: A
Reviewed by James Lynch

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