Big Trouble in Little China: Big Trouble in Mother Russia
Written by: Matthew J. Elliott
Illustrated by: Elena Casagrade
Published by: Boom! Studios
A review by Stacy Dooks
Some movies come along into your life and instantaneously become part of the architecture of your youth. As the years go by the film becomes a source of comfort, like a worn-in, cozy blanket or the sight of the old neighborhood you grew up in. So it was with John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China. I was a little young to see the film when it was released in 1986, but as a child of the VHS boom of the ’80s and ’90s I definitely remember catching it on home video at my cousin’s house. I was entranced, as this was easily the first martial arts film I’d ever seen, let alone the first film to incorporate Wuxia-style action film tropes in a North American release. Big Trouble was also delightfully subversive, as the figure of the Big American Hero embodied by Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) is thoroughly lampooned at every turn, frequently writing checks with his mouth that his butt has no way of cashing. It’s only as I grew older that it dawned on me that Jack wasn’t the hero, but rather he was the comedy sidekick to Wang (Dennis Dun). Big Trouble played with a lot of tropes, having fun with some while at the same time poking fun at others. It’s a hoot and I definitely recommend you go see it. But of course, we’re not talking about that movie (next time I do a retro review, I promise) but rather a prose sequel to the 1986 classic in the form of Big Trouble in Mother Russia, an Illustrated novel. This is a concept I haven’t seen enacted since the ’80s either, as Ace paperbacks would put out Conan the Barbarian novels that were lavishly illustrated by an artist.
Taking up some time after the movie left off, Jack Burton is called back to San Francisco by Egg Shen, part-time tour bus driver through the city’s Chinatown, part-time sorcerer. He has an item he needs Jack to pick up for him. Jack (being Jack) misses out on some pertinent information and after roping Wang into a road trip to help him out the two soon find themselves up to their necks in hot water. Just what does a simple delivery have to do with Jack’s old enemies, the Wing Kong? How does this tie into a mysterious cabal in Russia? And what does it all have to do with another enemy from the past, one with a very personal score to settle with one Jack Burton?
This book is a helluva lot of fun. The writing very much evokes the spirit of the original film, and the illustrations by Elena Casagrande bring the action to life with style. Elliott has a ball with familiar faces, obscure pop culture references, including some sly nods to other Carpenter films and Russell roles. A particular funny bit lies in the titles for various chapters, all referencing Jack or the lovely Gracie Law, adventurous attorney in one form or another. If the book has a drawback it’s that it does tend to stick strictly with Jack and Gracie as the viewpoint protagonists when it might have been a bit more fun to have Wang take center stage for the odd chapter or two, or even Egg Shen. Also, the novelty and fun of a self-involved, swaggering American who perpetually rewrites reality in the service of his own narrative can be a bit grating at times. Can’t imagine why. Jack is a nice guy and his heart’s in the right place, but there’s only so much you can take before you just want to smack him. Elliott manages to recreate Jack in all his glory, but maybe just a little too well.
Read it! Fans of the movie will love this new adventure with old friends, and it’s a great mix of fantasy, horror and humor. Recommended.