Going back through these modern Ghostbusters stories chronologically, I knew from the start that I would eventually have to cross paths once more with “The Other Side”.
We meet again, old foe. Hopefully, for the last time.
IDW’s acquisition of the Ghostbusters license in 2008 didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. If you know anything about IDW, it’s probably that they’re entire business model revolves around snatching up licenses to 1980s nostalgia properties and then exploiting the hell out of them until the well runs dry. I remember the Dark Days when there were at least 5 or 6 Transformers titles and specials out at the same time, with nary a glance’s worth of competent editing between them. And I remember being excited for their relaunch of G.I. Joe, at least until I learned that they’d be coming out of the gate with no less than 3 simultaneous series, all of which had to be bought for the low-low price of $3.99 a chapter and read strictly to receive a single coherent narrative.
But Ghostbusters was different. IDW’s marketing plan then and now has remained the same: One story at a time.
Very economical, I must admit, and a far more agreeable tactic than flooding the market with a deluge of low quality products just to fill an overestimated demand. The “one story at a time” approach has been one of my favorite things about IDW’s Ghostbusters output, as it has been very easy to follow from Day One; you don’t have to spend hours poring over Wikipedia articles, forum posts and trade solicitations to try and assemble on your own a functional reading order combining three or four different ongoing and miniseries just so you can follow a solitary storyline. That shit is what drove me away from their Transformers stuff (well, that and “All Hail Megatron” being the absolute zenith or terrible).
Unfortunately, the lack of variety has its drawbacks. The most obvious being: What if the one story you’re getting positively *sucks*?
And that leads us to IDW’s inaugural Ghostbusters output, the 4-issue “The Other Side” miniseries; a fecal smear of a comic so poorly conceived, poorly written and poorly drawn that you won’t believe it made it past editorial.
Ghostbusters: The Other Side
Written by: Keith Champagne
Art by: Tom Nguyen
Inks: Drew Geraci, Jon Alderink
Colors: Moose Baumann
Letters: Chris Mowry, Neil Uyetake
Edits: Chris Ryall and Andy Scmidt (these two must have been sleeping on the job)
Covers: Nick Runge, Fabio Mantovani
As the story begins, the Ghostbusters get on the bad side of the undead underworld; a crime syndicate led by the greatest mobsters in history (Al Capone, Bugsy, Lucky Luciano, etc). After the Ghostbusters thwart yet another of their operations, the mobsters decide something needs to be done. Putting together a hit crew, they slaughter the Ghostbusters with machinegun fire and dump their corpses in the East River.
The Ghostbusters then find their souls trapped in purgatory where the mobsters have formed a soul smuggling operation dubbed “the pipeline”. In order to get out and bring the ghost mobsters to justice, the Ghostbusters team with the spirits of J. Edgar Hoover, Elliot Ness and other do-gooders from days long past. And a kid named Jiff because ha ha ha he’s named after peanut butter.
The best way to describe “The Other Side” is “amateurish”. On all fronts. Champagne’s story is riddled with fundamental flaws, from excessive exposition, to worthless characters, to the most intellectually offensive Deus Ex Machina plot devices this side of fan fiction. And that’s even before you get to the fact that his humor is painfully unfunny, relying on repeated gags that weren’t amusing the first time, and his understanding of the main characters is positively nil.
The overall plot summary may sound interesting, but the actual implementation of that plot is a train wreck. I know nothing about Keith Champagne’s career outside this miniseries, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned that he is very, very young. “The Other Side” is full of the kind of juvenile trademarks you’d encounter in stories written by high schoolers; ridiculous levels of ultra violence, women running around in bikinis, etc. The kind of stuff a teenager would perceive as “mature” when it’s really just embarrassing to read.
The excessive violence, of the blood and guts variety, is something the Ghostbusters franchise has never boasted. Its unwelcome inclusion makes it all the more obvious that the “talent” involved had no fundamental understanding of the material they were working with. If editor Andy Schmidt had any competency in his position whatsoever, then the very instant Champagne sent him a script with the words “Venkman pulls a demon’s intestines out through its mouth” and “Venkman eviscerates a monster and showers gallons of blood down on the other Ghostbusters”, alarms should have begun going off in his skull that Champagne was not right for the job. Unfortunately, for as terrible a writer Champagne proved himself to be, Schmidt proved to be equally unskilled as an editor and all four issues of this travesty made it to the stands.
Plenty of other “oh man, totally BADASS” elements pepper the story, such as Venkman’s body (possessed by one of the mobster ghosts) having sex with multiple prostitutes, Egon “finally losing his shit” and beating up an old lady in a bloodthirsty rage, or Janine getting punched in the face because hooray for misogyny! Again, I would be shocked to learn that Keith Champagne was over the age of 18 when he wrote this drivel.
Attempts at humor are empty at best; I’m not sure where Champagne’s skill set lies, but comedy isn’t it. Characters spout dialogue that’s never charming nor clever and jokes that are set up (like a demon getting blasted by a proton stream in one panel, then saying “ow” in the next) never lead to a satisfying punchline. Then there are the jokes that go on way too long, like J. Edgar Hoover calling everyone a “commie pinko” or a menacing old lady out to stop the Ghostbusters from closing the pipeline. Worst of all are jokes that are embarrassingly out of date, like Winston making a “…NOT!” joke as though it were still 1992.
Champagne makes a very shallow attempt to infuse some “heart” into the story by having Winston encounter his lost love, Janelle, in Purgatory. But she offers nothing toward resolving the conflict and seems to merely be included to give Winston something to do (because, once again, we have an author that doesn’t know what to do with Winston). The exposition is lousy, as Champagne has to constantly explain how the string of improbable events is transpiring, as none of it is evident in the flow of the story. This makes for all the more tedious reading, as the action has to constantly stop so some character or another can describe what you’re looking at.
Perhaps worst of all are the plot devices. Peter gets super powers because a few pages of unconvincing exposition says he does. Peter then uses those inexplicable powers to help resolve the conflict and get this garbage over with. And how the Ghostbusters eventually come back to life is one of the absolute laziest copouts you’ll ever read. “Angels did it”. Because shut up, that’s why.
If Champagne was an awful author, then IDW at least paired him with an equally awful artist. Tom Nguyen’s style is about as unremarkable as it gets, with stiff body language, empty panels and uninspired layouts. He also draws the characters looking unreasonably young; the only thing setting them apart from the pre-teen Jiff is height and the fact that the kid has bigger eyes than they do. All in all, the art is of webcomic quality; certainly not something you’d pay $4 bucks a month to experience.
I remember being thrilled when I heard we’d finally be getting new Ghostbusters comics after years and years of nothing. So you can imagine how furious I was to discover that “The Other Side” was crap. As indignant and critical as I am now, rest assured, my temperament was far less pleasant in 2008 when this refuse was being churned out.
And the worst thing is: the follow-up miniseries, “Displaced Aggression”, was only a marginal improvement.
IDW has come a long way since their initial Ghostbusters offerings. Erik Burnham’s and Dan Schoening’s current ongoing series is absolutely FANTASTIC and I’d recommend it to anyone with even a passing interesting in the franchise. Unfortunately, before Burnham came along to turn things around, IDW had little idea of what to do with the 80s nostalgia property they’d just dished out buckets of money to acquire, and that reality shows in their first two offerings.
I’ve been a fan of Ghostbusters since I was 4 years old and saw “Ghostbusters II” in the theater as my first movie. I’ve seen every episode of every cartoon show DiC and Sony have produced and I’ve read every issue of every comic between Now, Marvel UK, 88 MPH, Tokyopop and IDW.
So I speak from experience when I say this: “The Other Side” is the worst Ghostbusters story ever written.