Comedy comic books have often gotten a bad rap ever since the 1990’s, when the era of “extremism” seems to pollute the landscape. Thankfully, the comic book market has become saner since the start of the 21st century and especially within the last decade, when BOOM! Studios first began. Offering a mix of licensed properties and creator owned projects, it was the publisher that film director John Carpenter ultimately blessed with his efforts to expand upon the cult 1986 film, “Big Trouble in Little China” alongside co-writer Eric Powell, and artist Brian Churilla. The series has been providing laughs for every one of its’ ten issues, and this is one of those weeks where despite the best efforts from no end of competitors, the “Pork Chop Express” rides over them once again.
Part of the charm of this series is that it not only answers the desires of many of the film’s fans for a sequel, but that as a comic book, it can go places that few movie budgets would allow. And that is where the series’ lead hero Jack Burton finds himself, after having sacrificed his life to see the end of the dreaded Lo-Pan (for the time being) and found himself in “the inescapable hell” (from which Lo-Pan escaped fairly easily in the previous issue). Instead of being tortured by the demons there, Jack has taught them how to play strip poker, and winds up getting the best of them. It turns out that the demons of the underworld may look weird, but have the same varying temperaments as various truckers and bar flies of the mortal one. In no time at all and with a fresh wardrobe, Jack Burton once again matches wits (and swords) with Lo-Pan in the literal “last bar of hell”. Unfortunately, the real inescapable hell for both of them proves to be ducking out of paying a bar’s tab for damages! Meanwhile, Wang and Egg Shen work desperately to resurrect their friend before his body stinks up the feline Tai’s dwelling in Chinatown!
Although every issue of this series has been funny to varying degrees, this issue may be one of the funniest of the run. Virtually every panel of every page is filled with gags, from memorable exchanges and quotable one-liners to plenty of visual humor from Churilla (such as giant eyes serving as the table and seats for a poker game in hell). Coloring for the issue is done by Gonzalo Duarte, and he does a fabulous job capturing an underworld which is more a realm of fantasy than horror (even if there are still no end of monsters there). While Jack Burton remains nearly useless in a fight (relying on dumb luck at best), he proves able to charm and con even seasoned demons with much more ease. The exchanges between Jack and the demons, as well as Jack and Lo-Pan, are full of the same wit and fast timing that the film had all those years ago.
Perhaps the best way to describe this series is to compare it to another legendary comedy publication, “MAD magazine”. It is akin to the best MAD magazine film parody in terms of the sheer number of one-liners and comedic dialogue exchanges in terms of sheer manic comedy and creative visual elements, only without being limited to aping a particular film and able to form its’ own narrative and continuity. Churilla is able to illustrate all of the actors from the film without being bogged down in too much “realistic” detail that elements like demons or the underworld become out of place – a skill only the best MAD illustrators such as Mort Drucker had. So, listen to ol’ Jack Burton if you want a great laugh for your four dollars, and start reading this great licensed comic.
Below are honorable mentions. They’re plenty special, but not quite up to speed with the “Pork Chop Express” above.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #45: Hopefully all of the people who gave this series some long overdue attention last month, when it seemed that one of the Turtles had become soup are still around to continue with the story now. Mateus Santolouco returns to regular art duties on this series, although Charles Paul Wilson III (IDW’s “Wraith” and ComixTribe’s “The Red Ten” ) handles six pages of metaphysical sequences; all of their art is colored by the every reliable Ronda Pattison. As always, the regular writing team of Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Bobby Curnow construct a script which offers a progressive story which builds upon the actions and reactions of previous issues and builds towards even better developments for future ones. Seemingly killed, it turns out that Donatello has merely been mortally wounded, but finds himself at a spiritual crossroads where he can chose the path of light (and oblivion) with his mother, or the path of darkness (and knowledge) with Splinter. The rest of his brothers and most of their allies are devastated by Donatello’s fate, and there are doubts that Fugitoid and Harold Lillja’s attempts to save him will work. Meanwhile, Karai takes over what is left of the Foot Clan, Baxtor Stockman proves to be a shrewd and cunning negotiator even when dealing with the Shredder, and Casey Jones is defending the streets with a far more vicious energy than ever before. As always, it offers the right mixture of character development, pulse pounding action, and at least one or two twists to keep one guessing until the end. It truly is one of the best things IDW publishes, and one hopes the drama of the previous arc gives it even more of a boost as a fiftieth issue looms around the corner.
Invincible #119: Robert Kirkman’s seminal superhero heroes for Image Comics continues along it’s new strange yet fascinating course. Mark, Eve, and their daughter have officially fled earth after it’s been conquered by their former ally Robot and have taken up residence on the planet their friend Allen runs. They still have to deal with many things typical of young parents; a sudden illness for their parent sends them on a harrowing trip to the E.R., and they have to get used to Mark’s step-brother’s weird girlfriend. Things simply become more bizarre and creative when all of these things take place in space! Many comics are good at handling the epic nature of space, but Kirkman and artist Ryan Ottley are scoring many points for capturing more mundane and thus realistic angles of it as well. This new set up, naturally, gives Ottley (and colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu) a chance to shine and showcase their flair for designs. There also is a serious discussion about rape and some subplots for more action coming up, but these “domestic alien scenes” have proven to be quite enjoyable. The “big two” should take note that sometimes some comics do get better when they follow through on logical conclusions.
Daredevil #15: Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and colorist Matthew Wilson continue on their slow yet steady march towards the end of this historic run on Marvel’s “man without fear”. And as this issue showcases, sometimes abandoning all fear can have its’ downsides. The now mask-free and gleefully public lawyer vigilante Daredevil has all of his remaining secrets exposed by the crazed vigilante the Shroud, who sees San Francisco as his territory and will do anything to keep it – even rig the Owl as a living Internet feed! Not only is Murdock forced to hide Foggy and Kirsten for their own safety as well as work alongside the Owl’s morally ambiguous daughter, but end up making a deal with another type of devil. As always, the artwork and dialogue are incredible. While Waid is at the top of his craft with this title, one also gets the feeling if he is intentionally writing the character into some corners knowing that a universal reset button is soon to be hit this year with “Secret War” in much the same way many Spider-Man stories were written in 2006-2007 before “One More Day”. And while the final page makes for a heck of a cliffhanger, having the one villain who everyone expects to show up in Daredevil eventually turn up is itself not a surprise. Regardless, this is another solid issue of an already legendary run, and the next one can’t come soon enough!
Silver Surfer #11: Either due to an editorial whim or the inevitable cancellation of this low selling title, this issue is “oversized” at 31 pages. This allows Dan Slott and the art and storytelling team of Mike and Laura Allred to wrap up their subplot involving six billion refugees of Galactus who the Surfer took responsibility for in the previous issue. His attempts to find a planet which is both a paradise as well as hospitable for over six billion unique beings seem futile. To this end, the Surfer seeks to use his “power cosmic” to alter reality itself to find a solution, at the same moment some attacking aliens zap him with a strange “time” ray. This causes he, Dawn Greenwood, and the senior staff to relive the same events in an endless loop akin to the film “Groundhog Day”. Unfortunately, Mike and Laura Allred chose to illustrate this by drawing half of this issue’s comic panels upside down and intersected like the paths on a board game. While this is an interesting technique, it may make the issue more annoying to read for some (especially for five dollars). Without that gimmick, however, this is a simple yet effective story, bringing this arc to a close. The next issue or two should be the last, and it will remain to be seen what secrets and surprises are in store.