160 pages does not a huge book make. 160 pages on the history, cultural impact, and future contributions of the famous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, on the other hand, seems like an uber-nerdy gift from god. The kind of god that has to push his glasses further up on his nose before he hands over said gift. ECW Press has given a pocket-sized gift to the world in the form of their latest endeavor, Pop Classics: a series of critical commentaries on various nuggets of pop culture. My first venture into this verdant forest of nerdery begins with Richard Rosenbaum’s Raise Some Shell.
Not only is Raise Some Shell informative, it’s entertaining as hell. The wealth of information available here on the topic of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (in all of their forms: comic, cartoon, game, etc) is impressive enough as it is. Throw in the fact that this book is painstakingly researched and that Rosenbaum is a terrific writer, and you’ve got a book that any nerd or lover of the Turtles would be proud to have on his shelf.
There’s an insight at play here that can be best understood by those of us who took classes in literary theory for fun. Rosenbaum has taken the age-old art of cultural and literary analysis and somehow made it more nerdy with the addition of some of the most beloved comic/cartoon heroes of the 90’s. Despite that, he avoids making Raise Some Shell an esoteric piece that only the most dedicated of fanboys will appreciate.
The commentary is definitely for everyone, and along the way Rosenbaum explains dozens of different yet related topics. The subjects of pastiche, the socioeconomic status of various members of the Justice League, the importance of always getting a cut of the toy sales–all of this and far more is expounded upon. The direct connection of TMNT to Marvel’s Daredevil, (and the fact that the same canister affected Matt Murdoch and all four turtles) for example, might be a detail that even the most devoted nerd might not have noticed.
Perhaps most important of all, Rosenbaum manages to take a seriously in-depth look at the Turtle phenomenon and its importance without losing his sense of humor. The ironic effect being that we feel that we can take Rosenbaum seriously for the very reason that he doesn’t allow the subject to become muddled down by self-importance. And in a book where transformative effects and the social status dictated by them is compared to the works of Kafka and Rushdie, it is imperative that one not get too full of oneself.
I really think ECW Press is onto something with this Pop Classics collection. Raise Some Shell will be published alongside It Doesn’t Suck: a similar analysis of the pop flop Showgirls, and if the quality of Shell is any indication, I’ll be picking that one up next. I adored this sliver of a book and I think Turtle fans will rejoice when they discover it.