Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters #1, January 2008, Dynamite Entertainment
writer: Keith Champagne
artist: Tom Nguyen
colorist: Moose Baumann
letterer: Zach Matheny
creators: Don Chin & Parsonavich
I don't believe I'm writing this review.
Last March, I so anticipated the return of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the big screen that I dedicated a week of reviews to comic books obviously inspired by their success. I found a few similar series, including Samurai Penguin and Samurai Squirrel, but nothing as close to blatant plagiarism as Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos, Cold-Blooded Chameleon Commandos, or, the most popular of the rip-offs, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters. I haven't found and read the Kangaroos' or the Chameleons' adventures yet, but when I found ADRRH: Lost Treasures, I was so taken by its unoriginality that I had to buy it. After my terrible review, creator Don Chin challenged me to read another issue; I found one, Clint: The Hamster Triumphant, and actually liked it in spite of myself. Still, I assumed that two installments of the "furry four's" forays were all I needed for my ever-expanding collection.
I was wrong.
When Chin told me that the Hamsters were returning for a new series in 2008, by Dynamite Entertainment with awesome artist Tom Nguyen, no less, I thought he was joking. At the very least, I assumed the series would face premature cancellation when some Dynamite editor realized, "I swear these hamsters remind me of something I've seen before. Wait a minute . . .!" Alas, these things have a way of coming full circle -- just like a hamster's wheel, and this week, Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters #1 hit the new release shelves, completely coincidentally on the week I decided to revisit personified animal-oriented comics for Groundhog Day. It's like it was meant to be.
Don Chin isn't in the driver's seat for this latest incarnation, nor are his title characters even the same, but the same silliness is prevalent, along with a fair share of ninja butt-kicking. In the spirit of the original hamsters, Bruce, Chuck, Jackie and Clint, this "next generation" stars Rock, Jean-Claude, Steven, Arnold, and Lucy -- yes, the hamsters are now graced with a woman's touch (though I wonder if Lucy Lawless would put herself in the same league as those other action star namesakes). When the monastery that raised the two tiers of hamster heroes is under siege, the Dalai Momma appears to summon her, "ummm, . . . second dearest students," who promptly respond and encounter a self-proclaimed reincarnation of Genghis Khan. By the end of this issue, the Hamsters actually aren't faring so well, with Steven and Jean Claude arrow-ridden and Lucy possibly plummeting to her death. These heroes may respect ancient traditions, but when it comes to their safety in this series, I guess nothing's sacred.
Writer Keith Champagne honors Chin's legacy with the right balance of action and humor, though I wonder why he decides to continue the original series' inclination to acknowledge the hamster's fictional world within the constructs of the story. When Steven "dies," for instance, and Arnold asks if he'll "be back," Lucy retorts, "Only in reprints." Between the satire of the hamsters' names and subsequent characters and the derivative nature of their origin, our rodent ruffians have enough in-continuity that they don't need to exploit the confines of their medium. Tom Nguyen's art is as crisp and expressive as ever, perhaps not as detail-oriented as his most recent work on Batman, but just as animated. Colorist Moose Baumann adds that layer of depth the Hamsters' world deserves, from their interstellar beginnings under the influence of space jello, to the snow-peaked mountain peaks of their monastery, to the heroes' rooftop Chicago studio. With such a high-end concept, facing harsh criticism from jerks like me ready to pick apart its most base flaws, beautiful visuals could really save the day -- and they do.
So, the question is, are the Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters here to stay? I think their relationship with pop culture is symbiotic; as long as their inspirations remain in the spotlight, the potential for their success still shines, too. I mean, really, are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or cheesy action movie stars going anywhere anytime soon?