Monday, November 03, 2008

The Ghostbusters, Then & Now: Ghostbusters: The Other Side #1

On Friday, I saw a human-sized chicken practicing its trumpet outside of the local high school. A cave woman stood behind me in line at Starbucks. My girlfriend saw a Jedi walk into a Hollywood Denny's. This is Halloween, when the line between fantasy and reality gets blurred just enough to permit such frivolity without fear of consequence . . . and I love it. Batman -- heck, a legion of Batmen, as if from the various folds of Hypertime -- is as common a sight as Spongebob Squarepants, in a crossover that demands no cry for copyright infringement or corporate credit. It's the inner child unleashed, and it's the closest we get to a dimensional rift between this world and the ones we've created in cartoons, comic books, and movies over the years. So, IDW's new Ghostbusters comic book, undoubtedly released in October to coincide with Halloween, is appropriately titled "The Other Side." Leave it to those poltergeist pulverizers to so aptly direct and reflect trends in pop culture yet again.

Coincidentally, the Ghostbusters had become a big part of my Halloween celebration this year before I even knew of Ghostbusters: The Other Side. A local movie theater hosted a special screening of Ghostbusters earlier in the month, and I dragged my girlfriend and old Slimer toy along to partake in that beloved slice of my childhood. Fortunately, apparently I wasn't the only kid that watched and rewatched his Ghostbusters VHS, running my VCR remote's tracking buttons rampant after some one hundred viewings or so, and when Ray hushes Egon and Peter in the opening library scene with, "Listen! You smell something?" I was delighted to join dozens of others in knowing laughter. At the time, I bet Ghostbusters struck unsuspecting audiences as just another flick starring those guys from Saturday Night Live. Who would've suspected that those wry 105 minutes would've inspired an franchise that has included a few cartoon series, a long line of toys, and several comic book series?

Inspired by seeing "the guys" on the big screen (well, the screening was actually projected onto the back of a building, but you know what I mean), I dug up some old Ghostbusters comics I'd purchased a few months ago at the Los Angeles Comic Book and Sci-Fi Convention. Published by Now Comics, these issues reflect the continuity and likenesses of The Real Ghostbusters animated series, which boasts a strong argument for vetoing the films and adopting the "official" image of the franchise. After all, that cartoon series and subsequent toy line recruited kids in a way the original movie never could have, contributing to the success of Ghostbusters 2. (I remember thinking as a kid, Winston shaved his mustache for the sequel to look more like his cartoon counterpart.) Multi-colored jumpsuits and a blond Egon are mere aesthetics when compared to the way these cartoon and comic book series cemented the characters' respective personalities and made Slimer a household name. I rest my case, for now.

So, when I saw the cover to Now Comics' The Real Ghostbusters #13, I was excited to read the issue because it featured Bigfoot, a supernatural creature that has been striding through comics quite a bit lately (different interpretations of Sasquatch currently star in The Perhapnauts and Proof, and those are the comics off the top of my head). Neither a ghost or a fully evolved human being, I wondered how the Ghostbusters would capture such a creature; unfortunately, the story was more heart than attack, as the guys venture to reunite two lovesick lemures (a cousin to the Bigfoot, I guess) before a weather-controlling ghost uses the female's connection to the climate against mankind. The plot was compelling enough, and the art was great, but the issue wasn't comprehensive to the Ghostbusters mythos to warrant a Halloween review for me. Like the lemure, the issue I wanted to read had big shoes to fill.

Enter Now Comics' The Real Ghostbusters #25. I'm something of a numerology nerd regarding my comics, so I thought #13 would be a good Halloween-oriented issue. Of course, it was more a stroke of bad luck in contrast to my intentions, so I tried #25, as this year commemorates the original film's twenty-five year anniversary. I had to mull it over, but I was much more satisfied with the result. In this issue, the Ghostbusters are recruited by the government to rescue some soldiers trapped in another, spectre-ridden dimension, and in the process they discover a hidden history that exposes atomic tests as the cause of such interdimensional rifts. The Gozer "dogs" from Ghostbusters make a cameo appearance, albeit as robots intended to test the guys' skills, and in the end Egon thwarts the dimensional denizens by touting the Ghostbusters' rep rather than let 'er rip with the proton packs, which is almost as satisfying. Still all-ages friendly, this story's anti-government implications retain a definitely adult aspect that made this issue enjoyable to a longtime fan like me, particularly considering the Ghostbusters' trend for spitting in the face of nonprofit environmental agencies or using national monuments as battering rams.

So, I was totally ready to write up that review when I happened to see another review at Comic Book Resources, this one of a comic called Ghostbusters: The Other Side. I had no idea that IDW had commandeered the franchise from 88 MPH, who had published a Ghostbusters miniseries a few years ago that I had an incredibly hard time finding. Still, excited for a new adventure, I rushed to my comic book store yesterday and picked it up. Admittedly, I was a little tainted by the CBR review; I try not to read reviews about comics I want to own, but I found myself in agreement with a few of Doug Zawisza's assessments. First of all, while I'm a fan of Tom Nguyen's work, this issue seems a little rushed, and specifically his likenesses of Peter and Ray are inconsistent at best, literally fluctuating between vague caricatures of Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd respectively and the designs from the animated series. Also, perhaps more nitpicky from a fanboy's perspective, I'd hoped for something more than a linear plot. I wanted more dangling threads. The only familiar faces we see are the four Ghostbusters themselves -- no Janine, Louis, or Dana. Considering this issue's cliffhanger, I'm sure we'll see them next ish, but I feel like Louis locked out of his apartment. There's potential for a big party here, and I want somebody to "let me iiiiin!"

In The Other Side, the guys are up against a mob of old time gangster ghosts that have the ability to possess people, an apparently unforeseen aspect to ghost-busting based on Egon and Ray's perplexed response. When one of the ghoulish gangsters displaces Peter's soul, the guys spend a majority of the issue researching the phenomenon, until the end when . . . well, I won't spoil it, because the potential to explore complex themes of the spirit world is rich here, if writer Keith Champagne is so bold, which would result in a truly great GB story. He is careful to place this issue in the world of the films, sometime after the sequel, as the lead antagonist expresses concern that the guys have been able to best the likes of Gozer and Vigo (they're mentioned twice, to boot), but the vernacular is all-ages friendly, as is the story's general structure. Fingers crossed that future issues present some complexity, resulting in a crossing of this tale's multifaceted streams.

As a quick aside, one thing that both the Now and this IDW issues have in common is the very feeble attempt at humor on Venkman's part. Of course, Bill Murray's performance in both films is priceless, and Lorenzo Music's deadpan voice acting in the animated series is a childhood guilty pleasure, so writer Champagne and James Van Hise obviously understand what I mean by "big shoes to fill." Fortunately, Champagne dodges the bullet by incapacitating Peter for a majority of the issue, while Van Hise . . . well, his comic was for kids. Lame one-liners get a pass if they can make a kid laugh. 'Nuff said, I guess.

In the shadow of Halloween, a general celebration of the undead, I'm grateful that the Ghostbusters franchise is still alive and well, and that it so infiltrated my hallowed holiday celebration. Sure, it's great to reminisce with the old Now Comics, but this IDW series (not to mention the new video game, but there are other blogs for that) is a very worthy addition to the canon. Indeed, no one human being could stack books like this.

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