Escape from New York 1

Today, Taylor and Ryan are discussing Escape From New York 1, originally released December 3rd, 2014.

Taylor: A lot has been written about the Millennial generation and the good and bad (but mostly the bad) habits that make us unique. A common complaint is that Millennials suffer from a prolonged spell of adolescence, or at the very least. a desire to shirk responsibility and the traditional trappings of adulthood. Authors have suggested many reasons for this, but one that has always struck me as catching goes like this: because we live in times of relative upheaval, Millennials have begun to look to the past for comfort (think of our fascinations with the ’80s). With that in mind, is the latest comic based on John Carpenter’s Escape From New York simply a cashing in on Millennial nostalgia or something more?

The year is 1997. Snake Plissken has just helped the President of the United States of America escape from the maximum security prison-island of Manhattan. In doing so, Snake has also sabotaged the President’s bid for peace with Russia and China, thereby potentially igniting the third World War. Obviously in some deep trouble, Snake flees to Florida, which has won its independence from the USA with the aid of Cuba. Once there, Snake makes his way to the crucible to meet Romulus and Remus, the telekinetic twins who are in charge of Florida.

Perhaps living up to the stereotype that society has pegged me to be, I’m a fan of a lot of ’80s action movies. While my favorite John Carpenter movie is the delightfully wacky Big Trouble in Little China, I do enjoy Escape from New York if for no other reason than it’s totally absurd and thereby incredibly likable. Still, I opened the the pages of Escape from New York 1 with more than a little trepidation. As Escape from LA showed us, it’s incredibly difficult to capture lightening in a bottle twice, so I had my doubts about the title’s ability to recreate the charm of its source material. There are some encouraging signs here, but also those of concern.

To start, writer Christopher Sebela leans heavily on the character of Snake to carry his narrative. On the surface, this is a smart move. Kurt Russell’s blend of humor and tough guy attitude was the perfect match for John Carpenter’s movie. However, devoid of Russell’s onscreen charm, Snake seems to be a run-of-the-mill tough guy, the likes of which have graced the pages of comics for ages. Just look at the way he handles himself under pressure after he’s stolen a helicopter and under heavy fire.

Cool under pressure.

Despite the the threat of oncoming missiles, he’s taking the time to light a cigarette. It’s obviously a ludicrous move, but in the context of the comic it doesn’t come off as all that insane. It’s just Snake being Snake and we’re supposed to all sit back and enjoy the cool. In similar fashion, Snake gets past the Floridians Crucible in his own unique fashion. Played by a living breathing Russell, these scenes could be fun; but on the page, they come off as flat and a bit boring. It feels like a string of Brock Sampson gags, only they aren’t a joke. While I want to like this Snake, I find myself realizing I miss Kurt Russell playing the guy. And when Snake fails to captivate the audience, so does this title.

What saves this title in great part is the sense of weirdness and absurdity that made the movie so much fun. In particular, the world Snake inhabits is just as bizarre and fun as I would hope. When he meets a band of marauders on the highway, Snake receives a bit of a history lesson on the state of Florida.

Florida's a state.

Florida, in a realistic turn of events, has seceded from the union and has lined their border with nukes in a deal they made with Cuba. Also — perhaps even less realistically — the state is run by psychic twins who are overseeing a lawless land full of murder and corruption. That’s a wonderful backdrop for this title and one that fits into the world created by Carpenter perfectly. True, this version of Florida does take a lot of it’s cues from the New York which gives this title its name, but that’s alright. Putting Snake back into his natural environment — chaos — is a good move.

While I would like to say this title is breaking new ground and reviving an old property, it feels like it’s banking too heavily on what made the movie popular, at least in this issue. Perhaps that’s okay though. It’s important to hook your audience with a first issue and what better way to impress Escape from New York fans than with the very things made them enjoy the movie? Ultimately I feel this issue issue cashes in on nostalgia but does so in a way that leaves some promise for bold new avenues.

Ryan! What do you think? Have you seen the movie this is based on? Does it live up the hype? From a narrative perspective, this title has a few issues, but also some promises? Do you see any more? Also, what do you think about the art?

Ryan: I have, indeed, seen the original Escape from New York, and it holds for me much of the same nostalgic value it does for many. John Carpenter appeals in the same vein that Tarantino does for contemporary audiences: through referencing and paying homage to the films and genres which both inspired the writers and audience. Many of Carpenter’s films evoke the classic westerns, schlocky sci-fi, and low-budget horror which a large part of his fan base also grew up consuming. Though the future world of 1997 may not seem that exotic to current audiences, at the time it represented a grimy, near-future, plausible dystopia – which were all the rage in the eighties.

With this in mind, is it even possible for a comic continuing the story of Snake — let’s call it an epilogue for now — to live up to the hype? Carpenter charged the original with an intangible electricity which fed directly from the Reagan-era political climate of the early ‘80s. Cynical distrust of the government on Plissken’s part is easy to identify with in the midst of the dramatic governmental restructuring of the time. Why not be jaded when Reagan’s Chairman of the Financial Reserve purportedly set out to purposefully crash the American economy so it could be rebuilt in their image (as interests rates hit 16.4 percent in 1981, up from 7.9 percent in 1979)? Why not turn the entire island of New York City into a prison colony when the amount of those incarcerated in state institutions increased 263% from 1980-89? One can only assume that author Sebela understood that chances of anyone being able to recapture that magic are slim, so his choice to take Snake’s act on the road is an intelligent decision, as there is no chance to do NYC again without disappointing the very fans to whom the creative team is paying lip service.

Snake, in the original, played a loose analogue of a Clint-Eastwood-esque lone cowboy, striding into the dusty, dilapidated town run by the corrupt “sheriff”, the Duke, who runs the most powerful street gang in the city. The conflict is a timeless one: the outsider refuses to buck his own steely principles to that of the established status quo. As the comic only just touches down in Florida to meet up with the twins, the reader can only hope that there will be a figure to play the same antithetical role to Snake’s.

And Snake. Oh, Snake! As Taylor pointed out so well, thus far the comic’s protagonist is a far cry from the film’s. If we could just paste photos of Kurt Russell over the one illustrated here, that could be a step in the right direction. I found the art itself to be somewhat underwhelming. Artist Diego Barreto plays with blacks and shadows to set the ambiance while using hard angles and sharp shapes to drive home how unfriendly and dangerous this universe is. However, Barreto draws people with level of caricature similar to Powers, but without the signature stylization:

ESNY1

As fantastical as the universe is, grit sells its believability, and I find this grittiness lacking in the main and supporting characters.

Hopefully, Florida will bring with it Snake’s “natural environment”, as Taylor said. Snake, like Carpenter’s protagonist played by Roddy Piper in “They Live!”, can be qualified as libertarian anarchists who, by their very actions dictate their disdain for the coercive monopoly they seem to view the government as (see: Snake destroying the tape at the beginning of this issue) and exercise their own private agency as law. The question in this comic in regards to Plissken is: what does he care about?

EsNY2

His motives are muddy thus far, but I will keep tuning into future issues of this series for the chance to see in through the sliver of space in Snake’s eye patch for a hint of his motivation.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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