Bizarro Back Issues: So They Did A Comic Book Adaptation Of ‘Space Jam’ (1996)
On the off chance that you haven’t heard the single most important piece of news of our entire generation, there may or may not be a sequel to Space Jam in the works that would star LeBron James. The jury’s still out on whether this particular Shrödinger’s cat is dead or not, with the news being debunked by ESPN just as quickly as it was originally reported, but one thing is certain: We will always have the original Space Jam.
And, if you’re me, and you’ve spent your entire life gathering up as much weird and forgotten comic book ephemera as you can, you will also always have the 1996 comic book adaptation of Space Jam. Seriously, I can’t get rid of this thing, so since now is one of exactly two times in the past 18 years that there has been renewed interest in Space Jam, we might as well have a look back to see how it translated to the comic book page.
Before we go any further, can we stop for a minute and just take in the full scale of insanity that we have to be working with in order for Space Jam to actually exist? I mean, I know that this is pretty well-trod ground in the thriving nostalgia-blogging industry, but just stop for a second and think about what it means that Space Jam actually happened. A bunch of people got together and decided to make a movie about arguably the most famous person on the face of the Earth, and the plot they settled on — the plot that several people settled on — was that aliens invaded Earth in order to claim a bunch of famous cartoon characters as their actual slaves, and this could only be stopped by playing a game of basketball. So that is the movie that, again, several people agreed to make, and they did, and then that movie was actually released in theaters, and people paid actual money that they had gotten from working at actual jobs in order to see it. Additional people were paid to write songs about this situation, which then became huge hits.
THIS COST THEM 80 MILLION DOLLARS.
It is the single strangest film project that I have ever even heard of. Its existence defies logic in every way, in every step of the process except for one thing: Of course Bill Murray is in it. It’s not weird that he’s there, it would’ve been weird if he wasn’t.
Anyway. Space Jam hit theaters right when the era of the comic book adaptation was on the way out. Somewhere around the mid-90s, everyone realized that home video was a thing that existed now and so people didn’t really need to read comics if they wanted to experience the story again, and really, that’s kind of a shame. I mean, yes, the death of the adaptation meant a drastic reduction in the amount of off-model Harrisons Ford floating around out there, but I also have a lot of fond memories of that Rocketeer adaptation where Russ Heath drew nine panels of Jennifer Connolly putting on her stockings. It was very important to me.
Speaking of off-model celebrities, here’s the comic book version of Wayne Knight, dropping in on His Airness:
Written by David Cody Weiss with art by Leonardo Batic, Alberto Saichann and Horacio Otolini, the Space Jam adaptation obviously follows the plot of the film. Or, at least, I think it does. I mean, I haven’t seen it since 1996 and all I really remember is Bill Murray showing up and Michael Jordan shooting hoops as a kid in North Carolina, and neither of those things are in this comic. Instead, we open on an alien amusement park called Moron Mountain, which, unsurprisingly, is doing very poorly. The comic doesn’t really address why, but if I had to guess, I’d say that it’s probably down to all the rides being literally on fire at all times.
Instead of maybe putting all those fires out and seeing about installing a tilt-a-whirl, the aliens in charge decide that the best way to drum up busines would be to enslave the Looney Tunes, and that’s another thing I didn’t remember about Space Jam: They talk about this whole slavery plan a lot. And, I mean, the whole “aliens show up and enslave humanity” plot is pretty standard sci-fi, but they keep going back to it in the most explicit possible terms:
They’re working some rough chuckles in this one, seriously.
It’s worth mentioning again that the Looney Tunes are 100% real in this world. It’s like Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but with Michael Jordan instead of a down-on-his-luck alcoholic private detective, which somehow makes both more and less sense at the same time. So naturally, living in a world that includes all of our real-life, non-animated celebrities, they choose to challenge the aliens to a game of basketball, with the stakes being their continued freedom from slavery.
Obviously, this is a rational and logical plan. It’s well known that Earth dominates the rest of the galaxy at going hard in the paint. There’s just one problem: The aliens, while initially unfamiliar with basketball, they suddenly develop the magic ability to steal the sports prowess of Earth’s greatest ballers:
I don’t know if that amazing masturbating-in-public joke made it into the final cut of this movie for tiny children, but here it is in the comic.
Now, it’s tempting to feel pretty bad for the NBA All-Stars who get Rogued in this comic, but before you worry too much, keep in mind that the comic book version of Sir Charles Barkley (who once defended us against the menace of Godzilla) at least has his career as a Basketball detective to fall back on. Fortunately for the Looney Tunes, this was during Jordan’s brief retirement before he returned to the court, so he was spared.
Having transformed themselves into some super goofy ’90s designs, the aliens head to the court to face off against the — deep and heavy sigh — “Tune Squad,” led by Jordan and featuring Lola Bunny in her first appearance as an insufferably generic female analogue for Bugs, long before The Looney Tunes Show and Kristen Wiig would show up to make her the best character in the franchise.
One weird choice that the comic makes in having to cram everything into 48 pages is that they don’t really sell the idea of the — sigh — “Mon-Stars” having to cheat to win. It just turns out that the Looney Tunes are, perhaps not unexpectedly, really awful at the game of basketball. Until, that is, they decide to pull the ol’ “the magic was inside you all along” schtick by making everyone drink a bottle of Jordan’s (and I swear this is what it says in the comic) “stuff.” And that’s about when the whole thing turns to DeviantArt.
I don’t know how you were expecting your day to turn out, but I can assure you that I wasn’t prepared to see that in mine.
Needless to say, the Murray-less climax occurs and the Looney Tunes save the day/end the threat of slavery through basketball, and we’re all left with the knowledge that this is definitely something that happened — and if we are not constantly vigilant, something that may well happen again.