Every Friday, we’ll be bringing you reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
The Thing From Another World # 1
Writer: Chuck Pfarrer
Artist: John Higgins
Dark Horse Comics
Halloween is a full week away so this is the penultimate “chapter” in our look at horror comics during the month of October. Leading into next week’s crème de la crème (or, more ostensibly, scream de la scream) of horror titles, I thought I’d do something a little different – something that hasn’t been done yet in this column. Why not look at a comic book sequel to a cult classic sci-fi horror film?
And really, there’s only one comic that immediately comes to mind.
In 1982, acclaimed director John Carpenter released The Thing, starring Kurt Russell, upon an unsuspecting world. It was a remake of the 1951 film entitled The Thing From Another World, but this version stayed closer to the source material, John W. Campbell Jr.’s novella, Who Goes There? A creepy title in itself.
The premise was quite simple: an American research station, based in the Antarctic, encounters an alien life form, frozen in the ice, which is eventually allowed to thaw. Every cell of the alien is sentient and can malevolently take over and mimic a human body. The protagonists discover that the creature reacts violently to fire and, of course, none of the researches know who is or isn’t “infected” and a dramatic story of suspicion, distrust and survival unfolds.
The story itself was published in 1938 and, in 1973, was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the best sci-fi novellas ever written. The first film came out amidst the backdrop of the burgeoning cold war between the US and the Soviet Union and many see it as a metaphor for McCarthyism. Carpenter’s version, however, was much more visceral, with scenes of gruesome autopsies and blood-testing coupled with a deepening sense of paranoia. One can regard The Thing as a treatise on the burgeoning AIDS epidemic in the early 80’s – a little understood disease at the time. Not many will forget the scene where Russell’s character, MacReady, tests the blood samples of his co-workers, painfully slowly, one at a time, while they all sit in front of him, tied down to chairs and immobile. It’s as classic a scene as there is in film.
In 1992, Dark Horse Comics, one of the up and coming small publishers of the industry, secured the rights of The Thing from Universal Studios and went about creating a two-issue sequel to Carpenter’s film. Dark Horse went back to the title of the original 1951 movie in order to avoid any potential legal action with Marvel Comics who had a character of the same name in their stable.
Written by Chuck Pfarrer, best known for his screenplays for the movies Navy SEALs, Darkman, The Jackal and Red Planet and lavishly painted by John Higgins (the man who coloured Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen), The Thing From Another World takes place right after the end of the 1982 film.
Not as consistently tense as the film itself, Pfarrer successfully garners a sense of distrust between the characters – some of them returning from the film but many of them new. He adds a crew of Navy SEALs to the story, a rip-off of James Cameron’s film Aliens , and uses them as macho, naïve story devices. In an important scene, Erskine, one of the soldiers, accuses his guide (a survivor from the film and someone who might be an alien) of taking him in the wrong direction through the cold Antarctic night. “You said that this thing could sleep in the ice…maybe that’s why you want us to freeze out here. So you can go to sleep and wait for the rescue party.” As the tension mounts, they pull weapons on each other – with no proof of the accusations that are made.
Higgins’ painted art is perfect. He was always a great colourist – the dark blues and purples that make up the snow-covered landscape add a sense of alienation to the story. But it’s his fluid and visceral work on the characters – especially when one is unveiled as a “thing” that his artistry really horrifies. Those scenes evoke the sinewy tendrils and wet-rope sounds from the film. There is movement in his panels; fast, haphazard appendages of veins and bone reach out for new victims where even a blood-sprayed gun-shot of defense is grounds for new horrors. Even here in the Antarctic, Higgins paints his alien bodies as warm and wet.
Yes, it’s interesting to see “what comes next” but at its best, The Thing From Another World makes you pine for the John Carpenter film. It doesn’t add to the mythology of the movie or to the characters with which it shares, but it’s still a fun, and often, sick and twisted romp through the world of sci-fi horror.
John Carpenter’s The Thing didn’t fare well in 1982. E.T. was released two weeks afterwards and it would seem that the world was more interested in an optimistic view of aliens that what The Thing was willing to conjure. It still has, by many accounts, some of the most gruesome special effects ever produced in film. Even Roger Ebert has gone on record as calling them “elaborate, nauseating and horrifying.”
The film has done well in the years since its release and is now regarded as a cult classic. Word on the street is that Ronald D. Moore, creator of the new Battlestar Gallactica, is hard at work on a remake.
Hmmm. The Thing For A New Generation.
It gives me the Antarctic shivers.