There’s been no shortage of comics jumping to the screen lately, but there are still a lot of great stories out there flying below Hollywood’s radar. In this recurring "Adapt This" feature, we’ll take a look at comics that merit attention from filmmakers — and offer some thoughts on why (and how) they should be brought to the screen.
THE STORY: "The Adventures of Dr. McNinja" by Chris Hastings
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Hastings' long-running webcomic, which is also available in print collections, follows the exploits of Dr. McNinja -- a doctor who also happens to be a ninja. Faced with the contradicting responsibilities of healing and killing, McNinja (his first name is never actually given) fights crime and cures the sick alongside his mustachioed 12-year-old sidekick Gordito Delgado, his raptor Yoshi, his assistant Judy (a gorilla) and a clone of Benjamin Franklin.
Along with settling the occasional familial disagreement with the McNinja clan (Dan, Mitzi and Sean McNinja), he battles pirates, ghost wizards and strange afflictions like Paul Bunyan's Disease, which turns people into giant lumberjacks. Oh, and he idolizes Batman, too.
THE APPEAL: While my previous two installments of "Adapt This" suggested feature-length films for comic book series, "The Adventures of Dr. McNinja" is a natural for adaptation as an animated television series. Think "Venture Bros" meets "Frisky Dingo" and you're on the right track.
Hastings' comic is filled with pop culture references and Easter Eggs, as well as a running commentary that accompanies each page and offers a bit of Fourth Wall-breaking insight about the characters and story points. McNinja himself is equal parts action movie star and comedian, with doses of Larry David-level neurosis and William Shatner over-acting thrown into the mix. What's not to like?
CASTING CALL: I previously went on the record as saying that Bill Murray would be a good choice to voice the character -- but that was mainly due to Hastings' report about a late-night encounter with the veteran actor.
So, was it destiny, or would someone like veteran tough guy voice actor Patrick Warburton ("The Tick," "Venture Bros") be better suited for the role? The perfect Dr. McNinja would be able to deliver overly dramatic dialogue (reminiscent of early Stan Lee comics) with an earnest tone, as well as the sort of one-liners that were a staple in '80s action films.
ADAPTATION POTENTIAL: As an animated series, it won't be as expensive as a live-action project -- but the adult-skewing animation pool is fairly crowded these days. A good pilot episode will combine snappy dialogue and a unique look, but focus on developing the good Doctor before turning attention to his supporting cast.
The real strength of "Dr. McNinja" is in its reverence for the same cultural landmarks as the adult animation fanbase these days -- everything from video games, commercials and comics to movie cliches, celebrities and toys. In fact, that could be the biggest appeal of an animated "Dr. McNinja" series, really -- I mean, who wouldn't want a Dr. McNinja action figure with stethoscope and katana?
I'm clearing off a space for it on my desk right now. Make it happen, Hollywood.
“The Adventures of Dr. McNinja” is published at www.drmcninja.com, and features a story and art by Chris Hastings.
Let me know your thoughts on this, as well as any other books you’d recommend for an “Adapt This” column, in the comment section below!