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IDW Ghostbusters 101 Trade Paperback Book Review

 By Paul Rudoff on Dec. 14, 2017 at 6:37 PM , Categories: Ghostbusters 1, Ghostbusters 2, Books, 2016 Parody Remake
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Ghostbusters: Answer The Call (2016). Just the mere mention of the name can cause some people to froth at the mouth. No movie has ever been as polarizing as Paul Feig's disasterpiece. Hell, not even The Phantom Menace - with its "Mannequin" Skywalker, Jar Jar Binks, and Midichlorians - divided its fanbase as much as the "all-female Ghostbusters". If I'm being completely honest, and as objective as possible, I can sum up Feig's film in one word: disappointing. In spite of the way it treats its audience, and especially the loyal Ghostbusters fanbase, I frequently saw glimmers of potential in the film. Of course, the film then (literally) vomited upon those glimmers mere seconds later, several times over. I always felt that if the characters were put in the hands of competent writers, especially ones who love Ghostbusters, that maybe - just maybe - the potential that was there could be realized.

IDW's Ghostbusters 101 trade paperback, which collects all six issues of the same-named comic book series that was released earlier this year, lets us see if my theory is correct, or if the nerd will be keeping the five bucks. Written by Erik Burnham, its a story about the original Ghostbusters (herein referred to as the "Prime Ghostbusters") and their new trainees (the titular "101 Class"), who are visited upon by the the 2016 team (whom Sony wants deemed, the "Answer The Call Ghostbusters"). As is already apparent, this book "corrects" one of the biggest faux pas of the 2016 film - it puts all of the teams together!

Artwork is handled by fan favorite Dan Schoening, with colors by Luis Antonio Delgado and Anna Chher, letters by Neil Uyetake and Shawn Lee, and edits by Tom Waltz. Although I am going to try my best to keep spoilers to a minimum, I will not be afraid to go into detail as necessary. With that in mind, here is your pre-requisite SPOILER WARNING if you read any further.

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The 164-page book gets off to a bad start by opening with a two-page introduction by Paul Feig, who starts with the proclamation, "I truly love Ghostbusters." If IDW wanted to erase all of the ill-will from the 2016 film and get people to like these damaged characters, the last thing they should have done was to get Feig involved. He is the poster child for everything wrong with the 2016 film (and former Sony exec Amy Pascal is the one holding that poster up for all to see). Simply put, he is the cancer in the lungs of the Ghostbusters franchise. We need him as far away from Ghostbusters as possible if we want the franchise to be able to breathe again, and have a chance at living a long and healthy life.

Moving on, we get a rundown of our crazy cast of characters in this here story.

PRIME GHOSTBUSTERS
  • DR. PETER VENKMAN - Mouth of the Ghostbusters. Doctorate in parapsychology and psychology, thank you very much. Will talk people into things if given half a chance.
  • DR. RAY STANTZ - Heart of the Ghostbusters and co-designer of their equipment. Loves the paranormal. Is dating a ghost.
  • DR. EGON SPENGLER - Brains of the Ghostbusters. Polymath. Got killed by a nigh-immortal sorcerer once (and got better). Co-designer of the ghostbusting equipment. Prrrrobably on the spectrum.
  • WINSTON ZEDDEMORE - Soul of the Ghostbusters. Former Marine. Not as cynical as he pretends to be.
SUPPORT STAFF
  • KYLIE GRIFFIN - Photographic memory. Manages Ray's Occult Bookstore. Part-time Ghostbuster. Wants everyone to go faster.
  • WALTER PECK - Head of PCOC, the commission that oversees the Ghostbusters. Dislikes the team... but protects them as necessary.
  • JANINE MELNITZ - Head of the office staff, wrangler of egos. Enjoys pilates on Thursdays.
101 CLASS
  • CAIT BANNER - Forced by her Aunt Janine to sit through classes with Ray after she "borrowed" a ghost trap.
  • ZOE ZAWADZKI - Cait's best friend. Has fallen in love with Ghostbusting tech.
  • EVAN TORRES - Math geek. Only signed up for ghostbusting classes because he thought it'd look good on college applications.
INTRODUCING THE ANSWER THE CALL GHOSTBUSTERS
  • DR. ABBY YATES - Preeminent parapsychologist of her dimension. Co-author of Ghosts From Our Past.
  • DR. ERIN GILBERT - Serious scientist. Very uptight. Co-author of Ghosts From Our Past.
  • DR. JILLIAN HOLTZMANN - Engineer, designer of this dimension's ghostbusting equipment. Loves to mess with high-strung people.
  • PATTY TOLAN - Historian. Former municipal employee. Wider read than her colleagues; doesn't bring it up.
  • KEVIN BECKMAN - Not quite as smart as his dog, Mike Hat, but he sure tries hard.
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Our story starts with a bust in Coney Island that results in slime spewed all over the town. The proposed fine from the ordeal would be too large for the Ghostbusters budget to handle, so Peter gets the idea to start a Ghostbusters fantasy camp. Many real people in our fandom (Hi, Ziggy) pay them for the chance to "play Ghostbusters". Meanwhile, Kylie has taken the 101 class into the basement to see the new transdimensional portal that Egon built. There's a funny smart joke here about Stargates, MacGyver, and "the dude from The Thing". Already, I have laughed more reading this than I did watching Feig's film. Jokes that require my intelligence, instead of insulting it...what a concept! Anyway, the portal has its limitations. Namely, that it only lets you travel between alternate versions of New York. I think you know where this is going.

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The dimension that the portal opens to just so happens to be the one with the Answer The Call Ghostbusters in it. There, we see Abby and Jillian outside of the Aldridge Mansion busting a ghost that looks like he came straight outta a jar of Kenner Ecto-Plazm. Back at the firehouse, Abby and Erin are discussing the surge in PKE readings while Kevin is dancing around in a broccoli costume, for some stupid reason. Yeah, Kevin being the most damaged of the 2016 characters, is the one that doesn't get much improved in the book because Burnham isn't a miracle worker. The Kevin character should have been replaced with a new competent, non-sexist, secretary character (such as the other Kevin), but I doubt that Sony would have allowed it, so we're stuck with him.

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Back in the "Prime" dimension, the 101 class gets a new member, Garrett Parker. If you're unfamiliar with the IDW comics, and artist Dan Schoening's work on them in particular, I'd like to point out that he likes to fill his panels with little easter eggs. Most are little Ghostbusters minutiae hidden in the backgrounds, while others are characters based on Ghostbusters fans, or even characters from other movies and shows that the Ghostbusters cast have worked on - such as Caddyshack and Scrooged. The room in the firehouse in which the class is meeting is modeled after the upstairs room in the stylized version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game - complete with "interact" logos on the floor and an aiming reticle in the corner. Knowing that, it's a bit "meta" when, in that panel, teacher Jenny tells the class that ghostbusting is "not a game".

After the teacher leaves, the class goes down to the basement to show the new guy the magic portal. He puts his hand through it, and a ghost instantly latches on. They manage to free him and close the portal, but a piece of the ghost remains in this dimension. The ghost tries to pull himself back together, and in doing so, brings the two dimensions together. Instead of having the 2016 team simply walk through the portal into the "Prime" dimension, Burnham is literally merging the two dimensions. That's certainly a pretty clever way of getting the two teams into the same universe, though it's never explained why it's only the Ghostbusters and certain landmarks that "overlap", and not every building and person living in both dimensions. I can only imagine the horrors of two "things" trying to exist in the same physical space. Like what if where a person existed in a room in one dimension, there was a dresser in that same space in the other dimension? When they merged, the person would be killed because they now had a dresser stuck inside their body!

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Jillian wakes up to find the "Prime" Ghostbusters on the news taking the publicity (but not the credit) for the two - count 'em, two - Statues of Liberty in New York Harbor. She meets up with the other ladies at "their" firehouse headquarters, only to find that all of their stuff is gone. They go inside and call for Kevin, and sure enough, he's there... but he's not the dimwitted Kevin they were expecting. It's Kevin Tanaka, the assistant to the "Prime" Ghostbusters. This Kevin is what we call an "upgrade". We can only hope the ladies would be smart enough to take him back to their dimension and get rid of Mr. Chisled But Useless.

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This "meeting of the minds" (of lack of one in Kevin Beckman's case) is where the book really starts to pick up. The dialog between the two teams is actually witty and funny, and very meta. Burnham's writing truly shines. For example, when Jillian sees the large portal, she remarks, "So, who's overcompensating for what? Stantzy - is this you?" That is a genuinely funny line, written on an adult level for adults (but capable of going over the heads of any youngsters reading this), like the original movie. It's not some juvenile grade school humor about vomits and farts. Burnham even manages to make Kevin Beckman funny once or twice, such as when he suggests naming Slimer, "Kevin Junior". Maybe he IS a miracle worker!

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The biggest, most daring, and certainly the most "out of the box" idea that Burnham puts forth is that the "Prime" Ghostbusters are responsible for putting "Ghostbusters" into the multiverse. Ray says, "That logo, and flightsuits, and firehouses, and Proton Packs and even the term Ghostbusters. They keep popping up, even when it's not versions of us who are using them." When pressed for an explanation, Egon follows up by telling the 2016 crew about their encounter with Gozer. "And by way of Gozer's portal, for a split second, we were connected to every reality at once. Every thought we ever had, the very core of our beings... That's how they were seeded into the subconscious of the multiverse. Our concepts, our methods..." With that very idea, Burnham just made Feig's script, and his Ghostbusters, into cheap knock-offs of the real thing. The "Prime" Ghostbusters - Dan and Harold's Ghostbusters - were responsible for putting the logo idea into the subway graffiti artist's head. Dan and Harold's Ghostbusters were responsible for Feig's ladies to even have the idea to become "Ghostbusters". Since Feig likes to play the gender card in his film, it can now be said that were not for these MEN, there would be no female Ghostbusters! (UPDATE - It has been pointed out to me that Burnham originated this theory with Gozer and the multiple universes in Ghostbusters International #10, where he has "Real Ghostbusters" Egon talking about it with "Prime" Winston. So, it wasn't done solely for the sake of the 2016 crew, though I still content that it's a big and daring idea.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the words Burnham put into the mouth's of the 2016 crew, even if they were kinda acting like dicks at certain times. One instance is when Kylie is explaining about the possibility of Gozer being in the "Answer The Call" universe (because of that "Zuul" EVP recording Patty heard), and Jillian cuts her off with, "You're cute, but the adults are talking." I did laugh at that, which I guess was the point, even if it did seem unnecessarily mean.

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Jillian grabs the phone and takes a job. Just like the Extreme Ghostbusters "Back in the Saddle" episode, the two crews will be answering the call together. See what I did there? If you're really paying attention, you'll realize that this whole ghostbusting Brady Bunch is now one large team of male and female Ghostbusters working together. I always said that that was the way it should be. Not one gender or the other, but both together; just like Extreme Ghostbusters. This kinda "corrects" that problem with Feig's movie for me.

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To explain away the use of the same actors in different roles in Feig's film (another pet peeve of many), Burnham uses the theory that "similar people and/or faces do tend to pop up across the dimensional spectrum". So, Patty realizes that Winston is the spitting image of her uncle, albeit 30 years younger. Erin comes to the conclusion that Peter looks a lot like Martin Heiss and Ray bears a striking resemblance to that rude cab driver. Much credit goes to Burnham for not just "fixing" Feig's film's way of seeing things, but for also doing it in a fun way.

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A big problem with Feig's film is that it never commits to proper "ghostbusting" techniques. The team starts off by developing technology to trap ghosts, but later that is done away with in favor of "blowing up" ghosts simply because Feig thought it would look cool. Never mind the fact that during that Times Square battle, these ordinary women are now jumping and leaping like acrobats, which none of them clearly are. Burnham even manages to rectify this problem when Ray admonishes Jillian for "using the proton stream to disperse the ghosts instead of trapping them." He goes on to explain that "if you disperse the ghosts, all that energy's going to reform -- and with that dimensional tear, they've got the juice to do it even faster!" Clearly, Burnham has seen The Real Ghostbusters episode "Robo-Buster", and Feig has not.

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You know, I have to wonder if, when he started this project, Erik Burnham sat down and made a list of all of the problems in Feig's film that he needed to "correct" in order to try to set things right with that branch of the franchise. Reading the book, it was quite obvious there were spots where he was trying to make sense out of the senseless. I have to give him much credit for the admirable way he handled these problems. He went for the clever or logical route, and added some real humor to the mix, rather than just going for the "quick" fix.

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The story concludes with a nice little cameo that I won't spoil and, as expected, all ends well. The last twenty pages of the book are filled with all of the variant cover artwork for the original six issues, and several pages of Ghostbusters 101 "class notes". A Ghostbusters "Certificate of Completion" closes out the book.

Overall I was very impressed with the Ghostbusters 101 story and the many ways in which writer Erik Burnham deftly handled the myriad of problems present in Feig's folly. He made Feig's and Katie Dippold's damaged characters likeable and funny, which is a HUGE accomplishment. I know that nothing I can say will win over the haters of the Feigbusters, and that's fine, but I really think all Ghostheads should give this book a chance.

IDW's Ghostbusters 101 trade paperback retails for $19.99 ($25.99 in Canada) and is available for order now. If you enjoy the 2016 crew, and are interested in seeing them (again) handled by a competent crew of artists, IDW's Ghostbusters: Answer The Call trade paperback is due out June 19, 2018. It collects the five issues of the current comic series written by Kelly Thompson with art by Corin Howell. The various Ghostbusters teams will also cross over again in the appropriately-named Ghostbusters: Crossing Over comic series next year. The first issue is set for release on March 28, 2018. I'm sure that the entire eight issue maxi-series will be collected into a trade paperback by the end of 2018.

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In Loving Memory of Joel Richard Rudoff (July 28, 1944 - January 20, 2014)

In Loving Memory of Linda Joyce Rudoff (July 12, 1948 - November 29, 2015)

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