Wednesday, July 13, 2016

TV Tie-ins, Part XIV: The Real Ghostbusters #6 & Ghostbusters: Legion #1


Whom are you going to call?

As the multiplex beckons with another version of Ghostbusters opening this weekend, I thought it time to look back on two of the comics spinning out of the original franchise.

The movie was the brainchild of Dan Aykroyd, owing to his fascination with parapsychology. Originally conceived to star himself and John Belushi, much of the first draft was scrapped because it contained too many costly effects including a time travel element. Once Harold Ramis started working with Aykroyd on the second version of the script, things started to gel. Peter Venkman's role was rewritten to fit Bill Murray's comedic style. Aykroyd once joked that the green ghost "Slimer" was "the ghost of John Belushi" and was based on his party animal persona.

Whatever the case of how the movie came about, the resultant box office score numbered nearly $300 million, an unheard of sum for a movie that cost $30 million to make in 1984. The flood of pressure to make a sequel from the studio became intense and would ultimately cause the actors to give in, with results that were less than stellar.

In the meanwhile, Ghostbusters became a brand that could be exploited, specifically for kids who admittedly some of the humor of the original movie should rightly be lost on. But it was bright and shiny and featured guys with proton-packs melting marshmallow men. Thus Columbia Pictures Television, DiC Enterprises and Coca-Cola Telecommunications spit out "The Real Ghostbusters" animated show in 1986.

"The Real" titling had to be added because rival Filmation had a little-known property called "The Ghost Busters", a live action children's show from 1975 featuring Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch, and Bob Burns in a gorilla suit. 

Filmation decided to attempt to cash in on the action by producing a new animated show based on the property at the same time, so kids had to choose between The Real Ghostbusters, featuring characters from the movie, or Ghost Busters, featuring two guys and a gorilla from a show a generation ago that only lasted 15 episodes. It was a confusing time to grow up.

While Filmation's Ghost Busters would last only one season, a staggering 65 episodes were produced. In comparison, The Real Ghostbusters lasted seven seasons and in that time only produced 140 episodes. Clearly there was a quality over quantity element at work here. It is also of note that TRG had a spinoff Slimer show that ran after the program from seasons 4-7 and a followup animated series dubbed Extreme Ghostbusters in 1997 that lasted 40 episodes.

The comic book of the animated show began two years into the TV show's run, starting in 1988. The first volume produced under the NOW comics banner, lasted two years, all but one issue written by James Van Hise. The one I hold in my hot little Crapbox hands is penciled by John Tobias and inked by Bran Thomas. It feels kidish and light on pretty much everything thing Ghostbusters.

By that I mean the jokes aren't really funny…

And the characterization of the cast don't gel with the movie personas.

Maybe I'm being a little too hard on the book, as I never watched the TV show. The story is understandable, but lacks any real tension. Ghosts take over a television station. The Ghostbusters realize something is wrong half-way through the book. They meet the jerky station owner, who asks them to save his station. They arrive, split up and some silliness occurs…

And the Ghostbusters do some of the familiar things that they usually do…

Then it is revealed that the menace that gathered all these ghostly things together was a mummy called "The Nameless One" they fought in a prior issue.

They quickly convince him to guard his king's tomb at the museum and the issue wraps up like so…

The Real Ghostbusters leaves me feeling a bit bored. The property has all of its adult themed fangs pulled and, while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, in this instance I found the book a bit too juvenile. Not to mention not nearly as funny as it should have been. Ghosts taking over a TV studio and running their own versions of popular shows sounds like fertile ground for comedy. However TRG doesn't deliver on that promise, instead relying on a wacky station manager and a few unfunny set pieces to ram the story home.

Luckily the property reverted to Quebec-based 88MPH Studios in 2004 for the four issue Ghostbusters: Legion miniseries. THIS was more my style. Writer Andrew Dabb, Penciller Steve Kurth and Inker Serge LaPointe served up a tale that looked to include both the adultish comedic elements as well as some of the spine-tingling thrills of the movie. Set in then present day 2004, the book ignored everything after the first movie, moving the time stamp for that adventure to 2003.

Where we open is six months after the Gozer incident, with the Ghostbuster's fame having faded and everyone getting back to the normal grind. We begin with a cold open of a man in an insane asylum talking to an unseen someone while staring at clippings of the Ghostbusters. The guards think he is one of their crazier patients. 

We quickly shift to Peter Venkman, looking very unlike Bill Murray, doing an interview for a cute brunette from an Mtv ripoff. 

Peter appears to lap up her attention, until Louis Tully's name is brought up. Later on it is explained that while the Ghostbusters have faded into obscurity, Louis Tully has used his 15 minutes of fame to attach his name to a host of business opportunities, such as the background poster here showing "Keymaster Cologne."

Note that we keep lots of the signature comedy stylings of the movie here with the interplay between the characters. I'd say that 88MPH hit that part on the nose. Like this brief exchange between Egon and Peter.

They channel the humor of Ramis and Murray in exactly the way the original movie did. Additionally the writers get that they need to create character moments before putting them into jeopardy, which is where we are headed after a bit more setup. First comes an appearance by Janine who is still after Egon.

And they play this spot on. Egon always seemed uninterested in the opposite sex (or in any sex at all, for that matter). Love that they understand the dynamics of the original movie. From there we move on to Peter taking out Dana for a double-date with Louis Tully and his arm candy, a model from Slovenia.

When the model exits because the conversation bores her, Peter gets a call – as in "who ya gonna…" – and makes a hasty exit. It also sets up an interesting subplot of a possible Dana / Louis relationship abudding.

Peter meets up with the boys for the job of the evening, which is stopping a ghost onboard a runaway subway train. The only issue appears to be getting on a moving subway train.

Egon's method is to leap from an open manhole cover, which sounds completely crazy to me, but for some reason works. Once the crew is on board they chase this fellow between cars hoping to trap him.

Neat scene there with the kid.

When the quadro reaches the final car, the ghost sort of gives up. They trap it but Ray mentions that his instruments read like the phantom went brain dead at the last moment. A fact that will some way tie into the final page back at the insane asylum where the fellow from page one has let himself out…and done something to the guards that left them on the floor. Seems like he is going after foursome next.

Okay, so it's fair to say I enjoyed the heck out of this book and wished the Crapbox had yielded up the entire four issues for me to peruse. Not often that I say that, but this one sunk its hooks in deep.

Sadly 88MPH ran into trouble making this an ongoing. Rights to the title were passed to IDW in 2008 and they did numerous one shots with different writers and artists. Eventually they decided to crossover with other titles in their lineup, leading to books I will now have to find for Strange Team-Ups. The lure of books like Ghostbusters/Mars Attacks, Ghostbusters/X-Files and Ghostbusters/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles couldn't keep me away. They should not exist, but somehow they do.

As for the new movie, I'm unenthused. Not because the 'busters are now female, either. Mainly because it is a completely unnecessary reboot. In fact the Ghostbusters II movie was also unnecessary, prompted only by studio greed. Remaking the property was a mistake and I don't like throwing money at studio mistakes. There are some things best left alone. Or left only for the comics to expand upon.

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