Wednesday, 21 November 2012

REVIEW: IDW Ghostbusters Omnibus 1

If there’s one thing I adore – apart from Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Star Trek – then it’s Ghostbusters. So it’s high time I caught up with IDW’s new comic series (actually, if IDW got the rights to Dwarf, they’d be publishing comics based on my four favourite fictional worlds.) I recently treated myself to the first IDW Ghostbusters omnibus, the first Real Ghostbusters omnibus and the first volume of the ongoing IDW strips. The Real Ghostbusters Omnibus contains reprints of the old NOW Comics released in the US. I grew up with Marvel-UK’s RBG comic, but still recognise a few of these; the two publications sometimes reprinted each other’s strips. The RGB Omnibus is great fun, but it’s a nostalgia exercise. I’m going to focus my attention on the new Ghostbusters stories.

First up is the Ghostbusters Omnibus, which collects IDW’s miniseries and one-shots in their popular omnibus format. A third of the book is taken up by the ambitious opening story, The Other Side, a dimension-hopping adventure by the wonderfully named Keith Champagne. The Ghostbuster find themselves right in the middle of a ghostly mob war, an altercation that leaves them in serious trouble. Perhaps this script could be pitched as the third Ghosbusters movie – it might finally win Bill Murray over. Murray’s already said that he’d be interested in returning if Peter Venkman could be a ghost, and in this series, that’s just what happens, when one of the phantom mobsters possesses his body, kicking Dr V. out and into the great beyond. The others aren’t long behind, finding themselves on the receiving end of a hail of bullets, but I’m sure Murray wouldn’t mind that – the unusual circumstances of Venkman’s disembodiment leave his spirit superpowered!

The story takes an odd direction, with mobster Fred leading his own story in the living world, while the ‘Busters are left to wander the plains of Purgatory. Fighting off the spirits of vengeful old ladies and conjoined twins, not to mention some elaborately designed demons, they uncover an illicit trade in human souls – run by the Big Bosses of the phantom Mob, including none other than the ghost of Al Capone. What’s strange, for Ghostbusters, is that the nature of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory take a distinctly Christian slant, with genuine, winged angels appearing at one point. It’s rare for the ‘Busters to encounter anything from this background – it’s usually extinct religions and fictional cults.

It’s a strong, exciting adventure with plenty of time for each of the four ‘Busters to have their moment in the spotlight. Tom Nguyan’s artwork takes a little getting used to, purely for the character’s dissimilarity to their actor counterparts, but once you’re over this, the whole style of the piece works well. Moose Baumann’s colouring is absolutely gorgeous, and lifts the artwork even further. A minus point is the unoriginality of the Mob concept; the old NOW comics featured a similar storyline, and Al Capone’s ghost even appeared in the RGB cartoon! Nonetheless, The Other Side is a great start to IDW’s Ghostbusters comic run.

Displaced Aggression is the second four-part storyline in the omnibus, and is a more episodic affair. Separating the four ‘Busters and stranding them at separate points in time, it features a whole host of nasties for them to battle before the final showdown. Scott Lobdell’s story throws us right into the action, opening with Venkman battling rotting phantom bandits in the Old West, before facing up against a hideously deformed demonic cow (!) Ilias Kyriazis provides artwork that is more cartoony in style than Nguyan’s, and this fits the fun, action-packed style of the story. His creature designs are great, especially the aforementioned demon cow, and extend to spectral dragons that breathe ectoplasmic flames and soft-bodied alien spirits that swarm over Mars.

While Pete battles frontier phantoms, Ray has allied himself to King Arthur in Camelot, while Egon has lost his mind and rules a Martian colony in the future. Thanks to Rachel, a Ghostbuster from the future, and her trusty time-travelling car, Ecto-10, Pete is able to track down his comrades though time. Finally, they all reach Winston, who remains in a contemporary New York, albeit one that has been terrifyingly transformed. Hell on Earth is another concept that has been bandied about for a third film, and these comics make a good testing ground for such ideas. This is a strong, enjoyable story, the only weak section being the third instalment, which relies on some hugely out-of-character behaviour from Egon with a flimsy explanation. However, the final battle for NYC is storming fun. One thing I really like about this story is that it allows Venkman to be a scientist and a hero rather than just a wise-cracking ass, something he is often reduced to in such tie-ins. Pete Venkman rules in this series, and that’s the way it should be.

The remainder of the omnibus is taken up by a series of one-shots, collectively known as ‘Haunted Holidays,’ each of which takes a twisted look at some kind of festival or festivity. ‘Tainted Love’ is the Valentine’s tale, and is a strong Winston story by Dara Naraghi. It’s not too luvvy-duvvy, but it’s not too funny either, which is a shame after the witty scripts of the two miniseries. ‘Con-Volution’ is a slight story that feels very in keeping with the RGB series, focussing of Ray’s obsession with collecting comic books. Keith Dallas and Jim Beard provide a decent script and Johs Howard’s cartoony art fits the mood perfectly.

There has to be a Hallowe’en story, of course, and ‘What in Samhain just happened?’ doesn’t disappoint. None other than Peter and Kathleen David script this one, with gorgeous, fun, stylised artwork from ‘Dapper’ DanShoening. It’s chock full of fun little references to the animated series, but holds its own as a solid story. Given their familiarity with RGB, though, you’d have thought that the Davids would have refrained from calling the starring ghost Sam Hain; immediately, he’ll be compared to the pumpkin-headed supervillain Samhain from the cartoon show. Still, this is great stuff, and it’s always fun to see Janine pick up a pack and go busting. Dapper Dan returns for the following story, James Eatock’s ‘Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?’ However, this flimsy story is a real weak link in the run, a one-joke short that is fun enough but instantly forgettable.

Again, the comics follow the example of the animated series by basing their Christmas story around Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. RGB did this back in its first series with ‘Xmas Marks the Spot,’ and it’s a fondly remembered episode. Thankfully, Rob Williams’s ‘Past, Present and Future’ uses the Ghosts of Christmas in a wholly different way, and has a clever twist to it. It also puts the four ‘Busters under the microscope, and manages to be a bit deeper than the other one-shots in the holiday run. Add to that Diego Jourdan’s stunning artwork, and you’ve got a real winner to finish off the omnibus.

All that’s missing from this collection is IDW’s Infestation! crossover event, which by its nature wouldn’t fit too well in a purely Ghostbusters volume. Altogether, this run of stories is funny, fast-paced and full of phantasmic features, and it’s easy to see why the publishers decided to forge ahead with their ongoing series – which is what I shall review next.

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