Webcomics fans looking for robots, vampires, zombies, ninjas, pirates, monsters, dinosaurs, ghosts, and general awesomeness need look no further than Chris Hastings's brainchild The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. It's a glorious pastiche of loving parodies for superfans.
The first issue gives you a taste right away of what you're in for. It's the middle of the night, and a worried mom brings her son in to Dr. McNinja's office. She is immediately asked to fill in her insurance information by Judy, the doctor's gorilla receptionist. The doctor eventually diagnoses the boy with a rare lumberjacking diseases. The boy then sprouts a full beard, smashes through the ceiling, and runs into the woods in search of trees to fell. Then the Good Doctor is on the case.
And that's basically how all of Dr. McNinja's adventures go. He's a fully trained physician, but he's also been trained as a ninja by his Irish-bred ninja clan. In each issue (the comic is arranged into issue-long story arcs), something inexplicable and awesome happens, and the doctor has to deal with that inexplicable and awesome thing in an equally awesome way.
The keyword for the series is, it seems, awesome. High fives with gorillas, Mexican banditos riding velociraptors, an all-out brawl between a ninja clan and a pirate crew (complete with icy shamrock throwing stars), a sidekick gun-slinging child with a full-grown mustache… it's almost too awesome for one comic.
Dr. McNinja is mostly constructed of disparate storylines that don't require you to be steeped in the full mythology of the comic. But a dedication to this mythology certainly does pay off.
The Doctor's long-term nemesis, for instance, is King Radical, a mobster who skateboards around in a crown and cape. He's made a few appearances in the past, but the most recent storyline, involving a freight train robbery and the "only true Mountain Dew," is his triumphant return. Again, another chance for the series to be awesome, even while telling what becomes a somewhat complicated genre story.
Some of the sequences in the strip, in fact, seem designed using a high-concept, top-down approach to awesome. In one strip, for example, it feels a bit like Hastings sat down and said, "how can I allow myself to draw a tennis-playing Legends of the Hidden Temple-style temple guard that is made out of snakes?" Only after he concocts this image, it seems, does he build a convincingly originally and engaging story around it.
Which all makes the strip sound like a jumbled mess of disconnected pop-culture homages and genre self-awareness. But Dr. McNinja transcends the parts that make it up, becoming a Venture Brothers-like orgy of genre cool, a collage of epic stories that manage to both parody and lovingly exploit the sci-fi fan's favorite clichés and devices.
And the strip's quality has improved dramatically from the first issue. Not only has Hastings' ability improved, but he's assembled a crack team of talented people to complete the package. Most notable are the semi-recent addition of Carly Monardo and the even more recent addition Anthony Clark as colorists. The color in Dr. Mcninja not only brings the strip to life and adds vibrancy and motion to the whole thing, but the fantastic color work also serves to create some darker, tenser moods.
The sometimes-jumbled action sequences, a slight weakness of some of the early strips, have, with obvious work on Hastings's part, become easy to follow, and Hastings's pacing is spot-on. His splash pages offer a well-timed, giant, explosive image and slow the strip down when necessary, allowing the reader to get fully immersed in the story. The most recent completed issue, the aforementioned Tennis-themed tomb raiding adventure, is probably the strongest to date, story- and drawing-wise.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, then, is an easy and entertaining way to get your fix of awesomeness three times a week. And the archives are well-organized and fun to read. Dr. McNinja is consistently fun and offers constant surprises, even while it improves every issue.