Everybody loves Jason. Or at least, everybody knows Jason, the machete-wielding specter in a hockey mask, stalking the woods around Camp Crystal Lake and preying on the young and promiscuous. Jason Voorhees has become an archetypal pop culture figure, winning a notoriety greater than that of his films; most critics still scoff at even the original Friday the 13th, which has never commanded the camp cachet of, say, John Carpenter’s Halloween. (And even having dressed up as Jason on more than one Halloween as a kid I have to admit that Sleepaway Camp still comes first in my heart.)
But as this trade’s introduction by professional partier Andrew W.K. suggests, Jason sticks in our minds. Maybe it’s the way he turns a seemingly commonplace object—the famous goalie mask—into such a baleful symbol of evil, or the way that he incarnates the Puritan spirit at its most bloodthirsty and unforgiving. In any case, Jason resonates with Americans in a way that few screen villains have. Even just seeing the cover of this trade in the comic store stopped me in my tracks: it’s a wonderfully creepy depiction of Jason by the gifted Ryan Sook (X-Factor), with the knife-wielding butcher looming over the Crystal Lake bunkhouse like Mephisto in F.W. Murnau’s Faust.
Wildstorm planned Friday the 13th as an ongoing series, but it only lasted for six issues, collected here. The story retreads some pretty familiar ground, as a new group of teens flock to Crystal Lake in order to renovate the old camp and re-open it for business. But the explanation is a plausible and amusing one, as the new owner plans to retrofit the camp as a sort of ghoulish haunted house under the name “Camp Blood.” And the set-up of the story—which no doubt would’ve dragged on and on in a film version—whips by at lightning speed here, so we can get down to business.
The collection of characters in Friday the 13th may have you feeling more than a little bit of déjà vu: there is, of course, the straight-laced female lead, the standoffish hard-ass and his forgiving girlfriend, the nerdy milquetoast, the bickering couple, the goofy stoners, and the unattached male with designs on the female lead. If you’re a scholar of the slasher form, you may even be able to guess the order in which they get gruesomely dispatched by Mr. Voorhees. And along the way, there’s also a fair amount of sex and drugs, although not as much as you might think—these campers aren’t given much chance to get naughty before they start getting hacked into chunks.
It all sounds standard-issue, but Friday the 13th works better than most contemporary slasher films precisely because it’s a comic book. As a result, the story is never hamstrung by the usual problems, such as overly contrived plotlines, a weak cast, or Hollywood restraint. Friday the 13th is already aimed squarely at a niche audience, and it caters to that audience rather than to a broad mainstream one. In addition to its unapologetically back-to-basics setup, the story’s cast is wickedly acrimonious: there’s not a sentimental moment in this whole book. And since there’s no need to tone down the gore or profanity to snag a PG-13 rating, Friday the 13th easily outdoes most of today’s “torture porn” movies in terms of raw carnage, and without wallowing in its own bloodshed the way they tend to: Jason’s killings are customarily quick, savage, and pitiless. The only place Friday the 13th falls flat is with its climactic “twist”: I won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that fans of 1980s horror films will find this new addition to the Crystal Lake mythos more than a bit familiar—and unnecessary.
Friday the 13th isn’t for everyone. Everybody knows Jason, but not everyone is going to want to read a trade that’s essentially the most over-the-top, pure and unfiltered Friday the 13th story ever. But it’s also more than just another notch on Jason’s machete grip: it’s a wildly energetic and devilishly enjoyable take on the slasher genre, with none of the self-conscious, postmodern bullshit. (Well, almost none: writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti can’t help working in a couple of Scream moments, but they’re usually undercut by all the chop-chop.) Above all else, Friday the 13th is bloody good fun.