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9/29/2013

Obscure Video Game Comic Review Series Special / Finale

If you haven't read the first five parts in this series, click the links below:

NiGHTS (Miniseries)
NiGHTS (Issues 4-6)
Mega Man (Dreamwave)
Maximo
Devil May Cry

We've got a very special treat in store for you this time.  A holy grail among gaming enthusiasts and comic book fans alike.  A golden trophy among collectors that cemented its place as one of history's greatest comics, perfectly capping off the unforgettable masterpiece that was the game itself.  At last, after nearly twenty years of searching, I have a copy of it, the legendary adaptation of the seminal gaming classic of the 1980s...



The Adventures of Bayou Billy.

...Okay, okay, I'm kidding.  I didn't even know this thing existed until a few weeks ago, and once I learned of it, I just had to take a look.   Because honestly, Bayou Billy?  Why that game?  Sure, it was a moderately popular NES title in spite of its outrageous difficulty level, but surely there were some other, more desirable 80s video game properties that would lend themselves better to adaptation.  Just to name a few off the top of my head: Contra, Ninja Gaiden, Bionic Commando, Mega Man, Metroid, Zelda, Rygar...

That was strange enough, but then I found that this wasn't just a one-off comic; no sir, this property was apparently good enough to spawn a five issue miniseries!  After seeing that, my mind raced even more.  Would this be a point-for-point adaptation of the game spread over five issues, or would it just get that all out of the way early and venture into original plot territory?  Or would it just pull a Dreamwave Mega Man and end up being a confused mess with a licensed property haphazardly pasted on top?  My curiosity was piqued, and I would not rest until I found out for certain, so to eBay I went, securing all five issues for the princely sum of $20.

I'd like to say that we saved the weirdest for last in this column, but you'll just have to read on and see for yourself.  So let's dive into Archie's earliest foray into video game adaptation comics (predating their long-running Sonic the Hedgehog series by about three years) and see where it takes us.

---

The first issue's cover is obviously based on the game box, with the slight change of adding another of the Gordon family as the one menacing Anabelle.  Yeah, there's not one, but three Gordons in the comic.  We'll get into that a bit later, though.

The very first page shows Bayou Billy wrestling an alligator as he exposits his backstory in a nutshell: He was in Delta Force, became a bounty hunter, and local legends say he's so tough that he can't be killed. This all gets elaborated on a bit later, but it's a decent enough introduction for now.  It's also relatively true to the game, since in the Japanese version Billy was said to be a veteran of the Vietnam war.   Also, his real name is William Jackson West.  Presumably not related to the famous voice actor.

We then immediately cut to another scene where three punks are mugging an old couple.  Billy steps in, blinding one of them with flash powder, disarming a gun-armed thug and taking out the third with a backward kick to the abdomen.  The police then show up, with Billy stating that they all have arrest warrants and that he has to go  testify against another criminal in court.

Cut to the next scene, where we witness Billy testifying against a man named "Hurricane Hank", who stands accused of setting a warehouse owned by the Gordon family on fire.  Also, he has a flamethrower for a hand:


Hank is quickly declared guilty and is carried away by the police, swearing revenge against Bayou Billy as he does so.  The trial now over, Billy takes the opportunity to hit on Annabelle Lee, the prosecuting attorney on the case and the damsel in distress in the game.  I wonder how that will tie into the story later!

...Or on the very same page, as it would turn out.  She enters her office to answer a phone call, being told by the caller that he has the dirt on the Gordons and to meet him on the docks at midnight.  Which she does, despite it being the most obvious trap in the history of traps.

Two roughs show up and pull a knife and a gun on her, but she catches them off guard with her martial arts prowess, steals their boat and flees.  She soon gets lost in the swamp, but in a fortunate twist, ends up right at Bayou Billy's house.

Cut to the mansion of "Big Daddy" Gordon, who was the main villain in the game, and his two stepsons, Rock Gordon and Rocco Gordon.  Cue awkwardly phrased comic exposition:


Gordon decides to send in his "private army" to eliminate Billy, Annabelle and his friends in one fell swoop.  Elsewhere, we get a short introduction to Billy's allies, as well as some backstory on what brought them all together.

Cut back to the present, where they proceed to lay traps for Gordon's F.I.S.T. forces that work surprisingly well, crushing one jeep in a log trap and dumping another into a pit.  Their attack copter is also shot down by Sureshot using a dynamite-strapped arrow in a rather awesome moment.  The rest of the mooks go down rather quickly as well, with only three named goons making it to Billy's house - Cut Throat, Kid Creole and Lightning Rod.  ...Yeah, judging from the names of all these characters, I think they were watching a lot of GI Joe at the time they were writing this.

Billy gets the jump on them with his lightning powers, managing to take down Lightning Rod with a chair, but not before he paralyzes one of Billy's arms with his eponymous weapon.  Kid Creole gets his arm pinned to the wall with a thrown knife and then punched out.  Cut Throat manages to catch Billy from behind, but the day is saved by Annabelle, who clubs him over the head with a frying pan.

Cartoonish violence and bad puns.  Old comics at their best.

No time to assess the damage, though, as a fourth goon named Mr. TNT attacks, throwing a bundle of dynamite that takes out the whole house as they barely escape.  That fight is also over quickly, though, as Billy tricks him into backing up into a snare trap, then coerces a signed confession from him with a poisonous snake.  Broadside, Sureshot and Tracker soon arrive at what little remains of Billy's house as they vow to get some payback against Gordon for this attack.

All in all, a pretty solid first issue.  It sets up the story well, it has some fun characters, and the action was well-paced and pretty intense.  Can they keep the momentum going?  Only one way to find out - let's move on to issue 2!



Our next cover depicts Billy cornered in front of some TNT crates by a man in shadow.  Judging from the flamethrower arm he's supporting, it looks like it's the previously-established Hurricane Hank who has him in a tight spot.  I guess Gordon wasn't kidding about being able to get him out on appeal in no time flat...

We open in a flashback, where Hurricane Hank exposits that he's setting a shipping business ablaze because they wouldn't pay the Gordon syndicate protection money.  Billy appears behind him, but is spared from the flamethrower when it's revealed that he's already laid a trap for that contingency.



Forced to rely on fisticuffs, he charges at Billy, knocking the knife from his hand.  Billy just responds by flipping him over the rail and off the ship, where he gets dragged underwater and loses his hand to the boat's propeller.  Hank then wakes up from the nightmare in a prison cell, swearing to settle the score with Billy the next time they meet.

Elsewhere, Billy makes a daring stealth assault on Gordon's mansion.


It turns out the purpose of all this was to get reparations for his destroyed house in the most illegal way imaginable.  Then again, turnabout is fair play after someone raids your property, destroys your house and tries to murder you, I suppose.  Gordon writes him a check and Billy slips out unopposed since all of the guards are laid out unconscious in the courtyard.

The next day, things aren't going well in court for Annabelle as Gordon's lawyer clears the F.I.S.T. commandos of any wrongdoing, saying they were merely conducting paramilitary maneuvers and the destruction of Billy's house was an accident.  The judge dismisses the case on the grounds that Gordon has already paid Billy an out-of-court settlement.  The assault charges against Cutthroat and Kid Creole are dropped as well due to lack of evidence.  But there is a silver lining as Billy's shows up with a cash loaf in hand; he's gotten payout on the check Gordon gave him, which will ruin his credibility in the underworld.

Later that night, Hurricane Hank stages a jailbreak as he's about to be transferred to state prison and shows up at Gordon's warehouse, arming himself for a confrontation with Billy.  Word later reaches Gordon, who states that Hank's become a liability and that he'll let Billy deal with him, reasoning that maybe they'll finish each other off.  He then triples the insurance on his warehouse for good measure so he can turn a profit from the whole ordeal.

More exposition ensues between Billy and Annabelle, explaining how he got the reputation that he'd already died twice.  The first time being when Gordon set him up to take a fall after Billy pressed charges against him in Delta Force for illegal arms smuggling, the other being when he was ambushed by a hired assassin named "Swamp Gas Charlie",  barely escaping and being nursed back to health by a swamp-dweller named Papa Jambo, who also taught him the ways of the swamp.

Back in the present, he and Annabelle meet up with Alex, another acquaintance of Billy's who maintains his many vehicles.  She has a silly code name too:  Meet "Grease Monkey".


She's rigged Billy's truck with a tank engine and a snow plow to give it more destructive power in preparation for tonight's battle.  Also, Billy commits yet another crime by disguising his voice and posing as Gordon's accountant, tricking his insurance company into cancelling the policy on Gordon's warehouse.  Our hero!

That night, the raid on Gordon's arms warehouse begins as they crash through the door with Billy's truck, cut the guards' phone cord with another well-placed arrow, then send the whole place sky-high with a second dynamite-taped arrow.

That's Hurricane Hank's cue to join the fray as he gets the jump on Billy, who narrowly escapes a flamethrower blast and tries to lose him in the warehouse.  Hank responds by setting more of the place on fire, which of course only makes it explode faster; Billy has little choice but to tackle him out a window before the whole place goes up, sending both of them into the river.

Losing track of Hank briefly, Billy swims for a nearby boat, only to be pulled aboard and roughed up some more by Hank.  It looks like he's got Billy right where he wants him, but then he makes the classic dumb villain mistake of casting aside his advantage to settle the fight with fisticuffs.



That gives Billy all the opening he needs as he uses the last of his strength to flip him over the railing, mirroring the scene from the beginning of the comic as he tries to talk Hank into surrendering.  Hank instead chooses to fall into the water a second time and vanishes without a trace as the issue ends.


Issue 3's cover depicts Bayou Billy in a fight for his life against what looks like a blue-tinted Wolfman. Which only gets you wondering: is this some kind of bizarre tone shift for this comic?  Has it already jumped the shark at only three issues in?  Well, this was the 80s and the Internet didn't exist yet, plus the store you bought it from probably had it in one of those annoying plastic bags, so I suppose the only way to know for sure was to shell out a dollar for it and find out firsthand.

We open at a police siege in New Orleans, where the police are attempting to apprehend the rather silly-named Blackie Blue.  It's quickly revealed that Blackie Blue is the blue wolfman figure from the cover, and that he's apparently inhumanly strong as he shrugs off several gunshots, rips the door off a police car and throws a cop into a dumpster several yards away.

Bayou Billy shows up yet again with such convenient timing you'd swear he's the real criminal mastermind behind all of these events.  Upon hearing about a $25,000 reward for Blue's capture he puts his team on the case, saying that he's too busy for the job since he's tracking another criminal right now.  More specifically, he's hunting the man who murdered him once - Swamp Gas Charlie.

Billy shakes down one of Gordon's men in a bar in Algiers to get Charlie's address as his friends close in on Blackie Blue, cornering him in an apartment building.  They seem to have him captured by a net, but as we've already seen, he's super strong and nearly invincible so he just tears through it.  Further attempts to subdue him with arrows and martial arts prove similarly ineffective as he leaps out the window, coincidentally landing on the hood of Billy's jeep as he drives by.

Blue gets shaken off the hood thanks to some creative driving and then hit with a full-force impact as Billy drives into him, but even that's not enough to keep him down for long.  Fortunately, Billy manages to drive him off temporarily with some flash powder, and the team decides to regroup and come up with a plan.

Billy then pays a visit to Swamp Gas Charlie's house, finding it empty.  The chicken coop out back, however, is quickly found to be his base of operations, having been converted into a makeshift chemical lab.  But Charlie's not in at the moment, so he's forced to come back later.  In the meantime, he goes over Blackie Blue's file, and we get the guy's backstory in flashback form.

Yes, they're actually implying that he's a former accomplice of the Joker

That awkwardness aside, he explains how he signed up to undergo an experimental procedure in exchange for having his death sentence commuted to life in prison.  The serum, intended to give him superhuman regenerative powers, had an adverse effect on him thanks to the chemicals in his system that dyed him blue.  As a result of that, he became a super strong ferret-man and easily escaped from prison, eventually leading to his rampage in New Orleans.

The team regroups at Bayou Billy's new house, rebuilt in record time thanks to his extortion job against Gordon.  Sureshot lets it slip that Billy is/was married, causing Annabelle to angrily demand an explanation.

Also, Annabelle is now dressed like Daisy Duke for some reason

Billy explains how his whole crusade against the Gordons is motivated by this act, and that once he finds out which of them ordered the hit, he'll make them pay himself.  Annabelle just tells him to come to her with the evidence so she can put them in jail, because if he takes the law into his own hands she'll prosecute him herself.

Tracker suddenly senses something off outside, which they go to investigate.  Surprise, it's Blackie Blue, who leaps out of the water and drags Billy under.  The others quickly come up with a plan: they throw some raw meat into the water after them, reasoning that the alligators in the swamp will attack Blackie, but leave Billy alone since he wears an alligator repellent.  The plan works and allows Billy to escape, but Blackie proves to be too much for even the gators as he quickly overpowers them and then retreats into the swamp, injured but alive.

Back inside, Billy laments that he had planned to bust Swamp Gas Charlie, but Blackie Blue's appearance has thrown a wrench into those plans.  Fortunately, Annabelle has an idea.


So the plan is hatched, with Billy setting a trap to lure Blackie Blue to Swamp Gas Charlie's house.  Sure enough, it works, and the two comic book supervillains duke it out, with Charlie throwing every chemical he has at Blue before he angrily retreats.  At first it doesn't seem to have much effect, but...


The next page shows the very brief trial of Swamp Gas Charlie, where his attorney presents one of his "harmless" smoke grenades as evidence.  He makes the dumb mistake of holding it too close to Charlie, causing him to grab it, throw it into the crowd and flee in the panic.  Thus ends Issue 3.  Again, a pretty enjoyable story, even if the whole "super ferret man" thing feels a bit out of place.  Still, it did lend itself to some decent action and a clever conclusion.


Issue 4's cover depicts a rather somber scene, with Billy at the grave of his wife, Laurel West, with a faded photos of him and his crew at the top, seeming to imply that this issue's story is tied into the backstory he gave in the previous issue.

That is indeed the case as our story starts in flashback, depicting Billy's wedding day, his joining of the police force, witnessing a headline showing Rock Gordon being released from prison and his wife being killed by a car-bomb, presumably laid by the Gordons.

It's one of those convenient expository comic book flashback dreams, but apparently all the motivation Billy needs to suit up and get ready for a night mission.  He arms himself with an M-16 (loaded with rubber bullets) and storms one of Rock Gordon's illegal gambling fronts, demanding to know Swamp Gas Charlie's whereabouts.  Being just an average band of lowlifes, they give him a lead and he leaves without any further trouble.

He follows it to a seedy bar, where his reputation precedes him:


He coerces another lead from the bartender, being led to another very silly villain named Thugs "Two-Head" Mcgraw."

Who later starred as a miniboss in Batman: Arkham City

After a brief punch-up with the two, he coerces another lead from them, but not before getting the feeling that someone is watching him from the rooftops.  He gets led to Snitch, who is already in the process of fleeing.  Billy quickly catches him, though.


And yes, they flip his text upside-down for this scene, making it a real pain to read.  I get that it's a joke, but it's one that doesn't make a lot of sense...

In any case, Billy shakes yet another lead out of him, being led to a chemical drum factory where Swamp Gas Charlie has set up a new base of operations.  He bursts in and catches Charlie brewing up some chemicals, telling him to "drop it".  A poor choice of words, it turns out, as he drops the beaker and Billy ends up inhaling some nasty hallucinogens.  While Billy is reeling from that Charlie walks out, saying that he'll be back to finish him off after he eliminates Annabelle.

Billy manages to recover soon after with a medicinal root, but it seems Charlie already has a significant lead over him as he storms Alex's garage and steals one of Billy's souped-up vehicles.  Billy makes his way to Annabelle's house in a desperate attempt to stop Charlie, but it seems he's walked into a trap.



The impact rolls his jeep, but luckily he manages to land back on his wheels and leads Charlie on a chase.  He's obviously outmatched by the souped-up truck, but he manages to buy himself a few seconds when he finds a can of paint under the seat of his jeep, throwing it against the windshield of Charlie's vehicle.  That gives him just enough time to pull his jeep into a dead end alley and lay a trap.


Sure enough, he takes the bait, crushing the jeep and then preparing to flee the scene, only to be jumped by Billy.  He quickly counters with another gas bomb, but Billy's ready for it this time, holding his breath and tearing Charlie's mask off, exposing him to his own attack.  Billy demands to know who planted the bomb that killed his wife; Charlie states that it was Hurricane Hank.  Billy is angry at this news, since he witnessed Hank's apparent demise in the second issue, denying him his revenge.

The issue concludes as the police arrive to arrest Charlie, with Billy's unseen stalker still watching him from the rooftops.


Our fifth issue 's cover holds some promise, with Billy's unseen stalker apparently getting the drop on him as they battle in the swamp.  Funny, he looks an awful lot like Snake Eyes; I guess the GI Joe influence is spreading.

Our issue opens with Billy, in a very deranged state, leading an attack against a limo carrying a few mobsters from the La Rue family.  With a machine gun and grenades, no less.  He swipes a briefcase full of dirty money from them and disappears before the police arrive.

Elsewhere, Billy's comrades bring in another crook named "Migraine Mike".  The officer in charge tells them that Billy's wanted on robbery and attempted murder charges, and urges them to tell Billy to give himself up.

We then see Billy's stalker, a guy in a black ninja suit decked out in skulls.  Apparently he's tired of living in Billy's shadow and wants to take him down to prove he's the superior bounty hunter.

In another parallel scene, the Gordons discuss their latest plan to be rid of Billy.  They've hired an out-of-work named "Schwartz N. Eiger" (I see what you did there) to impersonate him and ruin his good name, as well as make him the target of both the police and the La Rue family.

In our fifth scene in as many pages (yeah, the beginning of this issue kinda has comic ADHD), Billy has a nightmare in which he gets dragged underwater by a blank alligator and awakes as he struggles for his life.  That's the cue for Papa Jambo to arrive and dispense some more wisdom.

Any jokes you have about a particular Stephen King trope are entirely appropriate here

It turns out that was a dream within a dream, though, as Billy awakes to find his house surrounded by the police.  He takes refuge in his house's secret panel, which the police soon find and search only to turn up nothing.  Because you see, he was hiding in a hidden panel within the hidden panel!

The police depart temporarily as Billy calls Annabelle, only to be told that he's a wanted man and that he should turn himself in.  Billy vows to find the one who framed him and hangs up.

He slips into town to track down the one who framed him, being trailed by the police briefly but losing them.  As he stops to borrow Anabelle's car, he is confronted by the ninja-like figure from the cover, calling himself the "Black Gator".


They get into a brief scuffle.  At first it appears they're evenly matched, trading blows back and forth.  Billy eventually gains the upper hand, though, prying the hubcap off of Annabelles car, then stunning him momentarily with it while he's distracted deflecting a thrown knife.

The police start to close in, though, forcing Billy to flee again.  The Gator catches a ride on the hood, but Billy manages to shake him off before long, dumping him into a pile of garbage bags.  He's not down for long, however, as he quickly steals a van to continue the pursuit.

Billy stops at Snitch's place again, coercing information about the setup out of him.  He says that the Gordons hired an actor to impersonate him and that he's hiding out at the Old Jackon Theater.  Billy departs just as the Black Gator arrives, getting the same information from him.  Snitch quite wisely decides to relocate again, but he's not two steps out the door before he's grabbed and interrogated a third time by Billy's friends.  And then a fourth by La Rue himself.


Billy shows up and confronts his doppelganger, but doesn't manage to get two words out before the Black Gator arrives.  He quickly snatches the fake's hat and cigar, telling him that the impostor is the real Bayou Billy, which causes the Black Gator to attack him instead.  Gator isn't fooled for long since the guy is no fighter, but it's all the distraction Billy needs to clobber Gator with a chair.  You know, I'm noticing a trend here.

The impostor grabs the suitcase full of stolen money and attempts to flee, but he doesn't get far before he's set upon by Billy's friends.  They subdue him and hand him over to the police along with the briefcase full of dirty money.

Back inside, Billy pulls a Shatner while fighting his nemesis:



The Gator goes flying out the window from that last impact, but as Billy looks down to the street below, he's nowhere to be seen.  The story then ends as he walks outside and meets Annabelle and the police, his name now cleared.

Yet again, a solid issue with some good action and even a few decent jokes.  I was honestly hoping that there was more of this comic and that I could see how they would work the story of the game into the comic book format; alas, it was not to be as this was the final issue printed.  I actually couldn't find any info on what ultimately led to the comic's cancellation, so I can only assume that either it didn't sell well enough or Konami pulled the license.  It's all a shame, because this easily could have made for a solid twelve issue miniseries.

The true irony of this whole experiment, though, is that while Bayou Billy is probably my least favorite of the games we've looked at for this segment, its comic adaptation is undeniably the best of the five.  It follows the premise of the game well, the new elements it introduces fit well with the setting and story (with the possible exception of Blackie Blue), it has some likable and well developed characters, and it captures the quintessential element of a good comic - a sense of fun.

Yes, that's right.  I know you'd never guess it if you've read any mainstream comics from the last 20 years or so, but this medium once had a feeling of fun and adventure to it.  Then dark and gritty anti-heroes got popular and every issue of every comic in existence became a race to one-up one another in angst, gore and sexual content, no matter how outlandish and overblown it got.  Over time it only got worse and worse,  eventually leading us to the state of comics today - one big cesspit of rejected guests from the Jerry Springer show being awful to everyone and everything around them, with the only distinction between "hero" and "villain" being who makes more people suffer.

But I digress. If you want to read a solid adaptation of a decent Konami title from yesteryear, as well as an overlooked and genuinely good comic in general, pick up a copy of Bayou Billy today.  It's just a pity the story was never concluded...