By: John Carpenter & Eric Powell (Story), Eric Powell (Writer), Brian Churilla (Artist), Michael Garland (Color Artist), Ed Dukeshire (Letterer)
妖魔大鬧小神州, of course
“Don’t judge a book by it’s cover,” they say. In this case, however, you should absolutely judge this book by its cover. Or, at least, it’s basic, non-alternate cover, which is clearly evocative to the original Big Trouble in Little China and how it exemplifies cult action-adventure films from the 80s. From the title’s font/logo, to characters’ arrangement, to the lighting and texture and caricature, it’s a pleasingly retro homage.
Inside, the caricature continues, with the figures looking cartoony enough for a MAD Magazine story, yet without degenerating into demeaning exaggeration or stereotypes. Or at least, not relying on them. It’s an interesting choice– it helps keep the humorous tone, establishes close ties to the original movie, and, yes, even dates itself a little bit. Speaking of which, I wonder that is also supposed to be the effect of the same-ness of all the dialogue bubbles. They seem to all be the same shape/dimensions regardless of size or position, which again makes things seem more like a MAD Magazine strip but also a bit stale and undynamic.
As the cover suggests, this is a sequel to the movie, and in fact, it picks up merely seconds after the film ends. A hell-beast has followed Jack Burton home (or at least, to his big rig) but not for the reasons you’d expect, which brings him back to Little China/San Francisco where supernatural gangs continue to plague the lives of his friends. It all makes the story feel very “real” as a genuine part of Jack Burton’s story (even if it’s been many years since I’ve seen the movie) but it somewhat relies on the film to have done all the heavy lifting for its characters and their inter-relationships. A little exposition would have been nice, especially if this is to capture a feeling of “new” just as much as it’s trying to be the next chapter of “before.”
The only bit of new character/world building comes from Jack Burton’s 3-page recount of his second marriage, complete with a comicbook-style flashback that takes advantage of artistic montage. In just this brief moment, we get see/read about Mexican bikers, bat-faced luchadores, giant Día de Los Muetros heads, and Babylonian demi-gods in Nebraska. Now THAT sounds fun and offers genuinely new weirdness, but it’s too brief and quite tangential to any other plot development.
The original Big Trouble in Little China worked because of “everyman” Jack Burton’s increasing awareness of the “everyday” supernatural horrors around him. For the sequel to capture that feeling, the comic can’t rely merely on giving us what has now become clichéd tropes. We seem to be getting a world where the natural and the supernatural are intertwined, which can still lead to humor (witness the demon’s incongruous T-shirt slogan), but let’s hope that we can see more innovative world-building in a direct, impactful way along the lines of Jack’s flashback.
Similarly, I hope to see more innovative character design. Jack is quintessentially Jack, of course, and the Chinese wedding is depicted competently. However, the demon is limited by his design from the movies, and 80s-style creature prosthetics don’t translate into expressive comicbook characters. The villain Qiang Wu has an interesting headpiece with a third eye, but remains otherwise pretty generic. Not to mention, he literally appears from nowhere– suddenly in one panel he’s a part of the scene with no prior establishment. It’s not like establishment isn’t a problem elsewhere– did we really need two different landscapes of Chinatown in two consecutive panels on page 7?
There is overall a lot of humor and heart in these pages. Although the humor works “blue” a little too much, it does feel natural to the character of Jack Burton. And the creators seem genuinely interested in the character and his interactions with other people and creatures in this world, which, let’s face it, always deserved a sequel anyway.
The Bottom Line:
If you are looking for a spin-off comicbook to be a seamless continuation of the movie it’s spinning off from, this is a near perfect example. The danger comes from perfectly matching a movie that came out 30 years ago, as audience tastes and expectations have developed. It’s fun enough, and quirky by its nature, which makes it satisfactory… but not necessarily satisfying.
The Grade: B-
Two Other Tidbits:
— The script for the film is famous for its last-minute rewrite, as the original was set as a Western but was considered unworkable. If Jack gets sent back in time in the comicbook series to the 1880s, that would be amazing.
— The credits page is interesting for two reasons. First, they don’t use simplified Chinese writing, the second, more funnily, is that the “flavors” of alternate covers are categorized as “beef,” “chicken, and “pork.”