Saturday, 18 February 2012

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Dr McNinja vs. Awesome Hospital

In these Two To Reviews I’ll be taking a look at two webcomics with similar themes or completely opposite themes, comparing and contrasting them, and ultimately deciding which one I like best. This time, the prevailing theme revolves around members of the medical profession. Doctors have dedicated their lives to helping those in need, and these webcomics have tried to honour and reflect this by making their lead protaganists as awesome as possible.

The Adventures Of Dr McNinja is a humorous, arc-driven webcomic created by Chris Hastings, with help from colourist Anthony Clark (who replaced the previous colourist Carly Monardo) and previously inked by Kent Archer. It follows the titular character, a doctor who’s also a ninja, and his absurd yet dramatic adventures battling evil in-between running his own private clinic. I’ve mentioned Dr McNinja in an article before, and I have to admit it is one of my favourites. I admire just how much silliness the author can cram in, and yet still make the action and hints of drama so gripping. It's like all your favourite supernatural/weird action movies stuck together, turned up to eleven, and played for laughs! Highlights include the Doc gaining a young boy sidekick who’s a crackshot dinosaur-riding gunslinger with a huge moustache, and Doc re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere by surfing on a robot double of Dracula, and it all manages to make perfect sense in context!

But here’s the most important aspect: its not afraid to add a serious note in amongst the craziness, whether it’s mourning the loss of the clone of Benjamin Franklin, or a mother berating McNinja for thoughtlessly killing her son who happened to be a drug-induced ninja henchman of that arc’s Big-Bad, or even reflecting on McNinja’s warring personality traits of a Doctor wanting to heal and a ninja wanting to harm. Hastings’ writing and story skills naturally strikes the perfect balance of pathos and huge explosions.

As for downsides? During the earliest black-and-white areas of the archive, the art tends to be not as good, and early experimentation with shading can be hit and miss. Honestly, I was laughing too much to really care, but it could put off the pickier reader. And of course, personal tastes mean that the absurd style of the story isn’t for everyone, but really I can’t think of many people who wouldn’t enjoy it thoroughly.

Awesome Hospital is another humorous arc-based webcomic, written and drawn by the close team of Chad Bowers and Chris Sims on story, Matt Digges on art, and Josh Krach on lettering. Similarly to Dr McNinja, Awesome Hospital runs on the concept of stuffing as much pure fun into a webcomic as possible without stinting on the all-important story. In contrast to Dr McNinja however, Awesome Hospital is very much an ensemble story that follows a larger group of main characters, archetypes of the most awesome people the writers could think of like Dr Dirtbike, Dr Space Baby, and Dr Guitar Solo. So not only do we get to see them working as a team to solve strange medical conditions, we also get a hefty dose of character interaction and mutual growth. I especially love that the hospital’s Chief of Staff is Santa Claus (M.D.), it just works so well!

Unfortunately the character interaction can sway towards soap opera territory at times, especially during the first story arc where all the characters are being introduced, and the way each of them feels about the others needed to be quickly established. Another downside (if I were feeling picky) would be the lack of depth to some of the ancillary characters, with the whole “team” feeling overshadowed by the three or four “main” doctors. I even found some characters such as Dr Caveman and Dr Luchador seeming like cardboard cutout clichés! But hopefully all of these characters will eventually have their day in the sun and the chance for further personal development, when the story allows.

Final Verdict: It’s not much contest really! Awesome Hospital is a great concept with some clever plot points and lines, but ultimately still in its infancy. I shall continue to read it with interest, but not the fervour of other titles. If you want a doctor to really look up to, Dr McNinja is a veteran in the field with the sharp skills and wit to match.

Todd Marsh would be interested to hear any recommendations for future Two To Reviews

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