Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Indiana Jones Comic Book Revue

I mentioned a little while ago that I had wanted to do this, and I figured now was as good a time as any to get the ball rolling, so...

All books will be rated on a 0 to 5 Fedoras system.

The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #1 & 2
(Marvel Comics Group)

Written by: John Byrne & Denny O'Neil
Pencilled by: John Byrne
Inked by: Terry Austin
Covers by: John Byrne & Terry Austin

"...Risky. Risky is the word, Marcus."

Following the success of the first Indy film, Marvel Comics went into the archaeology business with their newest licensed title, The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. To launch the title, Marvel recruited fan-favourite artist John Byrne to bring Dr. Jones' continuing adventures to life, and brought in writer Denny O'Neil to finish the tale when Byrne and Lucasfilm began having problems.

Dateline 1936

The story, titled "The Ikons of Ikammanen", begins when an old student of Indy's, Charlie Dunne, arrives at Barnett College to inform him of a great discovery he made with his sister, Edith. They believed that they had located the temple of the mythical Ikons of Ikammanen, gold statues that were capable of becoming living avengers. In the process of relating his tale to Indy, he is killed by an unknown assassin sending our hero to Liberia in order to assist Edith in uncovering the Ikons location in her brother's absence.

In true Indiana Jones fashion, our hero gets in a few scrapes with the locals (vaguely remiscient of Raiders) and then comes face to face with the local gangster, Solomon Black. Black, who has captured Edith and is enthralled by the idea of finding a number of solid gold statues, tells Indy that if he doesn't find the Ikons for him, he will kill her. Indy, of course, obliges, and bides his time, waiting for his chance to work his way out of yet another complicated situation.

They travel to a mysterious fog-encrusted island (think Skull Island) where they are knocked unconscious by the locals while examinging their discovery, the Ikon's temple itself. The issue ends with Indy and Edith, tied to a large winch and chain and being lowered into a vat of boiling gold. Will our hero finally meet his end?

The second issue, called "22-Karat Doom!", picks up where the last one left off, with Indy and Edith in peril trying to find a way out of their predicament. A combination of Indy's wits, and the convenient intervention of Solomon Black's men, saves the pair from becoming golden statues themselves but they immediately find themselves having to fight with Black's men against the natives in order to make their way back to the beach and the ship they arrived on.

After getting on Black's last nerve, Indy and Edith are unexpectedly saved by a patrolling German U-Boat that launches a torpedo and ends the threat posed by Solomon Black and his gang. Our heroes, who tossed themselves over the side before the ship exploded (along with one Ikon which survived the blast), hitch a ride with the Germans and make their way back to the States. The only catch is that Edith had been planning a double-cross the whole time and was, in actual fact, the assassin responsible for her brother Charlie's death. She wanted some of the fame and fortune and didn't want to play second fiddle to her brother just because she was a woman. Indy gets the last laugh, though, when he uses an inscription he found in the Ikon's temple to bring the one Ikon they saved from their adventure to life. The Ikon attacks Edith and her pilot boyfriend while Indy grabs a chute and leaps out of the plane, into the great unknown.

It sounds a little cheeseball when I break it down like that, but these are actually pretty entertaining Indy comics. When you consider the existing Indy lore (which was almost non-existent) I think Byrne and O'Neil did a bang up job of capturing the whole pulp '30s feel that George Lucas always said he was going for in the movies. Sure Indy was a bit out of character in a few scenes, but it fit the tone and style of the story so I can go out of my way to cut the guys some slack.

I really liked the way Byrne breaks the story into chapters, evoking that Republic serial feel, and the pacing was brisk and almost of another time. Back in the '80s, we didn't have the deconstructionists taking 12 issues to tell a story that Eisner or his peers would have told in 8 pages, but the speed with which Byrne moves through this story is still something else. It was probably a good thing, too, since he wasn't able to really do anything else with the character other than run him through his paces and showcase a few set-pieces.

It's a shame that Byrne didn't stay on beyond issue two since I don't believe that any artist that followed him had the same universal appeal and pulp approach, but the guy was unhappy and that was almost 30 years ago, so what can you do?

Both Byrne and O'Neil have said that they really didn't enjoy working on the book because of editorial interference from Lucasfilm but, despite their working experiences, they managed to produce two of the most entertaining and visually pleasing Indy books I've seen over the past 27 years. I still go back and reread these issues every now and then when I have a craving for some good Indy comics.

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