Friday the 13th... The Comic! (Part 1 of 6)

Friday the 13th holds a special place in my heart. In addition to my qualifications as a pop culture critic in this, the last great unregulated expanse we call the Internet, I am both a board-certified Jasonologist and a world-reknowned Jasonosopher. I believe this renders me better able than most to offer commentary and criticism on DC's recent attempt to launch a line of Friday the 13th comic books. This article will exhaustively cover the first storyline of that new series, which was untitled, and spanned a trade-paperback-friendly six issues. It's going to be essentially one long spoiler as I address plot details, holes, and various problems contained within the comic. In order illustrate my points I'll be using some images from the comics and films—because the films were all rated R, and the comics are published by DC's 'edgy' subsidiary Wildstorm, it's quite possible this article will not be safe for work. It depends where you work, I guess. If you're in the art department at Hustler, then it's probably cool. If you're answering phones at a rectory, maybe not so much. Please, just use your best judgment, or, if you need to be absolutely sure, anonymously send a link to this article to your HR rep and get their opinion. Actually, you know what? Do that anyway, I could use the hits.

Issue 1

It's nice when books can be judged by their cover, isn't it? This is the cover of the first issue of Wildstorm's Friday the 13th series. The attempt to faithfully reproduce the image of Jason from one of the films is admirable, but niggling flaws in the image left me feeling uneasy. First off, the Jason they've chosen to depict is VIII Jason (the one that took Manhattan). The tip-off is his Michael Myers-style boiler suit, coupled with the blue skin caused by a near-decade of submersion under the cool waters of crystal lake. As a result, VIII offered by far the moistest costume and makeup design in the history of the series. This is one of the least popular Jason designs, and its inclusion here is a little baffling. The bigger problem, though, is that the image is flipped. The axe-wound on Jason's mask is on his left, not on camera left(*1). What can be gleaned from these choices and mistake? If I were basing this review entirely on the cover, I'd guess that the comic's creators were going to try to get the little details of Friday the 13th right, but make a few silly and awkward mistakes here and there, rendering the whole thing a minor failure. Bad, but not embarrassingly so. Sadly for me (and hopefully entertainingly for you), my snap judgment was way off.
The comic opens In Medias Res, with Jason (pictured above – it's the Freddy vs. Jason costume design. The tip-off is the formal jacket. “Fv”Jason was more dapper than any previous model) chasing a naked, bloody girl through the woods. Please note the girl's missing fingers and teeth, as well as the fat lip and general brutalization she's undergone. This is worse than anyone's ever looked in a Friday the 13th film. There are people with axes buried in their faces who still look prettier than this. In fact, here's one:
At this point I suspected that the comic was going to be going for some kind of gritty realism in the art—something the films had never attempted, or really come anywhere near. Conceptually there's nothing particularly wrong with this, but it marks the beginning of a trend in the comic that I'll be marking and addressing as it escalates over the run of the series.

No, there's something much more important to cover here, and that's the way the comic opens at the end of the story. It's common for horror films to begin with a 'teaser kill', something that both sets the stakes of the story and whets the appetite of the gorehounds in the audience. At first glance, that's what seems to be happening here. After all, how could a stumbling naked girl possibly get away from the surprisingly spry Jason Voorhees and his ever-present machete? Simple, actually. The girl runs out onto a highway just as an RV is approaching. Jason turns suddenly and uncharacteristically audience-shy and allows the elderly couple to grab the injured girl and spirit her away into the night. He certainly glares after her balefully enough, though:
That's when it becomes clear that this isn't a teaser kill at all. No, we, the reader have been introduced to the story when it's pretty much over. This is a popular technique in contemporary fiction—by starting at the end of the story the audience is rushed to the good stuff, and fascinating questions are raised in their minds. How did the characters get here? What bizarrely elaborate circumstances could have possibly led to this result? When this technique works, as in the film Goodfellas, it works because the opening scene is so utterly disconnected from the place that the story subsequently “begins” that the audience can't immediately make the connection between the two points, leaving the audience desperate to hear the story in between. Who is the guy in the trunk? How did the young boy with stars in his eyes turn into into dead-eyed sociopath Ray Liotta? Watch for the next hour and you'll find out.

When this technique doesn't work though, it's a fatally crippling injury. If the audience can easily fill in the story for themselves, why bother reading it at all? When the reader knows the beginning and end of the story, the only way to make actually reading the thing worthwhile is to make sure the middle is so full of twists and turns that they'll be riveted—the best stories actually make a shocking turn somewhere in the middle, so that when we get to the end, we realize that the ending we saw didn't mean what we thought it did, and the entire story has been an elaborate confidence game played upon the audience. This comic is not one of those stories. No, it's one of the worst examples of jumping to the end I've ever seen. You see, because we already know that the injured girl is the only survivor of the newest Camp Crystal Lake massacre, unless there's some kind of a major twist or reveal coming, the next five issues are going to be spent marking time until the cast is whittled down to just one.

I know I jumped the gun there a little, revealing the content of the rest of the series, but it's nothing the comic doesn't do in the very next scene. The injured girl, one Sally Thomas, is lying in a hospital bed, unconscious. After a brief wake-up and freak-out she's sedated, and a police officer and doctor discuss her condition, providing the reader with some valuable exposition at the same time. The gist of their conversation is that Sally is the only survivor of whatever happened at the camp, and the cop is anxious to talk to about it. The only new information we get is that the cop isn't from Crystal Lake originally, so he's a little skeptical about the whole 'Jason' thing. This is a pretty big plot contrivance on the part of the writers. I'm sure they thought they needed the cop to be skeptical for some reason later in the story, but now we're left with a pretty big logical flaw: why would anyone ever move to Crystal Lake? That's like moving to south Baltimore. You're just asking to be murdered. At the end of the scene, the cop opines that someone ought to just shut that camp down for good. I'll be coming back to that point a little later in the story.

Suddenly we jump back in time and it's-
Okay, perhaps that seemed like a waste of an image, but it's going to be important later. Trust me. Anyhoo, the two guys with the blanked-out dialogue are a pair of generic stoner punks on their way to Camp Crystal Lake for a job. They ask for a ride out to the camp, but no one will talk to them, so they just wander off. On their way out of town, they run into the doomsayer, a key figure in four Friday the 13th films (1, 2, 3, and VIII, in case you're making a list). Rather than just making comments, vague or otherwise, this doomsayer just laughs at the punks and draws his finger across his throat before leaving. The decline in doomsayer quality this series suffers from is just shocking.
In a side note, I'm interested to see that the comic's creators cast a younger man in the 'crazy old coot' role. I have to wonder what their motivation was in this. Were they suggesting that 'crazy coot' was such an attractive job opportunity that it still manages to attract hot young job prospects, or was it a chilling indictment of the USA's lack of a comprehensive mental health care infrastructure?

So the punks head off to camp, chatting with one another. Their conversation consists entirely of insulting everything around them, and fantasizing about having sex with women, who they refer to primarily by using a series of “hilariously” crude euphemisms for their genitalia. At first I assumed this was a simplistic and poorly-observed rendering of teen boys, but a recent viewing of the film Superbad seems to back up the writers of this comic, so perhaps I'm the odd man out.

It may seem like I'm having a hard time caring about these characters, and that's because I am. It's not just that they're being depicted as loathsome and unpleasant, though. No, because I already know for a fact that they're going to die, I've got no reason to invest any interest in them. It's possible for a doomed character to hold the audience's attention, but in order to do that they have to say or do something interesting, which these two haven't managed yet. Which means that, beyond referencing a scene from the first film, no new information is given in these two pages, making them kind of a waste. Out of a 22-page comic.

Of course, the death of characters is kind of a given in these types of stories, so it may seem like I'm being a little harsh on the writers for showing their hand so early in the game. The thing is, and this is true of slasher films far more than any other genre—there's no guarantee how it's going to end. In the wake of Scream people like to imagine that there are a set of hard and fast rules that slasher films follow, but that just isn't the case. This is the genre where the heroes die and the bad guys win. Just because a girl is blond and single doesn't mean she's going to live to the end credits. More importantly though, a writer with any kind of a familiarity with the conventions of the genre can use them against the audience, defying expectations and serving up an ending that no one sees coming. By opening this story at the end and then quickly telling us the fate of every character we'll meet, the writers of this comic wantonly throw away their chance to do this, or in fact create any drama or tension at all. Beyond making this a poor slasher story, it actually shows that the writers (or possibly the editors that forced the structure upon them) have a general disregard for the most basic tenets of decent storytelling—many, many more examples of this will be forthcoming as the series continues.

There's one other thing to mention here, before we go any further. This sequence flat-out confirms that the events of this flashback are being presented as facts that are objectively happening. Sally is not telling this story to the cop as we listen in, because she was not present for any of this. Just as Jason's appearance at the beginning of the issue is objective fact, so are all the events of the next few issues. It's important to clear that up right now, since the storytelling will get a little wonky later on, and including the possibility of an unreliable narrator would just serve to muddle things further.

The next page introduces us to a few more key characters, the friends that Sally rode up to camp with. They are Jock, his Girlfirend, and their friend Beardo. Of course, these characters have names, but since we already know--not suspect, not assume, but full-on know--they're going to be brutally murdered, what's the point of bothering to learn them? By way of characterization they bicker with one anther, establishing that Girlfriend and Beardo don't like one another, while Sally stares off in a meaningful way.

Then they reach camp, which is when the truly stupid stuff starts. We meet the token black couple, who are named Alisha and Rico. I mention their names not because they're more important than the other characters, I assure you they're not, but rather because I find the name Rico so completely bewildering.

See? Clearly they're the black couple—the woman is even named Alisha. So what's with the guy being named Federico? Were they worried they'd look too racist if there wasn't some doubt cast on the character's specific racial origin? That possibility is actually on the understandable side. After all, the only characterization Rico gets is that he's quick to anger, swears a lot, and has enormous genitalia. So really, it makes sense that the writers or editors might want to do whatever they could to avoid drawing the attention of any protest groups.

That's not even the stupidest thing to happen in this scene, though. No, that's reserved for the corporate guy (pictured above, holding the T-shirt), who explains the story's premise, i.e. what all these characters are doing out at the lake. His plan? Buy up the site of the worst series of murders in American history and then reopen it as a summer camp. The idea is that kids love ghost stories, so they'd be excited to spend their summer at a place where over a hundred people were actually murdered.

Now, let's say for a second his psychological analysis of children is dead-on. It's not, but let's go with his theory. Where are the children going to get the money to go to this camp? From their parents, presumably, which raises the larger question of what parent would ever send their child to Camp Crystal Lake? This is one of the series' biggest problems, and I'm speaking both of the films as well as the comics here, the inability of the writers to understand just what a huge impact the existence of a Jason would have on the world at large. Jason Lives attempted to address the issue by having the town change its name, and Goes to Hell touched on the slightly dark sense of humor longtime residents of the town would no doubt develop. The idea of starting another Summer camp there is just ludicrous. Not because it's the site of a tragedy, obviously there are always people trying to profit off of everything, but because it's the site of an ongoing tragedy. No matter how people in the world of Friday the 13th might try to explain them away, the fact of the matter is that people keep dying at Crystal Lake. Asking a parent to send their child there is like asking them to send their child to a camp at the heart of Chernobyll. It's just never going to happen. Could this storyline have worked if the camp was being refurbished as a tourist destination for borderline suicidal thrill-seekers? Maybe. But as a child's summer camp? No G D way.

Anyhoo, the corporate guy heads off, leaving Mike in charge, thereby introducing the final member of our cast. Mike tells everyone to get to work cleaning up the camp, then mumbles to himself about his attraction to the distant, spacey Sally. Why does he mumble this to himself even though there's no conceivable reason he should? Because modern comic book writers aren't allowed to use thought bubbles, and the writers weren't confident that a panel of art showing Mike leering at Sally would have gotten the point across clearly enough.

Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, ladies and gentlemen: Belting it out for the cheap seats.

Suddenly it's sunset and the cast are laying by the lake, getting to know one another. Beardo wants to know why a pair of Angelenos like Rico and Alisha came all the way out to Connecticut for the (presumably) low-paying job of setting up a summer camp. Rico refuses to answer the question, suggesting that there's a dark secret in his past he wants to keep quiet about. Don't worry, though, although the story comes dangerously close to having a subplot here and the characters are enjoying a brush with depth, when we get around to the reveal, it's not going to make things any more interesting or relevant.

The conversation drags on as Girlfriend continues to bicker with Beardo. They certainly don't like each other, do they? I wonder what that's about. In addition to pointing out some fun facts about Camp Crystal Lake that I'll address in a moment, Beardo references something called “Donkey Punch Porn”. I don't know if this is a real thing, or just the writers attempting to randomly assemble words so as to generate the most unpleasant-sounding pornographic subculture possible. And you know what? I'm kind of happy that I don't know.

It's in Beardo's facts about the camp that the comic starts to create its own universe unrelated to the film series. He starts with a new piece of information, namely that the camp originally opened in 1935, and that sometime around then there was a nasty fire in which a number of counselors were killed. Then he moves on to the events of the film, even though he screws up the order pretty badly. He has Jason dying in 1957, and Barry and Claudette (the teaser kills from the first film) being killed in 1958. That's all spot on, but then he places Steve Christy's attempt to reopen the camp (the plot of the first film) 'a few years later' as opposed to twenty-two, the actual number. This is confused further by his subsequent references to the poisoned waters and series of fires that kept the camp from reopening around '62. Of course, it's expressly stated in the film that the fires and poisoned waters were Pamela Voorhees' attempts to keep the Christys from reopening the camp. After '62 they gave up, and Pamela stopped causing shenanigans until the grown-up Steve Christy attempted to reopen the camp. To be perfectly fair, it's not clear what's meant by these factual errors. Are they changing the continuity? Did Beardo just do some really bad research on the internet? So I can't get too angry about the bad history here. Less forgivable is the fact that during this entire sequence, Jason's last name is spelled Vorhees, as opposed to Voorhees(*2). As the scene ends, Sally dives into the lake for a swim as Mike inquires about her romantic prospects. He's rebuffed by Girlfriend, and we cut away to Rico and Alisha's cabin.

The happy couple are unpacking, thus confirming that this is all taking place on the same day as the opening sequence. It may seem odd that I'm paying such close attention to the timeline here, but trust me, it's going to be important later on. As they putter about the room, they finally reveal their dark secret—Rico is spiriting Alisha away from the city of angels to escape her abusive father. A nice character moment meant to endear these characters to us. Naturally it's hamstrung by our knowledge that they have a mere two weeks to live at the outside. Also, we learn that they don't know very much about geography in this scene, as Rico explains that his plan is to work at the camp a few weeks to earn enough money so that they can keep heading east to stay with his brother in New York. Of course, they're already in Connecticut(*3), so they've actually overshot their mark a little. Hopefully he'll use some of that cash he makes working to buy a map.

Then it's back to the lake where Sally is drowning. As her friends try to figure out if she's joking or not she's dragged underwater by the ghosts of a thousand dead children. Then her friends pull her out of the water and place her on a dock, where they announce that she's not breathing and is likely...dead! And there we're left on the chilling cliffhanger as the first issue ends.

Of course, it's not much of a cliffhanger ending, is it? After all, we know for a fact she gets out of this alive. How else could she be chased through the woods two weeks later, naked and bloody? It's here that the writers once again show their complete disregard for the structure of decent comic book storytelling. If you were looking for the perfect place to stop a comic and leave the audience wanting more, which of the following two images would you pick?

Pretty compelling image, right? Two pages of art used to depict a single chilling moment in time. Hell, see those black bars? They appeared in the original comic—the artists were so keen on making the image look as cinematic as possible that they were willing to waste perfectly good paper by putting absolutely nothing on it. How's Sally going to get out of this one? I'll certainly buy the next issue to find out! Now here's the image that actually ended the comic:

That's right. She's out of danger from the ghost children, lying in the warm sun, having CPR performed on her. If we were to look at this image out of context, with the worried friend announcing that she's dead and the other one trying to get her to breathe, it could be pretty tense. But since the first six pages of the comic were devoted to establishing, in no uncertain terms, that she's still alive two weeks later, we know there's nothing to be afraid of.

So there are your options: Beautifully drawn moment of terror, or anticlimactic resuscitation scene. If you were editing the comic, where would you have placed the 'to be continued'? I don't know who dropped the ball here, but having the comic end this poorly really doesn't bode well for the rest of the series, does it?

On to Issue 2!

(*1 Fun Jason Fact – This mistake was made by KNB when they were designing knobbly-headed Jason from Jason Goes to Hell. As a result, Jason was missing his right eye instead of his left.)
(*2 FJF – Actually, this mistake was also made in JGTH. Jason's childhood home has Vorhees written on the mailbox. Let's face it. There's a whole lot wrong with JGTH.)
(*3 FJF – While the series has usually dodged naming Crystal Lake's state, and the movies have been filmed everywhere from New Jersey to California, original screenwriter Victor Kurtz places it somewhere in Connecticut, a detail confirmed in the non-canon JGTH.)

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