Space Beaver #1, October 1986, Ten-Buck Comics
writer/artist: Darick Robertson
letterer: Rob Read
I left yesterday’s review dangling intentionally, because I knew that today’s subject, Space Beaver, would flesh out any concepts that I began to explore, namely the “personified animal” genre of comics. I implied that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set the stage for the slew of bestial protagonists sprung from the ‘80s, particularly in the indie comics market, as up-and-coming artists undoubtedly recognized and envied Eastman and Laird’s unprecedented success – success, that, in part, lends tremendous credit to their characters’ first impression. In this case, it’s in the name. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is such a motley assemblage of words, each evoking an iconic (or stereotypical) mental image, then synthesizing to create the natural personalities of our generation’s favorite half-shell heroes. The desperate leadership of Leonardo, the dexterity of Donatello, the rashness of Raphael, and the mischievous Michelangelo – together, they’re the uber-teen . . . that have mastered the martial arts and fight alien triceratops warriors from time to time. Tell me that isn’t an instant success!
So, comic books like Fish Police and Space Beaver are natural consequences of such a widespread, popular phenomenon, akin to Batman the deluge of superheroes following Superman’s seemingly overnight success. (Comic book aficionados know that “overnight” is a vexed term here, but you know what I mean.) At first glance, the creators simply threw a bunch of fictional genres in one hat and some animal names in another, mixed ‘em up, and pulled out one of each, “creating” a “concept” that should mirror the Turtle’s acclaim. “Space . . . Beaver! Yes!” (A part of me wishes for a combination of yesterday’s read with today’s. Who wouldn’t at least flip through a comic book called Beaver Police? But I digress.) I wonder if these creators’ aspirations were daunted because of the transparent parallel of their characters’ names? I mean, if I’m making this connection between the Turtles, the Fish, and the Beaver, I’m sure others have, as well. Bucky O’Hare is an “animal comic book” that has achieved some merit, especially for completist Neil Adams fans, and his name implies more of an Irish drunk than an ornery space-faring bunny. Could these roses have smelled sweeter if by another name?
Of course, the content is critical to any comic book’s success. The Turtles are essentially urban vigilantes with adolescent mentalities, an extremely marketable concept with the potential to swing toward kid-friendly cartoon fodder or grim-‘n-gritty feature film. (I defy anyone that claims Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the first movie, wasn’t a whole-hearted adaptation of the original source material, which isn’t exactly a child’s bedtime reading, comparable to the Spider-man franchise or Sin City.) Fish Police features an underwater world, while fantastic in itself still maintains a semblance of surface world reality that makes a reader wonder why the creators endured the effort. Space Beaver is closer to the spirit of this subgenre, telling an action-packed tale with dynamic characterization, but again, with little relation to its intended impression – we see little if any of the main character, yes, a beaver, in space. Unless the term implies the characters’ origins, and hence why they can talk and shoot guns and whatnot, a better title would have been Warrior Beaver, or even plainly Angry Beaver. Again, a comic book I wouldn’t mind reading . . .
I will say, I was surprised to discover Darick Robertson behind Space Beaver. Darick Robertson is the co-creator and illustrator of Transmetropolitan, the critically acclaimed Warren Ellis opus about a controversial (putting it mildly) investigative journalist that topples the corrupt President of the United States – a Vertigo series that may have been ahead of its time. Nevertheless, Robertson has since earned stints on more mainstream books like The Punisher, and most recently, the Garth Ennis superhero commentary The Boys. All things considered, this book was a find for twenty-five cents, as Robertson’s fan favorite grit takes an early shape in these pages. His dialogue could be tighter, and his backgrounds could be more detailed, but his characters are expressive and his sequences are dramatic and fluid. Surprisingly, Robertson makes the leap from anarchistic space beaver to renegade journalist seem natural. Long story short, Space Beaver’s nemesis Lord Pork, yes, a pig, uses his presumed dead lover to lure him into a trap. I assume a confrontation between the former lovers is in store, and if Robertson doesn’t use the line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a dam,” before some climatic gunshot, he’s missing a prime, almost once in a lifetime opportunity.
The verdict? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles struck a cord in the right place, at the right time, nothing else. Something about the way Eastman and Laird captured their original likenesses and personalities on paper resonated with the industry, creating a modern success story not unlike Superman’s creators, sans the ownership issues. In fact, therein lies the secret to their longevity; despite their franchising and cross-media appeal, the half-shell heroes retained some semblance of their roots at all times. They were always teenaged, mutants, ninja, and turtles. Even Superman has, at times, not been so super, and although the Fish Police were both fish and police, from the issue I read, they were neither definitely. Space Beaver is a beaver, to be sure, but he could have just as easily been Sewer Beaver. (I’m not sure if I’d want to read that one.) The Turtles started with a strong voice, while their successors constantly, merely sought one. And in the animal kingdom, a whimper is easily muffled by a roar.