“What the Hell? Ghostbusters got their own manga?”
I’m right there with you, people. When Tokyopop announced their Ghostbusters “manga” graphic novel, Ghost Busted, I was just as mystified. The thing came completely out of the blue, with little fanfare, and the release was almost immediately undercut by the announcement that IDW had procured the license to produce their own Ghostbusters comics. This Ghostbusters “manga” came and went with nary a whimper.
If you’re wondering why I keep putting “manga” in quotations, it’s because Ghost Busted isn’t actually “manga”. If you thought this was going to be some collection of obscure Japanese Ghostbusters comics from the 80s that had never seen the light of day on US shores, then prepare to be disappointed. This is nothing more than a bunch of American writers and artists creating their own Ghostbusters comics, but using a faux-Japanese “manga” style because…Actually, I have no idea why.
For something pretending to be Japanese, it does a pretty good job.
But as far as I’m concerned, if it didn’t come from Japan then it isn’t “manga”, no matter what some little cracker in an Inu-Yasha t-shirt insists. “Manga” just seems to be a trendy sort of branding and marketing thing; like calling these stories “comics” is passé or whatever.
Anyhow, gimmicky soliciting to lure the otaku Japanofile crowd aside, Ghost Busted from Tokyopop is something of an overlooked gem of Ghostbusters storytelling. The graphic novel is an anthology series, collecting six individual stories from different creative teams. The first and last stories are stand-alone tales, while the middle four tell an overarching narrative in an episodic manner. The storytelling approach is very attractive, offering a lot of variety in both art and atmosphere. At any rate, even if you don’t like some of the writers or artists in this book, there’s a chance you’ll dig at least a couple of them. Aside from a few lewd gags and some mild swearing, the stories take an “all ages” approach that makes this thing suitable for kids (who seem to be the likeliest audience to turn their noses up at “comics” but clamor for anything labeled “manga”).
All in all, Ghost Busted channels the spirit of The Real Ghostbusters with its episodic storytelling, smart humor and primarily PG rating.
Ghost Busted: Chapters I-VI
The volume opens up with a quick summary to set the scene. Unlike the then-recent attempt at reviving the Ghostbusters through comics, 88 MPH Studio’s ill-conceived Legion miniseries, Ghost Busted opts to take place after the events of Ghostbusters II and acknowledges the events of the films as taking place in the 80s. While online solicits at the time stated that it would try and bridge the gap between the second film and the highly anticipated Ghostbusters the Video Game, it actually does no such thing. It’s just the continuing adventures of the Ghostbusters, and I’m A-OK with that.
“The Theater of Pain” by Matt Yamashita and Maximo V. Lorenzo sees Peter, Egon and Ray hired to investigate a strange haunting at the rehearsals for a new play, “Runaway Romance”. The producer wants to put on a bombastic, special effects-laden extravaganza, but every time they try to set off some pyrotechnics, ghosts invade the stage and tear everything apart. The only way for the Ghostbusters to get to the bottom of things is to disguise themselves as cast and crew. Eventually, they learn that the ghost of a critic, Francis Frum, has vowed to haunt the production until the play he wrote himself gets performed.
This opening story is a lot of fun and very easily feels like it could have passed for an episode of The Real Ghostbusters. Yamashita pens the two one-shot bookending stories in this volume and he illustrates a firm handle on the humor of the characters. The gag where Peter takes a piss felt a little unnecessary, but the comic timing of the jokes and the way the characters react to the circumstances were pretty spot on. Like a lot of writers, though, he totally neglects Winston and writes him out of the adventure with a flimsy “he needed to stay behind and watch the firehouse while they dedicated their time to the theater gig” excuse. Still, considering how Winston is treated later in this volume, his absence might have been a blessing (but we’ll get to that in due time).
Maximo V. Lorenzo’s art style seems to be pretty heavily inspired by Monkey Punch or at least some variation of the Lupin III character designs. He can be a bit too chaotic for my tastes, to the point where the dialogue is setting up a joke but I can’t read it in the art. And while I don’t much care for the overdone Japanese cartoon facial expressions and sight gags, this thing was solicited as “manga” after all, so I suppose it’s to be expected.
“Worm in the Apple”, written by Nathan Young, drawn by Michael Shelfer and inked/toned by Lorenzo, begins Young’s four part storyline and it’s little more than a brief prologue. Here, Jack Hardemeyer (the Mayor’s aid/bureaucratic jackass from Ghostbusters II played by Kurt Fuller), blackballed from politics and reduced to a homeless man, seeks vengeance on the Ghostbusters for ruining his career. He sneaks into an abandoned building to propose a scheme to a gaggle of ghosts, laying out some suspicious blueprints for high tech equipment.
Nothing to say here about the story, since it’s only a handful of pages. Shelfer gets the most mileage out of any of the other artists, penciling three of the six chapters. He draws a good Janine (whom you’ll meet in his later chapters) and his style is exceptionally clean. I liked it quite a bit. As for Young making throwaway Walter Peck clone Jack Hardemeyer the main villain of this storyline? Yeah…
“We’re Ready to Believe You” by Nathan Johnson, with art by Nate Watson and tones by Chi Wang, sees the characters going on their own individual cases and being taken down by Hardemeyer’s “Peoplebusters” (not to be confused with THE Peoplebusters of the cartoon) at the end of each installment. This one’s about Ray and follows him as he goes on a number of calls that turn out to be false alarms.
The first two calls are done for the sake of comedy, as a sleazy psychic tries to rent some ghosts from the containment unit and a college kid is convinced that his best buddy’s fiancé is a succubus because she won’t let him go snowboarding anymore. It’s actually really fun to see these sorts of mundane “adventures” and you can tell, on a logical level, that they’re the sort of thing a Ghostbusting business would have to deal with all the time. The last one, where Ray visits a lonely old woman, is a bit tedious (especially how the old lady drones on and on) but also a bit sad in that you realize she just has no one to talk to. It’s probably the least memorable of all the chapters in this book, all things considered.
Nate Watson’s art is the least “manga” of all the styles present in this anthology, to the point where I wouldn’t qualify it as really even trying to be. That’s a good thing, as I really hate it when artists feel encouraged to ape tired Japanese comic visuals because “that’s what’s popular right now”. On the other hand, Watson’s style is the blandest and lacks any unique fingerprint to make it stand out.
“Just Your Typical Class 1 Confined Infestation” by Young and Shelfer is, without a doubt, the highlight of this whole graphic novel and reason-enough for buying the thing. While it downplays the comedy (what I’d normally consider a major no-no for any Ghostbusters story), it tackles a lot of the heavier aspects of the universe and ends up being one of the best Ghostbusters stories ever written.
In this chapter, an old grad school physics professor of Egon’s, Dr. Teplitz, is being haunted by his deceased wife. He comes to Egon (whom he’d flunked for of his outrageous views on the supernatural) for help in ridding his home of the phantom. Teplitz, however, is worried about what will happen to his wife’s spirit after she’s trapped; does the “busting” process hurt? And what happens after the ghost goes into the containment unit? In the end, Teplitz discovers a secret even he didn’t know he was hiding.
Young’s story tackles the great ethical debate of Ghostbusting; a subject avoided by pretty much every medium of the franchise since its inception. Most of the ghosts the Ghostbusters trap are strictly presented as “monsters,” but plenty of them are the confused souls of departed humans. And here the Ghostbusters are, shooting them with lasers, trapping them in boxes and incarcerating them in a storage facility with no parole for presumably all eternity. What a bunch of assholes.
Young dives headfirst into the subject, as Teplitz engages Egon in a moral debate about his employment that, due to space constraints, doesn’t go on for nearly as long as it deserves. The twist at the end, which I assume you all probably put together by now, is genuinely moving and very sad.
This is just a fantastic Ghostbusters story, one of the very best, and it’s a shame that it’s hidden in this forgotten graphic novel of “manga” from a currently defunct publisher. Sadly, the story winds up being catastrophically undermined by what comes next…
Ghost Busted by Young, Shelfer and with Lorenzo on inks and tones, concludes the four part storyline. In this one, Peter and Winston start to notice something’s up when Ray and Egon go missing. They formulate a plan as they walk into the next trap set by Hardemeyer’s “Peoplebusters”. This plan involves Winston’s inexplicable cache of automatic weapons that he keeps stashed in the trunk of his car.
Winston ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts. Concealed carry laws, on the other hand…
The Jack Hardemeyer arc is the only thing about this graphic novel I can really turn my nose up at (well, aside from some of the art, that is). The basic idea of a human enemy of the Ghostbusters teaming up with a bunch of ghosts to destroy their mutual foes with modified “Peoplebuster” packs is actually really cool… but the execution? Firstly, Jack Hardemeyer was a pretty lousy character from the second movie and his motivation here is shallow as all get out. He makes for a truly terrible and unconvincing villain.
Thinking about him, though, Hardemeyer really is the poor man’s Walter Peck and his incompetence as an adversary when compared to Peck really shines in this story. After the first movie, Peck would continue to pester the Ghostbusters through various Government agencies like B.U.F.O. and P.C.O.C. This made the greasy little worm in a suit a viable threat, as with the Government getting his back, he could pretty much get away with whatever he wanted and make the Ghostbusters lives miserable. Hardemeyer, another slimy little worm in a suit, doesn’t even show that level of competency. He tries to go around the law and form his own anti-Ghostbuster hit squad and fails tremendously at it.
On the one hand, this story arc illustrates a fundamental difference between two seemingly identical characters. But it does so by showing how incompetent and ineffectual the lesser of them is.
Anyway, it’s hard to determine the worst offender of this story, because there are two more aspects I really, truly hate.
Firstly, it completely undermines all the emotional impact of Chapter IV, as Teplitz is revealed to have been in league with Hardemeyer all along and helped to build his “Peoplebuster” equipment. While this solves the plot hole of how Hardemeyer got the equipment (though there’s no explanation as to how he stole the actual proton pack schematics used to build the stuff), I couldn’t help but think Young could have tried another avenue. Chapter IV’s conclusion was so powerful that I honestly prefer to divorce it from this ending, because all it does is its level best to ruin it.
Then there’s Winston carrying a motherload of automatic weapons in the trunk of his car. What. The. Hell. There’s a brief mention of Winston having gotten the weapons during his days in “the Service”, but let’s be frank: How many of you actually knew that being a former Marine was part of Winston’s back story? As far as I know, that was an element of his character only revealed in the script (in a deleted scene) and in the novelization of the first movie. Only the most die-hard of fans that actively search out the most obscure trivia would know that.
In the end, it makes Winston look like a lunatic at best and an ethnic stereotype at worst. Even the “got them in the Service” excuse doesn’t hold water. Is that what they do in the US military? When you leave, you get to take all your firearms with you?
The final chapter, “The Devil Wears Nada” by Yamashita and Chrissy Delk, is a one-shot story like the opener. In this one, Heel, the concubine of Gozer, sets up a high-dollar fashion outlet in New York City. There, Heel sells possessed garments to vacuous women that choke and torment them with their discomfort. Nevertheless, women buy the rags anyway because they’re “in season”. Realizing that the only way to fight fashion is with fashion, the Ghostbusters weaken Heel’s hold on the clothing industry by introducing their OWN line of desirable garments: Beige coveralls.
As with Chapter I, Yamashita writes a great one-shot comedy story that feels like it stepped right out of The Real Ghostbusters. The pacing is a lot better than his first installment in the book and the jokes are a lot stronger, too; he seems to have hit his stride with this script. If Yamashita has one failing, it’s that he has a tendency to have the characters give “inspiring” speeches during big dramatic moments, like so:
He did one similar to that in his first chapter and they feel so forced and out of place. I think the message of the story was made pretty clear and didn’t need to be stated out loud by the characters themselves.
Also, not being British, I’ve never understood the so-called hilarity of men in drag; a gimmick that pops up repeatedly in this chapter. Still, Yamashita doesn’t dwell on the joke too much or let it overcome the plot, so it didn’t really bug me even though I didn’t think it was very funny. The manner in which they finally defeat Heel at the conclusion, however; that was pretty clever.
Chrissy Delk’s art is probably the strongest, beating out Shelfer as my favorite artist in the anthology. She puts a lot of little details into the characters and layout, showing quite a bit of talent. Her style reminds me a lot of Gurihiru (artist for Avatar, the Last Airbender: The Promise) and it’s very expressive. Heel’s transvestite character model, in particular, is a pretty great look.
Ghost Busted is, and this was a surprise to me when I first read it, pretty damn good. It has its flaws in a few stories, but the overall package offers more hits than misses. Yamashita’s bookenders are solid stories that are a whole lot of fun, while Young offers one of the best Ghostbusters stories I’ve ever read. The artists are all very different in approach, but you’re bound to like some of them, I should think. And even those I liked the least, I wouldn’t qualify them as “bad”.
Exactly why Ghost Busted flew in under the radar, I don’t know. Perhaps the “manga” marketing simply scared away too many fans that don’t care for the visual style, while the knowledge that it wasn’t “real manga” caused the otaku Japanofile demographic to turn it down. Who can say?
While it’s out of print at the moment, it certainly isn’t hard to find, nor is it expensive. You can grab the thing on Amazon, new, from private sellers for just a couple bucks. For anybody undergoing withdrawals from lack of Ghostbusters media, this should definitely hit the spot.