Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ghostbusters #3

Ghostbusters #3, May 2004, 88MPH Studios
writer: Andrew Dobb
penciller: Steve Kurth
inkers: Steve LaPointe with Ulices Grostieto, Jimmy Reyes, and Marco Galli
letterer: Ed Dukeshire
colorist: Blond
editor: Sebastian Clavet

I’ve selected Ghostbusters as October’s first review, a conscious and intentional effort to celebrate this month’s hallowed holiday. (Consistent A Comic A Day readers may remember the trend of “spooky” comics that haunted last week’s offerings, a week too early for my tastes.) This issue, the last in a four-issue miniseries, has been on my list of must-reads for a while anyway, since I managed to purchase the third chapter when the mini was originally released. This series was difficult to find, a testament that the Ghostbusters franchise still has a loyal following. The Ghostbusters mythos, now over twenty-five years old, has undergone a few different incarnations since the treasured original film, including the equally respected original animated series, the blockbuster sequel, and, least successfully, the “next generation” cartoon/action figure attempt of the mid-‘90s. My first question is, did this miniseries re-launch the struggling franchise for yet another eager generation?

Sadly, no. Don’t get me wrong – I thoroughly enjoyed the two issues I read, and if I ever find the first two, or, even better, a trade with some behind-the-scenes extras. Alas, since this series flew off the shelves so quickly, either from a limited publication run, higher than usual orders, or both, Ghostbusters didn’t linger long enough for potential readers to obligatorily look into it. In other words, in my estimation, steadfast fans pinched the Ghostbusters comic book before anyone else, even casual fans like me. Fortunately, from what I remember, the series was too quietly released to garner the attention it really deserved. Had posters cluttered comic shop windows, I’m sure fans would’ve lined up the night before. Rioted in the streets for an original copy. You know. Mass hysteria.

As I was saying, I enjoyed this issue. Best summarized by in the inside front cover’s synopsis, “Michael Draverhaven – an old friend of Egon, Peter, and Ray’s driven mad by an experiment gone wrong – has emerged from years trapped in a mental institution with one thing on his mind: Revenge! Now, with an army of ghosts at his command, he plans to rain havoc on the city of New York . . . and the Ghostbusters!” This chapter picks up with Ray in Michael’s custody, while the madman uses tendrils of ectoplasm to control the ghosts in the others’ path. In a moment of rash desperation, Winston uses a duct-taped bundle of new wireless traps to create a hole in the wall of specters, and, triangulating Ray’s location with his cell phone, the gang crashes Draverhaven’s party. Ray struggles with his former friend and pushes him into some debris, which knocks Michael out, severs his link with the ghosts, and plunges him into a coma. The ghosts flee, and although the Ghostbusters seem uncharacteristically comfortable with so many specters still on the loose, they’re obviously grateful that the organized haunting is over.

I do not envy Andrew Dobb, the writer of this miniseries. The original film was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed of its time and remains one of the most successful comedies of all time. In fact, Ghostbusters may have created a new genre entirely – the haunted comedy. I still quote the film on a regular basis, and I know its dedicated fan base continue to discuss the franchise through fanfic and message boards. So, how do you follow Dan Ackroyd, Ivan Rietman, and Harold Ramis? First of all, you don’t try to be funny. Instead, you find and expose each characters’ core personality, the traits that made their original, successful live action and animated interactions so beloved. Peter is often misunderstood as blatantly sarcastic and pessimistic; however, in contrast with his friends’ wild ideas, conjectures, and adventures, Venkman is simply the most realistic guy in the bunch, reacting as most of us would, in suspended disbelief. Egon, the supposed brains, isn’t void of humor, and in fact his superior intellect instills in him a dry wit that implies a sense of superiority over the others. Consider this exchange, when Ray doesn’t pick up his phone:

PETER: No answer. Do you think something happened to him?
EGON: I think there’s a good chance he’s dead and this city will be nothing but rubble in less than twenty-four hours.
PETER: God, Egon, don’t say that. Lie to me. Tell me we’re going to get through this.
EGON: We’re going to get through this. And candy and teddy bears will rain from the sky.
PETER: There, was that so hard?

I can actually hear Ramis and Murray enacting this dialogue, or even the voice actors from the original cartoon. And although the narrative isn’t blatantly funny, a subtle humor infuses their relationship and runs throughout the rest of the issue. Well done.

Further, as a fan, I couldn’t help but notice that Dobb has decided to ignore continuity established in the original’s lesser sequel. A bold move. Ghostbusters II may not have been as funny, but it was still the brainchild of the franchise’s founding fathers, Ackroyd and Ramis. Still, by forsaking that installment, this story’s most charming moments remain possible, like when Louis awkwardly and futilely asks Peter to leave Dana alone, or when Janine blatantly asks Egon out, when all subtlety finally fails her. (In Ghostbusters II, Louis and Janine became an item, and Dana had a baby. I didn’t see little Oscar anywhere here.) Above all else, the whole gang is here, even a less comical Slimer, and with the Ecto-1 intact. I’m ready to believe them again.

Artistically, I don’t envy this issue’s artists, either. The decision whether or not to caricature the original actors, recreate the classic cartoon’s model sheets, or take different approach entirely could literally make or break the success of this series. Kurth (assuming he designed the characters for this incarnation) does a decent job creating a synthesis of the previous two looks while putting his own stamp on the characters; unfortunately, this issue suffers from an inconsistency in the inking department. The ghosts appear a little too tangible and humanoid, as well, a trapping of the original film’s resources that could have been creatively overcome today. Still, the issue is well drawn, and I hope the whole mini is this good. If so, no human being could stack books like this.

So what if this miniseries didn’t create full blown Ghostbusters renaissance? At least it thrust Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston into the spotlight once again, especially for their adoring fans. I haven’t seen the ongoing series the end of this issue promises, but if it isn’t out yet, I hope we see it sooner or later. I wouldn’t want the Ghostbusters to become ghosts themselves. The Ghostbusters may have a tough exterior, in the face of danger, but inside they’re just as sweet as the marshmallow that covers them at the end of the first movie. I guess what I’m trying to say is, they’re like a bunch of big Twinkies.

What about the Twinkie?

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