Webcomics Wednesday: Dr. McNinja, Kurosawa's Surgeon / by David Anderson


Before we start this review, let's agree on the following: Pirates, Ninjas, Zombies and their interactions stopped being funny about three months after we started making jokes about them. Nobody is really sure when it started. I figured it started sometime around the invasion of Iraq but I think I have seen references stretching back to the 90's. People went on making jokes about them for years, sure, but the novelty of anachronistic antagonists duking it out for the title of Cannon Fodder Supreme got old really fast, which is why I hate the combinations they spawn so badly that my hate will outlive my death. Dr. McNinja, however, is the blind spot in my hatred. I can't hate it. I won't. I enjoy it too much.

Christopher Hastings (the author/artist) started this project way back in 2004, around the time I bought an Xbox. Back then it was all black and white, and the whole ninjas/zombies/pirates humor was still relatively fresh. The first issue involved an Irish ninja running a dental/surgery clinic and trying to sue Donald McBonald for copyright infringement, and subsequently finding himself trying to save the day from said Food Clown. Since then he's been given color, several sidekicks, a new dental clinic (the old one exploded) and a lot of nemeses, all of them built around the same principle: take one trope, slap it together with another trope, and see how well they stick together.

He's done a pretty good job so far, if you ask me. I think the trick is that he doesn't try to shove it in your face. He understands the power of an overplayed joke and he has created a pretty coherent universe, so even if he's been riding on a popularity wave derived from a weird idea he still manages to outlast its lifespan.

For example, the characters he's created aren't exactly cookie-cutter memes- he adds a little bit from column A and B and adds his own ideas. McNinja, for example, isn't just an Irish Ninja.  He's a surgeon and a dentist because he's always wanted to be Batman. His parents aren't satisfied with his success, his brother is a chump, and his secretary is a Silverback Gorilla. His sidekick Gordito is like a Hispanic Robin with a very adult-like demeanor, which may be a side effect of his authority powered mustache. McNinja could have very easily become a Mary Sue, but he still manages to fit perfectly in his own universe.

Part of that success lies in the meta-humor you'll be swimming in. The dialogue is very often sarcastic and self-conscious. These people know their canon is ridiculous, but that doesn't stop you from having tension and drama. When they break character and/or the fourth wall, or even allude to breaking it, that's when it's most hilarious. Still, there's rules here, and you will find yourself hoping to see certain characters make it through their problems. It's not some kind of carousel where whacky things happen with no repercussions. You won't have tragedy, obviously, but important characters have died (hilariously) so you'll definitely have action that makes you tense up.

Probably one of the small touches I like most are the word tags he puts on each page. When you mouse over a page they'll pop up briefly and they can add an entirely new perspective and punchline to a picture that makes you laugh a second time, or just let you know what's going on in the artists' head.

Overall his writing is great. The earlier stuff can get a little over the top, but that's the thing about webcomics- it's so much easier to watch someone's skill evolve through this medium than it is to look up a print artist's work from beginning to end. Hell, comedy in general is a process of trial and error with a shotgun, so I can forgive the occasional flat joke.

The same goes with the comics' art. Honestly though Hastings was pretty good from the very start, and has only gotten better. The thick ink that makes up each character gives it a very clean, shiny style. Sometimes I think his faces look odd but that's not a very big deal, especially when the facial expressions are one of the best punchlines he's got. It doesn't matter what kind of face he's drawing, whether it's serious or hilarious, it almost always turns out great.

And oh my god Clark's coloring is fantastic. Every vibrant color helps in making a character's unique profile stand out, especially for characters like King Radical and Gordito. He can use light and shadow pretty impressively too. I don't think I can say anything bad about his work.

Dr. McNinja is one of those anomalies that has become a classic example of the current generation of webcomics. You'd think this comic would stop being funny after the whole craze it sprung from died down, but it didn't. It's up in my top ten and it should be in yours too.

TL;DR: Start reading this webcomic if you haven't already, because it's funny and interesting, and the art is amazing.

Dr. McNinja is a M/W/F webcomic,  written and illustrated by Chris Hastings and colored by Anthony Clark. Read it thrice weekly on their websiteThey also have three collections out that can be found on Amazon or with their other merchandise on Topatoco.