Eight years before he threw down with Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th franchise had words (sort of) with another horror franchise icon: Leatherface of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series.
For whatever reason, back in the ‘90s, Topps figured that their experience in making trading cards would lend itself intuitively to the business of comic books. They were wrong and their comic book publishing history was a disaster. Among other questionable decisions they made in the mid ‘90s, Topps procured the Friday the 13th license from New Line Cinema and pumped out a bunch of Jason comics. There was a comic book adaptation of Jason Goes to Hell (it sucked), a Jason cameo in some fucking thing called “Satan’s Six” (haven’t read it, but it sucked) and the three-issue miniseries Jason vs. Leatherface (which… didn’t suck!).
Being recognized as the only part of Topps’s Friday the 13th output that wasn’t utter shit, the Jason vs. Leatherface miniseries can be either difficult to find or expensive to obtain. I scored all 3 issues for $45 bucks, but I’ve seen individual copies go for $20 bucks or more on eBay and Amazon. Having never been reprinted, they’ve become a bit of a collector’s item amongst Jason and Leatherface fans.
But in my opinion, they’re totally worth hunting down (and long overdue for a trade paperback collection).
Jason vs. Leatherface #1-3 (Topps Comics, 1995-96)
Writer: Nancy Collins
Plot: Nancy Collins and David Imhoff
Artist: Jeff Butler
Inker: Steve Montano
Letterer: Brad K. Joyce
Editor/Colorist: Renee Witterstaetter
Computer separations: Electric Crayon
Cover artist: Simon Bisley
The story of Jason vs. Leatherface is fairly simple on the surface. Undead slasher Jason Voorhees escapes when Crystal Lake is drained for a development project and winds up on a train heading straight to Sawyerville, Texas. He isn’t there long before he runs afoul of the Family, a gaggle of cannibal rednecks who make a habit of torturing, killing and eating any hapless tourists they come across. Jason finds a kindred spirit in the similarly masked, violent and simple-minded Leatherface. Jason is welcomed into the Family to join in their rituals and finds peace… for a little while, anyway. Eventually, Jason washes out of family life and he and his new “brother”, Leatherface, cross machete and chainsaw.
(For those curious about the continuity, from Jason’s POV, this takes place after Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives, ignoring the films that came afterward. From Leatherface’s POV, it takes place before the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as the Hitchhiker is still alive.
I think writer Nancy Collins deserves some serious points for writing a story that explored Jason’s lost humanity at a time when Jason was becoming less and less human with every film. The days when Jason was a “frightened retard”, misunderstood, angry and confused, were over ten years in the past by the time this story saw print. Not only had Jason been turned into a zombie, but his most recent film brought forth the outrageous claim that he was a demon that could possess the bodies of human beings and transform his heart into a snake-like creature called the “Hellbaby”.
So a story that gave us a brief glimpse at Jason’s pre-drowning childhood via flashback, as well as his ability to understand and sympathize with other human beings… was basically forgotten territory for the franchise. Now ‘n days, we’ve been getting a far more sympathetic and human Jason in films such as Freddy vs. Jason (where he was practically the protagonist) and the 2009 Friday the 13th remake. But in 1995… Not so much.
What works is that Collins never gives us an inner monologue from Jason (because holy shit, that would be awful). Instead, she employs narrative text that paints a picture of his raw emotions rather than spelling his thoughts out in detail. Jason is still the instinctual, animalistic monster, but there’s a smidgen of humanity spread upon him that offers the most insightful look at the character we’d get until the more recent films (and fair-to-decent comics from Wildstorm, I guess).
All this talk about Jason going on, I’m sort of short-changing Leatherface and the Family. Being the talkers, they get a good chunk of the page-time and move the story along. Collins uses the classic set of Family characters from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre: Leatherface, the Cook, the Hitchhiker and Grandpa. Most of the book isn’t even about fighting or killing, but Jason’s deranged interactions with the Family members. Each member (save the barely-alive Grandpa) take him into their confidence and share their innermost passions.
No, they don’t try to rape him.
What I mean is that the Cook shares with Jason his secret ambition to own a fancy, upscale restaurant (a dream he keeps from his siblings, who’d summarily mock him for it). The Hitchhiker continues his artist pursuits as seen in the original film; namely, using dead bodies to create works of art. Then there’s Leatherface, whom Jason comes to regard as a younger brother and begins to feel protective toward.
If you’ve seen the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, then of course you know that the Hitchhiker is a rambunctious, abusive asshole (moreso than the other members of the Family) and he naturally picks on Leatherface. The titular showdown between Jason and Leatherface comes when Jason makes an effort to protect Leatherface from the Hitchhiker only to have Leatherface turn on him. Jason loses the battle (via foul play from the Hitchhiker) and is discarded, but Leatherface learns a valuable lesson about standing up for himself in the process. It’s a feel-good kind of comic!
All that may sound a little lame, but Collins has a way of capturing the voices of the characters (even when they can’t talk) and the story is as good a Friday the 13th tale as it is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre one.
But, there are problems.
As good as Collins is at getting the voices of the characters right, she could have stood to do a little more research in regards to everybody’s names. For instance, Cook is supposed to be the same character as Old Man from the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. His name, as established in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was Drayton, but Collins has Hitchhiker refer to him as W.E. Okay, so W.E. Sawyer was a character first mentioned in the prologue to “Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III”, who didn’t appear until the in-between-quel “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” (which took place between II and III). So W.E. is a completely separate character from Drayton/Old Man/Cook. To make matters worse, Hitchhiker also refers to Cook by the name Bubba. Bubba, however, was Leatherface’s real name!
Confused? I’m just getting started.
The Family, in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre film series, were known as the Sawyers (in the remake series, they’re the Hewitts). For whatever reason, Collins identifies them in this comic as the Slaughters. On top of that, they live in Sawyerville, Texas.
Then there’s Mrs. Voorhees being identified as Doris in a flashback, when her first name in the films was Pamela. And last but not least, when Cook shows Jason an old family photo, it lacks Chop-Top, Hitchhiker’s twin brother from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
I hate to be the Nitpick Police, but you have to understand that the majority of people likely to be attracted to a comic called Jason vs. Leatherface are going to be diehard fans of Jason and Leatherface. So, well, naturally these sorts of mistakes are going to stick out to us like a sore thumb. At the very least, Collins could have gotten the basic names right.
Anyway, even ignoring the names all being wrong, there’s a bigger problem with Jason vs. Leatherface. For whatever reason, issue #3 came out a month late and 10 pages short. I don’t know what the behind-the-scenes story for that is, but it totally sucks. As a result, the big finale to the miniseries falls completely flat, as the showdown between Jason and Leatherface occurs over the span of a two-page spread and some change. The remaining page space in issue #3 is given to a short strip called “Tales of the Toxic Turtle” by Michael White; an unrelated pantomime comic about a sea turtle with a toxic waste canister for a shell escaping some fishing nets.
The fuck was that all about?
So yeah… condensing the actual fight between Jason and Leatherface in a comic titled Jason vs. Leatherface is sort of a major mark against it. There’s a lot of great character work in this book, but when it gets down to the action, you’re sort of left unsatisfied.
The interior art is by Jeff Butler, who Wikipedia tells me has done a lot of work over the years for role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel Superheroes. His art is pretty good; very sick and twisted and deformed-looking stuff. It’s befitting of the subject matter and he never skimps on the gore and violence. If he has any setback, it’s that he doesn’t simulate fluid motion very well, so characters tend to look rather clunky and awkward when they’re swinging their weapons around.
The cover art is by Simon Bisley and aw man, is it awesome or what? The covers alone are worth the aftermarket prices. I’ve loved Bisley’s stuff ever since I first saw him on a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book (“Bodycount”, the one where Raph and Casey Jones slaughter everybody) and his weird, creepy, nightmarish stuff is always a joy to behold.
- The best character work Jason and Leatherface had ever gotten up to that point.
- Stars the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” family, whom we may never see again thanks to the remakes.
- Those Simon Bisley covers.
- Nancy Collins gets all the names wrong.
- The actual fight between Jason and Leatherface is a letdown.
- That fucking turtle!
Is it Good?
Overall, Jason vs. Leatherface may or may not do it for you. If you really enjoy the characters from both franchises and want to get inside their heads, then this is definitely up your alley. As the story follows Jason and the Family during their “down time”, you get to see what their lives are like when they aren’t chasing teenagers; a rare sight, to be sure. Of course, the title of the thing is Jason vs. Leatherface and we’re sort of cheated out of that thanks to that fucking turtle. That fucking turtle…