Who you gonna call? As we’re all well aware by now, 2014 marks the 30th anniversary of everyone’s favourite professional paranormal investigators and eliminators, the Ghostbusters. To mark the occasion, I thought it might be fun to take a look at something that a lot of people wouldn’t immediately come up with when they think Ghostbusters: the comic corner of the franchise.
Last time, we went over the worst of the worst. Everything was terrible, and for a brief moment, the concept of joy ceased to exist. It’s all uphill from here as we continue counting down to the very best Ghostbusters comics of the last decade.
The most recent line-spanning crossover of IDW’s myriad properties, this entry in the Conspiracy saga doesn’t work nearly as well as the other crossovers that will be seen later on this list. It’s the only one that’s a direct meeting of two properties, for one thing, as opposed to one outside threat running through and uniting various books. Perhaps it’s because of this that the circumstances leading to Frohike, Langly, and Byers meeting the Ghostbusters feels so forced it almost causes physical pain. Erik Burnham, otherwise a fantastic writer, tries to bend the characters to fit the plot, and all the sharp dialogue in the world can’t possibly make it work. The art is also fairly jarring, with uncanny actor likenesses for the X-Files characters meeting the generic white dude faces that plague so many mediocre Ghostbusters comics while giving them all a rather stiff feeling universe to occupy. Also, why was Egon blond? I didn’t miss a Real in the title somewhere, did I?
In all, The X-Files/Ghostbusters: Conspiracy, while not awful, is easily the weakest Ghostbusters comic IDW has put out in the last four years or so Fortunately, however, this mostly just speaks to the general quality of their output since then. And Ray being a big Lone Gunmen fan was pretty damn perfect, so that’s something.
Ghostbusters: Times Scare! is a comic book that exists. The art is pretty good and the dialogue isn’t completely terrible. In this comic, a ghost is attacking Times Square. The Ghostbusters show up and bust the ghost. And that is the plot of the comic.
It’s not bad. It’s not good. It’s not anything. It is the blandest 11 pages you can possibly imagine. I think it was mostly just made to hand out to people to advertise the ongoing series? It is the water of Ghostbusters comics.
Now this, comic… this comic is so much better than it has any right to be. It’s a two-issue tie-in to IDW’s Infestation crossover event, which saw the worlds of some of its varied licensed properties (Ghostbusters, Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Star Trek) united as one strange little multiverse, featuring a dimension-hopping vampire babe unleashing zombies on the unsuspecting worlds. On paper, it sounds frankly terrible. This particular tie-in, though… my god, it just works.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll probably notice that I have little forgiveness in me when it comes to violating the tone of the Ghostbusters franchise in adopting it for comics, and Kyle Hotz’s genuinely gruesome depictions of zombies are a flagrant example. However, due to the nature of the story, that it’s part of a larger crossover, it somehow completely gets a pass from me. Yes, it’s totally at odds with how a good Ghostbusters adaptation should feel, that’s… kind of the point? Maybe under another writer, it would have felt as distasteful as the gore in something like The Other Side, but Erik Burnham, honing the character voices that he would go on to completely master as writer of the ongoing Ghostbusters title, already has such a solid grasp on who these people are and how they should sound that it all manages to go against the grain and gel into something pretty decent.
Was the Stay Puft marshmallow man fighting a zombie version of himself dumb? Yeah, it really was. Did I care at the time? Not particularly! Ghostbusters: Infestation is not a great comic by any stretch, but there’s a whole lot to enjoy in it, about the last thing I would ever except from such a bizarre line-wide event.
The second of the holiday-themed one-shots, Ghostbusters: Tainted Love marks the beginning of IDW’s steady uptick in quality. It took them two years to finally find their footing with the Ghostbusters, but with the exception of the truly embarrassing Con-Volution later in 2010, this was where they started to turn things around.
I freely admit that I have a bias for Salgood Sam’s artwork that likely boosts Tainted Love farther up the list than it maybe deserves, but his rough indie style is such a welcome departure from all the awkward attempts at realism that plagued the comics up until this point that I can’t help but love it, even if the characters are still kind of ugly in their own way. The fact that it’s primarily a Winston story further elevates it in my eyes, because that’s just so rare and it’s refreshingly well done here, if nothing mind-blowingly great. Given the nature of the characters, Winston is really the only one who could walk into a casual quasi-romance with a client and still have it be sweet enough to pass as a Valentine’s Day special, so it isn’t even a case of plugging Winston into any old plot just to give him something to do; it may be a little bland this time around, but it’s his story and writer Dara Naraghi lets him own it.
Parts of it, like the development of smaller proton packs and their ensuing shoddiness, feel like a bit of pointless filler, and I’m not sure this story warranted taking up an entire issue, but overall, Tainted Love is a decent enough Ghostbusters story with solid dialogue, buoyed maybe a little higher than it deserves thanks to some pretty great art.
Another one of IDW’s wacky licensed-property crossover (this one also dips into the worlds of Transformers, KISS, and Popeye — yes, the sailor man), Mars Attacks the Real Ghostbusters somehow manages to be weirder than all the rest through the use of the titular Real Ghostbusters from the 80s cartoon series instead of the standard film versions that had been seen almost exclusively up until this moment. It’s well-written, you can definitely hear Arsenio Hall and Lorenzo Music’s (sorry, Coulier, I’m a purist) voices on every page as Burnham has a solid grasp on all of the character voices (if not the masterful one he demonstrates for the more standard iterations seen in the rest of IDW’s Ghostbusters offerings) while crafting a really fun story that nicely incorporates everyone’s favourite ack-acking asshole aliens.
The only real problem with this comic is, well, the Real problem. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why they went with the cartoon characters for this crossover, beyond just wanting to mix it up a bit. The art, while not terrible, is off-puttingly uncartoony in style, something made even more jarring by the pains that Mars Attacks Popeye took to replicate the style of those old Segar comic strips. This issue could have been a lot of fun if it had been more in line with the classic NOW Comics Real Ghostbusters series, but as it stands, the decision just ends up massively distracting from everything else going on in the book. Maybe it’s because they didn’t want to establish aliens as being a part of the proper Ghostbusters comic world? But the subsequent X-Files crossover that came a year later makes that a moot point. I don’t know, IT’S WEIRD. THIS COMIC IS WEIRD.
BUT it also has alien ghosts and it was neat to see these characters again, so it gets a bit of a bump and with that, I’m out once again. We’ll wrap things up a few days from now with a look at the top three Ghostbusters releases of all time! What could they be? What is even left? What will rise to the top and what will fall short? These are the must-reads, folks.