Jack Burton is Dealt a Bad Hand in ‘Big Trouble in Little China #20’

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BigTroubleLittleChina_020_A_MainBig Trouble in Little China #20
Written by Fred Van Lente
Illustrated by Dan McDaid

When some 8 foot tall blue immortal knucklehead kidnaps your buddy’s best gal and forces you to play a game of high stakes poker that’d make James Bond flinch, you remember what ‘ole Jack Burton says at a time like that…
“Deal me in sunshine, I can handle it!”

Big Trouble in Little China has been, pretty consistently, a comic loaded with goof-ball supernatural shenanigans, odd-ball characters that feel like they fit inside the universe created by the cult film, and a dodge-ball-like manic zig-zagging pace (I know it was a reach but cut me some slack).

In short the comic book has been fun.

With Fred Van Lente at the helm this has been doubly so.

Van Lente is the rare writer that can successfully blend action and comedy without missing a step or losing grip on the story. His work on Marvel Zombies is both hysterical and scary. His Invisibles meets Highlander meets Three Stooges mash-up raises Valiant’s Archer & Armstrong to a classic level. BTiLC, therefore, is smack dab in the middle of his wheelhouse; action and laughs in equal measure. Pulling an 80’s retro hero, John Wayne-tribute archetype into the modern era where evil sorcerers and smartphones are equally irritating and confusing is a smart move that returns rich comic dividends.

Issue 20 is the final chapter in the current story arc; after reuniting with his friends Wang and Eddie Jack has been drawn into a sorcerer’s poker tournament where the stakes are all of team Burton’s souls. Jack’s particular blend of bravura and ineptitude (and a little help from Egg Shen) has gotten him to the final tournament table and Koche – the immortal (and politically correct) Russian sorcerer that has enslaved Margo and also had a hand in Miao Yin leaving Wang years previous. The problem is that Jack promised the blatantly obvious Harry Potter type wizard (“John Lennon glasses, Doctor Who scarf, it looks like England puked up on him!” Is the way he describes the wizard) he beat last issue that he would cold-cock the blatantly obvious Voldemort wizard as a favor. Which he does and, as a result, immediately forfeits the game.

Fortunately, Egg had a plan “B” where Wang’s twin daughters, Whitney (good twin) and Winona (bad twin) search out Koche’s death; which is hidden in a typical convoluted magical manner. They retrieve it in a typically funny and straightforward manner which is punctuated with Winona commenting “Ancient folklore is no match for the modern firearm.”

These plot threads intertwine in a final confrontation with Koche. As has been the case with this and most comic books in general, the victory is temporary at best. Jack and Winona are magically tossed through time and full-on face plant straight into the next adventure which is aptly titled Old Trouble in Little China!

Everything moves at a manic pace which captures the spirit of the movie (I’ve never heard exposition rattled off so fast in a movie since BTiLC). The way in which Van Lente has expanded the world has been extremely satisfying; incorporating other regional folklore and current (blatantly obvious) magical characters, along with parody of 80’s TV and crackpot conspiracy theories creates a vibe that just about anything can happen and probably will. With Jack’s good-natured, but bumbling hero act taking all the weirdness in stride with a wink and a smart-ass wisecrack. Which captures the tone of the movie also. It’s an obvious success when you read Jack’s dialogue and you hear Kurt Russell’s John Wayne with a beer hangover cadence.

Dan McDaid’s art goes more for the “essence” instead of a direct look which makes some of Van Lente’s tightly logical action a bit muddled. Not to say that his work is bad, it isn’t; the more abstract elements of this world of Magic and iPhones co-existing is served well by his art. Nothing is ever really lost in the translation but Van Lente’s action scenes, which are deftly structured cause and effect, is more effective with a literal interpretation.

You wouldn’t have thought that this stand-alone movie could be much more than what it was; i.e. a story that was fun but really couldn’t go anywhere else (I mean, the title traps itself in a small section of San Francisco after all). You thought wrong. Unconstrained by a film budget and with writing that is imaginative, funny, and willing to embrace the sillier elements inherent in the story Big Trouble in Little China breaks out of its imagined restraints to find big trouble in a huge world.

Passing fancies:

If you read my column Comics on the Can you know I’ve been threatening to tackle Big Trouble in Little China for almost as long as I’ve been writing the column. I still could but it’ll have ranting about the upcoming remake, speculation on remaking other properties from the 80’s (like Jem and the Holograms, I bet that would rock! Why are you looking at me like that?) Rambling paranoid nonsense about magazine subscriptions, and probably something about otters.

The Harry Potter bit was a hoot. I love how Jack just punched Voldermort’s lights out.

Koche’s death was buried in a chest where inside was hidden a Hare with a duck inside with an egg with a needle inside. Convoluted. Whitney just shoots the Hare leaving a bloody mess and a magic needle. Works for me!

Winona has no wifi where she and Jack get zapped, San Fran in 1906, but her phone somehow knows it’s 1906?

This issue might not be the best jumping on point but the next arc fires up with issue #21 and it looks to be a blast!

Boom! also had a short-lived Escape from New York comic. There was, jokingly, the idea of a crossover being kicked around… (I’ve been asking for Escape from Little China for years. How awesome would that be? – Editor)

My review PDF included a preview of a new title called Turncoat which looks like it examines what the world is like after humans drive off a three hundred year alien occupation. Interesting idea.

Anytime Costumes

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