Gold Digger/Ninja High School
I'm in a bit of a bind here. See, the next big, Gold Digger story line is the "Time Warp" crossover with Ninja High School. But there's a completely unrelated issue that takes place after the end of Asrial vs. Cheetah, which I can't ignore because it contains some major plot points. So I'm just going to grind out a quickie review of that issue first.
Gold Digger #30 (1996)
In the wake of Asrial vs. Cheetah, the Dynasty is now at large in the universe again. Their first act is to return to their former throneworld and cleanse it of all life. But as it turns out, the planet Aebra has some new inhabitants — the Kryn, Amarans, and Atlanteans. When a Kryn distress signal reaches El Dorado, Stripe turns the city back into a spaceship so he can go home and help liberate his people. Even though it means he's going to miss his wedding to Cheetah. Whoops.
In the aftermath of El Dorado's departure — Lord Talon shows up with his goon squad to loot the ruins, while Ryan and Seance show up to investigate the disappearance. A big brawl results, and in the end everyone discovers the true reason for Atlantis's disappearance.
This is actually a pretty good issue. The fight scene is meaningless, of course, but pretty fun, and Fred does a good job of adding some complexity to Stripe's character. Before, he was driven primarily by his feelings of inferiority in his relationship with Cheetah, but playing up his overwhelming sense of responsibility makes him feel less like Cheetah's boy toy and more like his own man.
Though one has to question the wisdom of starting a big storyline only to put it on the backburner for a whole year. 'Cause the next year of Gold Digger is all about one thing...
Gold Digger #31-35/Ninja High School #54-57 (1996-1997)
Okay, issue #31 technically isn't part of "Time Warp" either, but it features the same villain and functions as a prologue to the crossover. Professor Peachbody, the time-traveling dog, has a problem — every time he tries to kill Gina in the past, she stops him, and the rules of time travel prevent him from visiting the same era twice. But his pet boy, Benji, actually manages to come up with a clever plan to trick Diggers sisters from leaving an era prematurely, leaving their very existence to the professor's tender mercies! Fortunately, Brianna is able to travel back in time to defeat him, proving once and for all that she's her own woman. Or at least proving it until the next time the story requires her to have an inferiority complex.
Afterwards, Professor Peachbody discovers a powerful time warp mechanism hidden in the Sphinx and uses it in a fiendish plan to claim the Chronoverse as his own. Using his wiles to gather together all the time travelers in the GD and NHS universes in one place, he scatters them to distant eras:
- Gina and Mita are sent back to feudal Japan, where they witness the origins of the Ichinohei ninja clan.
- Ichi, May, and Genn are sent back to ancient Egypt, where they help the Dragon Pharaoh recapture the villains who were trying to escape his tower in Gold Digger #23.
- Cheetah, Arnie, and Ryan wind up sent to the Age of Magic, where the help one of Mimi Masters's ancestors defeat Natasha, Queen of the Vampires, in a blatant rip-off of Army of Darkness. After defeating the armies of the undead, they're put into a deep sleep so they can help...
- ...Professor Azland and Akaru, who are helping Count Boscoe and Jesibell defeat Natasha in the 1600s, in a plot that's more than a little similar to Darkstalkers.
- Cheetah and Brianna are sent back in time to the war between El Dorado and Atlantis, and Cheetah hits on the brilliant plan of disabling El Dorado's spaceworthiness and preventing Stripe from leaving. Alas, all her meddling only succeeds in reinforcing the status quo.
Eventually, everyone returns to the "present day", where Mita tries to wipe professor Professor Peachbody from existence by neutering his ancestor. A huge fight results, Quagmire is destroyed (but later restored from a "backup copy") and Professor Peachbody is stranded in the distant past with no way to escape.
If there's a problem with "Time Warp" it's that, while entertaining enough, the issues really don't build to anything in a meaningful fashion. If this were a Saturday morning cartoon, each character's jaunt into the past would end with him recovering some key item which would be used to defeat Peachbody in the present day, but that doesn't happen here. Instead, the middle issues are just trials to be endured until the big fight at the end. (Fortunately, it's a pretty good fight.)
There's also the slight problem of "who cares?" Were people really dying to know more about the origins of the Ichinohei ninja clan, or about Count Boscoe? The answer, of course, is a categorical "no."
Okay, then, so what does "Time Warp" actually accomplish? Really, there are only two lasting effects from the crossover.
First, Ninja High School's timeline is reset to a point right after issue #45 — in other words, erasing every issue of NHS done by someone other than Ben Dunn or Fred Perry from continuity. This one strikes me as sort of petty, but it's a pattern that you'll see repeated every so often, when Ben Dunn has some modest success with a Warrior Nun Areala or Marvel Mangaverse and announces he's leaving NHS forever. Of course, six months later everything has crashed and burned and burns he comes crawling back home to make his triumphant return. It wouldn't bother me so much if he didn't then proceed to ignore every issue others had cranked out between his hasty departure and his ignominious return. It shows an unhealthy disrepsect for the creators who he hired to produce those issues, as well as a small level of contempt for the fans who actually purchased them only to have them wiped from existence.
Second, Ninja High School and Gold Digger no longer take place in the same universe. Actually, this one may just be an unintended consequence — there's never an explicit case in the books that this is the case — but from this point forward characters and storylines never crossover between the two series. Honestly, isn't a big loss — both series have a huge cast of unusual characters and it's not like they need to double that cast in size.
"Time Warp" is also a bit of a step back artistically for Fred, as well. The pressures of producing eight consecutive monthly issues with a huge cast and complicated action scenes is clearly too much for him at this point in his career. In order to cram in as much story as possible he resorts to cramped, pointless complex, and hard-to-read panel layouts. The large cast also helps to spotlight the weaknesses in his drawing, like the lack of variety in his facial types.
On the plus side, like any talented artist, he's constantly improving throughout the story. He may be, but his anatomy is getting a lot better — about halfway through the crossover he starts using a far wider variety of poses — and his cartooning becomes a lot more fluid and effortless. He even starts messing around with some new effects in the final issue — a more angular and expressionistic method of figure drawing that he'll eventually incorporate into his regular style.
Print Run: 6000
What I find fascinating is that the print runs for Ninja High School are about 500-1000 copies higher than the print runs for Gold Digger. This implies that 10% of the NHS audience were missing half of the story and didn't care, which seems to defeat the whole point of having a crossover in the first place.