Sometime between Friday the 13th VII and VIII, Jason gets unexpectedly freed from his watery resting place, wanders onto a freight train, then kills a hobo and his dog. From there he hitches a ride to Texas and—wouldn’t you know it?—he stumbles across Leatherface and his family of dimwitted cannibals. Talk about coincidence!
Before going any further, maybe it’s time to confess my shameful secret: I loved (and still love) comic books from the 90s. Yeah, modern fans live to shit on the era of impossibly posed women and gun-wielding anti-heroes, but if it weren’t for the likes of graphically explicit horror titles (and Spawn… let’s not forget Spawn), I might not have read many rags outside of Mad Magazine and EC reprints.
Speaking of EC horror, I was sure the evil businessmen responsible for draining Camp Crystal Lake (and subsequently freeing Jason) were going to get their just deserves in true Tales from the Crypt fashion. Nope. Just as in real life, these corrupt businessmen skate right by any undesirable consequences for their amoral actions. Maybe there was a follow-up planned that would address the lake’s draining, but as is it seems like an extremely convoluted excuse to get Jason up and killing again.
Which begs the question: How did the lake get refilled? And how does Jason find himself at the bottom of it again in time to take Manhattan? Those questions are not entirely explained. JvL feels more like an alternate timeline, sprouting from a fork in the road before Part VIII and Jason Goes to Hell, even though the comics’ editorials are adamant this is all canon.
The title, too, is misleading: if you’re expecting a colossal battle between the horror icons, you’ve come to the wrong place. At their first meeting, Jason and Leatherface get into a scuffle, but Leatherface loses his chainsaw within a couple of panels. At this point Jason could easily kill Leatherface, but he doesn’t because, for the first time since he was a child, he found somewhere he fits in.
And that’s where Jason Vs. Leatherface unexpectedly shines: the character development. I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t think I wanted it, but getting inside Jason’s head isn’t just a gimmick to fluff out three issues. I’m always annoyed when sequels and spin-offs attempt to rob a character’s mystique by explaining too much of their backstory, but it works here. Apparently Jason is a character who could use some fleshing out, which might explain why so many of the sequels grew stale.
You can tell writer Nancy A. Collins (a horror novelist) has a soft side for Jason, choosing to see him as a human being who doesn’t know why he kills. This version of Jason actually reminds me of Man-Thing and a little bit of Swamp Thing (the latter of which Collins also worked on). Nobody can blame Frankenstein’s monster for killing the little girl in the 1931 film… Jason Vs. Leatherface is a lot more gruesome than that, but hey, it was the 90s. What did you expect?
So Jason and Leatherface finally square off, which isn’t the story’s high point, but most of the stuff leading up to that point (and coming after it) is organic and endearing, particularly when Jason sympathizes with Leatherface’s situation. You expect a versus story to answer the “Who would win?” question, but Collins isn’t the least bit interested, which is a brave choice considering that’s how most buyers were sold on it. I would even say this mini-series is actually better than many of the movies which inspired it.
You’re going to like Jason here even though he is a ruthless serial killer.