Growing up, I had a VHS tape that had Ghostbusters and Little Shop of Horrors on it that I played ad nauseam; truly, it was my first movie love affair, which I believe, set the stage for my current taste in sci-fi/horror/all things pop-culture. In short – I LOVE the Ghostbusters and jumped at the chance to review IDW’s Ghostbusters Omnibus Volume 1 as though Ray Stanz himself had just shouted, “Get her!”
That said – I’m a “bad news first” guy, so let’s start with a bit of vitriol:
The first few stories contained within the omnibus are both frustrating and forgettable. Unlike the film which is genuinely funny, scary at times, and chalk full of quotable lines, these tales are neutered versions, which play more like the cartoon than the original film (not that I entirely dislike The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, but nothing compares to the magic of the first film). To make things worse, I feel like the writers don’t know what to do with this quirky cast. It’s like they’ve only gleaned vague characterization notes via their Wikipedia page, so to compensate they’ve thrown every stereotypical comic book money grab idea they’ve ever heard of: Character deaths? Check. Costume changes? Check. Weapons “upgrades?” Yep. We even get a time travel story. It’s a wonder my downloadable PDF file didn’t come with a foil cover to complete the package.
How bad is it? In the first story, “The Other Side,” the Ghostbusters find themselves battling mobster poltergeists. Yep, that’s right – after defeating Gozer, Vigo, and various other mischievous spirits, the Ghostbusters are relegated to cracking down on stereotypical gangster phantoms. Put simply, there’s nothing unique about our group of antagonists, and when the story goes for cliffhangers (SPOILER ALERT – All of the Ghostbusters get SHOT and KILLED, save Peter who joins them in Purgatory as he’s been possessed and kicked out of his own body), there’s also no real urgency as it’s obvious they’re temporary circumstances and cheap plot devices. I’ll save you the agony of reading the story – thanks to a little dues ex machina – heavenly forces magic them all back normal, allowing them to trap the mobster ghosts. The trademark Ghostbusters wit is also missing in action here – at one point Winston makes a “not” joke. The rest of the humor isn’t horrible, but it feels cheesy, like the characters are parodying themselves. Tom Nguyen draws Egon as though he’s never seen the character before; Egon seems to have a penchant for anime style, spiky hairdos here. Backgrounds are virtually non-existent in most panels, and the color palette is bland (which is not typical of Moose Baumann’s usually vibrant colors), especially in the long stretch of the story that takes place in Purgatory (I know, I know – it’s Purgatory – it’s gonna be gray. But the minimalist art – Read: people and mountainsides – and the bland colors don’t give you much in the eye candy department).
The second story, “Displaced Aggression,” finds our heroes displaced in time – complete with at least one Back to the Future reference. If you read DC Comics’ The Return of Bruce Wayne, what you’ll find here is similar in that each Ghostbuster is tossed into a different era (old west, medieval times, the future). While you could probably get a neat set of action figures out of this story also, the tale itself falls flat. While the focus is around getting the proverbial band back together through the ages, it also contains sometimes bizarre characterizations. When the crew finally meets up with Egon, for instance, he’s doing his best Sinestro via “The Great and Powerful Oz,” demanding total submission to him to keeping peace against supernatural baddies. This, of course, also gets explained away by story’s end, much like the Ghostbusters’ deaths in the previous story. And that’s why it’s so frustrating – there’s no meaning for anything that happens – by story’s end, everything gets explained away and all our GB heroes get put gently back in the box no different than they were at the start.
The good news is that the latter half of the omnibus is actually quite fun. “Con-Volution” takes our Ghostbusters to a comic book convention with Ray playing the ever-excited fanboy, resurrecting a Jack Kirby-esque comic creator to aid them in defeating the demon of the day. There’s also a pretty funny gag that will resonate with anyone who’s ever tried to create a screen accurate Ghostbusters costume.
The remainder of the collection, the strongest of the bunch, is holiday-centric. Hands down the highlight of the entire collection is Peter David’s Halloween story, “What in Samhain Just Happened?” Contained within here is the comedic wit and timing that I’d longed for when I opened the book, including a particularly funny bit harkening back to the opening scenes in Ghostbusters II as to why they don’t do kids’ parties. The characterizations are also gleefully intact with various fast-talking, Venkman-isms and Egon’s deadpan delivery and social awkwardness coming through most notably in a scene where he plays receptionist in Janine’s stead. This is a nice change too as Janine Melnitz gets to share the spotlight in this story as she is the first to go toe-to-toe with the ghost of Sam Hain. Peter David’s really a master of his craft (And if you need more proof read his book Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels), and where I was frustrated with the previous stories having Egon spout off lengthy bits of exposition, here he gets one line in at the story’s climax before Janine scolds, “Less exposition, more pulling!” as they yank her back through a spiritual gateway. I appreciate when writers throw bits in like that, where they’ve accurately anticipated their audiences’ feelings on plot points. The Thanksgiving short, “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?” has a quirky, if absurd, charm where a box of supernatural stuffing has caused the poultry to become possessed. The final installment, “Past, Present, and Future,” a Christmas story in the vein of A Christmas Carol conjured up Bill Murray’s movie Scrooged – only this time with his Ghostbuster pals at his side as Venkman finds himself immersed in the Scrooge role by story’s end.
As for the rest of the art in this set – I’ll say this. I frequently cite Ghostbusters as a near perfect film for reasons beyond the incredible script. The movie plays with so many impossible ideas (demonic terror dogs in the refrigerator, a giant marshmallow man, weaponized, unlicensed nuclear particle accelerators used to combat the supernatural), and, yet, it was never difficult to suspend our disbelief. It felt plausible – like they could actually exist in New York. This is probably thanks in no small part to Laszlo Kovacs, Ghostbusters’ director of photography, whose street-level style maintained the grittiness of New York. That said, there’s one thing I can’t seem to wrap my head around. How have we not been able to create a Ghostbusters comic with that same feel? I think one of the reasons they haven’t felt that way is that, for the most part, they’re drawn in a very cartoonish style, utilizing bold, bright colors – the complete opposite of what the film utilized. The art work from Josh Howard and Dan Schoening (“Con-Volution” and the Halloween/Thanksgiving stories, respectively) is never bad – but it doesn’t capture that fine line of big city supernatural/comedy feel that the film does so eloquently. Diego Jourdan’s art aims for a bit more realism on “Past, Present, and Future,” which I appreciate, but it still feels like something’s amiss.
At the end of the day, it comes down to one question, though – should you pay for the collection or pass?
Though, I love the latter half of the omnibus, the first chunk is simply joyless. For that reason, I simply can’t recommend spending $24.99 on the set. If I’m honest, you’d be better off hunting down the seasonal tales from your local comic shop. However, after reading this collection, I’m even more curious to get my hands on the current on-going series in hopes that some creative team can capture that lightning in a bottle of the first film.