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Gnatrat: The Dark Gnat Returns

File this under not at all webcomics related: To celebrate the release of “The Dark Knight” tomorrow, I’d like to take you back to one of the all time best parody works ever created. “GnatRat: The Dark Gnat Returns” was written by Mark Martin way back in 1986 to spoof Frank Miller’s influential work, “The Dark Knight Returns.” It’s much more beautifully illustrated than it has any right to be, and may actually be better drawn than the thing it’s spoofing. Crap, I consider some of the illustrations (like the one where GnatRat pours salt all over a slug) to be more iconic than the originals.

Yet, Martin doesn’t just stop at poking fun of Miller. In that era, there was a popular spoof that somehow managed to survive to this day: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (which was largely a spoof of Daredevil). Their success spurred an entire cottage industry of imitators. I used to own one: the Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos. Something indie gets popular, and everyone jumps on the bandwagon. (That never happens nowadays, does it?)

Isn’t “GnatRat” doing the same thing? Maybe, maybe not. The comic itself addresses this issue, and it doesn’t come to a definite answer. It does, however, have a fairly sweet homage to Daredevil at the end.

“GnatRat: The Dark Gnat Returns” is surprisingly available on Amazon. You can pick it up for a cool $2.00 used. Martin seems to have done some follow-up work. There’s also listings for Ultimate GnatRat and Happy Birthday, GnatRat! I haven’t read either, so I can’t tell you what I think of ’em.

OK, so since this IS a site about webcomics, check out this recent Batman-inspired Shortpacked! Seriously, no one does a better Batman than David Willis. And it’s much funnier if you’re familiar with the Spoiler storyline.

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on July 17, 2008, in comics, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Okay, maybe you can explain this to me, because nobody else can.

    It’s an accepted fact that Ninja Turtles is a “spoof” or “parody” of Daredevil et al. I take issue with that. I’m not an expert, but don’t parodies traditionally have, you know, jokes?

    I read The Tick as a kid without any knowledge of Daredevil, and I still found it to be really funny.

    The turtles, meanwhile, are supposedly a spoof, and yet aside from some silly names, I can’t recall a single joke. What up with that?

  2. I guess the parody aspect would be funny for people who were keenly aware of the Daredevil mythos. The panel about the origin of the turtles showed that the radioactive waste that activated their mutation was the same barrel that hit Matt Murdock and caused him to gain superpowers. Then there are the names, like you say: with Splinter being Stick and the Foot standing in for the Hand. I’m guessing not even Daredevil fans particularly found this hilarious. I guess that was all for Eastman & Laird’s benefit, though, since their creation mutated into something far bigger than they originally imagined. And, frankly, non-Daredevil fans would probably find all the content new and refreshing.

  3. I don’t think that the Ninja Turtles as a whole was a parody of Daredevil, just that their origin and some elements of the series as El Santo mentioned are an homage to Daredevil. But the comic as a whole wasn’t supposed to be funny, and wasn’t imitating Daredevil for humorous purposes as a real parody would. Ninja Turtles, as done by Eastman and Laird in their original series, was usually just as serious as most other superhero comics, and more serious than many of them. It had it’s moments where it delved into goofiness, but never in the childish, kid centered way of the cartoon and Archie comic series. I came into Ninja Turtles in an odd way. I had an issue of the original series that I had bought on a whim at a comic shop my dad would take my brother and I to once a month (it was a thirty minute drive away), and then soon afterwards the cartoon started and I was caught up in that, the toys, and the cartoon based comics for a while, but after a year or two I started to outgrow those. But I took another look at that old B/W issue and got interested, so I tracked down many of the original issues and really got into the original comics since they appealed to both my love of the turtles and my maturing tastes as I got older.

    Anyway I’m also a huge Gnatrat fan from way back and have everything I have ever been able to find, which isn’t much. I don’t think Mark Martin did all that much Gnatrat stuff, which is a shame since it is pretty funny, and his art is beautiful. The Ultimate Gnatrat is just a trade that collects The Dark Gnat Returns with Happy Birthday Gnatrat, and one other story from somewhere else. It’s cover looks like the movie poster of the first Tim Burton Batman movie except with Gnatrat’s symbol. For the price it is going for on Amazon you are better off picking up the Ultimate trade instead of the issues themselves.

    Gnatrat also appeared in a three issue (I believe it’s 3 issues) run of the original Ninja Turtles comic, in which he morphs into The Fannywhacker, a parody of The Punisher (the skull-like symbol on his chest is actually a bent over rear end roughly making the skull shape, and a paddle coming in over the butt with two holes in it resembling the eyes of the Punisher skull). If I remember correctly Supperman, an obese parody of Superman with a lobster bib instead of a cape, also featured in that story (as well as in The Dark Gnat Returns). Gnatrat is a prime example of great indie comedy comics from the 80’s.

  4. I think the parody aspect of it was more about the “dark and brooding/violent” comic ethos that was starting to become really common after the advent of “The Dark Knight Returns”. Some of the violence in the original run of Turltes comics borders on the surreal.

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