Friday the 13th... The Comic! (Part 3 of 6)

Issue 3

This issue opens with Mike and and the other counselors discovering that the stoners have disappeared. Everyone agrees they must have left early in the morning, since no one saw them go, and it wouldn’t make sense for them to have wandered off in the middle of the night. Of course, it also doesn’t make sense for two loser stoners who were ditching out on paying work to have made their beds before sneaking off:

So contrivance rears its ugly head for the first time in the story. It’s important to the story that no one finds the stoners’ disappearance suspicious, but Jason is notoriously sloppy about cleaning up evidence of his work. Now, since the sky is overcast in the next few scenes, it’s completely plausible that no one would have wandered by the dock and noticed that it was completely covered in blood. The fact that the stoners had absolutely no luggage of any kind with them is a little harder to explain away. Seriously? They were going to work at the lake for up to three weeks, and they had a single set of clothes each? Doesn’t that seem a little far-fetched?

Over at the barn, the counsellors debate whether they should be looking for the stoners, or getting to work. When the suggestion that Alisha and Beardo (the only ones even a little concerned about the disappearances) go off into the woods looking for them, Rico proves so unhappy with the idea of his girlfriend being out of sight that it leads to yet another all-characer snipe-off as the consellors bicker at each other. Mike finally lays down the law, ordering everyone to get to work while he and Sally drive to town to look for the stoners.

In the car, Sally finds a book on serial killers, which makes her suspicious of Mike, and leads to a discussion of what the world at large thinks about the Jason Voorhees incident. This is an extremely well-conceived section of the comic, since the writers are going out of their way to fill in logic gaps that have always been left gaping by the series’ scripts, which were never too interested in delving any deeper into the idea of Jason beyond the mask and the machete.

The competeing theories of Jason in the comic’s world are that A: It’s a bunch of copycats who keep turning up every few years and starts (to paraphrase Jason Lives) “Killing people using Jason’s old M.O.”, or B: It’s actually a killer zombie. While the ‘rational’ theory is an interesting one, that I could clearly see having enough meat on it to justify doing a whole story about, it’s got enough holes in it that just mentioning it in passing doesn’t win the comic many points. Chief among the problems is the fact that, if there were copycats, how come none of them were ever caught or identified?

Another problem this scene raises is in Mike’s character – he announces that he full-on believes that Jason is a zombie that loves to murder anyone who comes near his lake. This is totally reasonable in the world of Friday the 13th, of course, but why on earth would anyone who held that belief accept a job working at the camp that serves as the focus of Jason’s killing spree? You’d have to be suicidal or so obsessed with proving Jason’s existance that you’re willing to end your own life to do it.

The real The bigger problem, though, is that we, the audience, know that Jason is the killer, not a guy in a Jason suit.

Or do we? There’s a third possible explanation for Mike’s behaviour: that’s he’s a crazy murderer who’s obsessed with Jason. After the book discussion, Sally finds a goalie’s mask under the seat of Mike’s truck, and interrogates him about it. Mike almost assuages her doubts by assuring her that it’s a prototype of the kind of mask they’ll be selling at the gift shop of the camp.

As I reached this point in the comic, I was a little confused by all the hints they were dropping that pointed at the ‘copycat’ option. Mike’s obsession with Jason, the fact that he pointedly announced that he was leaving camp to spend the night in town before ‘Jason’ showed up and killed the stoners. This is a lot of trouble for the writeres to go to if they’re not going to take the plot in that direction.

Of course, it can’t possibly be a copycat, because the one film that attempted to go that way is considered to be the low point of the series. Well, third lowest point, since at least it managed to have copious amounts of nudity, which Manhattan couldn’t manage. Also, it didn’t take place in outer space. More importantly, though, we’ve already seen the phantom of Jason attack Sally in a dream sequence, and he looked exactly like the one that killed the stoners. So, again, unless the artists were getting lazy, it can’t possibly be a guy in a suit.

Back at camp, Jock, Beardo, and Rico are reshingling a roof. I know this whole ‘repairing camp’ thing is supposed to be an extended reference to the first film, but if this camp is going to be a licensed child-care facility, shouldn’t this kind of large-scale repair work be performed by contractors who’ve obtained the proper permits?

Up on the roof, yet another fight breaks out, as the suggestion that Beardo has a crush on Sally (remember the stalking?) leads to merciless mocking, and finally Rico attempts to throw him off the roof of the barn, a rouhgly twenty-foot drop. Jock tries to intervene, but winds up getting shoved off the roof by Rico. He just manages to grab on, and Rico pulls him back up, but the Puerto Rican’s lack of contrition over the whole ‘attempted murder’ thing leads Jock to punch him, leading to a scuffle that sends all three of the men toppling off of the roof…

Be sure to note the incredibly crisp, well-defined shadows being cast on the wall. In the middle of a rainstorm.

…onto a conveniently-placed pile of hay. The fight threatens to continue, but then Jock announces that he’s a mixed martial artists, and beats Rico up enough to get him to back off.

You may be asking yourself a few questions at this point. Such as, why was there a huge pile of hay lying around when Camp Blood does not currently have, nor has it ever had, any horses? Or why no one’s a little more shaken up by the fact that all of them just came within a few inches of dying. After all, even landing on a pile of hay is no guarantor of survival, especially if you’re falling headfirst, as all of them were.

The bigger question you’re probably asking is: what’s the point of this fight at all? I don’t have an answer for that one, but I do have a theory. There’s a school of writing that teaches that every single scene in any story must have conflict in it, or it’s not an interesting scene. It’s the kind of thing that’s taught in screenwriting manuals and writing classes, and it’s a really bad message. Not because conflict isn’t interesting, and the lack of it doesn’t have its problems, but because having this rule set down as law makes mediocre writers think there’s a formula they can follow to write well. If they don’t have an orginal story or decent characters at least they can show how there’s conflict in every scene, so it must be a good story.

This kind of bad writing is the bane of slasher films, as writers attempt to liven up the first, pre-killfest portion of the script with as much inter-character conflict as possible. A nice idea in theory, but in practice it almost inevtiably winds up forcing the audience to endure forty minutes of unlikable characters bitching at one another until they start dying. This kills whatever chance the audience has of identifying with any of those characters, and prehaps emotionally investing in their fate, which means that rather than creating horror in the audience with the death of a beloved character (see Scream 2 for an example of this), the audience can only relate to their deaths as gore setpieces.

This is even worse for creating drama than giving away the story’s ending in the opening minutes, although as I read through this fight scene I kept wondering why I should care, given that all of these characters are going to be dead in two weeks. The only new piece of information given across the five page sequence is that Jock knows kung fu, which will most likely lead to a scene of him attempting to kung fu Jason, and getting killed like Julius in VIII.

I’m not saying that Gray and Palmiotti are bad writers for putting this conflict in, I’m just worried that, as clear slasher fans, they were a little too focused on making sure that every bit of the films ended up in their comic, including some of the more unfortunate aspects of the genre.

The next scene picks up inside the main cabin, where Alisha and Girlfriend take shelter from the rain. They quickly find out about the fight, which leads to yet another scene of interpersonal conflict, ending with Alisha and Girlfriend storming off. Is there anything more fascinating than the interpersonal squabbles of corpses?

Then it’s back to Mike and Sally, who are stopped on the side of the road with a flat tire that Mike’s halfway through changing. Sally sees a dark figure walks up to the car, but doesn’t bother to warn Mike for some reason. Naturally it’s Jason, who manages to silently pick up a tire iron from the ground and sneak up on Mike, despite the fact that he was approaching the truck from across a paved road, and he’s a giant monster. I’ll accept his stealth when he’s lurking around corners or springing out of the woods – walking down the open road is a little hard to accept.

So Mike is quickly dispatched, in a manner that suggests that, in his time off, Jason has become something of a devotee of the world of hypergore. After braining the pour soul with a tire iron and then braking his neck, Jason then throws his dead body under the truck and kicks out the jack, allowing the truck to crush most of his head. It’s disgusting, to be sure, but it seems a little creative to really be Jason’s style. Jason is usually all about putting people out of comission as quickly as possible, without a lot of fuss. Oh, every now and then he’ll pin Crispin Glover’s hand to a chopping block with a bottle opener before finishing him off with a cleaver, but by and large he’s just about delivering as much brutality as possible in as little time as possible. This kind of creativity just doesn’t mesh with what we know about the character(*5).

While Sally runs away, let’s pause to consider the ramifications of this last kill. Mike was just murdered by the real Jason. So he’s not a copycat, nor will his knowledge about Jason or theories in any way play a part in the rest of the story. So what was the point of that scene between him and Sally in the truck? If the writers weren’t setting anything up, does that mean they were just wasting our time? Yes. Yes it does.

When we next see Sally, she’s running through the camp’s front gate, just as Girlfriend is walking to her cabin in mid-storm-off. This raises a pretty big question, actually: were they playing with time in the last two scenes, showing us the cabin sequence, then cutting to a murder that took place chronologically earlier? It seems like they must have, but other than geographical issues, there’s nothing to suggest that’s what they’re doing. The road Mike and Sally were stopped on was fully paved with a double yellow line in the middle – in every Friday the 13th film ever, and various scenes in the comic book, it’s established that Camp Blood is at the end of a very long dirt road. Did Sally just run all the way down it? If so, there’s definately a time lapse going on, since Girlfriend is clearly on her way to her cabin, not coming back, since she’s still wearing the same soaked outfit she was eager to get out of.

In any event, we’re left with a classic Friday the 13th puzzler – why was Jason out killing people on the road when there was a camp full of people to kill? This is the kind of weirdness that harkens back to New Blood, in which Jason is raised from Crystal Lake, then walks right past an unconscious girl, past two houses full of living people, wanders two miles down a road to kill a couple of campers whose car had broken down, then walks back to the houses and ominously slams an aluminum tent spike into one a wall before wandering off into the woods again. He’s a puzzler, that Voorhees.

Enough digression – back in this story, Sally rushes up to Girlfriend and informs her about Mike’s death, then the two of them run back to the main cabin. Where they discover Jock and Beardo making out. That’s right – Jock has a girlfriend and Beardo is stalking Sally, but they use every moment alone to make out. It seems like this is a relatively large subplot to drop into the story just as the action is ramping up, and I’m more than a little confused about why the writers bothered to do it. Other than the obvious, of course: It allows them to drop in yet another page worth of people bickering at one another. Oh, and, of course make all the teen boys who are this book’s audience not want to buy the next issue. Let’s not forget about that valuable service.

The issue ends one page later, as Sally looks out the window and we get another darn good image:

Pretty great, right? You’ll notice the great lighting on Jason and the glint on his machete as it’s illuminated by the bolt of lighting. That’s just plain creepy. Perhaps you’ll also notice that the black bars are back, a lot more nonsensically this time. Last time around the bars were cutting off the top and bottom of a double splash page, creating the visual effect of a widescreen film image. This time the black bars have taken a rectangle and masked off the top and bottom, creating a… slightly smaller rectangle. Not as dramatic, is it?

As issue three halts, I’m left wondering exactly where this story can go next. Traditionally Jason works in the shadows for the vast majority of the film, picking people off one by one, so that no one even knows there’s a killer running around until the majority of the cast is dead. That allows the film to keep the stalk-and-slash thing going for as long as possible, usually right up until the final chase. It’s the Halloween formula that’s been repeated hundreds of times since 1978,

While it’s terribly formulaic, it does prevent the films from turning into siege/escape stories, which is normally where they fall apart. The old joke about slasher films involves asking why people elect to go skinny-dipping in a graveyard pond while there’s a mass murderer on the loose. The answer, of course, is that none of the characters know they’re in a slasher film until it’s too late – the secrecy that the killer operates under keeps the other characters from escaping in an orderly fashion, which any sane person would do when threatened by Jason.

Essentially this means Gray and Palmiotti have written themselves into a bit of a corner. By pulling the trigger on the reveal at the end of issue three, they’ve basically committed to spending the next three issues chronicling the majority of the cast’s attempt to escape from Jason. It’s way off the model for the series, and even if it winds up failing, it’s a darned interesting way for the story to go.

That being said, I’m going to have to refer back to the caption that showed up when this extended flashback began two issues ago:

This caption established the main events of the comic as taking place a full two weeks before Sally wound up in the hospital. Yet here we are, just one day after the stoners arrived at Crystal Lake, and three characters are already dead, with a siege about to begin. If something doesn’t come along to explain that discrepancy soon, it’s going to be one of the bigger mistakes I’ve seen in a while.

On to Issue 4!

(*5 FJF – Jason’s creative urges all lie in the field of ‘strategic body placement’, which involves leaving bodies in odd places and then herding is victims towards them so they can be terrified by the discovery.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice detailed breakdown of the issue. will be curious what you think when you get to the end.