Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters: The Lost Treasures #1, 1993, Parody Press
contributors: Mark Lewis, Mark Martin, Kevin Harville, Bryan Robles, Don Chin, Parsonavich
This year has been and yet still promises to be a rewarding one for those of us who embraced comic books in the late '80s and early '90s. Ghost Rider, Silver Surfer, and Venom have jumped from those old memorable issues we read over and over again as kids to become big screen phenomena, and along with the less mainstream 300, have been embraced as household pop culture icons. However, while these characters are both physically and intrinsically appealing to a new, wider audience, everyone can look forward to another comic book film adaptation with level, premeditated enthusiasm -- you don't have to be long term collector to get excited by those four letters: T. M. N. T.
Yes, the heroes in a half-shell haven't swung onto the big screen in over a decade (although many will attest that their last effort was forgettable, anyway), and although their return is credited to another combination of letters -- CGI -- the box office can rest assured that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will attract a multi-generational audience once again. I mean, the Turtles have successfully maintained an audience of young and mature fans alike for years, not to mention both geeks, with their sci-fi flare, and jocks, with their "Cowabunga, dude!" war cry. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are the Simon and Schuster of our generation; the chemistry of their creation and its readership sparked a franchise with timeless potential. Truly, the Turtles aren't returning to the big screen as much as they're simply taking it back.
That said, since the Turtles' debut in the early '80s, a legion of imitators have swarmed the indie comic book scene in an attempt to capitalize on the multiple-adjectives-meets-personified-animal genre. A Comic A Day has dabbled in these efforts before, i.e. Fish Police and Space Beaver, but with the anticipated release of TMNT this Friday, I've decided that this week would be an excellent opportunity to dive into the trend flippers first, to examine why these sophomore projects didn't boast the same mass market success as the Foot Clan kicking original. Every review this week will star an adjective-meets-animal title (and in fact, two of these books will share the same adjective), culminating in an original Ninja Turtles issue I've been patiently harboring just for this occasion. Never let it be said that A Comic A Day doesn't try to achieve some practicality in all of this madness.
Needless to say, today's title is by far the most derivative, if not completely plagiarist in its premise. Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters are the apparent brainchild of Don Chin, who, in this issue's introduction, claims that he "came up with [the Hamsters] during a biology class." One of the "lost treasures" in this very book reveals Chin's creative process, which, as far as I can tell, consists of tweaking the titles of popular comic books to tout some Mad Magazine like parody appeal . . . except Mad Magazine is funny. (Okay, I confess that I chuckled at the idea of MSG Agents, a riff on DNAgents, but phone-ins like "Geriatric Glowing Gas-pumping Geckos" is merely an exercise in thesaurus-based alliteration.) While the Turtles are named after artists, a seeming touch of class to Eastman and Laird's otherwise dark urban tales, the Hamsters are named after action stars -- Chuck, Clint, Bruce, and Jackie -- a completely effortless move on Chin's part. I suppose my opinion is pretty palpable here; although this title can hide under the imprint Parody Press, the lack of imagination that permeates from this title isn't a parody but actually the piggybacking of another franchise's success. Therein, the comparison to Mad is unjust, because while Mad uses culturally common images on its covers, the magazine itself has retained an individual identity that distinguishes it from the material it satirizes.
Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters is as creative as my latest comic book: Plagiarist Piggybacking Parody-Pushing Publishers. Their names are Stan, Jack, Jim, and Rob. What do you think?
Although I didn't care for the very premise of this issue, I must confess a fondness for the cover artist, Mark Lewis, who not only drew this anthology's first installment but also signed this copy I've acquired, personalizing it to a Lyle, to whom he wishes "all the best (really!!)." I wonder why someone would abandon this issue to a quarter box; despite its derivative content, Mark Lewis is the issue's saving grace. The cover is well rendered, the Hamsters appearing as lovable cartoon characters that look more from the realm of Bucky O'Hare than the deformed creatures that star in this ish's other stories. In his two-page contribution, Lewis draws Chin stuck at the drawing board, until he concocts "Big Name Artists Draw the Hamsters!" What ensues is a series of panels capturing the Hamsters in the style of Kirby, Miller, Liefeld, Barks, Moebius, Dave Stevens, Keith Giffen, and Picasso (?), many of whom are personal favorites of mine. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Hey, isn't that exactly what you disliked about this title in the first place?" Indeed, but firstly, Lewis has the talent to recreate all of those styles effectively, and further, I assume his strip is an equally slighted jab at Chin himself. The implication is that the only idea the guy can muster is to ride the coat tails of someone else. Yes, these pages represent everything I don't like about this issue, but that's why I like them so much.
Surely, the rest of this issue isn't even worth reviewing. While some moments capture the raw spirit of the indie comics scene, the title as a whole is ultimately deflated. Don't get me wrong; I like good allegorical parody, but Chin's punchlines are one panel wonders. He actually has room and potential to do something with these characters, to use his sequential storytelling style to coin original concepts, using these rodents to only occasionally parody the flaws and exaggerations of the Turtles' mythos . . . but he simply chooses otherwise. Further, his artist clutters the page with unnecessary cross-hatching and line width, creating a dense layout that assaults the eyes as quickly as the writers' overdone dialogue. Overall, this issue is an excellent example of how less can be more.
Needless to say, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters was a disappointing start to this week's TMNT celebration. From what I remember of Fish Police and Space Beaver, their similarities with the Turtles ended with their obscure titles; their creators sought to capitalize on the trend while contributing something of their own. Unfortunately, the Hamsters have little to contribute. While I hope the rest of this week will go uphill, any residual frustration is oddly comforting in that it assures the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' place as a successful franchise and a great group of characters. Any generation of readers and viewers are lucky to have the Turtles around . . . we were just lucky enough to get in on the ground floor. Heck, some of us were so on the ground floor, we were in the sewer.
The Hamsters? They belong in the gutter.