Buy This Book: The IDW ‘Ghostbusters’ Series Builds On A Perfect Foundation [Review]
Ghostbusters is basically perfect. It's one of those rare films where, with very few exceptions, there's not really any way that it could do what it does any better. As a result, it's easy to think that it could make for a great foundation to build on, especially when you consider that the characters talks about different classifications of ghosts, and the books that lay out all their stats are right there in the movie. There's clearly a rich world in place. Yet it's rare to see Ghostbusters expanded in a way that really works, maybe because the characters are tied so closely to the actors that play the roles, and the chemistry they bring to the film.
But that never stopped me believing that the potential is there, and since the first volume of IDW's Ghostbusters ongoing was on sale at Comixology this week (and I'd had great luck with IDW's TMNT book that I picked up on a similar whim), four bucks was exactly the right price for me to give it a shot. I'm glad I did -- it might not be as perfect as the movie, but it nails the voices of the characters and throws them headfirst into an adventure that's every bit as fun as you want it to be.
The biggest problem with what Erik Burnham, Dan Schoening, Luis Antonio Delgado and Tristan Jones are doing in this comic is figuring out just what you need to know going in. I can quote a solid 85% of the first movie by heart and have a working knowledge of the second one, but there were references to prior events in this volume that had me checking to make sure I hadn't missed anything. I know that IDW published a handful of miniseries before the ongoing launched, but when "VOLUME 1" is written in big letters on the cover of a comic, I generally expect that I can jump right in and not feel like I'm missing anything.
As it turns out, the continuity of the Ghostbusters comic doesn't include those action figures where you could squeeze the legs and make Egon look like he was freaking out -- the only part of the expanded Ghostbusters universe that I'm really familiar with -- but it does include the 2009 video game. It's an interesting choice, too. From what I can gather, the game sold well, to the tune of over a million copies, which would dwarf even the best-selling comic on the stands, but more importantly, it's the only other piece of the franchise that involves the original actors, and even had some punch-up work done on the script by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. Burnham even tosses a reference to the player character in there just to make it clear:
Even though I haven't played it, that's an approach that I can get behind in terms of picking out what to base the story on. In fact, I'm willing to suggest that more comics take a Bill Murray-based approach to continuity.
The comic also lifts the status quo from the video game: The Ghostbusters are under contract to the city and charged with dealing with all the haints and spookums that show up, including the occasional return of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man that was driven by the video game's dedication to fanservice; and the man in charge of overseeing them is Walter Peck, formerly of the EPA. That's the foundation that Burnham and Schoening build on, and the plot of their first arc uses that foundation to address one of the best questions to result from all that fanservice: If Gozer is as powerful as it seems in Ghostbusters, then how come it's always showing up as a gigantic but easily toasted marshmallow?
The answer, of course, is that Gozer can't be anything else. When it appears at the climax of Ghostbusters and Ray chooses the form of the world's destruction, it's pretty much locked into that form until such time as it tears the world asunder. Since they keep stopping it, it keeps being a marshmallow.
It's an interesting bit of justification for doing exactly what the readers demand to see -- if you're going to do something with the Ghostbusters, Slimer and the Marshmallow Man are about as necessary as having the Batmobile and a utility belt show up in a Batman comic. It's a choice that also serves to flesh out one of the characters. One of the most compelling parts of the first issue is a scene where it's pointed out that there's a reason Ray was the one who got to choose, which goes beyond the real-life justification that Aykroyd's hapless, doofy scientist is the funniest choice.
It's an interesting way to get hit the point that you have to hit before moving on, and it does it in a way that's compelling enough to do exactly what a first volume needs to do: It makes me want to find out why Ray's so special. Personally, I'm guessing that it has something to do with the fact that he's the only Ghostbuster to have on-screen mouth relations with a ghost, but keep in mind that I've only read the first four issues.
There's a nice bit of development for the other characters -- including some welcome character work for Winston, who was always the most unfortunately overlooked of the cast -- but the real treat is seeing the interaction between Janine and Peck, who just hate each other.
It's an extension of Peck's feud with Venkman that makes perfect sense and also does something new rather than just sticking to what we've already seen, and in a book like this, that's something that I appreciate.
Unfortunately, referring to the series as 'Ongoing' is a bit of a misnomer, as it just ended with #20. Still, it's more than worth checking out -- Schoening's cartoony, exaggerated designs fit the tone of the book perfectly, and the choppiness of the plot is more than made up for by Burnham's knack for making the characters feel true to their origin and still seem exciting in new stories.