Here is a comic that begins with a man fighting a shark. I really should be able to end the review right there, because if that first sentence doesn’t make you want to stop reading and go buy this book now, I don’t want to know you. But for the sake of thoroughness, allow me to continue all the same.
In my review of Five Ghosts #6, I complimented the contributions of fill-in artist Garry Brown by talking about how his stellar visuals ensured the absence of Chris Mooneyham was not too keenly felt. But then Five Ghosts #7 comes along and reminds us of just how spectacular Mooneyham is, and just what kind of superstar-making work he’s doing on this title. He really gets given a platform to strut his stuff here, with 9 of this chapter’s 22 story pages dialogue-free, leaving Mooneyham to shoulder the full weight of the storytelling.
One such silent sequence that’s particularly thrilling focuses on the introduction of a new character, master thief Jezebel. Here, Mooneyham demonstrates how graceful – and dangerous! – this new foil for Fabian Gray can be, as we follow her on her latest daring heist. It’s one of numerous examples of Mooneyham’s stylish use of negative space, with stark whites making for dynamic page compositions. And in the more fully-rendered panels, colorist Lauren Affe steps in with a lush pallette, dominated by rich blues and oranges. As shown by how her colors made Garry Brown’s fill-in feel almost seamless, Lauren Affe is a core part of the Five Ghosts visual DNA.
Not that this comic is only a showcase for art, as writer Frank J. Barbiere continues to craft an engaging yarn. There is a subtle shift in the storytelling here, a sense of the comic entering a new phase. With that first arc, “The Haunting of Fabian Gray”, originally intended as a self-contained miniseries in itself, the pacing was breakneck, with as much content and action as possible packed into each issue, making every chapter feel like a wild, dense thrill-ride. This is Five Ghosts as an ongoing, with an established audience, and this has given Barbiere the confidence to take his time. We are introduced to a larger quest to find the fragments of Dreamstone located around the world, something that can give the series a larger overarching direction moving forward, and spends this issue deliberately laying out the pieces on the chessboard: establishing a new (old?) enemy for Fabian, and further personifying the larger threat lurking in the wings.
Fabian Gray himself, meanwhile, remains a fascinating protagonist. His interplay with Jezebel gives him someone different to bounce off, and the two characters have strong initial chemistry here. But the more Fabian meets up with old friends and foes, and the more they talk about what kind of man he was in the past, the more I get a sense that Fabian Gray is more John Constantine than Indiana Jones: less a scoundrel with a heart of gold and more a genuinely toxic presence in the lives of those who have been unfortunate enough to know him. Makes me intrigued to learn more about him!
And as if all the Five Ghosts goodness wasn’t enough to make you want to buy this issue, Five Ghosts #7 also features the first instalment of a new Doc Unknown story from Fabian Rangel Jr and Ryan Cody. I gushed about the original series when it ran on ComiXology, and have thought of it as working as a kind of sister book to Five Ghosts, so I was very pleased to see it show up as a perfectly-matched backup story here. Those unfamiliar with Doc Unknown and his pulp-flavoured adventures might only get an introduction to him in this chapter, but I’m sure long you’ll grow to love him as much as I do. The road to a Fabian Gray/Doc Unknown dream match team-up begins here!
Five Ghosts is becoming one of those books that’s difficult to review. How much more hyperbole can I engage to say this is a terrific read? But “Lost Coastlines” is off to a fine start, standing as notably different in presentation from “The Haunting of Fabian Gray”, but thus far remaining consistent in its quality.
Five Ghosts #7 is available to buy from all good comic shops now. You can also get it for half price this weekend from the Image Comics website!