It’s that time of year again for ghosts and ghouls to roam the streets (which you shouldn’t be doing this year) and for us to get reacquainted with some old friends like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, and Michael Myers! There are no shortage of movies we could be talking about starring these icons of horror, but we’re going to take things in a slightly different direction here and familiarize ourselves with the oft overlooked subgenre of horror comics! All three of these characters have had their share of funny books based off their exploits, so why not find out which one has the best stories to tell and are the most fun to read? And no, we won’t be going into the Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash comics as they are their own separate thing from either franchise’s main books. Next year perhaps!? Well let’s get through this first before we start planning ahead!
In Last Place for Bad Taste – Friday The 13th
Starting this list with the most heartbreaking of them all, my beloved Jason Voorhees has had undoubtedly the WORST comics on this list. Why? Well with this series you basically get two kinds of stories; blatantly fetishistic gore porn and philosophical musings from pompous edge lords. It’s a blatantly cynical misunderstanding of the character and the franchise as the stories seem to think that Jason is supposed to be the protagonist. You may have goes to the movie to SEE Jason Voorhees, but the stars of those movies were Alice Hardy, Tommy Jarvis, Tina Shepard, and so on. For almost every single one of these books there’s hardly a character worth rooting for or a victim who’s death is anything short of gleefully excessive because the writers want you to side with Jason as some sort of agent of chaos here to destroy THE MAN. Corrupt cops, evil corporations, and at its absolute most revolting point gay people, are all lined up for Jason to take his brutal bloody revenge out on to the cheers of the audience; either because you WANT those people to die or because your tickled by the rendering of blood and viscera on the page. The tackiest ones are where they try to justify their wanton bloodlust and by making Jason some sort of avenging spirit of Native American Genocide, like the supped up version of prefacing all MRA bullshit with WHITE women to try and pretend you’re not just an angry at all women, and this is something they try TWICE; once in the 2008 series and again in the Bad Land 2 parter. Out of all of these books, the only three that stand out as anything other than dreck are Jason Goes to Hell, Jason Vs. Leatherface, and Pamela’s Tale. Jason Vs. Leatherface is bad for a lot of the same reasons as the other books are BUT it has enough tongue in cheek humor to dull its more obnoxious moments, and the artwork has a grotesque EC Comics by way of Alfred E Newman look that lightens the mood considerably. Pamela’s Tale, while rather unnecessary as it’s just a prequel that doesn’t do all that much interesting with the characters, at least is driven by something other than gore and titillation as we see how she came to have Jason and how she ended up working at the camp. It’s far too happy to throw out allusions to future aspects of the franchise when it could have done its own thing, but I found it an entertaining enough read and one that didn’t make me repeatedly wince like so many of the other books. Jason Goes to Hell is the definite standout as it’s just a retelling of the ninth movie, but that film is pretty underrated as is and I think the more fantastical elements are better suited for a comic book; not to mention that the script for that movie is FAR superior to the original scripts they wrote for the other comic books as it focuses on characters instead of just watching a lumbering monster be directed at whatever gripes the writer has with the world. Aside from those three there’s not really anything to recommend as even the ones that pull back on the overt gore have garbage themes and characters, so I’d avoid almost every single one of these like the plague.
The Good: Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993); Friday the 13th: Pamela’s Tale (2007)
The Meh: Jason Vs. Leatherface (1995)
The Ugly: Friday the 13th: Bloodbath (2005), Friday the 13th Special (2005); Jason X Special (2005); Jason Vs. Jason X (2006); Friday the 13th: Fearbook (2006); Friday the 13th: How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2007); Friday the 13th (2007); Friday the 13th: Bad Land (2008); Friday the 13th: Abuser and the Abused (2008)
The Silver Medal for Trying Its Best – Halloween
Coming much later than its peers as they didn’t start making these until the turn of the millennium, Halloween manages to avoid the pitfalls of Jason’s comic book outings and has some genuinely good stories to tell, though that’s both a good and a bad thing. It definitely FEELS like the stories are much more personal than the cynical dreck of Friday the 13th, but the problem I had is that the writers perhaps had TOO much of themselves in it as so much of these comics are long and portentous dialogue boxes that just ramble on forever. Imagine Donald Pleasence’s iconic speech from the first film about Michael’s evil nature and someone decided to write a story that was nothing but THAT speech over and over again. That’s pretty much every one of these Halloween books, and by the time I got to the end of each issue I was exhausted. It’s just too much of trying to infuse MEANING into Michael Myers and his chaotic nature which has ALWAYS been the problem with the. We don’t need The Myers Curse, we don’t need The Thorn Cult, and we don’t need a bunch of twists and callbacks to the previous movies to try and tie everything together, yet here they are padding out issues and written with all the reverence of a masterful meditation on the nature of man. Still, I’ll take ALL of this over the grotesque garbage that the Friday the 13th comics delivered, and there are some genuine bright spots here. The first issue from 2000 as well as the issue One Good Scare are solid self-contained stories about the people around Michael Myers dealing with him even when he’s not there and they have a few decent set pieces to pay off all the buildup. Nightdance is coherent enough to be engaging even if it DOES suffer from the longwinded narration that pretty much all the other books have, but what’s particularly refreshing about that book is that it’s a new cast of characters with almost nothing related to the other books or the movies, so it does a better job of getting to the root of the terror that is Michael Myers without getting lost in the weeds of continuity or callbacks, but like I said, it’s still pretty darn wordy if you just want a fun slasher story and be warned that it does get PRETTY grim at the end. The First Death of Laurie Strode is also pretty good and thankfully cuts down on the monologues, but sadly it never was finished as a planned third issue never came out. The only ones that stood out as particularly bad were Autopsis which tries to go for the heady stuff of One Good Scare but instead feels lurid and half baked, and The Blackest Eyes which is as close as they come to the obnoxious cynicism of the Friday the 13th comics; coupled of course with all that Thorn nonsense that’s better left forgotten. It certainly took EFFORT getting through all these books, but I definitely didn’t regret my time reading them.
The Good: Halloween (2000); Halloween: One Good Scare (2003); Halloween: Nightdance (2008); The First Death of Laurie Strode (2008)
The Meh: Halloween 3: The Devil’s Eyes (2001); Halloween: 30 Years of Terror (2008)
The Ugly: Halloween 2: The Blackest Eyes (2001); Halloween: Autopsis (2006)
Taking Home the Gold in Style – A Nightmare on Elm Street
I really struggled to decide whether to give the top spot to Freddy or Michael Myers. While I’d say that the Halloween books are consistently good without that many low points, the fact is that A Nightmare on Elm Street has the best comics out of any of them even if there are some truly dreadful entries mucking up the oeuvre. The reason why of course is the same reason the Friday the 13th comics were terrible, and it goes back to two publishers; Avatar and Wildstorm. Aside from Jason Goes to Hell and Jason Vs. Leatherface, all of the Friday the 13th comics were made by these two publishers and they got a hold of the Nightmare on Elm Street license as well, so the same obnoxious glorification and fetishistic bloodshed infect the latter half of Freddy’s comics. What saved it though is Elm Street has way more books prior to Avatar and Wildstorm getting ahold of the license, and while I wouldn’t say that the Wildstorm books are GOOD, they’re at least tolerable compared to the Wildstorm books from Friday the 13th and the Avatar books from BOTH series. Let’s not dwell on the negatives though as the eighties and nineties had some quality Freddy stories; even the adaptation of the worst movie in the original franchise! Freddy’s Dead is an insufferable slog through bad humor and half-baked premises, but the tone in the adaptation makes things JUST uneasy enough that it ends up working way better than I bet even the original screenplay writer could have imagined! The six issue series from 1991 has a few rough patches here and there but provides a better conclusion to the franchise than we got in Freddy’s Dead as it explores the some very interesting dreamlike logic that never really got off the ground in the films. The peak for me was probably the second film as far as nailing the premise AND the dreamlike atmosphere that the character is supposed to evoke, and while I do appreciate three four and five, they only get more broad with the premise instead of being thoughtful with it which is where this book in particular shines. Also, I was genuinely crestfallen when I got to Nightmare on Elm Street: The Beginning and found out they had only finished two of the three issues as that was about as good as you were liable to get for a Freddy Kruger origin story as well as a canonical sequel to Freddy’s Dead. The script is out there online if you want to read it, but it’s just on the same as having the completed issue which makes a case for Maggie being one of the more interesting characters in the franchise even if the movie didn’t do her much justice. All of these are worth checking out, but perhaps the most interesting one was done by Marvel in 1989 as a black and white two part story that has great art, an engaging storyline with likable characters, and some very fun and interesting dream sequences, though sadly it ends on kind of squib and left me feeling rather deflated. All four of these series are absolutely worth reading if you’re a fan of the character and everything after that can VERY easily be ignored!
The Good: Freddy Kruger’s A Nightmare On Elm Street (1989); Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991); A Nightmare on Elm Street (1991); A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Beginning (1992)
The Meh: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2006)
The Ugly: A Nightmare on Elm Street: Paranoid (2005); A Nightmare on Elm Street Special (2005); A Nightmare on Elm Street Fearbook (2006)
The thing that bothered me after reading so many of these books is the lack of closure I got with most of them. There are some exceptions of course like the movie adaptations, the 1991 Nightmare on Elm Street series, and even Nightdance despite such a dour ending, but it’s the problem a lot of comics run into when they’re working with a licensed property. I couldn’t tell you what was in the deals any of these companies had with the studios, but there’s a sense that even though the point of these movies is for the heroes to overcome the villain, you get the sense that they had to pull back on that to preserve the integrity of the brand or whatever. That or the writers and publishers were such fawning fanboys that they didn’t dare besmirch the good name of these murderers! I don’t know, I guess Avatar and Wildstorm have left me a bit bitter considering how many of their lousy books I had to ready, but I left too many of these issues without a sense of catharsis as many had no one really to root for and a villain who was too powerful to be interesting. Thankfully there are still plenty of books out there with these characters that hit the right balance between appealing to fans and telling engaging stories; just not as many as I had hoped.