Webcomics in Review: Dr. McNinja – Rule of Cool

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Is your child turning into a giant lumberjack? Are you possessed by ghosts? Call Dr. McNinja, the best podiatrist/ninja around. Coming from a clan of Irish ninjas, McNinja decided to break with family tradition and become a doctor. Always balancing the art of killing and his duty to “do no harm,” we follow the good doctors adventures as he fights fast food companies, aging action stars, zombie ninjas, and Dracula.

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja is a webcomic by Christopher Hastings, with colors in later chapters by Anthony Clark. Having recently ended its 12 year run, now seemed like a good time to look back at Dr. McNinja.

As a reviewer, the hardest thing to get across is why a work is funny. Dr. McNinja lives in an absurdist universe governed by the rule of cool. The plots often sound like mad libs. For example: “Dr. McNinja discovers his resurrected friend and mentor, the clone of Benjamin Franklin, is now cursed to be part headless horseman, and to save him he must venture to Dracula’s Moon Fortress.” Dr. McNinja’s sensibility is akin to comics like Axe Cop or God Hates Astronauts in this way (both of these also started and gained popularity on the internet). What is essential about this sense of humor is how accepted all the weirdness is. There’s no Arthur Dent in this universe – when super intelligent dinosaurs or NASA ghosts (the Nasaghast) are introduced to the plot there’s a “yeah, sure, why not?” reaction by the players. When all your characters are absurd in some way, it would be hypocritical for a ninja doctor to gape at a gorilla nurse. Kitchen-sink absurdity can get boring after a while once the wackiness factor wears off, but what kept Dr. McNinja vibrant throughout its long run is the continuity it built. Anything is possible in the McNinja-verse, but once an element is introduced it sticks. If purgatory is established as a restaurant where one is constantly waiting for their waiter, anytime a character dies you will see that restaurant. After the first few introductory stories, every arc bleeds into the next, with recurring villains and allies, and real (if sometimes silly) consequences. The recurring plot elements are not as great as Dr.McNinja’s recurring characters.

The first few chapters of Dr. McNinja are fine comics, Hastings art is stilted in the beginning, and the stories are usually built around a few central gags, but Dr. McNinja really starts to find itself when the comic introduces Doc’s supporting cast, specifically Doc’s ninja family and his ward, mustachioed child-gunslinger Gordito. Besides producing some of the best gags of the series, Doc’s friends and family give him people to play off of and the ability to switch into the straight man position. Mitzi McNinja, Doc’s mom, is a cartoonishly merciless character who is disappointed in her son’s decision to become a doctor, while Dan McNinja, Doc’s Dad, is two-steps out of reality, while running away from other ninjas sets himself on fire because “Ninja’s can’t catch you while you’re on fire.”

 

They also help create real stakes for the comic’s near-invincible protagonist. As the reader, you care about what happens to Benjamin Franklin 2, or Mayor Goodrich. As surprising as it might sound, there are some real moments of pathos in Dr. McNinja.

Mostly though, Dr. McNinja is excessively fun. It bleeds through the page even, into alt-text jokes. Many of the comics I’ve previously reviewed have alt-text: captions the reader can view by hovering over the image. These are mostly used as secondary jokes. I urge any webcomic reader to go back to their favorite comics and hover over some pages to uncover any hidden content, as it is a popular practice in webcomics. Even dramatic comics such as Namesake or Blindsprings have little messages that sometimes undercut the emotion of a scene.

 

Dr. McNinja is a webcomic classic. Recently, it wrapped up its story by pulling together every strange element of the past 12 years – Dracula, Cyborg action star Frans Rayner, zombies, time-traveling mayors, ninja clones – into one radical grand finale.   While I’ll miss it every M-W-F, it was a great crazy ride.

Mostly though, Dr. McNinja is excessively fun. It bleeds through the page even, into alt-text jokes. Many of the comics I’ve previously reviewed have alt-text: captions the reader can view by hovering over the image. These are mostly used as secondary jokes. I urge any webcomic reader to go back to their favorite comics and hover over some pages to uncover any hidden content, as it is a popular practice in webcomics. Even dramatic comics such as Namesake or Blindsprings have little messages that sometimes undercut the emotion of a scene.

 

Dr. McNinja is a webcomic classic. Recently, it wrapped up its story by pulling together every strange element of the past 12 years – Dracula, Cyborg action star Frans Rayner, zombies, time-traveling mayors, ninja clones – into one radical grand finale.   While I’ll miss it every M-W-F, it was a great crazy ride.