Earlier this year, BOOM! Studios’ released an ongoing comic based on John Carpenter’s 1986 film Big Trouble in Little China. The book somehow managed to capture on the printed page the blend of action and goofiness that made its big screen inspiration so unforgettable, and is easily one of 2014’s most consistently satisfying reads. In the wake of that title’s success, BOOM!announced plans for another comic based on a beloved Carpenter property: Escape from New York.
The ongoing adventures of Snake Plissken have been attempted twice previously, in a Marvel one-off from 1996 and Crossgen’s thankfully short-lived 2003 effort, John Carpenter’s Snake Plissken Chronicles. Both of those titles seemed more interested in revealing every mystery surrounding the enigmatic antihero than doing anything to further his legend. BOOM!’s just-released first issue of Escape from New York takes a different approach…and one that isn’t necessarily any better so far.
The comic begins immediately after the events of Escape from New York, with the President having been embarrased by Snake’s replacing of his crucial speech with the theme song to American Bandstand, which is never named here due to licensing/copyright issues, bummer. After a brief, er, escape sequence in which Snake has a seemingly final run-in with Bob Hauk, he finds himself in New Jersey’s legendary Pine Barrens. Sadly instead of having an encounter with the Jersey Devil, he begins hitchhiking, which puts him in contact with a band of thieves who tell him that Florida has seceded from the United States and is the only place left on the continent for people like Snake. From the strangers he learns that Florida is ruled by twins who possess powers like “controlling weather, stopping time, turning a meal for one into a meal for thousands.” Rad. After a prolonged action sequence, Snake makes his way to the Florida border, where he must endure a challenge called “The Crucible” to ensure that he is a worthy citizen of the Sunshine State.
There’s an inherent problem with making Snake Plissken the focus of a comic and that is his tendency to observe and not actually speak much. Both Escape from New York and its underrated sequel, Escape from LA, circumvented this problem by surrounding Snake with interesting supporting characters. Such figures are desperately needed here. Yet writer Christopher Sebela isn’t entirely to blame, it is a thankless task to invent new adversaries and foes in the wake of such iconic ones as The Duke, Bob Hauk, Brain, Maggie and Cabbie. It is to his credit that he chooses to not take the easy route and either resurrect dead characters or turn the book into a Fugitive-style story in which Hauk goes all Captain Ahab chasing Snake across the country.
Unfortunately, Sebela dispatches with characters quickly after they serve their expositionary purpose. This hello/goodbye approach to those Snake meets doesn’t allow readers the time to invest in the story. The entire first issue is just build up to getting Snake from New York to Florida, and it feels like this is a problem that will be resolved in future issues. At least we hope, because there is tons of potential here.
Far more successful is Diego Barreto’s gorgeous art, which brings to mind the work of Francesco Francavilla. Barreto’s ability to bring the issue’s action sequences (which are brilliantly written by Sebela) vividly to life give the book a much-needed cinematic feel, and make it one of the most eye-poppingly beautiful comics we’ve seen in recent memory.
Ultimately, the first issue of Escape from New York is one whose ambition is overwritten by an inherent need to get exposition out of the way so that the story can detatch itself from its source material and become its own thing. (An approach that has worked brilliantly with the Big Trouble in Little China book). We are cautiously optimistic to see where things go from this point forward. But hey, if it doesn’t get better there’s always the chance that BOOM! will get the They Live license, right?