Either Mail Order Ninja writer Josh Elder and I share a love of the same things (ninja, cheap gags, harmlessly subversive humor) or TokyoPop shrunk down a team of former Cosmonauts and implanted them in my ear while I was sleeping to set up a tiny telepathic listening post in my frontal lobe so they could transmit my innermost fantasies back to their headquarters... and then they published this book. That is how much Mail Order Ninja speaks to me, that is how much Mail Order Ninja resonates with Inner Dave.
M.O.N. is a two-issue black and white paperback manga tale of a boy and his ninja from the folks at TokyoPop (am I doing their name right, with a capital T and a capital P?) that is the perfect gateway drug for young kids who aren't ready for La Blue Girl or Overfiend. Yet.
Kidding! There's not a randy tentacle in sight in this kid-friendly book, which deftly treads the narrow line between cute and cool. Writer Josh Elder and artist Erich Owens really strike the right tone with this book, which manages to be accessible to young readers without being patronizing. If there's one thing kids hate, it's material that talks down to them.
Young Timmy McAllister is a plucky little kid who has to deal with bullies, an obnoxiously rich social diva at his school, and a treacherous little sister. He loves his mom's chocolate chip pancakes and the manga Ninja Warrior Gunshyo above all things in life.
McAllister - who shares the same name as Lee Van Cleef's ninja character in the short-lived TV show The Master, BTW - enters the Ninja Warrior Gunshyo Giveaway in the fall Jacques Co. toy catalog, hoping to score a real live ninja of his own to play with. Yes, he wins the contest. It wouldn't be much of a comic book if he didn't.
That's the set-up. The first of two book just sort of playfully riffs on the central idea of "a boy and his ninja" and the second book features a battle against the aforementioned ultra-rich social diva and her own evil mail order ninja, who also happens to be the sworn enemy of Timmy's ninja. Elder and Owens cram the small pages with visual gags, sitcomy situations, and wry humor. If you don't like one joke, you just have to wait a panel or two before they serve up another.
My favorite bits in the book are the little biographical sidebars that they throw in for even the most minor characters, which are often hilarious. If Mail Order Ninja were a movie, it would be full of Trainspotting-style freeze frames with text for each character. The silent compliance of Jiro the ninja to Timmy's wishes is also pretty funny - he'll gamely play with Timmy up in his room because Timmy is his master, simple as that.
There's a multi-page ad for Jacques Co in the middle of the first book that still cracks me up. Jacques is a beret-wearing reformed arms dealer who decides to make ze children of ze world happy with ze toyz! His toyz are insanely dangerous - and therefore insanely popular.
Mail Order Ninja works on pretty much all levels for me - it speaks to the 13-year old boy inside me. No, I have not devoured a young boy, I'm speaking figuratively. The writing is fun but not pandering, and the art is expressive and, well, cute as hell. I expect great things from Josh Elder in particular, who is carving a strong career for himself as we speak. Yes, that's what that horrible nails-on-chalkboard sound is in the background, it's the sound of Elder carving.
I often hear people (such as myself) bitch about how tons of comics these days are just being written by aging fanboys for a shrinking market of other aging fanboys, with precious little material geared towards younger readers. Well shame on me if I can't sing the praises of a book that caters to a younger demographic without shutting the door on older readers. After all, those young readers will grow up to be the entitled aging fanboys of tomorrow. And isn't that what it's all about?