Ratfist by Doug TenNapel

I've gotten to know Doug TenNapel's work through his graphic novels for kids, including his most recent Bad Island.  It's fair to say I have become a fan of his work.  This year he also serialized his first webcomic, Ratfist, which will be collected in a print edition to be published by Image this December.  Clocking in at 150 pages, Ratfist shares a lot with his all ages work, but in other regards is completely different.

It's about the adventures of a superhero of sorts named Ratfist, although we are introducted to him as he is about to retire (or at least say goodbye to his partner, a rat) in order to propose to his girlfriend Gina.  Since we don't get to see his actual adventures beforehand, I'm not entirely sure he's not just a deluded guy who liked wearing a costume and has a pet rat.

There's much less coherent world-building going on in this story than what I've come to expect from TenNapel —  it has much more of a, "yeah, let's throw that in too!" feel to its disparate elements which range from angels to aliens (tiki-aliens) to time travel to science fiction.  It looks like TenNapel's having fun with the comic, but for me it doesn't really hang together as a convincing world.  Part of the problem to me was the introduction of TenNapel himself as a character which doesn't seem to serve any real purpose other than to emphasize the fictional nature of the story we're reading.

The story is nominally about Ratfist's last case where he gets turned into an actual rat by absorbing the soul of a rat (an example of tiki-alien technology at work) which complicates his efforts to marry Gina and drives him to find a cure for his new condition.  But as thing move along we also learn that Ratfist is some kind of pawn who is manipulated by a politician and his scientist friends. In his civilian life, Ratfist works with his surprisingly lazy colleagues at some kind of research company owned by a Mister Black.  He (mostly via his talking, separated rat tail) also spouts slogans that paint him as a kind of deluded socialist who could get a gig as the liberal co-host on a Fox News talkshow.  His friends take advantage of circumstances to turn Mister Black's company over to the government which proceeds to destroy anything that company was ever going to do.  It's a very Ayn Rand kind of story and feels more polemic than authentic at too many points.

There are definitely some very funny moments in the story ranging from the whole notion of animal chimeras and Ratfist's talking tail to some of the very madcap physical chase scenes in the book.  But I didn't feel there was the same payoff compared to his other work.  I didn't really find much in the story that made me care all that much about Ratfist and the illness thrust upon the barely developed character of Gina felt like a plot contrivance.  The artwork is very interesting — here it was a much darker color scheme and a rougher linework than some of his other work — and it's great to see TenNapel use the web to publish his work.  In fact, TenNapel seemed quite active in participating in the comment threads to each of the updates posted to Ratfist.  Whether you agree with his comments online or not, I give him a lot of credit for really embracing discussion with his fans and readers during the course of the webcomic's run.

I also saw that TenNapel made a video where he showed a lot of his process in making Ratfist:

Ultimately if you're a fan of TenNapel's art and previous work, this webcomic is worth checking out, but like me, you may find it less successful than his other recent work.  Regardless though, I am looking forward to his next webcomic project, Bigfoot For Hire, which is scheduled to start next month.

Xaviar Xerexes

Wandering webcomic ronin. Created Comixpedia (2002-2005) and ComixTalk (2006-2012; 2016-?). Made a lot of unfinished comics and novels.