Wikipedia and Comics Nerds: A Match Made on Halloween

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Stayed in a with a friend on Halloween, watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Then, because she’s a DVD junkie, we watched all the trailers for the TCM sequels, just about the only thing that made the Edition “Special.” Curious about the purportedly true events that inspired the film (it’s actually just one of a dozen films featuring a takeoff of serial killer Ed Gein), we checked out Wikipedia, where we naturally came across information on both the original and remake series.

One of the things that I find most amusing about Wikipedia is what the writers of pop culture entries reveal about their personalities, essentially that (as you might imagine of people who voluntarily input a great deal of information about films and comics for free) they’re anal-retentive nerds who spend way too much of their time thinking about things like continuity. To wit:

“After The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, in which the bulk of the Sawyer family apparently meet their demise, several other members of Leatherface’s family are introduced in the next two films; though due to some continuity discrepancies, it remains vague as to whether or not Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, and the family members that appear in them, are canon to the first two films of the series.”

That’s right, discussion of how well the third and fourth trashy installments of a slasher series fit into series continuity and whether or not certain aspects are “canon.” Sounds a lot like many comics fans. No sooner had I had that thought than I came across the section on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in other media, specifically the video games and also… the comic books.

Turns out The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been published by four different publishers, Northstar, Topps, Avatar and, currently, DC/Wildstorm (which makes sense, as Time Warner owns both DC and New Line Cinema, the studio that produces the films). Northstar’s contribution, Leatherface, is a loose adaptation of Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. Avatar and Wildstorm’s series are in the continuity of the TCM remake series from a few years ago, and just from the Wikipedia synopses show how trying to create an ongoing continuity sucks the life out an original story.

Truthfully, after seeing and enjoying the original last night, the notion of any sequels at all seemed totally unnecessary, and seeing the trailers only underlined the point (the producers seem to have gotten too interested in the “cult” response to the film and chainsaw imagery). Now imagine that after that satisfying experience, which hinged on the horror of the unknown and the sudden, senseless proximity to the kind of violence virtually no one ever really experiences, you have to stick around for the FBI to investigate and the townspeople to have seen it all before. Yawn. That’s what the Wildstorm series, as written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (whose slumming on this title reminds me of the before-they-were-stars appearances of Viggo Mortensen in TCM III and Renée Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey in TCM: TNG), and it sounds dull as could be. Most recently, they’ve decided that the origin of the family’s cannibalism is in a Korean POW camp. Could you miss the point more?

The only publisher to bring something new, and by “new” I mean “ridiculous and mainstream comics-y,” is Topps, whose addition to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre mythos, if you will, is Jason vs. Leatherface. Yes, before Hollywood started pitting Jason against Freddy and Aliens against Predators, comics went there first (I’m sure the “Vs.” movies are a direct result of comics fans becoming movie executives). I’ll let the Wikipedia entry speak for itself:

“The three issue series saw Jason accidentally transported to Texas where he comes face to face with Leatherface and his cannibalistic family. The series sees Jason uncharacteristically befriend Leatherface and his family before several events lead to a battle between the two horror franchise stars. The continuity here is very loose…”

“Accidentally transported.” Awesome! “Loose” continuity… because why let all that backstory get in the way of making a gratuitous fight between movie villains as transcendent as possible?

So, yeah, probably avoid all of these comics, and likely all the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels and remakes as well. Lesson for comics? Uh, learn to let a good story stand on it’s own, maybe (I understand DC’s on its second attempt to create a Kingdom Come sequel… though to be fair, Kingdom Come itself has aged really poorly, so maybe it’s a bad example).

On the other hand, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is actually pretty good, less about (as sequels and comics adaptations, etc. seem to have forgotten) people with masks made of skin or the complex genealogy of the extended cannibal family (snore) than about people unexpectedly coming up against an extreme of human behavior out in the middle of nowhere, where you can run through the woods, but there’s nowhere exactly to run to, the only house around is that house, and the gas station has no phone. The violence is sudden, quick, relatively bloodless, and deeply disturbing. Little is shown, much is implied (man, horror movies have forgotten about that) and attention is actually paid to pacing and atmosphere, all shot in a lo-fi documentary style that removes a lot of the distance between the viewer and the action; it’s shockingly immediate.

PS: I love my video rental place. They are all about the subgenres; the copy of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre I rented is actually labeled, “Cannibals.”

PPS: Full disclosure: I have made one edit to Wikipedia ever, to correct an issue number on a Fantastic Four entry. I am guilty, too.


EDIT 11/02 (Or maybe that should be PPPS): Checked out the sales numbers on Wildstorm’s TCM series and they’re just terrible:

11/2006: Texas Chainsaw Massacre #1 — 15,605

12/2006: Texas Chainsaw Massacre #2 — 9,706 (-37.8%)

01/2007: Texas Chainsaw Massacre #3 — 8,229 (-15.2%)

02/2007: Texas Chainsaw Massacre #4 — 7,651 (- 7.0%)

03/2007: Texas Chainsaw Massacre #5 — 7,301 (- 4.6%)

04/2007: Texas Chainsaw Massacre #6 — 7,171 (- 1.8%)

05/2007: –

06/2007: TCM: Cut! — 6,920 (- 3.5%)

07/2007: TCM: About a Boy — 7,205 (+ 4.1%)

08/2007: TCM: By Himself #1 of 2 — 6,380 (-11.5%)

Unless this somehow sells really well outside the direct market, I can’t imagine why this is a license that so many companies have gone after or why Wildstorm continues to publish it. Some sort of contractual obligation with New Line? (Sales info courtesy Marc-Oliver Frisch at The Beat.)

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