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.
What follows will be an all-inclusive countdown of every single Ghostbusters series to be published since the property’s re-emergence as a beloved source of nostalgia (as opposed to simply being an old thing that people still like). According to very scientific studies (trust me, I’m a doctor), it takes precisely 20 years for this shift to occur, so we’ll be looking at every Ghostbusters comic released in the last ten years. While there were Ghostbusters comics published prior to 2004 (namely NOW Comics’ The Real Ghostbusters and Slimer! cartoon tie-ins), they fall outside the purview of this list. So without further ado, starting at the bottom of the barrel with lucky number 13 and working our way forward, let’s light ’em up!
13. Ghostbusters: The Other Side (IDW, 2008)
Writer: Keith Champagne
Art: Tom Nguyen
Colours: Moose Baumann
Letters: Chris Mowry, Neil Uyetake
IDW acquired the Ghostbusters license in 2008, and while greatness eventually came out of it, getting there was something of a long road. In fact, their very first outing, the four-issue miniseries Ghostbusters: The Other Side, could very well go down as the single worst Ghostbusters story ever written.
What is there to say? It’s bad. It’s really bad. The plot, about the Ghostbusters being brutally gunned down by mobster ghosts (ghost mobsters?) and ending up trapped in purgatory, is full of over-the-top violence and gore that is completely at odds with the franchise’s tone. It’s weirdly misogynistic, featuring scenes such as a possessed Peter Venkman sleeping with hookers and punching Janine in the face. Oh, and in the end, they all come back to life because of angels, SPOILER ALERT. Yeop.
The art is terrible, particularly the Ghostbusters themselves, looking like awkward generic teens, which only adds to the feeling of the whole thing being some amateur hour rush job to get some early mileage out of the publisher’s shiny new bit of 80s nostalgia, ready for milking.
If I had to say anything positive about The Other Side, it’s that it does at least give Winston stuff to do, something that even good Ghostbusters stories often struggle with. As the audience-insert everyman surrounded by these much stronger personalities, he can be a tough character to get right and use effectively, and he often falls to the wayside as a result. Here, while he’s as poorly written as the rest of them, he at least gets his own stupid subplot where he meets up with a dead girlfriend from his youth that actually gets a decent bit of mileage. Naturally, she drowned, giving her a reason to spend the entire series wearing a bikini.
Ugh, The Other Side.
The Ghostbusters go to a comic book convention. A ghost does not even show up until page 8. The art is of a quality on par with Tumblr reaction comics. Why does this exist? Why? Who thought this was a good idea? I refuse to acknowledge the existence of this one-shot any further, let’s move on.
A troubled production from the start, the Ghostbusters’ very first foray into modern comicdom, courtesy of Quebec-based publisher 88MPH Comics, was plagued by delays, taking nearly a year for all four issues to finally come out. This was not nearly enough time to make them good, however.
The plot, while cliche, is serviceable, dealing with Michael Draverhaven, a sort of Pete Best to the Ghostbusters who went crazy in college when an experiment backfired, allowing him to communicate with and control ghosts. Now he’s back and out to conquer the world because of… reasons? It’s pretty hackneyed stuff, but not unforgivably so; in the right hands, it could provide the backbone of a perfectly decent story.
Legion‘s biggest problem was the complete mess it made of the source material’s tone. Ghostbusters is, primarily, a comedy, and while Andrew Dobb does manage to eke out the occasional fun gag, they’re all offset by sudden radical shifts into heavy melodrama, angsty backstory, and rooftop brooding. It’s so bizarrely incongruous and jarring that it ends up being funnier than the actual jokes. The art also does the story no service; while it’s not outright bad like the worst of IDW’s offerings, it’s just not a good fit for the Ghostbusters, falling into the fairly common trap of going for realism while avoiding apery of the film’s actors, which tends to lead to a bunch of bland-looking ugly dudes. It’s a bit of a shame, because other than the characters’ faces, artist Steve Kurth’s pencils do hold a good amount of dynamism, and when paired with striking colours by the pseudonymous Blond, turn into a gorgeous candy-coloured horrorscape once the titular legion of ghosts shows up. As an added nitpick, the decision to Superman Returns it, ignoring the events of Ghostbusters II while also shifting the timeline of the first movie forward to 2004, felt pretty pointless and awkward, just one of many baffling decisions made in the production of this comic.
88MPH never published anything again, including a planned Ghostbusters ongoing that was solicited but never saw the light of day, so… bullet dodged, I guess?
The first in a series of holiday-themed one-shots released by IDW after the middling reception of their first two minis, Ghostbusters: Past, Present, and Future (love that Oxford comma in the title) is ultimately a misfire, but one aimed pretty darn high.
The story, a riff on A Christmas Carol with a somewhat telegraphed twist ending, is cute if not particularly clever, but it ends up being a touch too ambitious for a 22-page comic to do justice to it. It goes for both a busy, twisting plot as well as character beats for all four Ghostbusters and ends up feeling like a bit of a mess as a result.
The art, in that same attempt at realism that just doesn’t work with these comics, is nevertheless leaps and bounds better than anything seen in any Ghostbusters comics released up to that point, so in that respect, it’s something of a breath of fresh air. If only the story had been given some room to breathe as well, Past, Present, and Future really might have had the chance to shine.
IDW’s second at-bat after the unmitigated disaster that was The Other Side, Ghostbusters: Displaced Aggression is, while not good, a definite step in the right direction. The art, while still leaving a lot to be desired, at least manages to imbue the characters with, well, character, and the story leaves me conflicted instead of simply filled with disdain for everyone involved.
To get it right out of the way, the plot, which basically amounts to ‘The Ghostbusters Do Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’, doesn’t really work. It doesn’t fit with the characters, it doesn’t fit with their world, and the whole endeavour ends up feeling really forced as a result. That said, it’s also a hell of a lot of fun in spite of all that, which does a lot to elevate it above the other exercises in mediocrity already discussed. Still, when the fun all comes from the novelty of dumb gimmicks like seeing Peter in the wild west or Ray going native with King Arthur in Camelot as opposed to actual clever writing, it can only go so far, and the fact that it’s all such an awkward fit makes the moments of poor scripting all the more glaring. Why is Egon suddenly evil in the future? Well, because the story needed him to be, that’s why, we’ll throw a random excuse that will never be followed up on in there so it makes sense. Really shoddy stuff like that abounds in Displaced Aggression.
Also, I’ve read this story a few times now (for all the problems I have with Scott Lobdell, his work remains eminently re-readable) and I’m still not sure what I think of the story’s Deus Ex Mary Sue, Rachel Unglighter. On the one hand, it’s always nice when the effort is made not to have a Ghostbusters story be a total sausage fest with the exception of a love interest or two, especially when the new character slots into things surprisingly well. On the other hand, the constant objectification of her and her contrived “surprise” backstory leave me cold on the representation front. She’s not a bad character, but this comic has little reason to exist, and so, necessarily, does she.
All in all, another poor early entry from IDW, but one that shows they weren’t entirely on the wrong track from the word go.
But of course Winston was the only one who didn’t get to time travel.
Now I don’t know about you, but after all of that crap, I could use a break. We’ll resume later this week when, I promise, things start getting better.