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Creature TechWriter/Artist: Doug TenNapel

Publisher: Top Shelf Productions

Synopsis: Michael Ong has spent his whole life trying to get out of his hometown of Turlock, California. After dropping out of seminary at 15, much to the disappointment of his preacher father, he became a world-class scientist...only to find himself reassinged back to Turlock, as head of the Research Technical Institute, or as the locals call it, "Creature Tech". Here he finds himself with piles of crates full of bizarre, paranormal artifacts to catalogue and analyze. But when his bosses tell him to jump ahead and open one of the last crates, containing what appears to be the Shroud of Turin, all hell breaks loose.

How Is It?: The above synopsis makes "Creature Tech" sound interesting but fairly conventional for the comics world, right? Well, in the hands of Doug TenNapel, the creator of "Earthworm Jim", it's anything but. The Shroud of Turin is merely the driving force behind a truly over-the-top plot; Ong also has to deal with a genetically engineered Praying Mantis that's supposed to be his bodyguard, the ghost of a mad scientist who wants to resurrect a giant space eel, a horde of demonic cats, and his love affair with an amblyopic girl with a withered hand. Oh, yeah, and then there's the alien symbiote who's attached itself to his chest and watches too many kung fu movies. The whole thing is, needless to say, imbued with the insane, anarchic spirit of the best cartoons, and indeed, TenNapel originally envisioned this as an animated film. But it's also an exciting action-adventure story, and, most surprisingly, it deals (with a feather touch) with issues of faith and spirituality. There's definitely a warm, beating heart (possibly attached to an alien symbiote) underneath the whole enterprise, along with unforgettable characters and some terrific one-liners (especially from the villainous, David Bowie-esque Dr. Jameson). There are a few times when the dialogue is a bit flat and expository, but other than that, a great book for those looking for something WAY out of the ordinary.

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