The consistency of cult brilliance in John Carpenter’s 1980’s oeuvre is arguably unmatched in the world of cinema, and one particular highlight of the decade was his 1981 sci-fi actioner Escape From New York. Any attempt to build on the success of such a classic must inevitably be met with skepticism (memories of the disappointing 1996 sequel, Escape From L.A., are still fresh in the mind), but with Escape From New York Vol. 1, Christopher Sebela and Diego Barreto have delivered a comic book continuation which actually feels worthy of following in Carpenter’s footsteps.
Picking up immediately after the end of the original movie, Escape From New York Vol. 1 takes the story into alternate history territory, given its 1997 setting. On the run after humiliating the President in front of the world’s media, grizzled anti-hero Snake Plissken makes for the secessionist Republic of Florida, passing through gunfire and bloody carnage to gain entry. Perplexed by his new-found fame among the down-and-outs of a dystopian America, Snake quickly finds himself trapped within a new prison, even more brutal than the last one. Doing what he does best, our hero resolves to fight his way to freedom, and if he can topple a couple of evil dictators along the way, so much the better.
Sebela’s story does a great job of showing the extent to which America has declined in an alternative, dystopian cold war setting. Giving us much a much wider view of Plissken’s world than Carpenter was originally able to, Escape From New York Vol. 1 is full of colourful characters and crazy ideas (like a treehouse shanty-town and a prison made from welded submarines), in-keeping with the slightly campy but hugely fun feel of the 1981 movie. It’s this atmosphere, along with the consistency of Snake’s characterisation (you can almost hear Kurt Russell delivering much of Sebela’s dialogue) that makes the comic a worthy successor to its cult classic progenitor. For the most part, Escape From New York Vol. 1 is tightly plotted, losing its way only during the chaotic battle for Florida at the arc’s climax, and places a lot of emphasis on the ramifications that Snake’s actions have for others, along with his capacity for guilt. The character and his motives still retain that all-important mystique, though, and the story’s breathless pacing means that there’s little time to dwell on Snake’s emotional depth, or lack thereof.
Barreto’s artwork utilises some interesting panel layouts to emphasise the simultaneity of the action, shifting smoothly from one set piece to another. He’s a little inconsistent with the look of his characters, and there are a few questionable decisions made by colourist Marissa Louise, but overall a satisfying sense of kinetic frenzy is brought to the action-packed storyline. Whilst this approach does admittedly become a little too messy during the climactic battle scenes of Escape From New York Vol. 1, Barreto does a great job of rendering a bleak, washed-out vision of a dystopian America across the four issues collected here.
If you’re a fan of the original film, there’s plenty for you to enjoy in Escape From New York Vol. 1, but even if you’ve never heard of Snake Plissken it makes for a gripping and wildly imaginative ride. One can’t help wondering where Sebela and Barreto are going to take the story next, but for now they’ve succeeded in creating that rarest of things: a movie tie-in comic that actually feels like a worthy addition to the canon.