Thursday, May 2, 2013

Recommended Reading for 5/3: Scratch 9

I think I might have made this apology once or twice before, but it bears repeating. When I do these recommended readings, if the comic isn't something I've just read, I do my best to reread it, or at least to do some serious internet research if at all possible. Well there isn't a ton on the net about this week's recommendation, and I was not able to dig out my copies due to, well, life getting in the way. But still, I wanted to make sure to get this recommendation in, with Free Comic Book Day upon us, so bear with what might be a bit vaguer in places than I'd like, but will talk about the heart of a fun all ages series.

I'm a cat person. This doesn't mean I don't like dogs (which some people assume), it's just that I like the independence and down right befuddling weirdness that is a good cat. So when I saw a supernatural/sci-fi all ages comic with a cat protagonist, I thought this might be something right up my alley. And boy was I right. Scratch 9, by Rob M. Worley and Jason T. Kruse, is a charming, exciting adventure about a nine cats fighting for good, only they all happen to be the same cat; after all cats have nine lives, and you can't expect them all to be the same.

The main protagonist of the series is Scratch, a modern day housecat. Scratch is pretty much like a normal cat, if "normal" can ever be applied to any cat. He hunts his owner, he likes to play, and he doesn't like baths. When Penelope, the girl who owns Scratch, tries to give him a batch, Scratch runs out, and is captured by a man gathering strays for a company called The Corporation for Research into the Ultimate Extension of Logevity. You know no company with the initials CRUEL is up to any good. Scratch is experimented on by Dr. Schrodinger (which is a clever little pun that gave me a chuckle), and is given the ability to summon any of his eight other lives to aid him when he needs them.

Over the course of the four issue mini-series, we meet all eight of the other cats Scratch has been (or will be), and both the designs and the concepts behind them are delightfully clever; each are introduced with a little text box explaining their background and special skills. There's Beeslebohm, a magician's cat who is a master of illusion. Ichirou is a master of martial arts. N3KO is a cyborg cat from the future. And that's just three (four if you count Scratch)! There are five other magical, science fictiony, or just plain cool cats who you'll meet over the course of the series. Each cat has a different personality, and interact with Scratch differently, but they all help him find his bravery to do what must be done.

The animals do talk, but to each other, not to people. We're in a world where the animals are only semi-anthropomorphized. We're not in a Mickey Mouse world, where the animals wear clothes and go to work. We're more in a Lady and the Tramp setting, where the animals may speak among themselves but don't get everything that makes the human world what it is. This of course, leads to some comedy, seeing Scratch and company trying to figure their way through human sized traps and trying to understand all the aspects of the world around them.

The core theme of Scratch 9 is friendship and loyalty. After being captured by CRUEL, Scratch meets some of the other prisoners, including another cat, a chicken, and a hyperactive squirrel, and befriends them. After the accident gives Scratch his powers, he is able to escape, but decides he has to go back and save his new friends. And when Penelope stumbles into Dr. Schrodinger's clutches while trying to find Scratch, Scratch has to go back and save her as well, deciding if he can be a housepet or if his chance to run free is more important. I'm a sucker for a story about a kid and his or her pet, and so the affection and love between Penelope and Sratch is the heart at the center of Scratch 9.

Aside from being action packed and heartwarming, Scratch 9 is also delightfully funny. There's plenty of little jokes that grown-ups can pick up on; like all the best all ages comics, Scratch 9 works on multiple levels. The Schrodinger's cat joke is just the start. Any time there is anything to be acronymed, it's best to check it out, because odds are the acronym is going to be something with some humor in it. And the supporting cast of other animals are a wacky bunch, who add some levity to the scenes after all the action of Scratch and his eight other selves fighting Dr. Schrodinger and his Grizzbots (yup, robo-bears. What doesn't this comic have?)

Jason T. Kruse's art has a charm that matches the writing. It's dynamic, full of action, and just cartoony enough to make the animals expressive. Trying to find the perfect middle ground between animals who are basically just people with slightly altered features and the more limited expressions you can get from the face of a real world animal can be tricky, but Kruse hits the mark. I also once again want to comment on how great the designs were on all of Scratch's other selves. They are each such unique designs, and they are a vibrant part of the world that he and Worley have created.

So, there's Scratch 9. You've got a magical cat, a heart warming story, and some good laughs. Is there really anything more that you could wish for? Oh right, how about Saturday, on Free Comic Book Day (that's May 4th, folks) you can get a copy of Scratch 9 #1 for free at your local comic shop! Yes indeed, new publisher of Scratch, Hermes Press, is making Scratch 9 #1 one of it's FCBD offerings. So if I've piqued your interest, check it out. It'll be more than worth the price of admission, trust me.

Scratch 9 was collected in a trade, called Pet Projects, by it's original publisher, APE, but has since lapsed out of print. I can only imagine Hermes will release a new edition shortly, sometime around the July debuting new Scratch miniseries, Cat Tails, a series that will feature one story each for all of Scratch's incarnations. The first issue is available for pre-order in this month's Previews.

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