I’m always impressed that Dr. McNinja manages to “pull it off”, as it were. By all rights this should be terrible comic, or at least a very brief one. But it’s been pulling off its ninja magic for a decade now, sneaking past the defences of reason and disbelief to deliver a ninja-punch to the funny bone.
But all good things come to an end and the author has publically announced that the current storyline, titled “The End”, will conclude the web comic.
Dr. McNinja is a web comic institution and I will be sad to see it go, but I’m a big believer in the idea of leaving on a high and it does seem like maybe it’s time for the ninja to fade silently into the night.
The characters and comic concept
The son of an American ninja family, Dr. McNinja defied family tradition to become a practising physician. Treating whatever ails you, whether it be mundane, supernatural or just very odd, Dr. McNinja does so in his own ninja, and Batman, inspired style.
The concept of Dr. McNinja is something like the conversation of two excited children who have been allowed to watch a ninja movie, then been allowed to eat way too much sugar, and are imagining every amazing thing a ninja might do and say, but in particular fight. Listening nearby, an adult, who happens to write comics, says to himself ‘Hey, I could write a comic about that….’.
Characters in Dr. McNinja tend to be concept first, personalities second. Our lead character is very much defined by his duality of physician and ass-kicking ninja and, though there is some character development outside of that, mostly everything he does and that we learn about him is in reference to those things.
Likewise his ward and sidekick, Gordito (introduced in chapter 4), has a strong concept, but apart from some backstory related revelations, doesn’t get a huge amount of character development.
There are a whole bunch of secondary characters, and again they tend to have very strong concepts, and are a huge amount of fun, but not much more beyond that.
But then Dr. McNinja is not a very serious comic, it’s not about wussy stuff like character development or emotional drama; it’s about ninjas! Ninjas hitting stuff!
What makes Dr. McNinja fun to read is the combination of non-sequitur style silliness combined with some decent story structure and plot. The author manages to come up with some seriously odd concepts but still weave them into a plot structure that has continuity and is consistent within its own internal logic. This is surprisingly hard to do in a convincing way, and while you could absolutely pick holes in it if you tried, it’s an impressive piece of storytelling.
In the early days of the comic the stories are largely stand-alone affairs without an over-arching storyline connecting them together. However this starts to change with the introduction of a “nemesis” style antagonist and gradually the stories, though still stand-alone episodic style adventures, begin to link together. Ultimately this makes them a little less funny and a bit more plot driven but it wouldn’t be possible for the comic to have run this long without having evolved in this way.
The pacing is generally spot-on, moving quickly through the events of the current story to keep things interesting.
Dr. McNinja references, or pulls characters from, a large number of popular culture sources but manages to do so without feeling derivative. The author blends these with his own material to create stories that manage to surprise you on a regular basis.
A little rough in the early days but it improves and is very stable throughout the life of the comic. Initially in black and white it transitions to colour part way through.
Author, publishing and timeline
The author of Dr. McNinja is Christopher Hastings and is coloured by Anthony Clark.
Christopher attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and is a full time comic artist and writer. He has worked on Marvel titles such as Deadpool, Howard The Duck and others. He is presently the writer for the Adventure Time comic, replacing Ryan North in Jan 2015.
As mentioned Dr McNinja is in its last phase, and it looks likely to finish in the next six to twelve months.