Friday the 13th Comics: The Avatar Press Years

The first part of my retrospective on Friday the 13th comic books (published over at Dread Central) took a look back at the brief fling that Topps comics had with the license. Over a two and a half year period the company published one film adaptation, one original crossover miniseries with LeatherFace, and they gave Jason Voorhees an ill-thought out cameo appearance within one of their own original properties, the comic book Satan’s Six.

In this installment we’ll turn the spotlight on Avatar Press, a company that utilized the Friday the 13th license much more extensively, despite only having the rights to it for a relatively short amount of time.

Founded in the late 90’s, Avatar got its footing publishing a selection of “bad girl” books (gory, heavy metal influenced comics featuring scantily clad female characters in the lead), which were popular at the time. After acquiring the rights to Friday the 13th around 2004 or so, Avatar wasted no time in putting them to use, publishing three specials and two miniseries in a little over one year, and assigning their hottest creator – Brian Pulido (creator of Evil Ernie and Lady Death) – the task of writing them. One of the results of this was that the Avatar Friday books ended up possessing something that the Topps comics line never did: a definite “house style” (for better or for worse).

I’ve always felt that, when it comes to Friday the 13th, there are two types of fans – those that tolerate the franchise when it gets trashy, and those that think that the trashiness is one of the things that define the series. While I lean towards the former group, it was certainly the latter sort of fans that Avatar took aim at when producing their line of Friday the 13th comics.

 

Friday the 13th Special

Brian Pulido – Story
Mike Wolfer – Pencils and Inks
Andrew Dalhouse – Color
William Christensen – Editor in Chief

Synopsis:

Two siblings acquire the land containing the long abandoned Camp Crystal Lake and send in a group of heavily armed mercenaries to take out Jason (it doesn’t go well).

Review:

Avatar’s first Friday the 13th comic book certainly sets the tone for their take on Jason Voorhees. Unfortunately, that tone is akin to a 90’s “extreme” version of Jason X, only half as clever.

When reading the Friday the 13th Special, what quickly becomes apparent is that there will be no effort to provide anything but the most basic characterization for anyone in the story, and therefore no real reason to read it beyond the thrill of watching Jason gorily dispatch victim after victim. And while this certainly did pull a snicker or two out of me, overall it’s a very shallow experience (more so than even the worst of the films).

There’s also no real attempt to build up to Jason’s murderous antics as the comic is super up front with its philosophy on what makes Friday the 13th awesome: sex, terrible dialogue, wild explosions of gore and absolutely nothing else.

The biggest problem lies with the scripting, which serves up the barest excuse of a plot in order to get Jason and the mercenaries into the woods and fighting one another, and then proceeds to write every character in the “spout a one liner moments before gruesome death” style, but with the humor limited to stuff like a soldier remarking on Jason’s “novel fashion sense” seconds before Mr. Voorhees slams a fist down on his head so hard that it comes flying out of his butt.

Which, you know, credit where credit is due to the auteur for that second part, but the dialogue fails to elicit so much as a guilty chuckle.

The artwork is a mixed bag. It has a lot of detail, but it’s so rough around the edges that it makes it difficult to appreciate the better aspects of it. While the big moments are appropriately big, and the linework can be astounding at times, everything is just so… stiff. None of these people move or stand like real people, and instead always seem unnaturally posed, with their ability to “act” in any given scene via facial expression seemingly limited to stuff like big goofy grins or full on, mouth agape horror.

Top marks for the sound effects choices though.

One thing that is consistently good throughout the story, however, is the coloring. Moody and dark, it’s very effective at endowing the comic with a sense of dread and horror that the writing and art otherwise fail to convey.

Undoubtedly, Avatar’s Friday the 13th Special has some entertainment value, but it’s all just so goofy and dumb and light on atmosphere. If you turn your brain off first and go in wanting nothing more than a silly story of an extremely overpowered Jason Voorhees fighting a group of mercs in the woods of Crystal Lake, it’s possible you might have a good time with this. The art can be very nice sometimes, and it certainly does deliver some fun, splashy, over-the-top murders. It’s just too bad that the comic never goes the extra mile to make you give a shit about any of these people that Jason is ruthlessly wading through.

2.5 out of 5 stars

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Within the first two pages we see a couple boning and a mercenary getting chopped in half. So if that’s all that you want from your Friday the 13th stories, at least you won’t have to wait long.
  • “I’m trying to get my groove on!” A dude says, to which the girl he is with replies: “You’re so eighties!” Which is the point where I’m pretty sure that my brain started to bleed.
  • My reaction to seeing my friend and fellow mercenary sliced in half vertically would almost certainly not be “What the–“
  • Jason healing from a grenade to the face like he’s made out of liquid metal would have been a handy talent for him to utilize when he fought Freddy that one time.
  • Characters given famous Friday the 13th names and someone saying “a new beginning” in a bit of dialogue are some of the numerous little nods to the franchise throughout. I get the impression that writer Brian Pulido has a genuine love for the series… just for different bits than the ones that I like.
  • The part where the couple is going at it in a van, then a body explodes on the vehicle’s hood and they run away… only to get horny again after about 50 feet and start making out again is just… Yeah. *chef’s kiss*

 

Friday the 13th: Bloodbath #1-3

Brian Pulido – Story
Mike Wolfer – Pencils and Inks
Andrew Dalhouse – Color
William Christensen – Editor in Chief

Synopsis:

An evil corporation wants to harvest Jason and sell whatever it is that keeps him ticking. To this end they start up a new campsite in Crystal Lake and populate it with sexy, horny, orphaned teenagers as bait. When Jason makes his presence known they send in a heavily armed mercenary group to neutralize him (it doesn’t go well for them, either).

Review:

At this point if you are going to tell yet another story about a group of hot, sex starved teens going to Camp Crystal Lake and getting gradually cut down by Jason Voorhees, you really only have one of two options:

1. Make the best goddamn version of that story that you can. The scariest and most brutal version of it, with tons of atmosphere, stylistic choices that will add to that atmosphere instead of take away from it, and which features a group of well written, likable and relatable characters for Jason to face.

or

2. The gimmick option. Same basic story, but with a “twist”. Basically what all of the later Friday sequels did.

“Hot, sex starved teens are gradually cut down by Jason Voorhees… but one of them is Carrie White!”
“Hot, sex starved teens are gradually cut down by Jason Voorhees… but they’re in (a boat going to) Manhattan!”
“Hot, sex starved teens are gradually cut down by Jason Voorhees… but first they end up in muthafuckin spaaaace!”

This miniseries speeds full force down the second path, but unfortunately the gimmick here is… pretty much the same gimmick as the last Avatar Friday the 13th comic: Jason versus prepared, well trained opponents. The only difference is that it takes much longer to get to that reveal, and it features an otherwise pointless “evil corporation wants to exploit the monster” subplot to justify it.

Sadly, that longer build up isn’t used to make the reader care about any of the characters, and, as with the previous Friday the 13th Special by the same creative team, the tone here is pretty much one of goofy trash throughout, with characterization taking a backseat to splashy kills and gratuitous tiddies.

Virtually everything that I stated about the Friday the 13th Special also applies here. Characters remain absolutely cookie cutter – horny teens saying awful dialogue, and absent any of the charisma that the actors throughout the Friday film franchise endowed their characters with. Pretty much every line these kids utter is cringeworthy.

The rest of the characters don’t fare much better. Remember that “He’s screwed, sir” gag in Jason X, when the space marines find one of Jason’s victims impaled on a giant drill bit? Now, imagine that gag repeated over and over again, only never once nearing even that level of cleverness. Instead you get stuff like a character saying “I could get bent out of shape over a guy like you” before promptly being stomped to death.

And the closest this comic gets to ever giving the bad guy corporate types any characterization is a half page of them all shooting each other bedroom eyes when they find out that Jason has been captured. One of them is even rubbing his hands together greedily, I shit you not.

There’s still a lot of nice detail work in the art, and the gore is impressively explosive, but characters remain mannequin stiff, with non-existent body language and simplistic facial expressions. The storytelling within the art is also often lacking, with panels that have to be reread several times to understand the flow of the action.

The best part of the imagery is still the coloring by Andrew Dalhouse, which continues to successfully evoke whatever mood that the story requires (dark and eerie for the nighttime slasher scenes, bright and cheerful for the daytime scenes with the teens just hanging out).

Ultimately, despite some nice visuals here and there, and a potentially interesting premise, like the previous Friday the 13th Special, Bloodbath just can’t overcome the writer’s seemingly purposeful unwillingness to elevate the material above the level of the trashiest of slasher tales.

2.5 out of 5 stars

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Literally the first line of dialogue in this comic is one character asking another to pinch her boob harder, so right out of the gate you know what to expect.
  • Gotta love the part where the kids that have been hired to work at the camp realize that they’re all orphans… and then immediately brush that information off, like it isn’t extremely odd and off-putting. “I know we’re all a bunch of orphans hired to work at this murder camp, but YOLO, amirite!”
  • With better characters, dialogue, etc., Bloodbath is a story that could have worked in the Friday universe. Even a small change, like giving the people behind the whole scheme a less cliched motivation and then watching the way the story ripples in different directions as a result, would have helped a great deal.
  • Because the tone is consistently trashy throughout (like Part V, but with splashier kills), the rare instance when the comic attempts a moment of poignancy – “I’m sorry, Mom.” a victim says moments before Jason smushes her head – come across as really jarring, instead.
  • When you get right down to it, Bloodbath is nothing more than the pre-credits sequence of Jason Goes to Hell (poorly) retold as a three issue comic miniseries. Instead of an undercover FBI agent we have a sinister corporation using unknowing teenage orphans as bait, and instead of a SWAT team with a mortar we get mercs with liquid nitrogen.
  • I really don’t get the rationale behind making the villains of the piece a bunch of faceless corporate suits. None of them are interesting or compelling or have any personality beyond the simple tried and true “1. Capture deadly thing 2. ?????? 3. Profit!” that has been the defining characteristic of greedy corporate types since ALIEN.

 

Jason X Special

Brian Pulido – Story
Sebastian Fiumara – Pencils and Inks
Mark Sweeney – Color
William Christensen – Editor in Chief

Synopsis:

A bioengineer wants to use the secrets of Jason’s flesh to save her dying boyfriend so that they can… repopulate Earth Prime, I guess? Also a bunch of nanites attack Uber Jason as he is gazing mournfully at his mother’s tombstone and end up possessed by the spirit of Mrs. Voorhees when he is hit by a lightning bolt (o_O).

Review:

Well, it’s an Avatar Friday the 13th book. So you’ve got gore, boobs, and a plot that is completely nonsensical. The only real difference here is that that the art is pretty excellent and the Jason involved is a lot shinier.

The story is ridiculously convoluted and retcons not just Jason X, but even it’s own opening captions, which clearly read “Earth II, 2455 A.D.” But as it turns out, we’re not actually at Earth II at all, because the Grendel, the spaceship that the majority of Jason X took place on, was only fooled into thinking that it was heading that way at the end of that film, when in fact it was being steered back towards Earth Prime instead. How? By remotely “re-programming their holo-decks” apparently.

Which is an explanation that really only makes sense if the crew were steering the Grendel by looking out the windows.

Additionally, while the ending of Jason X shows the viewer a damaged Uber Jason mask floating to the bottom of a lake, here Uber Jason just crashes into the ground like a meteor and walks away unscathed.

Continuity aside, characterization continues to be the main issue with these comics. I know I’m repeating myself, but once again characters are severely underdeveloped and pretty much just machete-fodder, resulting in the same familiar sense of general apathy towards the events of the issue that all of the Avatar Friday the 13th books tend to arouse in the reader.

This moment of pure art aside.

The most interesting idea on display is the concept of Mrs. Voorhees resurrecting as a sort of literal “ghost in the machine” and egging Uber Jason on, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

The art, however, is very nice. Clean and evocative, with clear storytelling and featuring nicely expressive characters with realistic body language, Sebastian Fiumara’s pencils and inks are a feast for the eyeballs. And while Mark Sweeney’s colors are a bit more garish than the work seen in the previous Avatar Friday books, it works nicely for the sci-fi setting.

Bottom line? It’s an Avatar Friday the 13th book with excellent art. It’s as silly and dumb and empty as their previous Jason comics, but the top notch visuals make for a better overall experience.

3 out of 5 stars

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Open Jason X comic. Get to page 2. See a stacked young girl take off her shirt while saying “science makes me horny”. Emit long, tortured sigh.
  • Apparently the future of Jason X features very limited fashion choices for women, as both Adrienne and Janessa’s tops from the film are seen here, on new characters.
  • The way the comic communicates its needlessly complicated story is pretty poor. It took me three reads before I understood when, exactly, the setting had returned to Earth Prime because of how badly the information is conveyed within the narrative.
  • How Mrs. Voorhees ends up possessing the nanites is also unclear (beyond the obvious “because she was eeeeeevil”), but once she starts dropping lines like “Not so fast, BITCHES!” and “Filthy, smut-mongering children!” chances are you’re not going to care that much, anyway.

 

Jason vs. Jason X

Mike Wolfer – Story and Pencils and Inks
Andrew Dalhouse – Color
William Christensen – Editor in Chief

Synopsis:

Aboard the wreckage of the Grendel, a salvage crew inadvertently cause the medical nanites to rebuild Jason again – this time reconstructing him from a chunk of his head and the corpses of his victims. From there, Jason makes his way to the space station where Uber Jason ended up at the end of the previous Jason X Special, and the two of them battle one another, slashing apart everyone that gets in their way.

Review:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the path to this unlikely showdown is a convoluted one.

Essentially the nanomachines rebuild Jason – again – from a piece of his head that stuck to the ceiling when Kay-Em blew him apart in Jason X. They do this by scavenging organic material from all of the corpses littered about the ship from his rampage in that film… which is weird, because if they could do that… wouldn’t they have just done that in Jason X instead of creating a cyborg Uber Jason? Isn’t the only reason that the med table started supplementing him with metal and steel because of the lack of any organic material to work with? And why would the nanobots reconstruct him into his Freddy vs. Jason appearance anyway?

SO MANY QUESTIONS.

Anyway, as you might have perceived, the script (this time by Mike Wolfer, providing both words and pictures) is pretty mediocre, featuring an abundance of irrationally sex starved characters that are incapable of reacting to things like normal people. The entire first issue basically just lays the ground work so that Jason and Uber Jason can somehow meet and fight each other, with the actual battle taking up the majority of the second issue.

The art in the first issue is as nicely detailed as most of Wolfer’s pencils and inks, but also maintains that trademark stiffness with a side of poor storytelling that seems to be present in all of his Jason work. Sadly, visuals take a big hit in the second issue, with sloppier, less appealing art and action that often fails to flow smoothly from one panel to the next. Which is an especially unfortunate development when the main attraction of your story is the big, bloody monster brawl that doesn’t begin until issue #2.

As with previous Avatar Friday the 13th books, this miniseries features a premise that could have been fun and interesting, but, due to the execution, the result is an ugly disappointment instead.

But, at least you do get what it says on the tin – Jason and Uber Jason do fight, and it is every bit as over-the-top and gore soaked as you might imagine – it’s just a shame that the lack of quality in both the writing and the artwork takes most of the fun out of it.

2 out of 5 stars

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • When the core concept of your comic is “get two different versions of Jason Voorhees to punch each other” maybe don’t go about getting to that point in the most overly complicated way possible.
  • Additionally, when one of the previous Avatar books has already established that Jason can heal himself almost instantaneously when massive chunks of his body are blown away… do we even really need all of the nonsense with the nanites rebuilding him again?
  • Man, the art is just really bad in issue 2. Even ideas that sound as though they would be dumb fun – like the two Jasons using random bystanders to block one another’s attacks, or a victim getting cut in half by a closing steel swimming pool cover – are unsatisfying in how they are rendered.
  • Who watches all of their friends get brutally butchered then smiles and says “That’s what I’m talking about!” when they find a bar shortly thereafter? Why is everyone in these Avatar books so devoid of actual human feelings?
  • There’s a weird, pointless shout out to Alice from Friday I and II in here. That’s cool, I guess.

 

Friday the 13th: Fearbook

Mike Wolfer – Story
Sebastian Fiumara – Pencils and Inks
Andrew Dalhouse – Color
William Christensen – Editor in Chief

Synopsis:

Picking up directly where Bloodbath left off, Violet, the sole survivor from that story, is captured by the mercenaries hired to obtain Jason for the faceless company that wants to exploit him. They take her back to their compound, unaware that Jason is still on her trail and coming for them all.

Review:

This one-shot continues the story of Friday the 13th: Bloodbath, and it’s easily the best of the Avatar Friday comics. Many of the issues present in their other Jason books remain – bad characterization, poorly thought out story logic, etc. – but most of the general trashiness of the other books is missing, and the artwork, from Sebastian Fiumara (returning from the Jason X Special), is easily the best that the Avatar Friday the 13th comics have to offer.

Unfortunately, neither the main character or the evil corporate suits are given much in the way of personalities. Violet (returning from Bloodbath) is serviceable at least, but the boardroom assholes are just laughably bad. They have, literally, zero sense of self preservation.

Given the events of Bloodbath, why are these people still at Crystal Lake? Why are they antagonizing a girl they have previously traumatized and nearly caused to be murdered while she is pointing a gun at them? Heck, after losing thousands of dollars worth of equipment and dozens of mercenaries… why are they still trying to catch Jason at all?

There has got to be an easier way for these people to make money, is all I’m saying.

One thing I do have to credit Friday the 13th: Fearbook with, however, is being the first comic book to succeed at making Jason’s kills genuinely chilling. The comic uses some well realized POV shots of Jason watching his victims through his mask that, combined with the following shots of him brutally springing into action and slashing them apart, do a really great job of recreating the feel of the best kills from the Friday the 13th films.

It’s good stuff, and I really wish that artist Sebastian Fiumara had worked on more of these comics.

Complimenting his pencils and inks is a returning Andrew Dalhouse, whose color work is once again masterful and evocative.

As cool as these scenes are, however, since the individuals on the receiving end of Jason’s machete remain lifeless caricatures rather than anything resembling actual people, there’s just nothing here to make the reader feel any connection or empathy towards those being cut down.

In the end Friday the 13th: Fearbook is nothing too spectacular, but does deliver an appropriate end chapter to this era of Jason comics by being the only one of the Avatar books to occasionally come close to recreating the feel of what the best of the Friday the 13th film franchise has to offer. Sadly, while the spooky artwork and chilling kill sequences produce a great looking book, the writing still ensures that it remains an overall soulless experience.

3.5 out of 5 stars

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • There’s a weird couple of panels in the middle of the issue that are, I believe, supposed to be Jason remembering being frozen by the mercs during the events of the Bloodbath miniseries, and therefore choosing to attack the soldiers instead of Violet… but if I hadn’t just read that series I would have no freaking clue what the heck was going on there.
  • At one point Violet manages to escape the mercs by seducing a guard, and all I could think about was the “I don’t know – the last three times this happened the lady just wanted to escape” riff from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version of the film Space Mutiny.
  • The guard seduction scene does give the comic an excuse to throw in some pointless nudity, however. So at least Avatar is consistent about their priorities.
  • You know, back in the day when it was first announced that Michael Bay was going to have anything to do with a Friday the 13th remake, these Avatar comics are exactly the sort of thing that I thought might result: mindless gore and nudity with little in the way of characterization or scares. But regardless of what your feelings might be towards the Platinum Dunes remake, I’d still argue that it got Friday the 13th better than Avatar Press ever did.
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About R.K. Stewart 3 Articles
R. K. Stewart was a mad poet of Sanaá, Yemen, who flourished around 700 A.D. He died in 731 A.D., devoured in broad daylight by an invisible demon (but you can still follow him on twitter @RKSDooM)