‘Worm’ is brutal, awesome, and horrifying
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
In need of a superhero fix—one of sufficiently epic length and scale, one that takes all the standard superhero tropes and shoots them brutally in the face, and one that’s available online in its entirety for free? Get ready to lose yourself in Worm.
Worm is a web serial written by John C. McCrae, under the handle Wildbow, comprised of 30 acts each broken into 6 to 13 chapters, with a total word count of approximately 1.7 million words (about the current length of A Song of Ice and Fire). The story’s full of wild superpowers, an expansive cast of despicably flawed yet endearing characters, tumultuous plot twists, and impossible moral dilemmas.
The serial takes place on an Earth where certain individuals have superpowers. These parahumans, called “capes” in slang terms, have abilities like pyrokinesis, teleportation, superhuman intellect, technological inventive ability, and a vast array of other wacky powers. Capes keep their true identities hidden by donning aliases and appearing in costume, and are labelled either as heroes, villains, or rogues. Teams of superheroes and villains with code names and colourful bodysuits—it sounds like it should be cheesiness to the max, but Worm is the opposite, embracing and subverting its own potential for tropiness. The hero/villain dichotomy itself is one of the major themes of the serial: What are tidy, black and white categorizations when all of the characters are awful people?
Worm is campy fun, if you’re camping at the site of a brutal massacre during a nuclear apocalypse while your friends are getting mauled to death by a grizzly bear. The plot turns super dark, and it continues escalating throughout in horror and intensity, long past the point where you’d think it has reached the pinnacle of depravity. Some scenes are violently nightmarish, augmented by excruciatingly gory descriptions and the twisted actions and motivations of characters.
Hero, villain, everyone in between, they’re as screwed up as they are compelling. The protagonist of Worm is Taylor Hebert, a teenager who is ruthlessly bullied at school and who has the power to control bugs. Taylor starts off aspiring to be a hero, but over the course of the serial she goes through some drastic, yet unnervingly believable character development. Along with Taylor, Worm has dozens and dozens of characters with awesome powers, badass alter-egos, and misguided at best ethical codes to root for or against.
The serial unmistakably has rough parts, as you’d see with anything self-published—a few typos, clunky sentences, and similar cosmetic blemishes. The story’s pacing and timeline are also a little jarring, especially in the final third of the serial. However, it is impressively internally consistent for such a large-scale project written by just one person and posted chapter by chapter without substantial retroactive editing.
Originally published between 2011 and 2013 at a pace of two or three chapters a week, Worm is one of the most popular, expansive web serials out there and still enjoys a solid readership today. Wildbow has stated that he’s working on editing the whole serial for eBook and physical publication, and the sequel serial Ward just started its run in November 2017, so now’s as good a time as any to crawl into the Wormverse at https://parahumans.wordpress.com.