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IDW has always had a bad habit of taking their dirty franchise-licensing thumbs and jamming it into my pie of childhood nostalgia (terrible metaphor, but go with it). Every time I hear that there’s going to be a new comic based on something from my youth, I get super-excited until I see that it’s coming out on IDW. I don’t know if it’s because most of it seems a bit rushed (why does everybody in Jurassic Park look like a PS1 character?) or if it’s fear of the realization that, inevitably, they will shove zombies into it, but I seem to be constantly let down. This is why I had a sort of “aw, goddammit” moment when I learned that IDW had secured the rights to publish a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic (in partnership with current owners, Nickelodeon Studios/Viacom International). Even the promise of Kevin Eastman’s involvement wasn’t a guarantee (I think I’m one of the five people who read his TMNT: Bodycount).

First off, contrary to what every initial article about the series stated, this is not a continuation of the Mirage Comics stories (probably because, towards the end, Peter Laird had the turtles in their early-30s), but a reboot of the franchise. As with the first story arch of every other comic/TV show/movie incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this deals with the origin of the heroes. Unlike every other incarnation, however, this one seems a little different. April O’Neill is back in a lab assistant position (and a yellow jumpsuit!) working for Baxter Stockman (not a cyborg!), doing some sort of psychotropic drug testing on four turtles and a rat under the watchful eyes of the mysterious General Krang. The issue cuts back and forth between this story and the main one, involving Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello fighting Old Hob, a mutant alley cat, and his gang while Raphael broods elsewhere.

Kevin Eastman (o.g. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and Tom Waltz (Silent Hill: Sinner’s Reward) do a wonderful job of making this feel like the old first volume issues. The dialogue is spot-on, straight down to the constant barrage of crappy one-liners which seamlessly segue in to more dramatic scenes. This series also blends the mythos of both the original Mirage run and the Archie Comics Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, utilizing characters from and multiple references to each. The newcomer artist Dan Duncan does a great job of calling back to the style of the Eastman/Laird days (unlike the anime-look that most Ninja Turtles publications seem to use nowadays).

For the first time since 8-year-old me was let down by the abomination known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, I am genuinely psyched to follow my favorite childhood heroes again and, if you are a child of the 80’s, you should jump on this book immediately.

So, remember in October 2009 when Maggie and I put together that post about which licensed properties we’d like to see made into comics? Apparently, the comics gods have been paying attention. Last week, we were ecstatic when BOOM’s Darkwing Duck: The Duck Knight Returns popped up on shelves. Lo and behold, this week I wander into my local shop to be ¬†surprised by an IDW Jurassic Park book. Holy shit, inner child. We’ve hit paydirt!

Or so I thought. You see, there is only so much you can do with a franchise like Jurassic Park. The first novel/movie is about the whole Isla Nublar theme park thing, the second one is about evil corporations trying to open a theme park of their own with the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna, and the third is about William H. Macy’s moustache accidentally wandering onto Isla Sorna. Other than those three plots, is there really much you can do that isn’t just a rehash of one of the old ideas?

Turns out, no. No there isn’t. Jurassic Park: Redemption takes place 13 years after the first movie. John Hammond is dead and has left his fortune to Lex and Tim. While Lex uses her share to found an organic vegetable company in Costa Rica and keep people off of Isla Sorna and Isla Nublar, Tim tries to redeem his grandfather by opening an all-herbavore version of Jurassic Park. I think? This book cuts back and forth from scene to scene so fast, I can’t figure out what’s happening. Meanwhile, near Dinosaur Valley State Park, Dr. Henry Wu is breeding a bunch of other dinosaurs for another theme park run by some mysterious shadowy figure (because people don’t fucking learn).

While writer Bob Schreck has been in the industry for a long while, he’s only ever done work as either an editor (most notably on All-Star Superman) or art director at Comico. Pair this with the fact that artist Nate Van Dyke is best known for drawings of chimps, concept art for the 2009 Iron Man video game, and a few strips for Heavy Metal, and you see that this book is essentially being helmed by people who haven’t really done this kind of thing before.

As with a lot of first issues, this seems to just be setting things up for later and, I have to admit, this book could have a lot of potential. Ignore the fact that its main characters are the two most annoying characters from the franchise (as I said in the aforementioned post, “Nobody cares what happened to Lex”). Ignore that the only thing IDW seems to be excited about is its somewhat impressive roster of cover artists (Frank Miller, Arthur Adams, Paul Pope, Bernie Wrightson, and William Stout). It’s a book about dinosaurs, something that is nigh impossible to fuck up for somebody who grew up with the Jurassic Park franchise. Besides, it could be worse. It could be that terrible mid-90’s Topps run (available in trade form from IDW soon, no joke).

The soaring popularity of Alan Moore‘s League of Extraordinary Gentleman and Vertigo’s Fables has inspired a slew of seeming copycats, enough that at this point the meta-literary comic could be given its own sub-genre. This month, IDW offers up Anthony Del Col & Conor McCreery’s Kill Shakespeare, a story that “pits Shakespeare’s greatest heroes against his greatest villains.”

The greatest challenge of a meta-literary comic is to integrate its source material without alienating readers unfamiliar with it. Thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio, everyone and their mother knows the basic plot of Romeo & Juliet. Kids who went to public school might recall Hamlet and Macbeth, but believe it or not there are perfectly intelligent people who’ve never actually read a single work of Shakespeare. (Because modern society is hopelessly pedestrian and the public education system is broken I tell you, BROKEN! Ahem.)¬†Kill Shakespeare #1 clears the source material hurdle handily, making itself accessible to readers who don’t exactly know their Shakespeare. The plot more than holds up without having read Hamlet or Richard III, though of course a working knowledge of Shakespeare makes reading Kill Shakespeare a delightful exercise in Brit-Lit geekery. (Lady Macbeth as an evil villain? Yes, please!)

Kill Shakespeare‘s action sequences are, well, action-packed. While Hamlet and pals (yes, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern) are sailing to England, their ship is overrun with pirates, resulting in a six page battle rendered larger-than-life by artist Andy B. My 14 year old brother could easily be tricked into reading this book, believing it was nothing more than a totally sweet comic about pirates, ghosts and kings. (You know, if the title didn’t make it clear that it’s all derived from Shakespeare, which is like, you know, smart stuff.)

Perhaps Kill Shakespeare‘s strongest selling point is how well the book captures the epic scope of Shakespeare’s works, binding them into a merged universe. These stories aren’t just pretty poetry, even his comedies are dirty, grimy, gritty, bloody, dramatic, and to be honest they lend themselves so much to a comic book meta-universe aesthetic that I can’t believe no one’s tried it before.

You could give Kill Shakespeare to your pre-teen kids, thus tricking them into reading Shakespeare of their own accord. In fact, if I were a high school English teacher I’d be ordering Kill Shakespeare in bulk.

Fun book. I read it drinking coffee because it was the MORNING and I’m not a total alcoholic. (Geez guys). But if it’s 3pm or later, get your paws on some homemade honey mead and check out Kill Shakespeare #1, in stores April 14.

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