By Jonathan Edwards
When I was fairly young, I owned a VHS or two compiling a large number of older cartoons. The first thing I recall from watching them was me fast forwarding through in hopes that I'd eventually run into some Looney Tunes. I didn't, but that was the first time I ever remember seeing Mighty Mouse. Now, that was a long time ago, so I really couldn't tell you anything that happened in those cartoons anymore (although, those cassettes are still likely lying around somewhere). The next prominent encounter with Mighty Mouse I can remember was when I was probably twelve or thirteen and taking an acting for the camera class. One of my practice scenes involved a discussion about the rodent superhero (I think it was from Donnie Darko, but I kind of hate that movie, so I'm not all that bothered to go and double-check that). Finally, at some point in probably my late teens, I decide to watch the first episode of Saturday Night Live, and I saw the relatively famous clip of comedian Andy Kaufman lip-synching the theme song to the old Mighty Mouse cartoon (it's possible I'd happened to have seen it prior, but I don't think it was until then that is stuck). These are probably the only three significant connections I have to Mighty Mouse, if you want to even go as far as calling them "significant." Yet for some reason, when I saw the first ads for this book, something drew me in and made me want to read it. So, I did.
We open, appropriately enough, with Mighty Mouse singing his theme song while beating up a baddie in a robot. It's a solid enough, if simple, opening image. However, our story truly begins on the next page with a boy named Joey. In vast contrast to me, Joey's all about Mighty Mouse. So much so that he spends his recess drawing the character until he spots some approaching bullies. As you might expect, he fails to get away in time, they start picking on him, Joey has no friends or allies at the school, blah blah blah. The rest of the issue follows a similarly predictable pattern. He gets home, his mom's at work and leaves a note telling him not to eat junk food and to do homework before watching cartoons, and, of course, Joey decides to be a little dick and disobey both requests. The only "unique" thing about the story is the specificity of Mighty Mouse, and that kind of comes across as contrived. Because really, what child nowadays specifically chooses to watch Mighty Mouse and only Mighty Mouse? He doesn't even use a thinly-veiled Netflix analogue to find and stream it, something that'd actually be kind of amusing when juxtaposed with the antiqueness of the show. Instead, Joey just turns on the TV, and there's Mighty Mouse. How convenient.
I have no idea if the short we "watch" throughout the second half of the issue is a real Mighty Mouse cartoon or not, but I'm leaning toward the latter. There's an attempt at meta humor that just doesn't fit. It makes the sequence feel more than a little disingenuous instead of inspiring a sense classical charm. Other than a superficial "Mighty Mouse beats up bad guys," we're not giving a reason for why Joey cares about the character. In fact, it feels more like the book is saying old cartoons like that are silly and shouldn't be taken seriously. Anyway, after MM wins the day in the cartoon, he's suddenly transported through the TV to the real world without even a hint of explanation or reasoning behind it, and that's where the issue ends.
Despite that, the art manages to do a pretty good job despite throughout. In particular, I really like the aesthetic distinctions made between the real world, Mighty Mouse's world, and the world of Joey's drawings. Although, I do wish the coloring for the real world tried to go for a grittier tone or at least more muted palette. There's supposed to be this whole "the real world sucks" thing going on, and the colorfulness of Joey and everyone and thing around him betrays that. As far as I'm concerned, colors shouldn't start to pop until Mighty Mouse actually shows up.
For a book with an Alex Ross cover, Mighty Mouse #1 is surprisingly average. It's execution is overtly straightforward, and it does little to actually get you invested in the story or characters. But, what's really discouraging is that there doesn't appear to be much of an attempt to use or reinvent the character in any meaningful way. You could swap in any cartoon hero, and it wouldn't change a thing. It's fully possible the plot will pick up in the next one, and as it stands, it's not really bad. But for now, I'm finding it hard to recommend to anyone except, I guess, any of the Mighty Mouse super fans (like Joey) that probably do exist.
Mighty Mouse #1