D is for Dracula, Distantly Destructive

drlogoSo there’s this comic called Dr. McNinja. When first I encountered this strip, I could describe it as little more than a comic about a doctor, who is also a ninja; or in short, a comic about being awesome.

Since then, the description has proven even more accurate than I could have imagined, since this truly is what the comic is all about – the Rule of Cool. The principle, largely, is that you take a bunch of elements that tend to stand in their own genre – such as ninjas, or robots, or wizards, or whatever – and then you throw them together, producing something that is, in theory, profoundly awesome. Imagine: a time-traveling wizard cowboy, trained by monks in the arts of karate and meditation! And so forth and so on – these characters and scenes are driven more by the sheer concept of them than any actual merit of their use. And this is entirely ok – there is nothing wrong with simply sitting back and appreciating the sheer brilliance, say, of tyrannosaurs in F-14s.

tf14s

No one knows awesome quite like Calvin and Hobbes.

Now, what I find makes me really, truly appreciate Dr. McNinja is that it manages to take these concepts and actually make them work within the story. It has been pointed out that more than a few fans will tend to defend a work by pointing at the bits of “awesomeness” within – but that it takes quite a bit more to make such concepts actually work within the story, rather than exist as a single moment of fun entertainment. Which Dr. McNinja succeeds at – indeed, by this point, the vaguely surreal setting of the comic has become so fundamental that the continual appearance of ghost wizards and robot bears seems not just acceptable, but downright natural.

And there are actually long, elaborate plots built around these concepts – the main characters themselves are all equally absurd, but nonetheless have managed to become well-realized characters with that the reader can be fully invested in. So this is why Dr. McNinja rocks. Also valuable: knowing exactly how far would be too far.

Now, the comic continually seeks to offer new moments of awesome – a challenge that grows ever more daunting, given the various scenes and characters it has already gone through. Among the most recent highlights in the strip was one moment that outshone all others – in which, when Dr. McNinja goes hunting for Dracula, we learn that Dracula has a moonbase, and is able to eliminate vampire hunters via his moon laser.

So, given that this was a moment of crowning awesome in a comic fundamentally built upon such principles, it was with quite a bit of shock when I discovered that self-same scene, last month… in the pages of Marvel comics.

One comic in particular: “Captain Britain and MI13”, Issue number 10, written by Paul Cornell. In a time when I’ve found very little to be excited about in the world of print comics, this series has been one of the few that have stood out as entertaining and worthwhile. This opinion was only further reinforced when this most recent issue opened with a chat between Dracula and Dr. Doom – on the moon. And even more so, when Dracula then returns to his private moonbase, from which he fires not a moon laser, but instead magical cannons that launch exploding vampires at his enemies on the Earth below!

If you're gonna be a villain, it's always best to do so with style.

If you're gonna be a villain, it's always best to do so with style.

Now, I don’t know if this was done as a reference to Dr. McNinja, or simply the product of two great minds thinking alike. It really isn’t important either way.

What I do find important is this: When the topic of comics comes up, amongst my friends and I, there is quite a lot of talk about webcomics. Discussion over current plots, new webcomics people have discovered, or even simple appreciation for the comics that are always reliably good. There is almost no discussion at all of print comics – and when the topic does turn to such things, it is almost entirely negative.

Pretty much every single one of my friends reads webcomics, and enjoys them. Almost none still read anything by Marvel or DC – and even when there is both good and bad works being produced by both companies, it is only the news of the worst of it that filters down to our topics of discussion. And while I try to talk about some of the worthwhile comics of recent years – Blue Beetle, Iron Fist, etc – it is hard to do so. They are familiar with the big names, and so they can get frustrated at hearing about poorly-written stories dealing with Batman or Spiderman. It is much harder to get interested in hearing about well-written stories about characters they have never heard of.

But when I can point to a comic, and say, “This comic features Dracula and his moonbase, just like in Dr. McNinja!”? That, they get. That, they can understand. And that has a bigger chance of getting any of them back into comics than any big event, or crossover, or crisis. In all honesty, the vast majority of those have only served to drive them away.

I’m not saying print comics need to directly imitate webcomics in order to succeed. Honestly, just writing decent stories is a pretty basic step one – though one that a lot of comics seem to have quite a bit of trouble with. But tapping into the same level of innovation and creativity as what can currently be found online certainly helps get my attention, and seems like a pretty good step in the right direction.

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8 responses

  1. The creators and even the readers probably don’t realize it, but McNinja is a masked version of Doc Savage from 70 years ago. The authors poured every conceivable skills — including surgeon — into “The Man of Bronze’s” body.

    Even some Doc Savage villains and situations were pretty silly, though the McNinja creators are juxtaposing cliches for comic and dramatic effect in a way that is quite distinctive.

    Another Uber-man was Superman. They brought out Kryptonite to give him a bit more challenge.

    Bengo
    LilNyet.com
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  2. William George | Reply

    There is almost no discussion at all of print comics – and when the topic does turn to such things, it is almost entirely negative.

    If you ask me, a lot of print comics are pretty good. Even the superhero stuff these days.

    But webcomics is something akin to a cult to many of it’s supporters. At least that’s the only way I can find to explain away a lot of the glaring blind spots people seem to have when discussing webcomics and their creators. And when you couple this fan myopia with the typical geek clannishness, it makes sense that everything in print would get snarked at.

    (Even when it’s awesome like Dracula shooting vampires at England from cannons on the moon.)

    To be honest, I find that even the most pedestrian of art in print comics shows a far higher level of skill and craftsmanship than is seen in just about every webcomic being made.

    Not that some aren’t trying… just that the bar has been significantly lowered and most don’t need to try. So they don’t.

    On the other hand, most webcomics excel with their writing of original concepts and stories. Which has been something lacking in print for quite a while now.

    Not that some aren’t trying… just that the bar has been significantly lowered and most don’t need to try. So they don’t.

    So what I’m saying, Myth, is that skilled webcomic writers working with skilled print comic artists would be a force for change in comics. Drawing the medium out of it’s kidult-only cultural ghetto.

    (And yes, that applies to both delivery mediums under discussion.)

    Or maybe it’d just be two well-drawn buff dudes in spandex sitting on a couch complaining about Hollywood.

    (Never let optimism get the better of you.)

  3. William George’s comments are interesting, but a review of a webcomic on a webcomic blog seems an unusual spot to make them. They deserve to be heard more broadly.

    I don’t love webcomics as much as I love the potential of webcomics, and I concede that of all comic media of the last 75 years, webcomics are under-performers in many ways. The trade-off of frontier-style freedom and its associated creativity are juvenile and sloppy operations. It’s easy to tar all titles with that reputation, but I bet Mr. George is informed enough to know there are exceptions, and positive trends even as some negative trends remain resilient and sadly true.

  4. Can’t really disagree with what you say, William G. There are a lot of print comics – especially with the big two – that I’ve been disappointed in in recent years. Almost universely, that disappointment has been with the writing rather than with the art.

    Meanwhile, there are many webcomics I read in spite of the art, with only the writing to keep my interest.

    Some of the long-running webcomics are able to turn an amateur early performance into genuinely decent work… but that isn’t always the case.

    I’m not sure if combining the best from each side is entirely viable, though it definitely can produce winners – Atomic Robo, by Brian Clevenger, is an easy example that comes to mind.

    On the other hand, I do wonder if some of the superhero comics could stand to learn a bit of a lesson from the success of webcomics with weaker art – namely, making more, from less.

    Print comics are often very lush, very gorgeous works of art – but with a pretty big price tag for only a few moments of actual entertainment. Entire teams of artists work together to produce something that often just isn’t worth the cost. I wonder if it could be worthwhile to find a way to slim down to simpler art and production values, in order to bring down the price tag of the product to a value that could much more easily appeal to a casual consumer.

  5. but a review of a webcomic on a webcomic blog seems an unusual spot to make them

    It seemed to be a commentary from what Myth wrote above… A month ago, it seems. 😉

    I bet Mr. George is informed enough to know there are exceptions

    Yes! Of course! But for some reason, it’s never the same exceptions to this reputation that others keep pointing out as exceptions to this reputation.

    Then again, I thought Voyager was better than Deep Space Nine, so I admit that I fail at acceptable geekery most times.

    On the other hand, I do wonder if some of the superhero comics could stand to learn a bit of a lesson from the success of webcomics with weaker art – namely, making more, from less.

    I don’t disagree with this.

    Perhaps both comic delivery systems simply need a bit of balance in their production?

  6. I meant:

    “It seemed to be a logical commentary…”

    Stupid not paying attention to what I delete.

  7. PS, that old blog of mine you got linked was dead and gone a year ago.

    I’ll stop comment spamming now. 😀

  8. Hey, no worries, discussion is good. And yeah, my links are long since in need of some updating, I’ll see about getting that fixed…

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