Review: Burn the Orphanage #2 (of 3)

Okay, so I have a theory about Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose #2, and it’s this: [SPOILER] We are all getting trolled. Oh, I get the gag. It’s pretty much impossible not to, given the great lengths to which the creators go to elbow you in the ribs, but in keeping with that approach, let’s go over it again. What started off as homage to 8-bit action games like Final Fight (which, in an impressively ballsy move, makes it into the dialogue this time around), here does the same thing for one specific 16-bit fighting game. That, in itself and done well, is a great idea and something I think a lot of comic / video game fans could get into. Unfortunately, even more so than in its first outing, this book fails to deliver on the fun promise of its premise.

Six pages in, and it’s crystal clear that this is supposed to be a not-so-subtle nod to Mortal Kombat (with a couple Street Fighter references thrown in there, as well), as main character Rock is transported to a boat sailed by the world’s finest fighters, all of whom are heading to a mysterious island to engage in a deadly martial arts tournament to either close or keep open a dimensional rift. There’s even a mid-fight fight (which is sudden, random and jarring) between Jax and Goro clones.

Fine. Great. But here’s the problem: there’s no real joy here, and I can’t tell if this book is trying to be loving pastiche or flat-out parody, but it accomplishes neither. I understand that those old games came from a much simpler time, and are obviously ripe for the jibing, but even the dialogue and character development in the first Mortal Kombat are more advanced than what takes place in this book.

burntheorph02_coverIn that, the creators are trying way too hard to lampoon something, not with an intelligent or even purely fun sort of approach, but with what comes off as adolescent storytelling and painfully unfunny dialogue, without any of the ridiculous fun that remains so integral to the enjoyment of those games. I’m not one of those guys who thinks “if you want to remember Double Dragon, just go play it,” because, again, I think games like that are great fodder for satire, but you have to do it right. And this book doesn’t do it right.

Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose #2 feels like one of those low-rent Tiger handheld versions of the games we spent hours playing in our youth and good-naturedly poking fun at later in our emerging adulthood. And that’s why I think we’re getting trolled to hell, because otherwise this whole thing would feel like a colossal waste of time and (at $4.99) money.

The same is true of the art. Now, when Sina Grace is focused, he is on-point in a way that reminds me of Chip Zidarski or Ming Doyle at their respective bests. Of note are scenes like the sexy times near the beginning of the book and the introduction of the testicularly ill-fated Ramuu (more on that in a bit) at the middle, with dashes of very real talent throughout.

For the most part, though, it feels like Grace is rushing through this book (especially in the rough backgrounds), when he could be doing some outrageously great stylistic things. For example, why not include a few more overt 8 or 16-bit-inspired fore or background elements, or even a few FIGHT screen-style pages, as were only briefly hinted at in the first issue? In trying too hard to adapt its form to a comic book, it missed out on those (perhaps obvious) things that would make an idea like this so satisfying.

Speaking of visuals, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the scene that everyone who reads this book will be talking about, since it’s probably the only remarkable (though not necessarily “good”) thing about it. I won’t ruin it completely, but suffice it to say that it involves Haggar’s infamous reverse spinning piledriver (fierce enemy and known predator of sharks) and what I guess I’ll term “mastication castration.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely the most surprising and gruesome bit of male nudity you’ll see in a comic book (this week), but it also exemplifies what is wrong with Burn the Orphanage, feeling completely unnecessary and at-odds with what I think it’s trying to do.

Burn the Orphanage #2 will inevitably be remembered as one of those books that is based on a great idea, but one unfortunately squandered by simultaneously trying too hard and shying away from its point. It was a struggle for me to finish this issue, and as far as this book is concerned, it was definitely my final fight.

Score: 1/5 (or 6/5 if it’s all a big troll-job)

Writers: Sina Grace and Daniel Freedman Artist: Sina Grace Publisher: Image Comics Price: $4.99 Date: 12/4/13