The Greatest Toy-Inspired Comic Ever : Monkey See A new book offers smart, satirical steampunk adventure � and a chance to purchase your very own raygun.
NPR logo The Greatest Toy-Inspired Comic Ever

The Greatest Toy-Inspired Comic Ever

The cover of Victory.
Dark Horse Comics

Over the years, many comics have been created to shill for toys, games and action figures.

There is a truth universally acknowledged about such comic tie-ins, however: They tend toward arrant suckage.

That should surprise no one, of course, as tie-in comics are generally an afterthought. Toy Company A commissions Animation Studio B to create a television cartoon; in due course, a comic — along with a raft of other merch — gets churned out by Licensees C through Z.

He-Man, GI Joe, Transformers, M.A.S.K. - name a toy line and someone's likely slapped together a comic about it. Even Barbie enjoyed a brief comic run back in the 90's, when just about everything did. (Conspicuous exception: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles phenomenon flipped the script; The Turtle comic came first, and the TV show, toys, backpacks and pencil cases followed.)

So what's different about the subject of today's discussion, Dr. Grordbort Presents VICTORY: Scientific Adventure Violence for Young Men and Literate Women?

Three things:
1. Technically, it's a book. With some comics (er, "compartmentalised picture essays") thrown in.
2. It feels crafted, not pounded out; this is the work of a writer/artist who has a very specific tone in mind, and knows exactly how to achieve it.
3. The toys in question? Are several different kinds of AWESOME.

After the jump: Steampunk meets the steamy Venusian jungle, and how to secure oneself a Righteous Bison Indivisible Particle Smasher Raygun, which can "bore a fist-sized hole through 17 yards of cheese."

First, the toys:

Geeks of various stripes will be be familiar with New Zealand's WETA Workshop - the folks who build the props and costumes for films like Avatar, District 9, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (Founder Richard Taylor is all over the LOTR DVD's featurettes, beaming like a goggle-eyed kid who can't believe his luck. Happiest Nerd on Earth, that guy.)

The WETA website is full of beautifully wrought replicas of items from the movies they've worked on, which they sell as collectibles. (Want a copy of Aragorn's sword for your very own, to hang above the futon? Got $7000 to spend, and the patience to wait a few months for them to make more? It's yours.)

These same folks have turned their skills to the creation of replica rayguns — Dr. Grordbort's Infallible Aether Oscillators, that is. And more beautiful creations of glass, metal and wood have scarce been wrought.

Tell me your palm doesn't itch to hold the Manmelter 3600 ZX Subatomic Disintigrator Pistol.

Doesn't your outfit feel incomplete without the cool weight of a Goliathon 83 Infinity Beam Projector at your hip?

Ladies: My, but wouldn't you look fetching defending yourself against both mashers and the Venusian Mountain Meat Beetle with the stylish and demure Victorious Mongoose 1902a Concealable Ray Pistol.

So yeah: There are toys, and there are toys, and these babies are the Tickle Me Elmo of nerddom.

Now, the book:
VICTORY is the second book in Kiwi writer/artist — and WETA designer — Greg Broadmore's Dr. Grordbort series. (The first, Dr. Grordbort's Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory, introduced the character of Lord Cockswain, the bluff British adventurer/naturalist/maniac who has devoted himself to the study of extraterrestrial life by traveling to other planets and slaughtering it.)

VICTORY carries on Broadmore's unique brand of satirical steampunkery. A collection of propoganda posters, ("Know Your Enemy: The Venusian Savage"), bestiaries ("A swift hexapod, the Thrusk may gallop along at a similar clip to that of an Earth horse if it had one leg chained to a bowling ball and was whipped by a small but muscular child"), weapons catalogs ("The Unnatural Selector will render a yard-wide aperture in a giraffe at 60 feet, and give a blue whale a nasty rash through 200 yards of salt water"), and testimonials ("I have recently acquired the F.M.O.M Wave Disrupter Gun and have found that the mere sound of its activation is enough to turn most vagabonds from unscrupulous reprobates into highly scrupulous scruple favours"), the book imagines a universe where the sun never sets on the British Empire, because the British Empire has conquered every planet in the solar system.

Broadmore has a lot of fun with the idioms of Victorian/colonial speech, and his art captures the soaring, what-ho-old-chap vision of a society determined to "bring civility and indoor plumbing to the galaxy."

It should be noted that much of VICTORY's content can already be found on the WETA website. Even so: Dark Horse has produced a handsome hardcover edition, and you really shouldn't miss the two-page spread of Lord Cockswain's Ray Blunderbuss.

It's spiffing.