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Space Ghost

If you could compile a list of things I never thought I’d ever review for this column, it would include a comic book version of Space Ghost. Sure, I remember the cartoon reruns from the 1980s, not to mention the infinitely better and much funnier Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast that Cartoon Network cobbled together and ran for a decade, but never did I think the man the titanium white body stocking would ever grace the pages of a comic.

After a fair amount of drinking over at DC, someone greenlit Joe (Wildcats 3.0, JLA) Kelly and Ariel (JLA: Haven) Olivetti to put together a little miniseries that explains the origins of this already obscure hero; to top it all off, Alex Ross signed on to do the covers for the book. With such an array of talent, one is really only left with one question:

Dear god why?

I just don’t know why this comic was made or why Kelly felt the urge to write it. The reasons seem to stem, at least for Kelly, from the fact that Alex Toth, master animator and lauded comic book artist, did the original design for Space Ghost. Toth had worked in comics after graduating high school, working at companies like DC and Dell, as well as working for and designing Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends cartoon. He is, without doubt, an invariably influential figure in comic book and animation history. But is his mere relation to the character enough reason to justify this comic book? I do not think so.

What the creators are shooting for must be nostalgia comics, which is something we’re all intimately familiar with thanks to the 1980s revival projects like G.I. Joe that came out in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s. But I severely question this goal, since nothing about the comic book plays to the nostalgia. The artwork by Olivetti is as far removed from Toth’s clean lines and rounded figures as you can get. Olivetti over-exaggerates musculature, creating a book populated by hulking masses of muscle, especially his main character. Space Ghost’s original design was sleeker, suggesting his stealthy tactics and his speed. The flying chunk of bicep that Olivetti designs in no way references the style of Toth, so it seems unlikely that Toth lovers would be drawn to this book.

For those who might have watched Space Ghost as a child, well, the cartoon wasn’t something that stood out all that much when compared to other cartoons of its day. Sure, I caught some reruns in the 1980s growing up, but its big boom time was the two years the series had in the 1960s and the larger syndication it saw in the 1970s. Already, the nostalgic crowd that might be drawn to this work are anywhere from 30 to nearly 50 years old.

While there is a glut of readers of this age bracket, the story the Kelly concocts as origin is not overly true to the stories of the originals. The original cartoons were high space-faring adventure, given levity by an incredibly annoying, but apparently required for any Hanna-Barbara cartoon, pet monkey. Kelly’s story is about pain and anguish and the death of a man’s soul and its subsequent rebirth. It’s not the same character that they were watching.

Kelly’s story also isn’t overly original. The entire first act would seem stolen from Training Day, save for things don’t end up happy for Space Ghost the way it did for Ethan Hawke. From then on, it’s just a standard Hero-wants-revenge-Hero-learns-lesson-Hero-changes-for-the-better story, with predictable plotting and one-dimensional characters. The addition of characters from the show (Zorak, Jan and Jace) is nice, but they add nothing to the story.

Zorak isn’t even a character; the artwork by Olivetti is too indistinct when depicting the Zorathians to tell one bug creature from another, and Kelly has somehow made “Zorak” a concept more than an actual name, because of some poorly explained hive mentality. Jan and Jace are wedged into the story so that there might be an emotional moment or two, but ultimately they’re just there to be rescued.

Kelly makes the case for the story in his introduction, citing that Space Ghost never really had an origin. In response, I would ask why this story needs to be told in the first place. I can’t think of anyone who burned at the thought of never knowing what truly lurked behind that black cowl and yellow cape, and for all the reasons listed above, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to find out. It’s just a bad treatment of a character and a story that could easily have stayed within the realms of television and not ventured into comicdom.

Kelly seems to enjoy the work he did on it, but I can’t agree. While he tries to keep some of the elements that arose from the cartoon, he throws out everything else and never really fills it in with a good story. Olivetti’s artwork is just wrong for the book and the character and it seems that Alex Ross comes the closest to Toth with his cover renditions, though even Ross is off. For $14.99, there are better comics to buy with stories that are better and timelier than this one. The only saving grace is that Kelly never added in that stupid monkey in a mask. May Blip and Gleep both find their simian paths leading them into a meat grinder.

Robert Sparling

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