[6 May 2014]
Dexter’s Laboratory is the latest Cartoon Network series to be dusted off and receive the comic book treatment, courtesy of IDW. Although BOOM! Studios recently inked a first-look deal with Cartoon Network and is enjoying the success of adapting current hit shows such as Adventure Time and Regular Show, IDW is playing the nostalgia card by reviving now classic cartoons including Samurai Jack and The Powerpuff Girls, a move that is bound to payoff if they can capture the wit and comedic sensibilities those cartoons brought to the small screen. As it turns out, I’m happy to say that Dexter’s Laboratory is off to a running start.
Plot-wise, writer Derek Fridolfs doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel here. It’s a pretty standard storyline that you would expect of Dexter’s Laboratory, but it works. Dexter and perpetual thorn in his side, Dee Dee, are back with their personalities intact. Dexter schemes to rid himself of his meddlesome sister once-and-for-all, so he can get on with his inventions, sabotage-free. The relationship they share is ripe for comedy and even if you’ve never seen the show (in which case I pity you), you immediately get from page one what they’re about and how this brother/sister duo relate to each other as the familiar trope of squabbling siblings is ubiquitous.
Fridolfs, fresh off the success of Li’l Gotham, showcases his affection for the characters by nailing their individual voices. You know it’s clicking when you can hear the voice actors in your head when reading. While the majority of this issue is setting the stage for what’s to come (it’s Part 1 of a 4-part mini-series), Fridolfs manages to inject the story with fun dialog while re-establishing who these characters are without hitting us over the head with it. The characters’ lines and actions are so familiar to longtime fans, it’s like we pick right up where the show left off.
The art by Ryan Jampole is 100% on-model to the point that you could be fooled into thinking you’re looking at cells from the show itself. Jampole is no stranger to working with licensed properties, having illustrated for the Mega Man comics (and was that a Quickman helmet I spotted amongst Dexter’s failed experiments?), and so his unique style is hard to pin down, but there’s no denying his skills as an illustrator. Anyone who is familiar with Jampole’s work knows he has a sweet spot for Mega Man’s sister Roll, and he injects that same energy into Dexter’s sis Dee Dee, exemplifying her off-the-wall nature to its fullest. The art screams pure animation, as there is always a sense of movement, propelling the characters from scene to scene. The expressions are so lively that even if this were a “silent” issue devoid of speech balloons, the visuals are strong enough to carry the story on their own. Colorist Jeremy Colwell’s contributions do the art justice, matching the show’s color pallet spot on.
As a whole, it’s not deep or sophisticated but it’s not supposed to be. If for whatever reason you were expecting the comic to go off in a totally different direction, that’s not the case. This is all familiar territory and is as authentic as licensed comics get in terms of the look and tone of the material. In that sense, it doesn’t take many risks. That’s not to suggest that it should have blazed a foreign trail that betrayed its roots, but this is not a cartoon and I would have liked to see something that takes more advantage over the fact that it’s being presented in a new medium. However, it’s fair to say when working with licensed properties, creators can’t experiment with the recipe too drastically before it starts to fall apart. It’s a very safe bet that it won’t alienate previous fans while also serving as a solid introduction for newbies.
The most obvious break in tradition here is that, true to comics, the story is serialized. As opposed to various stand-alone stories within one episode of the show, readers are in for a multi-part tale. It makes sense from a financial standpoint as these issues will undoubtedly be collected as a trade, but only after we reach this story’s conclusion will we know if it needed to be told over several issues or if it could have achieved that in just one or two. Until then, I’ll put my faith in this creative team that they know what they’re doing.
Fans of the show will not be disappointed as the comic is true to the characters, looks fantastic and is in good hands.