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.
Now we’re getting into the good stuff. A fun little Halloween-tinged romp with a great melding of script and art, Ghostbusters: What in Samhain Just Happened?! officially marks the point where IDW hit its stride with the property. Peter David’s dialogue is easily the snappiest that had yet been seen in a Ghostbusters comic, it’s all reasonably in character, and even all of the supporting characters and villains have unique, interesting voices. The plot, while a little forgettable on the whole, is so full of standout moments (Janine getting all kitted out to bust a ghost for extra cash, yo) that it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day.
And the art. Now, when PAD is out there, doing the zingy pop culture-laden banter that is what PAD does best, he’s tough to top. So it should be a pretty big deal when I say that Dan Schoening’s art manages to outshine the script it serves. His cartoony designs are like none that graced the franchise either before or since he came to it, and it’s difficult to explain what makes them work so well. Like all professional takes on these characters, they seem to have very little basis on the faces of the actors, and yet this time around, they manage to be instantly evocative of them in the most subtle of ways. Had you grown up in some strange police state and never seen or heard of the film Ghostbusters before, you certainly wouldn’t know who these characters originally looked like. But for the rest of us… there they are, in every exaggerated expression. I don’t know how he does it.
If I had to find something to quibble about, it would be that (in addition to not even trying to include Winston), like Tainted Love before it, it doesn’t quite feel like there’s enough story here to justify the page count. The comic may have been better suited by being a bit shorter with a brief backup story included, but between the wonderful artwork (bolstered handily by Luis Delgado’s colours, switching from subtle and nuanced to vibrant and stunning with the flick of a proton pack) and PAD’s sharp dialogue, What in Samhain Just Happened?! marked the very first time I read a Ghostbusters comic and didn’t have to do mental gymnastics to make the characters on the page line up with the ones in my head, and that’s something pretty special.
This is quite possibly the strangest comic I own and I absolutely love it. Some three years after 88MPH went under and about fifteen minutes before IDW acquired the license, manga purveyor Tokyopop came out with this Ghostbusters collection, completely out of the blue and to absolutely no fanfare. I heard nothing about it either before its release or after, and the only reason I ended up with a copy at all is because I worked at a comic shop at the time and had nothing better to do with my days than endlessly pore over the Diamond catalogue every single week. One day this just happened to be in there and that was that.
Ghostbusters: Ghost Busted is a 200-page black-and-white anthology of stories done in an approximation of various manga styles. It is weird as all hell. It is also surprisingly good.
Ghost Busted consists of six chapters (the first and last being stand-alone tales while the middle four form a linked series of vignettes) and they vary in quality, as anthology stories tend to do. The two that justify this book’s high placement on the list are the final story, in which the boys in beige fight a fashion-based Sumerian God bent on making New Yorkers suffer for their looks, and an Egon solo outing buried in the middle of the book, in which he meets up with his former mentor and has a long, thoughtful conversation about the ethics and consequences of busting ghosts, as well as how death is really just an opportunity to explore the greatest scientific mysteries of them all. The former is just a total blast of a story, with plenty of humour and the hands-down best art in the collection, by Chrissy Delk, while the latter transcends its goofy faux-manga artifices to tell a genuinely moving story. It’s about the last thing you would expect to find in a book whose mere existence is already a little puzzling, and it’s an absolute joy to read.
The two weakest stories in the book are one that sets up Jack Hardemeyer (you know, the crummy Walter Peck knockoff from Ghostbusters II) as the big villain of the middle arc, and the finale to said arc, which not only manages to ruin the ending of the lovely Egon story I just mentioned, but reveals that Winston randomly keeps automatic weapons in the trunk of his car??? There’s a throwaway line about how he got them in the service, but A) Winston’s backstory as a Marine was obscure enough at this point that most people weren’t going to know about it off the tops of their heads, and B) That’s… not how the military works? I don’t think? You don’t get to keep the guns when you leave, do you? It’s an absolutely baffling choice to cap off a mess of a climax, and the whole thing is really better off forgotten.
Bringing up the middle of the pack are a stand-alone story about a haunted Broadway production that suffers from some muddled art but is otherwise a ridiculous, silly bit of fun that wouldn’t have felt out of place as an episode of The Real Ghostbusters, and a Ray solo story about the false alarms that must plague the Ghostbusters’ day-to-day existences. Neither reaches the heights of the best two stories, but both are cute, engaging reads.
Tokyopop’s Ghost Busted is something of a hidden gem in the realm of Ghostbusters comics, easily (and unfairly) forgotten, and is absolutely worth buying if you ever get the chance, if only just for the delightful reminder that something so weird can exist. Ghostbusters manga. What a time to be alive.
Which brings us to number one with a proton grenade…
1. Ghostbusters (IDW, 2011-2012, 2012-2014)
Writer: Erik Burnham
Art: Dan Schoening
Colours: Luis Antonio Delgado
Letters: Shawn Lee, Neil Uyetake, Gilberto Lazcano, Chris Mowry
Additional Artwork: Tristan Jones, Doc Shaner, Felipe Torrent, Erik Evensen
Additional Colours: Andrew Harmon, Samuel Plata, Ester Salgeruo
Was this entire series of reviews merely an excuse to heap praise on IDW’s soon-to-be-departed Ghostbusters: No Lousy Subtitle Needed? The world may simply never know.
The thing is, it’s good. It’s really good. Maybe it took years for the Ghostbusters to finally get an ongoing series, but if the reason was that the stars had to be in perfect alignment for the right creative team to materialize, then it was well worth the wait. Erik Burnham is the only writer to appear on this list multiple times, and his work here is pretty much the reason why; in my humble opinion, this comic is the closest that any single adaptation or tie-in has ever come to replicating the feel and humour of the film, and that’s counting Ghostbusters II.
Now that’s not to say this is some monthly recreation of a thirty-year-old movie, far from it. Set after both films, in the vaguely-defined mid-90s, IDW’s Ghostbusters takes the world of the movies (and then some: Kylie Griffin from Extreme Ghostbusters, Tiyah Clarke from Ghostbusters: Tainted Love, and ‘The Rookie’ from Ghostbusters: The Video Game all become major players) and expands on it, filling it with with a vibrant extended cast of newcomers and old familiar faces alike before throwing all manner of paranormal crisis at them instead of the same old Gozer knockoff of the week. Even when the stakes are their highest, the books always retain a wonderful sense of fun about them that makes you care about the outcomes of the adventures all the more. And all the while, even with its delightful-for-all-ages cartoon artwork, it never loses its edge, with all of the cussing and innuendo that an 80s PG rating entailed.
Oh, hey. Speaking of the art. Remember all that stuff I said about Dan Schoening’s work earlier? Yeah, more of that. Don’t be fooled by the simple caricature look of them initially, these characters are so full of life and subtleties in expression that they just pop from the page. They don’t feel like cartoon characters, they feel like very real people who just so happen to live in a highly stylized world. Helping matters once more are the colours of Luis Delgado, because when most of the enemies in your book constantly glow a variety of different colours, seeing that always reflected in the lighting and mood of every scene goes a hell of a long way in making you believe that such unrealistic characters occupy a very real space.
Did I mention the large, diverse, female presence in the book? Because that’s a thing, too. Hell, one issue even dedicated a whole plot to tearing down the ridiculous tropes that usually govern women’s costuming in these things. No sexy Ghostbusters Halloween costumes here, something that even the otherwise-great What in Samhain Just Happened?! was guilty of.
Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and after a sprawling 36-issue run across two volumes, Ghostbusters looks to be coming to an end this month. I’m sad, but it really was a fantastic run and, as long as they don’t fumble the ending, it stands as a pretty satisfying number one in this not-so-little rundown of the best of the best Ghostbusters stories being told these days. And the creative team has already been tapped to head up the four-issue Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters crossover miniseries starting in October, so hopefully they can continue to be the face of the franchise for years to come. There’s no one else I would rather entrust it with at this point.
The final issue of IDW’s Ghostbusters ongoing drops September 24th, 2014, with TMNT/Ghostbusters #1 to follow right afterward, on October 8th. They’re ready to believe you.