Christopher Hastings, the writer/artist of this series, dedicated this volume to his friends Jeff and Holly for being such supportive friends, and because one of them gave him the idea for dinosaurs being bounced off the Earth into space. From there, these dinos traveled frozen through space, being bombarded by cosmic radiation until they arrived at another planet light years away, thawed out, and then woke up intelligent! Then they determined that their planet sucks and they needed to find Earth again and conquer it because their new planet sucks. This is how the latest iteration of time-traveling astronaut Chuck Goodrich tells Dr. McNinja about the threat facing them in the second two-thirds of this volume. If you’re not sold by that description of the plot, then nothing else I say here will convince you otherwise.
Those of you like me, who are already converted to the demented genius of this series, just need to know that even when it misses the mark, it’s still entertaining. While the dinosaurs and time-travel story that makes up “Space Savers” and “Futures Trading” contains plenty of moments of epic-level awesomeness, the tale that precedes them is somewhat... misguided. The problem with “Army of One” is that it’s a sequel to what I consider the best “Dr. McNinja” story -- “Surgical Strike.” That was one that wrapped up pretty definitively... okay, they retconned Ben Franklin’s death and there were all those zombie ninjas that came back. So it kinda led directly into the next story, but the main conflict was definitively wrapped up without the need for a sequel!
Anyway, that’s undone here and I ultimately couldn’t get over it. Considering that this is a story which begins with Sean “Dark Smoke Puncher” McNinja and Gordito fighting with remote-controlled transforming animal robots, and continues on to include Gordito’s first Katanakka, the mystery of the Doctor’s missing Agricultural Science degree, air pirates, and how to deal with the “Inverse Ninja Law,” that’s saying something. I realize that a lot of my reasons for describing why this title is so great hinge upon various plot points, but that’s the appeal of this series. It continuously throws out so many random, bizarre things that you won’t see anywhere else and keeps them from being nothing more than indigestible weirdness by actually weaving a narrative around them that adheres to its own kind of internal logic. Obviously this won’t be everyone’s blessed ghost-slaying ninja star (yes, there’s one of those here too), but I’m never less than consistently amazed with how Hastings manages to tie it all together.
Of course, the man’s art could always stand for some improvement. He’s incredibly versatile in the way he can draw just about anything the story requires, yet there are times when you can tell that he’s struggling to do it well. Though it’s not uncommon for a comic-book artist to occasionally draw a character a bit off-model in the space of an issue, people and things tend to look different from panel-to-panel here. Hastings has gotten better at this after years of practice though this fundamental issue still remains.
One other thing about this volume is that it draws A LOT on the continuity of the previous volumes. If you’ve been a fan from the beginning like me, then this will just serve as an incentive to go back and re-read those old stories to refresh your memory. However, if you’ve just discovered the Doctor’s adventures with the previous Dark Horse volume, then you’re going to want to wait until the “Dr. McNinja Omnibus” in order to fully appreciate what’s here. (Really, why didn’t they release that BEFORE this volume came out?) Caveats included, this is still a thoroughly entertaining volume and one that I look forward to revisiting after catching back up on the previous ones.