For a while, as Ghostbusters sat in a limbo state following the height of its popularity in the late-80s, comic book creative teams were constrained to one-shots and brief four-part minis that often were over by the time they just started heating up. One of my biggest complaints among all the Ghostbusters comics that have been released over the last 10 to 15 years is that you could feel the perimeters of the mini-series weighing against them. IDW's "Past, Present and Future" by Rob Williams had amazing potential and reminded me of the Real Ghostbusters stories that I still hold as my favorites - but without the space to really get its stride, many elements of the story felt far too rushed. Like a five-star meal that you had to wolf down in twenty minutes.
But for 36 amazing issues, IDW Comics and the creative team behind Ghostbusters were able to do something that hadn't been done since NOW Comics' run in the early 90s (and to a more productive but often forgotten run in the UK by Marvel Comics): a lengthy story split into two volumes, Erik Burnham, Dan Schoening, Luis Delgado, and Tom Waltz were able to craft one of the longest Ghostbusters stories told in comics in nearly 30 years. The ongoing series brought back several familiar faces but also expanded the world by introducing several new characters that have now become mainstays like Ron Alexander, Melanie Ortiz, and a love interest for Winston in Tiyah Zeddemore. And with an opportunity to breathe, Burnham was able to write an intricate arc where he could introduce elements that didn't pay off for several issues (or in some instances, took on whole new meaning by the time you hit Volume Two's Issue 20).
But, as they say all good things must come to an end and it was announced in June that the series' big event Mass Hysteria would wrap up the on-going series, at least for now. And I started reading the first couple issues of Mass Hysteria, it became clearer and clearer that the creative team was crafting not just a fantastic bookend for their on-going series, but for the Ghostbusters franchise in general. If you start with Volume 2's Issue 13 and read to the end of Issue 20, the result is a meaty comic event worthy of its hype.
What a better way to highlight everything that makes the series great by revisiting the original story and turning it on its head with the introduction of Gozer the Gozerian's vicious sister, Tiamat? And no, she's not just coming to the Earth to inexplicably destroy it like all the popular villains of the 80s, she's back to prove a point. That where her brother had failed, with the same pieces, she could succeed.
At least... that's what we're originally led to believe her motivations are as the series starts.
Rather than sitting down to read the Mass Hysteria event starting at Issue 13, if you plow through the entirety of IDW's on-going Ghostbusters series starting with September 2011's Issue #1, the result is one of the most satisfying Ghostbusters stories as a whole to date. Just as Dan Schoening would jam-pack each book's artwork with winks and nods to Ghostbusters lore, Burnham jam-packed each issue with storytelling elements that wove in and out throughout the duration of the run. Like any good on-going series, elements are introduced in 2011's Issue #1 that pay dividends 30+ issues later.
Naturally, everything in the series has been building to Mass Hysteria: the technology, the characters, even some of the trials that the characters have been through influence the story of the IDW Ghostbusters. In fact, with Tiamat, Ghostbusters is finally given its trickster Loki-type character, a being that exists only to mess with the well-being of our heroes because she takes pleasure in seeing them squirm. Forget bringing about the end of the world, forget finding a child to live again, this is a malicious god that sees all of the pieces on the board as her playthings and she's not afraid to admit it. Sure, as Fritz mentions in his review, it's a clever plot device to bring back a lot of familiar faces. But it's also a clever way of showing how those faces could have been used in different ways to different results (and the effects seeing many of them have on our leads).
The event (and one could argue the entire on-going run) also brings the Winston Zeddemore character to the forefront, something that so rarely happens. We learn more about him, see him in his personal life, and see him fall in love. There's a sorrowful but wonderful moment in Issue 16 where the four leads come across their future selves in what they believe to be a Tiamat trick or a temporal anomaly. The scene ends with an ominous tone for Winston that sets up a heroic moment for him when it becomes clear the only thing that can stop Tiamat is a human sacrifice. While Fritz in his analysis of the final Issue 20 believed that what ultimately ends up coming of Winston's sacrifice was a clever plot device to reset the characters back to status quo for what may come in future runs, I actually felt that it was one of the most devastating and bold choices that Burnham and the creative team made for the series. With Winston's arc in the on-going, you see how much pride he takes in his relationship, and you see him struggle to make it work given his choice of profession. And here, the only answer to save everyone that he's come to know and love is to sacrifice himself - and he quite literally does sacrifice his life for the greater good. But Tiamat proves that mere stream crossing and simple human sacrifices aren't going to be enough to contain her and she instead accepts what would ultimately hurt him the most: this relationship that he's poured his heart and soul into over thirty-six issues.
In the closing pages of Issue 20, you're left with the wind knocked out of you because the storytelling has been so effective that you genuinely feel the loss. It's ironic that seeing Winston grip the live wires to sacrifice his life didn't nearly have the same impact that seeing him regain consciousness and finding that Tiyah doesn't even remember his face hit me like a sucker punch. I know in comics that death is only temporary. But I know that this is a story that's left unfinished, because now with all of the hard work that IDW has done to grow the Winston character across all these pages, we now have a genuine grip on who he is, what makes him tick, and ultimately what will hurt him the most. And it's happened to him. Winston, the boy scout who was only in this for the steady paycheck, is now a flawed character. And that's amazingly intriguing to me. How will he deal with this? What will this weight on his shoulders ultimately cause in change to him?
In a book that's grasped the humor of Ghostbusters so well through its entire run, the left hook that ending gives you is some damn good writing.
Proof that Issue #20 is a bookend not just to the IDW on-going series but also a chapter of Ghostbusters in general are the last two pages: a wonderful tribute to the end of the first film which shows an extreme knowledge of the franchise. Again, just a punctuation at the end of how lucky we are to have gotten a series for fans by the fans - it could be viewed just as a device. A simple, "Hey look, we did the same thing they did at the end of the first movie!" But when you know the reasoning that "Onionhead" was added to the end of the first film (by Joe Medjuck's admission, it wasn't to tease that a sequel was on the way, it was a gag. It was just a joke. That after all these guys had been through, there was still work to be done). After all the characters in the book had been through through this run, after all the creative team had been through - the long hours, the extreme pressure from the fan community, and the normal rigors of getting a comic book out on time on a month to month basis... there's still work to be done.