When I was a young man, the cable TV landscape was much different than we see today. Why am I mentioning this in a column about graphic novels? Work with me here, it’ll make sense in a second. Back then you had a limited number of channels on the UHF or VHF band, which doesn’t really matter right now except to be part of this whole thing. See, for the extra pay channels, you had HBO, Cinemax and Showtime. Sometimes, they’d all three get the same movie and play them endlessly, back to back to back across multiple channels. I specifically remember two times this happened that stand out to me: once with Weird Science, and again with a little movie called Big Trouble in Little China.
Weird Science was wildly popular. I don’t remember Big Trouble in Little China being as popular, but damn it was a fun movie which has grown, over time, to become a cult classic. In it, Kurt Russell is Jack Burton, a truck driver with a penchant for talking — a lot — and telling stories — a lot, who gets pulled into a very strange and mystical power struggle going on in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Burton is often the comic relief who just happens to also have a knack for getting out of trouble (once he gets into it). He takes his friend, Wang Chi (played by Dennis Dun) to the airport to pick up his fiancé where they meet Kim Cattrall’s character, Gracie Law, a newspaper reporter determined to uncover the criminal empire thriving in Chinatown. Law is attempting to help a Chinese immigrant make it safely into the country when a street gang tries to kidnap the woman and instead, takes Wang’s fiancé. This leads Burton and Wang into a supernatural battle between street gangs, Egg Shen (Victor Wong) and Lo Pan (James Hong) to save the women who have been kidnapped from being sacrificed, and stop Lo Pan from escaping the curse of No Flesh imposed upon him by the first sovereign emperor Qin Shi Huang.
I mention all of that because 30 years after that movie, there’s a sequel in the form of a comic book. Written by John Carpenter and Eric Powell, and drawn by Brian Churilla, Big Trouble in Little China continues the adventures of Jack Burton, Egg Shen and Wang Chi. In the closing scene of the movie we see Jack driving away in his truck The Pork Chop Express, but he’s not alone. Something is hitching a ride. That’s where the comic book picks up. That something is a monster named Pete, and Jack needs to get rid of it. But the only person he knows who also knows about this Chinese magic, is Egg Shen, who is attending Wang’s wedding. Things go down from there, a demon appears, kidnaps Wang, and demands Jack and Egg retrieve the spirits of the Three Storms: Thunder, Rain and Lightning from the hell where they’ve been imprisoned, or else Wang’s life is forfeit. So ole Jack Burton is back on the case, driving down The Black Road to the Hell of the Seven Widows with a crazy old man and a monster to save his friend before the deadline falls in three days…
First off, Russell created such a memorable character in Burton that I hear his voice throughout the book and the same goes for Victor Wong as Egg Shen. Both actors made such an impact and carried the movie, so it’s only natural to have them come to mind in this book. The humor is spot on, and feels like the movie just continued on past that last scene, which is amazing. Carpenter and Powell capture the spirit of the movie and characters incredibly well. The story mixes supernatural elements with Burton’s singular ability to tell tall tales, and sets the stakes high with the kidnaping of Wang.
Overall, this book brings the 80’s back in a huge way – it’s over the top. And that’s not a bad thing. The art, characters, dialogue, and story – all belong in a sequel to a movie that was crazy and fun. Part of me wishes the movie had done better, and the sequel could’ve come to the big screen back in the day. But if it had, I’m not sure it would hold the same charm as this book does.
Big Trouble in Little China is a rare bird, a 30-years-after sequel that works on every level. If you’re a fan of the movie, I highly recommend this book. If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s on Netflix – give it a shot, then pick up this book. You won’t be disappointed.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal), and 2014 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fancast. He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012, 2013, and 2014 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.