Conventions seem to be tiring for everyone, for both cosplayers, presenters, panelists, and immortal wizards alike! It is with this theme in mind that writer Fred Van Lente begins the second arc on BOOM! Studios’ excellent comic based on the John Carpenter cult sensation. Already proving his talent for mixing the mythological with the modern in unique and often hilarious ways in series such as “Incredible Hercules”, “Archer & Armstrong”, and “Ivar, Timewalker”, he’s very quickly harnessed that talent to make this book his own. It may be called “Big Trouble in Little China”, but that doesn’t mean that all of the adventures are set there. After Eric Powell and John Carpenter spent much of their year long run on the series essentially writing the film sequel that never was, Van Lente has broadened the range and radius to the adventures of Jack Burton and his friends. After spending the last few issues reliving the 80’s, “team Pork Chop Express” is setting their sights for the Macao for their latest madcap romp.
Thanks to the side effects of his last underworld duel with Lo Pan, Jack Burton has survived into the modern day at his peak of health and vitality. The world around him has changed, along with the lives of those he held dear. Gracie Law is now wealthy and his best friend Wang Chi is now balding and trying to manage both his restaurant and his spunky teenage daughter, Winona. Their other pal Eddie Lee has made off with Wang’s entire payroll in a desperate search for his missing wife, Margo. It turns out he’s headed to a sorcerer’s convention that’s held once every century in the autonomous Chinese city, “Source-Con”, which is where all of the world’s oldest and most powerful wizards (and those who love them) gather to sell their wares, gamble, and promote themselves. Expecting a wild goose chase, it turns out that Margo is indeed there – as the hopelessly possessed biographer to one of the world’s most notorious sorcerers, “Koschei the Deathless”. An infamous figure in Russian folklore, he’s given a completely new design while being recreated as a grandstanding creep. Literally making a habit of magically stealing the wives of others over the centuries, he’s flanked by two were-bears as bodyguards and doesn’t take guff from anyone. Jack and his friends quickly find themselves over their heads, which is exactly how Jack likes it!
A new arc brings with it a new artist, as Dan McDaid comes in to offer his pencils. Gonzalo Duarte remains as the series’ steadfast colorist. He has a much different style than the series’ previous two artists, relying less on illustrating near perfect versions of Kurt Russell and the cast from the film and more towards designing bizarre characters and flashy settings for the story. His Koschei is extremely memorable looking, and the were-bears he draws are appropriately massive. In terms of the script, Fred Van Lente once again is in his element with a franchise which lends itself to both the exploration of international folklore as well as focusing more on comedy than action. The “women in sorcery” panel is such a perfect satire of how similar panels tend to go in the comic book world (complete with tone deaf “industry panelists”) that one might mistake it for a scene at San Diego! The dialogue between characters is as crisp and fast paced as ever, as Van Lente actually seems to rely more on the characters from the films than the previous writers did (with the exception of Lo Pan). This allows the series to still feel like a part of the film which it is based on without having to endlessly revisit it and instead travel to new lands and face new adversaries. The foundation for this sort of globe trotting was set by Powell and Carpenter, but it is Van Lente who has run wild with it over these past five issues. Eagle eyed readers may catch a few cameos by McDaid of characters from the previous issues, and the last page may put Jack in a familiar position as well.
Every issue of “Big Trouble in Little China” has been a blast. It may seem on the surface to be an odd film to base an ongoing series around, but every arc seems to prove such suspicion wrong. Seeming to improve with every issue, this has quickly become one of those gems of the comic book industry where one can always rely on a good time and a solid read for their four bucks. Those looking for a mixture of both nostalgia and innovative ideas centered around one of the coolest films of the late 80’s may look no further than this title! Good ol’ Jack Burton will be waiting, along with what seems endless potential for hilarious and creative adventures!
Below is an honorable mention. It’s a fine comic as is, but it can’t measure up to the Pork Chop Express.
Invincible #124: A creator owned series can truly go anywhere the creator(s) desire, even if sometimes it can also fall victim into serving as a mouthpiece more than a narrative. Robert Kirkman’s seminal superhero series straddles that line as he uses this arc to make a statement about the industry’s extreme reliance on rebooting established franchises and “turning back the clock” on continuity and progression. Such a practice has long been over done (by both Marvel and DC Comics), and is ripe for mockery; it is a shame that the story toys with hypocrisy as it teases readers as to whether or not Invincible will actually follow suit itself. Things get a bit “meta” as Mark Grayson is forced to relive the first year’s worth of stories with full knowledge of his own back-story and eager to get back to his “real life”. All but begging the “powers that be” to end it with no avail, Mark instead settles on doing this “better” with a second go around, including his first fateful meeting with his father while Nolan was still committed to conquering Earth for the Viltrumite empire. The set up at least allows longtime artist Ryan Ottley to draw classic scenes which he’d never done before (as he didn’t become the regular artist on the series until issue eight or nine) as well as draw parallels to previous work and draw it better this time around. Despite the overall smug tone of the arc, this issue is better than the last. It puts Mark’s recent conflict with Robot in perspective as well as reunites him with some friends and villains who have long ago been either killed or rendered irrelevant. The lesson naturally is that one really can’t go “home again” without losing what was gained, and that narratives should be progressive rather than regressive. It will remain to be seen whether the story can overcome the tone of being a lecture against the current practices of Kirkman’s previous employers, but this issue at the last offers a very good start towards doing so. At the very least, it showcases how lazy and unimaginative reboots always are, and that avoiding them demands more imagination and creativity than many writers or their editors care to expend. Now if only Grayson can have another team up with Spider-Man and remind the wall-crawler of this, everyone may be set!