Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Thing-a-Thon: The Thing from Another World (Dark Horse Comics; 1992)

In 1992, Dark Horse Comics continued the story of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) in several comic-book installments.  This retrospective post gazes at the first two issues of that revival, titled The Thing from Another World (#1 and #2).  The story was penned by Chuck Pfarrer, and the stunning art is by John Higgins.

The first two-part story was followed up, in short order, by a three-part series, Climate of Fear (also published in 1992).

The first two comics, however, commence a story that begins a mere 24 hours after the film’s end. The first frames of the comic reveal vistas of brutal Antarctica, and the writing establishes that “People will tell you the wind here will make you insane. That it will strip from you the things which make you human. Hope. Reason. And compassion.”

Following this interlude, MacReady -- suffering from frost-bite -- is taken to the Misaki Maru, a whaling vessel out of Okuska, by an apparently-human Childs. Childs leaves him there to receive medical attention, while he returns to Outpost 31 to seek out other survivors.

MacReady is delirious when he first awakes aboard ship, and gives himself a blood-test to prove to himself that he is not a Thing. Then he steals a helicopter from the ship’s deck and goes in search of Childs.

Instead, at the camp, he finds the corpse of Nauls (whose fate was not actually determined in the film…), and a still-living thing-creature. After he destroys it, MacReady is captured by a Navy Seal team under the command of Lt. Commander Les Erskine, who suspects he killed his camp-mates.

Erskine’s men fell prey to the Thing, and issue #1 ends with the return of Childs, who leads MacReady and Erskine to the Argetine Camp: Campo Del Sur.

Issue #2 of the series finds Childs and MacReady reunited, and learning that Erskine is a thing too. Worse, he has left the camp for an extraction point by the U.S. Navy, which has sent a submarine to Antarctica.

Childs and MacReady board the submarine, and so does the Thing, and Childs sacrifices himself and the vessel to kill Erskine. 

The series ends on a cliffhanger, as MacReady surfaces, cold and wet, on a chunk of ice, failing to stay conscious.

Die-hard fans of John Carpenter’s The Thing waited a decade for a continuation of the tale of MacReady and Childs, and this Dark Horse Comic follow-upwas welcomed with open arms.

The comic-book medium also promised an opening-up of the storyline, with imagery that a live-action sequel likely would be unable to afford. The comics live up to this promise, with some comic-frames depicting a submarine conning tower breaking through the ice, and others depicting the downing of a helicopter in flight.  The Thing’s forms were also an area of the story where comics permitted bigger and better visuals (with less money).

Pfarrer’s story demonstrates a high-degree of fidelity for the Carpenter film, and answer some intriguing questions. The first question involves Childs, as we see him at the end of the picture.
Is he Man or Thing?

The suspense regarding that particular question stretches out through the first issue of this comic series, and is resolved in the second issue. Pfarrer comes up with an answer opposite from the one imagined by Peter Watts in his award-winning story, “The Things.” In this case, Childs is not a Thing.

The story also clears up Nauls’ disappearance by having MacReady, upon return to the camp, discovering his corpse. Apparently the Thing killed him.

But the most intriguing aspect of the tale comes early, as MacReady gives himself the blood test to determine if he has been “contaminated” by the Thing.  Why would he do this unless MacReady (and the writer) suspect that the forgeries of human individuals believe they are still the original entity, not a Thing?

If this is so, it means that an assimilated organism possesses memory and identity (and soul?) identical to the original.  This has long been one of the primary metaphysical questions of the franchise. If a Thing copies you completely and perfectly, is the copy still you?

Less promising than these scenes are the assimilation scenes in the comics. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to who is “taken” by the Thing, once the Navy Seal team arrives. We know from issue #2 that Erskine and two of his men are “Things,” but the story never makes it clear precisely when the replacement occurs (or how it occurs through gloves, and other impediments).

We saw in John Carpenter’s The Thing that the alien needs a little bit of privacy to undertake the assimilation process. We see a dog-thing seek out Norris, alone in his room (in silhouette), deliberately choosing the human when he was devoid of company. And the Bennings thing is alone during the assimilation process too, until Windows unexpectedly walks in on him.  Based on the comic-book, it doesn’t see that Erskine or his men are ever alone long enough -- or even out of sight of MacReady -- for the violent, clothes-ripping process to occur.

Also, the comic series, as depicted in these two issues, becomes a bit of a mindless run-around, good characterization for ever-changing locales (from boat, to camp, to snow, to Argentine Base, to sub), with MacReady nearby at every outbreak of the monster.  The story-line very soon develops a repetitive, familiar approach to the story. MacReady arrives somewhere new (usually a very colorful or interesting locale), and then the Thing pops up and attacked.  It is burned, and MacReady moves on, to a new location, where the Thing pops up, and is burned.

And on and on.

MacReady’s character comes across off very strongly in the comic, but I’m not certain the story gets the surly Childs right. He is characterized almost entirely of his selflessness in these issues.

First he saves MacReady’s life.

Then he goes back to the camp to see if any of his former comrades are alive.

Then he rescues MacReady and Erskine.

Then he sacrifices his life to take out the Thing, aboard the submerged sub. 

Based on the Childs we met in the Carpenter film, I’m not sure he would undertake so many dangerous, self-less acts, in such short order, or without some considerable grumbling. I suppose that Childs is characterized this way so all his actions are second-guessed, and we are must continue to wonder if he is himself, or the Thing.

The art-work in this revival is powerful, and I especially like the frames of the Thing, a tentacle, quavering entity.  The likeness for Russell is strong, but I would have preferred some more close-ups, to so foster deeper identification with the characters.

In 1992, it was fantastic to get a sequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, but today, perhaps, it’s fair to state I would have rather gotten a film, than this wholly passable (but not inspired) comic-book series.

1 comment:

  1. I was terribly disappointed with this series, and the ones that came after. Honestly surprised that so many fans like it so much.


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