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Spirit of Vengeance
Joe Kelly, Ariel Olivetti
August 15, 2005
The Gentleman (exclusive
to Shaking Through)
It can be fun to imagine what you'd do with a familiar character if given the
chance to update him for a new audience, but Space Ghost shows the danger
in attempting to inject a property with attributes common to latter-day
storytelling. Writer Joe Kelly attempts to redefine the title character for
readers who know him only as the campy host of Comedy Central's Space Ghost
Coast to Coast, and in so doing strips away the charm of the original 1960s
cartoon shorts in favor of a darkly violent origin tale that echoes the "grim
and gritty" deconstruction fad of the late '80s.
Space Ghost begins his life as square-jawed "peacekeeper" Thaddeus Bach, an
idealistic policeman whose ascension into the ranks of an elite class known as
the Eidolon proves bittersweet when he learns it's a corrupt gang led by a bald
sociopath named Temple (any similarities to FX's The Shield are surely
coincidental). Once Bach balks at Eidolon's tactics, the bad guys kill his wife
and leave him for dead, but Bach survives and begins a campaign of vengeance
and, later, justice.
To be sure, there are some nice touches, such as Kelly's upgrade of the
reptilian Zorak into the leader of a mythic, ruthless race of alien invaders
sharing a hive mind. Kelly even comes up with a plausible origin for Space
Ghost's kid sidekicks, although his ultimate decision to more or less "adopt"
them is forced -- we know that Space Ghost has kid sidekicks, so we know that
this Space Ghost will take them under his wing, because the plot demands it.
Likewise, the character's emotional journey -- from revenge-minded wraith to
champion for justice, law and all the ideals the Eidolon have abandoned -- is
pat. Even if we didn't know that Space Ghost was based on a cartoon superhero,
the outcome of this predictable arc would never be in doubt.
Ariel Olivetti's illustrations and Alex Ross's cover art evoke the classic lines
of original Space Ghost designer (and comics legend) Alex Toth. But overall
Space Ghost feels contrived and, worse, a tad generic. Granted, this
paperback collection of the six-issue limited series is just an origin tale, but
it could be the setup for any futuristic avenger; any resemblance between the
Space Ghost who emerges at the end of the story and the iconic cartoon figure is
surface, at best. One can understand that having acquired the rights to the
character, DC would naturally want to capitalize on it. But this extreme
makeover proves that not all concepts need to be radically updated. Let's hope
it's a lesson the creators of the inevitable Herculoids comic take to
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