Comics on the Can – Big Trouble in Little China

BTiLCBig Trouble in Little China #25
Written by: Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by victor Santos, Dan McDaid, Joe Eisma,
Brian Churilla

You’re listening to ol’ Jack Burton on the Pork-Chop Express on this dark and stormy night and I gotta tell ya; I’ve seen a lot of strange things in this big crazy world! I’ve seen monsters and evil ghosts, traveled back in time to the big San Fran shake up of 1906, and I’ve seen a turtle the size of a city bus. I even met this one guy who read comic books while supposedly doin his business on the porcelain throne, and then he’d talk about them on something called a website. Now I hear “website’ and I think of that time your buddy Jack Burton ran into those giant radioactive spiders over in Jersey near Three Mile Island! It took a case of tequila and a six pack of Pabts Blue Ribbon to stop thinking about that particular incident then. So whatever is goin on with that clown and his spiderweb site ole Jack don’t want no part of it! Course I told him he could talk about the adventures of yours truly when he makes the pillars of heaven shake if he made me look good. I don’t know what happened to that guy but at least he’s fighting the good fight. Remember, it’s all in the reflexes!

Jack Burton out!

If you follow this column with any type of regularity, you’ll know I’ve been promising a review of BTiLC since I first started writing this column. In light of issue #25 being the last issue (and my putting off the review for so long), I feel compelled to review the series as a whole and not just the single story told here. I’m not sure how it’ll all ring out; like Jack, I’m kinda seeing where the chips fall as I go…

There are a lot of pitfalls for a comic adaptation of a beloved cult movie; like recapturing the tone, pace and internal logic aka the things that earned the movie a cult following in the first place. It ain’t easy and probably contributes to so few titles working for any length of time.

Big Trouble in Little China pulled this difficult task off better than most; the book managed to expand on the weird, funny, magic and myth filled world only hinted at in the movie. Following the adventures of the hapless Jack Burton as he bumbled his way through wild misadventures including the Chinese afterlife, giant eyeball aliens, meta-jokes, a wizard poker tournament and being zapped back to Chinatown of 1906. The book strived to keep the manic pace and goofball fun of the movie. More often than not it succeeded, especially when Fred Van Lente was writing; it was obvious that he is a fan of the source material. He was able to take the characters and story in new and fun directions while still making it feel like it was the same universe. All the while it does a fine job of keeping the right level of weird and manic pace needed to make you overlook just how silly everything was.

Issue #25, sadly the last in the series, is probably the best example of this high wire act. Jack and Winona Chi (Wang’s daughter) are sent back to the future from 1906. They find themselves falling short by thirty years. They appear in 1986 during the events taking place in the movie! The Egg Chen of that time pulled them out of the time stream to help him fight Lo Pan. The duo appear just after the Jack of the movie nearly runs Egg Chen’s tour bus off the road. As the Pork Chop Express turns into the blind alley in the background (running afoul of the Chinese stand-off) Jack and Winona are flagging down Egg, who’s been expecting them.

Egg sends them into the sewers to gather the “black blood of the Earth” for what becomes the magic potion Jack, Wang and the Chang Sings drink later on in the movie. Down below, the pair intersect with other characters and events from the movie, including the hairy demon “Pete”, and nearly getting electrocuted by the storm Lightning’s stray bolts during the alley fight.

If the word salad above is as confusing as the existence of a salad named after a Roman emperor…don’t sweat it. The story (both movie and comic) doesn’t really give you time to dwell on it before hurling you into something else anyway. Having seen the movie, though not required, certainly enhances the reading pleasure of this story. A person that has watched the movie countless times, like moi and obviously Van Lente, would get a kick out of how this story weaves in and out of the movie.

This isn’t a new idea. This dance has been done with many stories from Marvel to Star Wars (Tag and Bink and Troops) to Star Trek (The Deep Space Nine tribble episode) to even Hamlet (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead). Though the criticism of such a story becoming too inclusive and a narrative echo chamber are valid; if done right it’s a great read for the hardcore fan. Maybe a slightly puzzling one for the non initiated but hey, we all gotta start somewhere.

In fact, overlooking one or two minor plot points, issue #25 works as a fun companion piece for the fan who missed the bus of the entire comic series. If you have a deep rooted fear of commitment or just don’t like buying comic books (thus came to this site wholly by accident) this issue would be all you need of the series. Though you would be missing out on some goofy fun.

The art is a mixed bag. A roundhouse of several of the artists that worked on the book the last two years, the styles have ranged from the almost cubist to more fairly straightforward interpretations. Nothing really dazzles, at least not for me, but it’s cool to see the people that have had a hand in the book got a last goodbye to ‘ole Jack and company.

It’s sad to see the book go; John Carpenter himself first contributed to the expansion of the universe in the opening story which had Jack and Wang on the run from a resurrected Lo-Pan. There were hints at Jack’s uncanny ability to glance off the weird and supernatural (shotgun marriage to a ghoul woman, cow mutilating aliens fighting Triad hit men) with Jack blissfully oblivious to most of it. The series took a turn to manic and meta when Van Lente took over writing duties. He came up with stories like Jack and the gang in present time squaring off against an idiot stoner version of The A-Team, a poker tournament where one of the players is a weenis, sexually frustrated Harry Potter, and being zapped back to the Chinatown of 1906 where he is stalked by a spirit meant to kill him but, due to being press ganged onto a ship bound for Australia, never gets the chance. Each story rolled out with an obvious affection for the characters, outrageous situations and crackerjack comedic timing.

Big Trouble in little China really did pay respects to the cult source material while emulating what made the movie a cult hit to begin with. It was all in the reflexes.

Things tangential to the main body of the column but I couldn’t work in organically:

The bathroom that the comic’s picture was taken is located on the 20th century Fox lot. Where BTiLC was produced.

One of the best jokes in the movie is that Jack is actually the sidekick and doesn’t realize it. The comic pretty much embraces that mind set.

The first draft of the movie actually took place in 1800’s California, that gives Kurt’s John Wayne impersonation a little context.

Boom also had a short lived adaptation of “Escape from New York” where Snake Plisskin never really escaped from New York again but escaped to and from Florida.

The quick cancellation of that book probably nixed a comic book of “Overboard” and/or “Tango and Cash” though given the state of comic adaptations don’t count either out.

I am actively campaigning to have BTiLC be part of the Lego Dimensions universe. I mean they’re gonna have The A-Team, Goonies and Beetlejuice, so why not BTiLC and, what the hell, Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai too! Fuck Chima! How else are they gonna keep forty something geeks like me buying a toys to life game! Nexo Knights can suck it, gimme the Storms in Lego form!

That being said, yes, I’m gonna buy the shit outta the Lego Dimensions E.T. The Extraterrestrial fun pack!

Odds are strong that year 3 of Lego Dimensions will bring the Disney: Star Wars, Marvel, Nightmare Before Christmas, Lilo and Stitch, and Pirates of the Caribbean!

Other IPs Lego dimensions should use to keep geeks buying “for their kids”: Wacky Races, Flintstones, Jetsons, Atari 2600 world, Micronauts, The Matrix, Stranger Things, Game of Thrones, Die Hard, Alien vs Predator vs Terminator vs Shinobi, Ash and the Evil Dead, Hellraiser, True Detective (first season only) and The Brat series starring Jamie Summers.

As awesome as the last one would be… pretty unlikely.

The word is that Fox is doing a remake of BTiLC starring Dwayne Johnson as Jack because, Hollywood.

Johnson is, in truth, an accomplished yet underrated comedic actor. Much like Kurt Russell so the casting is less of a stretch that you might think.

Next: Black Panther or maybe something from my renewed Comic Bento subscription.

Later: sadly, not Big Trouble in Little China.

Shop Deadpool tees in our officially licensed Marvel store!

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