Ghostbusters is an iconic film that has given birth to a loving and passionate fandom. When you love the Ghostbusters, you love the Ghostbusters. I understand this because I LOVE THE GHOSTBUSTERS. With that in mind, the idea of an ongoing monthly Ghostbusters comic may seem tricky as you’d be stepping on sacred ground in the attempt to give fans something new. However, under the stewardship of author Erik Burnham and artist Dan Schoening, IDW has consistently captured lightning in a bottle since Ghostbusters debuted in 2011. Their most recent run, Ghostbusters International, turns the Ghostbusters loose to address feelings of dread in basements and attics alllllll over the globe.
What most impresses me with Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening’s Ghostbusters (in all its incarnations) is how flawlessly it feels like it fits into the world of the Ghostbusters. I’ve seen the original movie so many times I can probably do all the lines in the film with the sound off. My brother and I can (and do!) carry on whole conversations using nothing but Ghostbusters quotes. David and I also grew up watching the cartoons and had a bunch of the toys. What Erik Burnham and Dan Schoening have created with IDW’s Ghostbusters International (and all the comics that came before this series) feels like it’s as much a part of that world as anything I’ve seen in the films. They’ve also expand the mythology and the world of the Ghostbusters in a way worthy of the original film. It fits the tone while never being a boring retread. That’s no small feat!
When I read Erik Burnham’s words I can actually hear Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson’s voices. This isn’t something I try consciously to do as I read. Rather, the characters just feel so much like the film I hear their voices as I read the dialogue balloons. Dan Schoening’s art is a perfect fit for the series as well, creating visions of Egon, Winston, Ray, and Peter who absolutely feel authentic…while not looking like awkward or forced caricatures. I love what he does with the panels and layout too, and how the action flows. Ghostbusters International also utilizes his artistic talents in a special way, calling on him to create some gorgeous scenery! I love that international flare. While I might not be able to travel internationally right now, at least I can hit the landmarks vicariously with the Ghostbusters! Plus, it’s so much fun to see characters you know in an unusual setting (that isn’t another dimension or space or something).
It’s not just the Ghostbusters that feel so authentic either. The whole cast around them is every bit as interesting as the guys in grey. One of the most amazing things about the Ghostbusters’ expanded cast is that they are every bit as exciting as the original Ghostbusters. Never in all the comics (and I’ve read EVERY issue) have I ever thought, “Aw nuts…I want more Peter!” Rather, I often find myself thinking, “I wish Mel and Kylie were in this issue more!!”
Ghostbusters International strikes a fun balance with the old and new cast as Peter, Winston, and Ray are working abroad, leaving a recuperating Egon at home with Kylie Griffin (the assistant at Ray’s Occult Bookstore) and Melanie Ortiz (FBI liaison to the Ghostbusters) to handle the calls Janine is sending them on. Jenny Moran (one time Ghostbuster, Paranormal Contracts Oversight Commission liaison to the Ghostbusters, and budding love interest for Ray (I know, right?!?!?!?) is also onboard to help Janine with the paperwork and the incoming calls. And the ghosts they face?? You can rest assured it gets CRAZY, both visually and narratively.
One of my absolute favorite things about Erik Burnham’s writing is that, far from just inventing things for the story, he often draws from our existing mystic/spiritual/legendary/folkloric worlds. For me, this adds a real and exciting dimension to the book. Our collective spiritual history is so rich, why not utilize that for a comic like this?!? A perfect example can be found in the most recent issue, Ghostbusters International #6, as Egon, Mel, and Kylie discuss a haunting they are investigating in Puerto Rico:
Kylie – “I don’t get the woman-in-white angle, though. She sounds kinda like La Llorona, but I thought she was Mexican.”
Mel – “She is. Totally.”
Egon – “Well, maybe not ‘totally.’ ”
Mel – “Excuse me?”
Egon – “Well, La Llorona is just one interpretation of a very old kind of spirit…a weeping woman in white also haunts Eastern Europe…Slovakia, the Czech Republic, even so far west as Germany. The Banshee is a sign of coming misfortune, as La Llorona often is. And there were even enough similarities in the Greek legend of the Lamia to draw some comparison, physical differences aside. These kinds of stories do always contain a little truth, and truth is usually filtered through the people telling it.”
Mel – “You’re not suggesting La Llorona is just some kind of cultural appropriate I hope.”
Egon – “Not at all. As I said, the world has many stories to explain this type of manifestation, just as they do the Bogeyman.”
Aaaaahhh!!! How cool is that?!? Erik Burnham knows his stuff!!! For a lifelong Ghostbusters fan and someone with degrees in Religious Studies and History these stories regularly leave me geeking out in at least a half dozen different ways.
The basic setup for the series is as follows. After handling a ghost at the UN building in New York, a Scandinavian tech billionaire – Erland Vinter – offers to buy Ghostbusters Inc. to clear hauntings out of valuable property the world over so it can be sold and developed. The Ghostbusters (of course) refuse. Ghostbusters Inc. isn’t for sale. But Walter Peck (brilliantly worked into the series as the head of the PCOC who helps coordinate the Ghostbusters efforts in New York) sees the potential for profit. He agrees to loan the Ghostbusters out to work internationally, as long as they can keep New York at the top of their worksheet, being gone no more than two weeks a month. Vinter agrees and the guys are off!
The first arc sees Peter, Ray, and Winston head to the island of Poveglia – by way of Venice – in Italy. The second arc sends them to Paris where they bust ghosts at the Arc de Triomphe and deal with the Louvre…bleeding slime. How cool does that sound?? I can assure you, it gets even better because they have to battle ghosts that are animating the famous works of art in the Lourve. Egon, Kylie, and Mel are left dealing with the ghosts in New York City as well as a particularly nasty haunting in Puerto Rico. The end of the most recent issue promises they are heading to Ireland next. Woo hoo!! I can’t wait to see what Celtic goodies Erik Burnham has in store for us!
I love the banter between the guys in the series. It’s true to the films and, again and again in the comic, we see this perfect example of one of the things that make the Ghostbusters great. They don’t act like superheroes. There’s none of the melodramatics you get with superheroes, drenched in emotional baggage with the fate of the universe and everyone they know on their shoulders every second. Even when things get intense, they’re joking around. The Ghostbusters always seem like average guys…albeit with a big and important job. I like that! It gives the book a lightness while still having major challenges/costs. It also stays true to one of the most important facets of the Ghostbusters’ character.
Another vital part of the Ghostbusters, at least for me, and one of my favorite things about this series is how it always stresses that the world is FILLED with spiritual activity and most of it is benign. The Ghostbusters naturally have no problem with those spirits. But the ones who are being dangerous or rowdy they take care of. So, while there are scary ghosts, the series honors the fact that we live in a spiritual world and most of the spiritual forces around us aren’t dangerous. That’s beautiful! And, for the ones that are dangerous, the Ghostbusters handle them..by containing them! They don’t hurt the ghosts or destroy them. Their proton packs aren’t designed to blast the ghosts apart or cause them pain. Rather the streams hold the ghosts in place until the trap can be opened. The trap then holds the ghost until it can be put in their Ecto Containment Unit. Do you realize what this means? The Ghostbusters are NONVIOLENT superheroes!!! They will always have my admiration, more than any other comic book superhero team, for that. As if I needed another reason to love them.
On the things-I-love note, the most recent issue has one absolutely perfect line of dialogue that is brilliantly crafted and full of postmodernly aware, cheeky humor aimed at all the ridiculousness that’s surrounded the all-female cast of the new Ghostbusters movie. Talking to a college student injured by the ghost they’re investigating Mel says,
Hahaha – how great is that?? I loved that line! I say again, well done Mr. Burnham.
There’s so many little things that I love about Ghostbusters International too. For example, each issue ends with one of Mel’s reports, giving you a BONUS ghostbusting story! It’s a one page narrative, written in the form of an FBI report with a picture or two to go along with it. Also, it’s worth noting (and I never have in all I’ve written about IDW’s comics) how gorgeous the physical comic books always are. In an age when your average comic book runs $3.99 an issue, IDW always give you thick, heavy duty paper with rich, glossy pictures. Their comic books always feel like they’re worth their $3.99. And the stories back that up too!
In addition to all the fun and the humor, there’s a great mystery building through the series too. Ray’s bizarre PKE readings in Poveglia match Egon’s readings at the UN and those readings all match ones Egon took years ago in Switzerland. As readers, we don’t know exactly what’s coming…but we know it’s going to be TROUBLE. Then there’s the mystery of Erland Vinter himself. From reading we know all is not what it seems with this character…but we know nothing more yet. I love the sense of an unraveling mystery in this series. I find myself going back and rereading issues as I try to figure out what’s going on. Now, I know I’ll never be able to predict where Erik Burnham is taking this story BUT it’s such a captivating story I have to try! I just can’t stop thinking about it after I read each new issue. The story’s so fun you can’t help but get sucked up in it.
Oh…just so you know…the next issue promises “answers for Egon” so we’re going to finally learn something about (at least part of) the big mystery that’s been building. That means THIS IS THE PERFECT TIME TO JUMP INTO THIS SERIES. Seriously, go buy issue #6 now and then worry about the back issues as you have the time. As a lifelong fan of the Ghostbusters, I want to share my excitement with you. Ooooor, if you’re more of a trade paperback kind of person, the first volume just came out. So you can read that and be all caught up. Then we can geek/nerd out together about all this ghostbusting goodness!
With the new cinematic incarnation of Ghostbusters set to hit theatres at the end of the week, I clearly have the Ghostbusters on my mind. Just watching the films again and again hasn’t been enough. As my excitement’s mounted, I’ve been rereading a lot of IDW’s comics too – especially Ghostbusters International. Writing this has actually helped mellow my ever-burning anticipation a bit too! Hmm…perhaps there will be a few more posts on ghosts and ghostbusting to come this week as I try and manage my excitement.