Writers: Kelly Thompson (Ghostbusters), Brandon Easton (Transformers)
Artists: Nelson Daniel (Ghostbusters), Priscilla Tramontano (Transformers)
It’s nice to see that DC and Marvel no longer have a monopoly on alternate universe stories. For decades, DC had its “imaginary stories” and “Elseworlds” imprint, while Marvel had its on-and-off What If…? titles and Exiles. Now IDW is stepping up to the plate with “Deviations” month, where it’s putting out five one-shots that take alternate spins on its big franchise titles. Due to a shipping delay, we’ve been treated to a double-week that play “what if” with two of the 1980s’ biggest franchises: Ghostbusters and Transformers. And while two of the other franchise books (G.I.Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) are playing off comic spinoff events (X-Files does a completely different twist on its story), Ghostbusters and Transformers deviate from their respective big movies from that decade. So how do twisted versions of these classic stories hold up?
Ghostbusters Deviations is a fun romp that spins out of the last ten minutes of the original movie. In this timeline, the Ghostbusters never crossed their proton packs’ streams in climactic battle with Gozer. One month later, Manhattan’s been conquered by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and an army of marshmallow…well, you just have to read it to believe it. The Ghostbusters are demoralized as a team, as Manhattan’s citizens are frustrated by the limitless haunting of their city. However, Gozer isn’t happy with things either, as he’s not content to be stuck in the body of a 100-foot marshmallow and can’t get home. Reluctantly, the Ghostbusters and Gozer have to figure out a way to reverse things that doesn’t involve destroying the entire universe.
Ghostbusters Deviations is a mixed bag from the team of Thompson and Daniel. Despite being a demonic apocalypse, Kelly Thompson does manage to capture the levity of the original film and the voices of the Ghostbusters actors. This is nightmarish story, but also a funny one that plays off the team’s dry wit in the face of the end of the world. The big drawback is Gozer him/herself, who comes off rather silly in contrast to his/her utter darkness in the film. Maybe being stuck as a marshmallow had that effect on him.
However, the wrap-up to the story is a combination of contrived and painless. Thompson solves the problem of a crossed-streamless Ghostbusters with a time-travel solution that doesn’t make sense in light of the original movie, because it introduces an element that wasn’t there before (as well as adding a thinly-veiled reference to a character who wasn’t around in the 1980s). It solves the story, and plays it very safe by giving it close to the exact same ending as the Ghostbusters film. For a deviation, it ultimately isn’t much of one.
Nelson Daniel’s art is by no means awful, and perhaps has the comedic tones needed for a humorous apocalypse. His best part is that he makes Gozer look big, capturing the immensity of the marshmallow in the limits of the comic page. That said, Daniel has the same challenge that’s occurred with other licensed Ghostbusters comics: making the characters look like Bill Murray, Dan Akroyd and the others without actually infringing on the actors’ likenesses.
In contrast, Transformers: Deviations has the opposite problem of fabulous art, but something of a weak story. This story plays off a critical juncture in Transformers: The Movie, where Kup prevents Hot Rod from getting involved with Megatron’s final fight with Optimus Prime. Prime kills Megatron, meaning that Megatron never becomes the servant of the planet-eating Unicron, and Optimus never passes on the Autobot Matrix of Leadership. It’s an interesting concept to say the least, since Transformers: The Movie itself was already a significant point of deviation for the franchise.
The strength of this story is Priscilla Tramantano’s art, combined with the coloring team which really brings her art to life. IDW seems to habitually put extra care into its Transformers comics to recreate the stylized look of the animated series, and Transformers Deviations is no exception. Her one downside is that, in comparison to Daniel’s work on Ghostbusters, she doesn’t always make “big” look “big enough.” Her takes on the Transformers and especially Unicron are a bit compressed in their comic panels, and a few splash or double-splash pages could have helped capture the epic scale of this story.
The weakness of Transformers Deviations though, is the story. The ramifications of the story’s departures are never really explored, or where they are, they don’t feel logical. For example, with Megatron dead, there’s no Galvatron and the other wounded Decepticons aren’t transformed into Scourge and Cyclonus. There’s no outcome to this – it just doesn’t happen, the end. We do get a replacement for Galvatron, but it’s limited to a bit of artistic fun rather than a serious exploration of how differently things change. The big shift the story does explore is how Optimus Prime’s old soldier methods contrast with Hot Rod’s good-natured impulsiveness. It’s interesting to see Prime just charge headlong into battle against forces much bigger than him, though Hot Rod’s sidelining is rather forced.
Where Transformers Deviations hurts in particular is that it just doesn’t manage to recreate the spirit of Transformers: The Movie. Doing something like that is hard enough when translating film to comic, where the creators lose the benefit of size, sound, and music. Still, Transformers: The Movie had a very specific beat and rhythm to it which really gave the story a sense of epic scale and overt crisis. This feeling is just lost here. When Unicron showed up in the film, it was an event. Here, it simply happens, and there’s little sense of the urgency or dread that the film evoked. When the film transformed Megatron into Galvatron, it was an awe-inspiring nightmare. In Deviations, Galvatron’s replacement just doesn’t strike the same fear.
In the case of both Deviations specials, they’re cute distractions, but by no means essential to anyone but the most die-hard fans of the films which inspired them. Worse, they’re both $4.99, the higher price likely fueled by nicer covers and a padded page count which amounts to advertisements of other Transformers and Ghostbusters comics. Get these only if you really love the franchises; otherwise, wait for a trade release.
Rating: Three timelines out of five.