Third Shift Society is Tired

feature image version of the cover for third shift society

Third Shift Society by Meredith Moriarty is a Webtoon Original comic about a broke 20-something named Ellie who discovers she has psychic powers and becomes a paranormal investigator, working with a mysterious man who has a Jack-O-Lantern for a head. The first season is now complete, and since this Webtoon was nominated for an Eisner award for Best Webcomic this year, I decided to read it.

Third Shift Society

Meredith Moriarty
September 2019

The art is… fine. It’s clean, the anatomy isn’t overly wonky, the action sequences are clear and dynamic. As a personal preference, I feel like a comic about ghosts and demons and fighting evil in old buildings would benefit from having more texture and grit to its visuals, but like. It looks like a standard Webtoon original, basically. There is nothing wrong with it, but at the same time nothing stands out either.

Example of the art, featuring Ellie punching a guy with her powers in Episode 2.
Panel from episode 2 of Third Shift Society. There is nothing technically wrong with this.

The concept is solid: an ordinary girl jumping into the world of the supernatural to help solve problems is always fun. I enjoyed the specifics of the four cases the pair investigates in the first season. It feels like the author is personally invested in history and how that could be used for a supernatural adventure story. I found the use of the “book curse” in the museum job and Greg Samson’s bug related problems particularly clever. The beginnings of an overarching plot that will be expanded on in later seasons are also promising.

Unfortunately, the pacing of this comic leaves a lot to be desired. There are a lot of things that should be shown, but aren’t. The first episode is about Ellie being $200 short on rent. Two episodes later, Ichabod offers her a job, and that’s it. There’s no sequence of Ellie paying her rent, celebrating having money to spend again, telling her friend Gwen who was worried enough to check in on her in Episode 1 about her change of fortunes, none of that. The reader has to assume that everything is fine now without any explicit resolution of that narrative beat.

Ichabod offers Ellie a job.
This scene in episode 4 is the last time Ellie’s employment status is ever mentioned in this comic.

There’s also the fact that Ellie’s best friend Gwen disappears from the comic after her first appearance and then comes back in their last case completely up to date on the fact that supernatural beings exist and Ellie is working with a guy whose head is a literal pumpkin. When did Ellie tell her about it? How did Gwen react? From the context it’s clear that the existence of ghosts and vampires isn’t common knowledge to the average person, so what did Gwen think about all this?

This comic made me say “what” out loud exactly twice. The first time was when, in the middle of the second case we see Ichabod and Ellie solve together, Ichabod says he’s been training Ellie for six months.

I genuinely did not see this coming.

The episode started in the middle of the case, there’s a flashback to two months earlier where she’s getting the hang of her powers, and then it goes back to the present where Ichabod says that it’s apparently been six months since they’ve met. There are no visual cues that suggest that much time has passed, and no changes in the dynamic between Ichabod and Ellie that suggest they’ve grown closer. Ellie seems confident in her handling of the cursed books, but after the flashback to two months earlier I assumed it’s been about three months at most. How has it been six months? When was that clarified?

The second time I said “what” out loud was when Ellie and Ichabod’s client, Greg, refers to Ellie as Ichabod’s girlfriend. As someone used to extracting the smallest bit of romantic subtext from every media I consume, the lack of any romance between Ichabod and Ellie was more surprising than the other way around. There’s no lingering touches or blushes or watching the other person when they’re not looking, no flirtatious dialogue. They don’t even hang out together outside of work. They act like business partners and nothing more. I have no idea why Greg assumed Ellie was Ichabod’s girlfriend. Heteronormativity in action?

Ichabod saying "Ellie has a way of seeing the best in people."
I guess this is romantic?

Overall, the aspect of this comic that bothered me the most is how empty these characters are. A story about paranormal investigators is usually driven by the dynamic between the investigators. BuzzFeed Unsolved wouldn’t have taken off the way it did if Shane and Ryan weren’t fun to watch together. Unfortunately, the most interesting characters in the whole comic are museum director Majumdar, who only appeared in one case, and the villanous Oberon, because they have personalities beyond “blandly nice.” Ellie and Ichabod together are just there to solve the plot of the week.

Ellie doesn’t have any hobbies or interests that we know of and no backstory. She reacts to things and makes choices that any normal person would make. She’s not concerned about money after Ichabod hires her, even though being at risk of eviction is the kind of thing that has lasting effects on a person’s spending habits. She’s clumsy enough to get fired from three jobs in one montage in episode 1, but that clumsiness doesn’t affect her ability to deal with the ghosts and spirits she faces as a paranormal investigator. It feels like everything that could potentially be a character trait for Ellie are all things that are brought up once and then never again.

Ichabod has even less personality than Ellie, because the comic is from Ellie’s point of view. I think he’s supposed to come off as refined and elegant, maybe a bit old-fashioned from his attire, but the way he talks is too plain to really sell that idea. While Ellie is supposedly motivated by the paycheck and a sense of compassion, I have no idea what motivates Ichabod.

I don’t know why Third Shift Society was nominated for an Eisner award, but if the committee really wanted to recognize a Webtoon this year, this is not one they should have chosen. This comic is like sliding your hand up a smooth glass wall: there’s nothing for the reader to grab onto. The interesting worldbuilding ideas are made blander by the blank slate characters populating the world. I just kept thinking “I wish I was reading Mob Psycho 100 instead” the whole time I was reading it. 

The other day, I randomly clicked on a recommended Webtoon called Devil no. 4, about a devil trying to get a poor college student to sign over his soul to him. Though the premise is very different, the character beats in Devil no. 4 hit a lot of what I was expecting to get from Third Shift Society but found lacking. The protagonist has a distinct, consistent personality, and her financial struggles affect her throughout the story and not just until she gets a decent job. She also has believable romantic tension with the characters she’s supposed to have romantic tension with, and friends she cares about and interacts with. I found myself quickly invested in everyone’s problems, unlike Third Shift Society where nothing could make me care about any of the characters in it.

So that’s my recommendation: read Mob Psycho 100 if you want paranormal investigators, read Devil no. 4 if you want class-conscious character drama, and don’t bother with Third Shift Society.

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