In response to Mirage Studios' widely successful "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" in the 1980s, dozens of small press independents produced black and white parodies of the heroes in a half-shell. Classics included "Mildly-Microwaved Pre-Pubescent Gophers," "Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils," "Naïve Inter-Dimensional Commando Koalas" and "Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos."
But none captured the spirit of "TMNT" more than Chuck, Bruce, Jackie and Clint, otherwise known as Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.
With 2007 marking the return of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael to the mainstream, it was only a matter of time before the anthropomorphic atomic-fuelled rodents oozed downstream to join them.
Enter Dynamite Entertainment President Nick Barucci, who hired writer Keith Champagne ("Countdown: Arena") and artist Tom Nguen ("Justice League Elite") to re-imagine the ARBBH in a new series debuting in January, 2008. Champagne told CBR News it was time to bring back the Hamsters because "fun never goes out of style and, more than anything, 'ARBBH' was always an unpredictable, fun book that sort of made up the rules as it went along."
As the original story goes, the fantastic furball four were NASA-trained hamsters sent to destroy radioactive cosmic Jello. While successful in defeating the threat, the Jello mutated the hamsters, and upon landing back on Earth were taken in by monks and trained in martial arts.
"Honestly, you'd have to ask Nicky Barucci at Dynamite why he felt it was time to bring the Hamsters back, aside from the fact that all ages material is something a lot of publishers are currently pushing hard for," explained Champagne. "I have the impression that bringing back the Hamsters was something that Dynamite was trying to do for quite a while and the pieces of the puzzle all finally dropped into place."
When asked what it was about Chuck, Bruce, Jackie, and Clint that fans today would find reason to pick up an issue, Champagne teased, "Who the hell are Chuck, Bruce, Jackie, and Clint? The Hamsters I've created for this book are named Arnold, Jean Claude, Steven, Rock, and Lucy. There may even be a Jet or a Donnie out there somewhere.
"Actually, I'm just playing with the continuity," Champagne continued. "The original four Hamsters don't show up right away, there's a new batch around when we kick things off."
Champagne shared his first script with ARBBH creator Don Chin via e-mail and was able to generate some laughs with his take on the Hamsters. "Don seems like a really nice guy, a real fan of comics in general and very enthusiastic about the return of the Hamsters," explained Champagne. "But he also seems more than content to let someone else play with his toys. He did relate to me that he laughed out loud a few times at the first script and that was a huge relief to me, a lot of weight off of my shoulders."
Chin is now a real estate broker in Eureka, California. Of note, he also does web design work and once created a site for infamous "American Idol" contestant William Hung.
Champagne is a long-time fan of "ARBBH" and remembers it fondly from his own adolescent days. "The Hamsters came out at a time when, as a comic fan growing up, I was buying almost everything that shipped every month, just trying everything under the sun," said Champagne. "For whatever reason, Hamsters was something that stuck with me and that I kept on buying. A lot of that stuff, especially the dreck from the black and white boom, got dropped almost instantly without a second thought. But 'ARBBH' was different. It made me laugh, it made me scratch my head, and it remained a fondly remembered book from my youth. I'm not the only one who loved the Hamsters though. I don't think a lot of people realize how well the books sold."
The new title is a re-imagining of the original concept but will also play with the notion of its "ARBBH" continuity. "One thing this book is not… is a slave to continuity," explained Champagne. "Consider any classic Hamster stories urban legends. They might be true, there might be some truth in them, or they might be nothing more than stories."
As such, Champagne's hairball heroes won't be meeting up with Cosmic Jello or any other classic "ARBBH" villains right off the bat -- and that includes PLO (Pot Luck Organization), Toe-Jam Monster from Atlantis and Infidel Castro. "Not immediately, anyways," said Champage. "We're starting with a new villain but, at the same time, there is a mass of Cosmic Jello heading towards the Earth with unknown intentions."
The hard drive on Champagne's computer contains two years' worth of story ideas, so he is hoping to have a long run on "ARBBH." "I'm still just getting warmed up," said Champagne. "I find that the longer I write something and the more familiar the characters become, the more ideas start to spontaneously generate and story momentum begins to build. I think, just by the nature of the characters, the way they play off of each other, and the tone of the book, I could write 100 issues of 'Hamsters' without running dry."
Despite Dynamite's stable of heroic comics including the likes of "The Lone Ranger and Tonto" and soon "Zorro" and "The Man With No Name," it doesn't appear that "ARBBH" will be enjoying a crossover anytime soon. "Personally, I think the Hamsters work best in their own self contained universe, where the laws of nature and physics suit them best," said Champagne. "But if anyone wants to drop in and play, be it The Man With No Name or The Boys or Ash or the Highlander, they'd better have health insurance because they've never seen anything like Hamster-Fu!"
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