Revisiting the 'Ghostbusters' Expanded Universe: Video Games, Comics and More
The comedic adventures of our favorite New York City paranormal investigators aren't just on the big-screen.
The Ghostbusters are finally heading back to the big-screen when director Paul Feig’s reboot hits theaters in July. But fans who have been waiting nearly 30 years to see the Ghostbusters suit up once again — this time played by Kate McKinnon, Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, and Leslie Jones — might have wasted their time forgetting to look elsewhere. Weirdly enough, the franchise has had a much more resilient mythology off-screen than on, and director Ivan Reitmans unfairly maligned 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II wasn’t the last time everyone’s favorite New York paranormal scientists went on some adventures battling pesky poltergeists.
Peter Venkman, Ray Stanz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddemore (as well as a whole host of new Ghostbusters) have lived on busting ghosts throughout a handful of different Ghostbusters adaptations in literature, animated TV shows, comics, and more. Make sure to give yourself enough time to get caught up with these examples of the brief history of the Ghostbusters expanded universe before you head to the theater to see the reboot in July.
The Real Ghostbusters
This animated TV series, which ran from 1986 to 1992, preceded the movie sequel by three years, but is considered non-canon within the movie timeline despite mentioning the sequel’s villain, Vigo the Carpathian, in one of its episodes. It was prefaced by “The Real” as a legal loophole because the production company behind a live action show and cartoon from the 1970s also called Ghostbusters threatened legal action, first against the movie and then the cartoon.
The kid-friendly show simply followed the episodic paranormal exploits of the classic lineup of Ghostbusters (with an inexplicably blonde Egon) along with their secretary Janine Melnitz and good ghost friend Slimer, and at various times featured the vocal talents of Full House’s Dave Coulier as Venkman, Arsenio Hall as Winston, and Frank Welker (aka Optimus Prime) as Ray. It was even nominated for the Outstanding Animated Program daytime Emmy award in 1991. The half-hour show eventually expanded to an hour in 1988 by adding animated adventures featuring Slimer as the lead character where the series was rebranded Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters.
The Ghostbusters took a five year absence from animated TV cartoons before Extreme Ghostbusters picked up where The Real Ghostbusters left off, running in syndication starting in September 1997 before being cancelled three months later. No doubt capitalizing on the extreme sports fad of the ‘90s, Extreme Ghostbusters (which features a particularly overwrought rock interpretation of the theme song) was basically just an update to the same premise. A slightly older Egon and Janine (and Slimer) taught a new, surprisingly diverse cast of four younger busters the ropes after the rest of the original lineup moved away following a New York City ghost drought. There was Kylie, an occult expert goth; Eduardo, the wisecracking Latino version of Venkman; Garrett, a sensitive Ray-type who used a wheelchair; and Roland, an Egon-esque African-American academic.
Despite its unpopularity, many saw the plot of Extreme Ghostbusters, with the old busters passing the torch to a new team, as the template for a possible big-screen reboot before the 2016 movie took it in a different direction.
NOW Comics published a straightforward comic book adaptation of the cartoon in 1988 under the title The Real Ghostbusters for over 30 issues, which were recently collected into a 2012 multi-volume collection called The Real Ghostbusters Omnibus. IDW Publishing also maintains a current multi-comic Ghostbusters run featuring titles like Ghostbusters International and even a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles / Ghostbusters crossover.
But the more fascinating comic book reimagining of the Ghostbusters came in 2003 from Quebec-based publishers 88MPH Studios. It created a post 1984-movie retcon of the big-screen story that did away with the movie sequel altogether, kept the Gozer ending from the original movie, and inexplicably pushed the timeline forward to 2004. The comics stressed a more grounded version of the story that saw the original crew become increasingly down on their luck after the fame of the movie’s Gozer incident gradually wore off.
Ghostbusters: The Return
Published just in time for the first movie’s 20th anniversary as a springboard for a planned Ghostbusters expanded universe, author Sholly Fisch’s 2004 novel titled Ghostbusters: The Return totally did away with the cartoon continuity and picked up from the movie timeline two years after Ghostbusters II.
The “return” in the currently out of print book was essentially referencing the four original Ghostbusters returning to fight ghosts once again, but it should have actually meant a return to the plot of the second movie. The book basically apes the citywide negative energy premise of Ghostbusters II by having a sort of fear demon named Xanthador manifesting the literal negative energy from urban legends to attack New York City. A nifty subplot involving Venkman running for mayor with Winston as his running mate offered a bit of a change, but negative reviews put the kibosh on a follow-up novel after this one tanked.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game
Perhaps the most beloved Ghostbusters property outside of the first movie, 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game is thought of in many fan circles as the real Ghostbusters III. It also helped that the original cast of Ghostbusters, including the notoriously difficult Bill Murray, returned to reprise their roles (in likeness and voice only). Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis also collaborated with developers on the script for the game. Aykroyd told the New York Times in 2009, “They gave me the script. I took it. I rewrote it doing little tiny structural things, mostly bringing back the tone of the original dialogue and the vernacular — the terms, the idiom — but they really had it. Two-thirds of it was there. Then they gave it to Harold. He did the same thing.”
Set two years after the events of Ghostbusters II, the plot of the game has the crew as officially licensed city contractors training a new recruit (you, as you play the video game) and investigating a series of underground tunnels created by Ivo Shandor, the sinister architect who designed the ghostly apartment building where the first movie’s climax takes place. Shandor’s tunnels were supposedly the same ones that carried the slime used by Vigo the Carpathian to materialize in Ghostbusters II, and the characters in the game must destroy strategically placed gateways throughout the city built by Shandor to merge the ghost dimension with the real world.
A sequel, called Ghostbusters: Sanctum of Slime was released two years later to largely negative reviews.