Friday, July 16, 2010

Truly Outstanding Comic Books: Ren & Stimpy: Masters of Time and Space!

Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to introduce you to the single greatest single-issue comic book of all time.

To be clear, I'm not saying this is the greatest comic book of all time. But most truly great comic books are long graphic novels. If they were ever released as traditional comic books, they were likely serialized. They tend to rely on a technique known in the comics world as "decompressed storytelling", although most people know it as "storytelling". In Ren & Stimpy: Masters of Time and Space! Dan Slott figured out the secret to doing compressed storytelling right.

The problem with most of the traditional compressed comics is that there simply isn't enough time to tell a good story. You'll usually get some people punching each other, then the supervillian will declare that the superhero's powers are no match for his powers then the superhero will declarr that, on the contrary, the supervillain's powers are no match for his, and will ultimately be proven right and maybe make a pun. Not much room for, you know, plot.

Even in some of the better single issues, the extra room for character bits can take away from plot, so you don't really get a full story.

Dan Slott was able to take care of this problem in three ways. First of all, it's a 48-page issue. Second of all, it's a Ren & Stimpy comic book, so the action scenes and character development that usually take up so much space don't really matter. Third, and most important, of all, it's a "Choose Your Own Adventure" time travel story! That's right! You heard me! "Choose Your Own Adventure"! Time travel!

You see, when you have a time travel story characters will meet past and future versions of themselves, so you can have what is essentially the same scene appear multiple times. The "Choose Your Own Adventure" set-up means that you're not reading the book in order anyway, so you can just go back and re-read a scene from the perspective of different incarnations of the characters.

In fact, Slott designed this book so that if you choose your adventure correctly, you can get it to be 20 pages longer than the book itself. And that's not including the time loop "ending" where you get caught in an infinite loop.

That's some pretty major compression going on there.

There are often scenes where future Ren and Stimpy appear behaving irrationally, but by the time you get to the second time through the scene their motivations make perfect sense.

You also get Ren "dealing with" holes in the space-time continuum by dressing them in slimming colors and incorporating them into the intrinsic design of the ship so as to de-emphasize them.

This book, you see, is what happens when a creative person writes a story about time travel. Dan Slott took six months off when writing this comic book, and it shows. Everything is done with incredible care, and that makes everything all the more entertaining. When uncreative people write a story about time travel, this is what happens.

Of course, it should be noted that the goal of a traditional "Choose Your Own Adventure" book is to make the "right" choice that results in a happy ending. But this is Ren & Stimpy. On top of that it's one of the "Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy" stories which don't usually have happy endings. The real point of this is to see how everything will get screwed up. Will it be by rupturing the space-time continuum? Or getting attacked by the evil alien Zorgs bent on complete and utter universal domination and tyranny? Or maybe this . . .

Actually, if you must know, there's no way to get to that point, even though it's part of the comic book. You see, because it's assumed the reader won't be going through the pages in order, there are a couple of easter egg pages, like the one above. The only way to find them is to flip through the book. Pretty clever, huh?

No matter what, it's all about the wacky hi-jinks rather than trying to "beat" the book like traditional "Choose Your Own Adventure". However, if you absolutely insist on obtaining a happy ending, there is only one way to achieve it. At the very beginning Stimpy shows his time machine to Ren and you're given your first choice.
"If you want Ren to put an end to this silliness now, go to page 5."
"If you want Stimpy's invention to cause wacky hi-jinks go to page 6."
If and only if you choose to put an end to this silliness now, then rather than all the time travel shenanigans, our beloved cat and dog will instead go out for souvlaki and live happy ever after.

This is also the shortest possible adventure, the most compressed if you will. So you'll probably want to go on another one.

This would appear to present a major dilemma. What if you want souvlaki and wacky hi-jinks. Well, don't worry. Dan Slott isn't going to let you down. The guy's a genius. I mean he was the one who made She-Hulk into one of the most entertaining Marvel comics. Such a feat cannot be achieved on a limited intellect.

So, anyway, what I'm trying to say is, there is a way to get both souvlaki and wacky hi-jinks. But I'm not telling you how, because where's the fun in that? You'll just have to figure that out for yourself.

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