Let me just get something out of the way here, right up top: Big Trouble in Little China is my favorite movie of all time. Sure, you got your Casablancas and your Gone with the Winds, but neither of those movies have good ol’ Jack Burton puttin’ a jolly trucker hurtin’ on some ancient demon types. It’s a movie that combines genres as diverse as crime noir, kung fu action, and a bit of old western flair, full of characters that spout exposition as often as they can draw breath. They can see things no one else can see, which leads to a movie brimming with an endless imagination that is only reined in by its limited budget. That…and it’s hilarious.
Naturally, I was thrilled when the film was continued in the comic book medium starting with the first ongoing series in 2014. That book took the eccentricities of the film and applied them through a cartoonish filter. It was lot of fun and its cancellation was followed by a miniseries teaming Jack Burton up with another iconic Kurt Russell character, Snake Plissken.
Old Man Jack, while billed as the “authorized sequel” to the original film, still picks up on the tone and lingering plot lines from the 2014 series. When we last left off in volume one of this series, the world was in ruin following a deal with a demon our old buddy Jack made (with the best intentions in mind, of course). With his best friend and worst enemy both resurrected, Jack and company set off in his trusty truck, the Porkchop Express, to try to vanquish the evil god Ching Dai and put an end to the hell(s) on earth.
Though the issues were released separately, the first chapter or so of the trade still acts as a bit of a recap, with many of the characters re-stating their motivations and explaining the state of the world. This was actually kind of fun, considering the wild amount of expository dialogue the characters in the original film were usually saddled with, but it can get a bit old in print. At least in the film, you can see characters react to hearing the same old news over and over again (such as when Gracie has to hear someone tell her who Lo Pan is for the second or third time in the movie).
That gripe aside, the book wastes no time in getting to some great action sequences, as Jack, Wang, and Lo Pan get into a mid-air battle with the Three Storms in the middle of a twister. It’s the kind of thing that would have been impossible for John Carpenter to film back in the day, but you can tell he’s having a blast coming up with weirder and weirder set pieces for the characters to muddle their way through. It’s great to have Carpenter co-plotting the story, as the story continues the previous ongoing series’ trend of making plot points out of small callbacks to the original film, such as the sequence where Pete the monster follows the Three Storms’ scents by sniffing the red torture ball used on Jack in the original film. That’s the handy thing about having a yaoguai as a pet!
The tone of the series continues to be over the top in every sense, which I found to be a delight, but may not work for all readers. The seediness of the film has mostly been replaced by four-color insanity, with massive fire pits and increasingly elaborate hell dimensions. It’s a fun ride, but I can see why some fans of the movie are not as keen on these comics as I have been. It’s similar to the disconnect I had with some of the Army of Darkness-related comics, occasionally wishing the comic would take itself SLIGHTLY seriously. Then I remember how ludicrous the core concept is and settle back in to the book’s rhythms.
The only way in which the tone doesn’t quite gel for me is with some of the dialogue. The characters tend to express themselves in very similar ways, using a lot of slang terms that seem out of character for some of them (especially Egg and Lo Pan, at some points). They can occasionally sound a little too “hip,” with the script going for a joke at the expense of consistency of character.
I will say, even with the detours into the many different hellscapes, this collection really moved the plot forward and developed Jack’s character in ways that the 2014 series seldom attempted. After all of the bonkers demon-on-trucker action, it’s admirable for the series to take a deep dive into Jack’s sense of guilt and duty. It allows him to be more than the goofy caricature that he presents himself as, which I really appreciated.
Overall, I can’t deny that I had a blast with this volume, preferring it even over the first chunk of issues. The stage is set for the final showdown with Ching Dai, so you can bet I’ll be picking up the last few issues to see how it all plays out!
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