C. G. McGinn


Ramblings about Books and Writing

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Comic Book Theory: The "Cake and Eat it Too" Gambit - Part 1

This will be one of those posts that most of the non-comic book audience will probably stop reading after this very sentence. By the end of the paragraph, the rest of you will stop reading. We're not talking about Batman here, or Iron Man, or even Squirrel Girl. We're going to discuss a recent poll taken over on the FaceBag pertaining to the one comic I go all fan-boy over. I'm of course talking about, Ninja High School. Stick around and you may learn something.

Ben Dunn

Ben Dunn

NHS had a good run for a book that caused many a comic book store owners to glaze over when I, in my youth, asked if their store carried it. It was an obscure title that one would randomly find on the comic shelf at Newbury Comics or Strawberries. Remember Strawberries? But typically one had to have a subscription set up with their local comic book store, and have the title special ordered. At least, this was the case in my area or the world, and I'd like to think that with the copy reserved for me, and the one ordered for the store, that I single-handed-ly made Ben Dunn a household name on the entire East Coast. I feel similarly about being the one who brought Nickelback to Maine during my college years. Take that, Maine!

Look at this photograph!

Look at this photograph!

The series began back in 1986 and closed out in 2009 with issue 175. In that time, earlier parts of the series saw reprints and Full Color versions of issues, along with special issues like Year Books, and crossovers with other titles published by Antarctic Press. It had a good run. The core story revolved around Jeremy Feeple--a 16 year old high school student who is the object of attention by a ninja and an alien.

In 2014, Ben teamed up to Steve Ross, and issue #176 was released. I don't have the issue in front of me but the gist of it was essentially the last episode on the cusp of a reboot. I need to stress, I don't have #176 or the other comics in the initial series in front of me. They are in storage. Don't be this guy:

Worst. Blog. Ever.

Worst. Blog. Ever.

But I did talk to Steve about it. #176 goes as follows: The universe in which the story takes place gets corrupted. Two characters are removed from Space/Time on a machine powered by steam. The mission: Shit's gots to get fixed, yo! The End

Issue #176 came and went. No #177.


Thanks FaceBag Polls!

Thanks FaceBag Polls!

Should the series be rebooted?

A lot of folks weighed in and said they didn't want all the content since 1986 to be wiped out. This is a legitimate fear where the fictitious world one has been reading or watching is actually rendered meaningless, because the creator of said world decides to start fresh. Normally I wouldn't care about such things, but--Hello! FanBoy#1!

I choose the former. Not the later.

I choose the former. Not the later.

Issue 176, the universe we've been reading about is literally corrupted. Had Ben ended with 175, there'd be no reason to worry, however 176 was a turning-point, a critical place in the story were its very existence lay precariously teetering on the edge of space and time. It was a line drawn in the sand. A piece of Ninja High Schooly history that can't be unmade.

It was also a damn good story and one that had to be told. I for one loved it and since we hadn't seen any Ninjas in High School since '09, it was great to get back in the saddle with Ninjas in High School. (I'm sure that sounded better in my head).

Where it ended...or began, anew?

Where it ended...or began, anew?

This is what JJ Abrams did when he rebooted Star Trek. The first new Star Trek movie goes back in time and wipes out the history of everything that we all know, love, and hate about Star Trek. No Kirk, no Picard, no DS9, no 7-of-9, no Picard memes.

"Shut up, Wesley!" -Picard

"Shut up, Wesley!" -Picard

We're left with a cast and crew of super models, and an optometrist's bill costing thousands in gold-pressed latinum due to all the damn lens flares. I hate the new Star Trek movies because of what they removed. I understand the importance of a long running series and would hate to see it go away.

However I also see the reason for a fresh new start. NHS began in the late 80s. The comic book industry is a very different place in 2018. Social Media and smart phones have left us with the attention spans of goldfish. And for Ninja High School to be successful, it needs to recapture its fan-base and attract a hip new audience. For this, I am proposing the patent-pending CGMcGinn Cake and Eat it Too gambit of comic book reboots.

But first, let's look at DC Comic's "New 52" for the extent of this paragraph. Specifically we'll be talking about Batgirl. Prior to New 52, Barbara Gordon was Oracle, a computer hacker extraordinaire, member of the Birds of Prey, who also helped Batman from time to time. Prior to that she was Batgirl, but thanks to Alan Moore and the Joker, she'd been rendered bound to a wheelchair and her Batgirl position was reassigned. New 52 happened and thanks to a vague surgical procedure, Barbara could walk again, was reinstated as Batgirl and went back to fighting crimes in cape and cowl.

This is an example of a soft reboot. Batgirl remembers her life prior to New 52 as Oracle, but for the extent of the  New 52 run, she is doing the whole Batgirl, walking-thing again. It's a Batgirl story, not an Oracle story. The origin story wasn't retold. It was a continuation of the character's arch, but at the same time a reinvention of the character.

This sort of reboot was possible because Batgirl is a superhero. She's timeless like the Simpsons. She can be college age forever. What defines her is her ability to kickass like Batman, but she comes at it from a very different perspective. She's a woman. Her motives are very different. Because of The Killing Joke--thanks a bunch Alan Moore, you too Joker--she's darker, but because of her ability to walk again that darkness gives way to rays of optimism.

Anyway, enough about Batgirl. Jeremy Feeple is not a superhero, nor is he secretly Batgirl (as far as I know). Part of the original run involves his awkward trek to adulthood. I think part of the appeal to a book like NHS was watching Jeremy stumble towards adulthood, finding and falling out of love, dealing with bullies, and getting into the occasional skirmishes with aliens, monsters, and ninjas.

The Cake and Eat it Too gambit

Issue #176 is the new Star Trek movies, only better. It's new Star Trek because the timeline is reset. It's better, because screwing with Time is not an exact science and events that we read about in the initial NHS run, happen differently.

Here are some bullet-points:

  • This would be a full reboot of the series

  • Jeremy Feeple is 16

  • Because time is wonky, the reboot starts in 2018 instead of 1986

  • In the initial series, Jeremy's mom took care of Jeremy and his younger brother, Ricky because their father got trapped in Dimension X when Jeremy was very young. Since mom was the one taken out of time to save the universe in #176, the reboot will have Jeremy and Ricky being raised by their father. Where is mom? Do the Feeple's know? It's a new wrinkle in the reboot.

  • More on mom: She is one of the few characters who knows about the 2 different timelines. This could come into play later in the series or not at all. But she could be a guiding force in Jeremy's success.

  • The war between Sulusian and Zardon has changed dramatically in some way. Perhaps Zardon is no longer the antagonists in the conflict. Perhaps the war has yet to begin. Perhaps the Sulusian royal family is not as well liked as they were in the initial series.

  • Asrial had always been handy, mechanical and less girly. This is more apparent because her royal family status no longer means as much. Perhaps the whole Princess in Exile angle is less imposed by her royal parents and more to do with conflicts at home.

  • Since Prof Steamhead was also removed from time in #176, someone else fills his place as a mentor to Jeremy. Their motives may not be noble, and could possibly be downright malevolent.

  • Rivalsan Lendo keeps having nightmares about Hell. This is in reference to the plotline in the initial series where Lendo indeed goes to Hell in order to rescue Jeremy's soul. This was a favorite plotline of mine. Lendo is also less of a dick to Jeremy, probably because of the dreams.

  • WW2 Ends differently. The Allies still win, but with greater losses. Steamhead isn't around. Hitler is taken alive. Ichi's grandfather is a different kind of Ninja Clan leader.

  • 9/11 happened. Quagmire was a target. Perhaps Tomorrowman failed to stop it in time. Perhaps Tomorrowman was never able to get over this and all those who were lost that day.

  • Something HUGE is happening in Hawaii. ;-p

  • There's no rats in Dimension X. None.

  • Dogsupreme is no longer a slave to Zardon and is the Thanos of the known universe.

Well this was a very long post. Level 100 Fan-Boy in the house, yo!

Kids these days have it easy

If you're 30+ you'll know what I'm talking about. Anyone 20 and under will probably start scratching their heads in confusion while wandering into their local bookstore's anime/manga section to peruse the mountains upon mountains of available titles from the cute, to the demonic to the disturbing, and everything else in between. Kids today do not realize how easy they have it. They can trip over manga. It's completely embedded into our culture.

It wasn't so easy for the 30+ anime/manga fan when we were kids. For anime, you had to know a guy. Some would put this person on the same level as drug dealer as far as the logistics for acquiring said titles. This guy for me was an unusually tall mix between heavy-metal rocker and alternative music junkie who always wore black combat boots and a matching black trench coat. And he had everything! And it was all on VHS! This was a time that predates CD burners being the standard in all new computers. This guy had an entire dresser filled with VHS copies of titles he had received from his overseas supplier in Japan. (At least that was what I was told between playing a Japan-only version of Tekken on his modded Playstation). And he had the titles we all knew and had probably seen though they were interrupted by commercials, censored, and poorly dubbed because we first watched them on the Sci-Fi Channel's "Saturday Anime": For the longest time I didn't realize Ninja Scroll had an implied rape scene, and Vampire Hunter D had brief full-frontal.

But it was the manga that was not only impossible to find, but if you didn't know Japanese you were pretty much shit-out-of-luck on understanding the plot. The manga section at your local B&N did not exist back-in-the-day. Many may wonder what they did with all that empty space. I suspect that the space was used for CDs, which at the time were packaged in large rectangular plastic or cardboard security cases in order to discourage would-be thieves from pocketing the goods. But needless to say, in the US, manga was whispered about being this thing that everyone, young and old, professional and homeless had access to in Japan.

In walks, Ben Dunn and everything changes. Ben Dunn has become synonymous with American Manga. Here's a guy who cut out the supplier, (Japan)  from the equation. He was creating the manga style and it was also in English designed specifically for an American audience. The uncouth may look at the title Ben is most known for, "Ninja High School" and proclaim that it's a comic about Ninja's and Aliens, and there's this normal dude who the audience is supposed to relate to, and there's something going on with the power of steam. But what they fail to see is that Ninja High School contained remarkable parody, humor, and pop-culture references from both American and Japanese culture. Who can forget the Chef of the North Star, the controversial Archie parody, or iconic characters from popular movies/tv drawn into frames, often simply lurking in the background (Tom Servo, I'm looking at you). Those are three examples. I know there are more but I haven't read through the original run in quite a while. I'm sure now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I'll get a lot more of the references.

Obviously I'm writing once again about Ben Dunn and Ninja High School to help promote Ben's Kickstarter that is now in it's final days. This will be the last of these for a while. What you have to understand is that as a kid, Ninja High School was comic books for me, and Ben Dunn might as well have been Stan Lee. I wasn't really into the super hero genre. Even now I'll occasionally read a Batman book. And being only in middle school at the time, I wasn't allowed to read anything from DC's Vertigo line. (Laugh all you want. I had parents). NHS was both entertaining and it was drawn to be provocative without being pornographic. It was an important part of my childhood and it's still important.

It's also pretty clear that I like complaining like a curmudgeon about how incredibly easy these pesky kids have it these days.

Now get off my lawn!