Today marks the beginning of the 5th annual 30 Characters Challenge, the excellent event run by ComixTribe publisher Tyler James, where participants have to create a new comic character for every day of the whole month of November. I participated in the first year, successfully completing the challenge with 30 badly-drawn characters of my own, but haven’t done it again since. I won’t be participating this year either, but thought it might be fun to spend each day writing up a little showcase to celebrate a new comic character who showed up in comic pages for the first time this year. Comics are one of the most highly inventive mediums around, and this has been a particularly strong year for pumping out exciting new stories packed with compelling new characters. Let’s take a look at some of my favourites.
1. FABIAN GRAY
The star of Five Ghosts, one of the breakout comic success stories of 2013. It started as Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray, a successfully-funded Kickstarter project that became an Image miniseries, and now it’s Five Ghosts, a freshly-minted Image ongoing series. It’s a masterful pulp homage that plays like equal parts Indiana Jones and Hammer Horror, with star-making visuals from artist Chris Mooneyham and an endless stream of narrative invention from writer Frank J. Barbiere. At the heart of it all is our troubled protagonist, Fabian Gray, a troubled adventurer with a terrible secret…
In a culture saturated with countless superheroes it feels like every kind of superpower has become variations on a theme, but Fabian’s gift/curse feels so inspired and fresh. He is possessed by five “literary ghosts” – five primal archetypes of fiction from which countless stories are derived – and by tapping into their essence he can channel their power. If called upon to exhibit a feat of spectacular marksmanship, he calls upon The Archer, inspiration for Odysseus and Robin Hood. If required to perform an act of magic, he channels The Wizard, spiritual father of Merlin, Prospero and Gandalf. If needed to become a master swordsman in combat, he taps into The Samurai, the figure that has created enduring heroes of Eastern fiction such as Zatoichi or Lone Wolf and Cub, who is also relevant to famed swordsman of Western stories like Hamlet or Zorro. If he needs to use remarkable deductive reasoning to work his way around a problem, Fabian turns to The Detective, whose mystery-solving prowess has informed such brilliant fictional minds as C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes and Batman. And if all else fails, and Fabian is pushed into a desperate plight where the only option left is to tap into the deepest, darkest recesses of his soul and unleash violent destruction on all around him, he resorts to The Vampire, the primal, monstrous force who has emerged in the public consciousness in the shape of Dracula, Lestat and…erm… Edward Cullen.
It’s a fascinating concept that becomes thrilling in execution, as the action sequences (of which there are many!) become a kind of interactive exercise in which he try to guess what combination of acquired skills will get Fabian and friends out of the fix they’re in, with the frightening presence of the vampire – the spirit channelled least often – lurking in the periphery and creating a tantalising “When is Gray going to have to use the vampire again?” question. But Gray himself is no blank-canvas swashbuckler who is only made interesting by his skill-set. We see from early on what toll these powers are taking on him, and his journey over the course of this storyline becomes a quest to not only get these powers under control before they kill him, but to atone for something terrible that happened as a result of his past greed and arrogance. The Haunting of Fabian Gray refers not just to the literary ghosts, but to his own personal demons that he must conquer.
With the first storyline wrapping in issue #5 and Five Ghosts #6 giving us a standalone adventure with fill-in artist Garry Brown, Fabian Gray was revealed more than ever to be the comic’s biggest strength. Barbiere and Mooneyham have created a character whose unique skillset and whose dangerous mission (and more dangerous enemies!) leaves the road ahead for him highly fascinating, but he is also someone with the kind of checkered past that opens the door for countless more globetrotting adventures as we explore the hidden corners of his personal history. Fabian Gray is more than just the product of a thrilling story, but he’s already a generator of potentially countless more thrilling stories built around him. What more can you ask of a new character?