REVIEW: Five Ghosts #7

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.

FiveGhosts7Five 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!

30 Character Showcase #29: Raygun Roads

This month marks the arrival 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.

29. RAYGUN ROADS

RaygunRoads1Created by Owen Michael Johnson and Indio

One of the true delights of the British independent scene this year, Raygun Roads is a concentrated blast of wild, psychadelic comics joy.  It tells the story of a teenage boy called Vincent, and how he’s rescued from his humdrum life by the Kittlebach Pirates: a rock band that come from a realm of pure pop culture, or perhaps from Vincent’s own imagination.  And the band’s lead singer is Raygun Roads, a hyer-charismatic whirlwind of pure sexual energy and creativity that inspires riots of adoration wherever she goes.

All of the Tittlebach Pirates are fantastically vivid creations, as brought to life by the crazy invention of Indio’s manic art style.  But it’s Raygun Roads herself who is the best-realised of the bunch, characterised by Owen Michael Johnson’s lyrical writing as this primal force of creativity, the artist and the rebel dwelling within all of us.  That’s right, folks: on some level, we’re all Raygun Roads!

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30 Character Showcase #28: Lucas

This month marks the arrival 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.

28. LUCAS

Sheltered1Created by Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas

There is perhaps no character in this month-long list scarier than Lucas.  I think it’s because he’s a monster that is utterly human and believable, yet at the same time eerily unknowable.  A teenager in a secluded community of “preppers”, Lucas masterminds a scheme…. SPOILER ALERT… for all the communty’s children to massacre their parents and take over.  As far as first issue switcheroo’s go, it’s an absolute doozy that leaves you floored.  But it’s in the creeping dread of what follows in the subsequent issues that the true darkness of Lucas emerges.

On one hand, he can quite passionately argue about how he has compelling evidence for a huge apocalyptic scenario being just around the corner, and how murdering all the adults was a desperate play for self-preservation, with no other choice in site.  But then you get these flickers of ambiguity that suggest he’s just utterly batshit and just opted to kill all these people because he could, and because being king and controlling all these younger kids seemed like a good idea at the time.  And though he presents himself with the cold authority of an adult leader, Brisson cleverly reminds us that he’s still ultimately a child, giving him these petulant, petty moments of adolescent angst.  And I think it’s the smallness and the meanness of his evil that makes him truly chilling, little bursts of hormonal anger elevated to murderous proportions.

The end of the latest issue of Sheltered promises a left-field reversal of circumstance for Lucas, and I’m intrigued to see where that takes us.  But as dupicitous and unhinged as Lucas is increasingly appearing to be, I still have this sinking feeling that his predicted disaster is going to happen and prove him right.

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REVIEWS: Meadowhell, Lil, Defects, Twelve Reasons to Die, SCAR Unit

Wow, I just looked back through my backlog of review submissions, and I’ve got this monstrous trail going back almost a year!  And so I thought I’d try to put together a collection of quick reviews to work through it a bit.  Sorry to the folks I’m giving short thrift by doing this, but I feel like you guys have waited long enough…

MEADOWHELL: THE TRUE HORROR OF SHOPPING #1

Cartoonist: Craig Daley

Publisher: CD Comics

Price: £2.50

This feels like a real missed opportunity to me.  Craig Daley has an interesting premise here, a surreal murder mystery with a dash of Sheffield regional flavour and Thatcher-era period subtext.  But it’s just utterly let down by the visuals on every level, from art that looks like it’s been drawn from ClipArt, colours that seem to come from MS Paint and lettering that seems like it was done from templates in Microsoft Word.  It utterly sabotages the story for me, and it took me so out of the narrative that I found it hard to get to the end.  What a shame.

Meadowhell1Meadowhell: The True Horror of Shopping #1 is available from DriveThruComics.

LIL

Writer: Marc Crane

Artist: Mike Young

Price: Free

This is an intriguing slice of grimy noir, telling the story of hard-bitten anti-heroine Lil as she stumbles across a mysterious bag that throws her carefree, drifting life down a dark, disturbing path.  Mike Young’s art is a bit rough around the edges, but there are moments – such as a forest chase sequence in the second issue – that evoke surprising beauty and a real sense of place.  And Marc Crane brings Lil to life as a compelling protagonist.  Fans of the Brubaker/Phillips school of “nasty things happening to nasty people” pulp storytelling may find something to enjoy here.

LilLil is available to read for free online here, and a collection of the first 5 issues is available online or from Orbital Comics in London.

DEFECTS #1

Writer: Chris Garrett

Artist: Rowel Roque

Colorist: Jani Vuorenmaa

Letterer: Chris Garrett

Editor: Amanda Garrett

Publisher: Overtime Comics

Price: $0.99

Defects was something of a mixed bag for me.  Chris Garrett’s story had its intriguing elements, and an unorthodox group of protagonists in the form of a ragtag gang of fugitive kids with powers on the run from the government institution they’ve escaped from.  However, Garrett makes a critical misstep of opening by having these kids murder the innocent family of a doctor they want to question, who they then proceed to torture (even though they acknowledge he was always kind to them), and thus any subsequent attempt to make these kids feel sympathetic falls utterly flat.  Having your protagonists do something so awful and potentially alienating is a potentially disastrous move at any time, but it might just have worked if Garrett had spent the issue making us feel compassion for them, then have them commit this terrible act in the first issue’s conclusion once we’ve built up to it, thus making us feel more conflicted.  As it is, potentially strong character work goes to waste.  On the visual side of things Rowel Roque’s art shifts back and forth from some stylish compositions to muddy, unclear sequences, though I think the overbearing colours of Jani Vuorenmaa could have something to do with it.  There’s potential for the story to recover in subsequent issues, but some early creative misfires have put it on the backfoot.

Defects1Defects #1 is available to buy from the Overtime Comics website.

TWELVE REASONS TO DIE #1

Creators: Ghostface Killah, Adrian Younge

Story: Adrian Younge, Ce Garcia, Matthew Rosenberg

Writers: Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon

Artists: Breno Tamura, Gus Storms, Kyle Strahm, Joe Infurnari

Colorist: Jean-Paul Csuka

Letterer: Frank Barbiere

Pre-Press: Ed Brisson

Covers: Ronald Wimberly, Christopher Mitten

Publisher: Black Mask Studios

 

Wow, what a credit list!  And if there’s any setback with this Ghostface Killah project it could be that there are just too damn many creative voices all vying to make their impression, and the overall result is a book lacking any distinct authorial voice.  The story, such as it is, is entirely prelude and scene-setting, with a sense of where we may actually be going with the main story only vaguely alluded to by the time this first issue is over.  The book’s main saving grace is the artists.  Sadly, I can’t comment on who did what parts, as the various sections of the issue aren’t clearly divided, but they all bring with them a real stylistic flair that make this comic a pleasure to look at, even if the plot hadn’t quite taken shape by this early stage.

12rtd1aTwelve Reasons to Die #1 and other issues are available to buy from the Black Mask Studios official store.

SCAR UNIT, Vol 1

Writer: Tracey Claverie

Artist: Rowel Roque

Letterer: David Azer

Publisher: Guys N’Suits Publishing

Price: $5.95

Rowel Roque shows up again here, and his art looks much better in this comic than the one above.  Maybe the colours were indeed to blame, as in black-and-white here his lines are crisp and well-defined.  Tracey Claverie’s story also shows promise, balancing a skin-crawling portrayal of an emerging serial killer with the human cost of the trauma suffered by those left behind after a violent death.  If there’s something that hampers the whole production, it’s the lettering.  I just found it very muddy and hard-to-read, having to blow it up to the point where the pages were blurring before it became legible.  And at one point the letterer even commits the cardinal sin of including the script’s “stage direction” in the word balloon on the comic page, with a character saying “(Whisper)” before whispering to someone.  Oh dear!  An example of how subpar lettering can drag down an otherwise well-crafted product.

SCARUnitSCAR Unit, Vol 1 is available to buy from Amazon.

30 Character Showcase #27: Dr. Spencer Brownfield

This month marks the arrival 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.

27. DR. SPENCER BROWNFIELD

StrangeAttractors1Created by Charles Soule and Greg Scott

Strange Attractors is a tricky book, as it seems to dance right on the knife-edge of science fiction.  Are the masterful uber-equations employed by Dr. Spencer Brownfield to keep New York City running smoothly by means of the butterfly effect a superpower, or is it just the highest-level mathematics of a genius far beyond our own reckoning?

Even before the reveal of his gift, Dr. Brownfield is an engaging figure.  When our protagonist Heller Wilson seeks him out for his aid in writing a college thesis, Brownfield seems a bit of an oddball.  But gradually, it becomes apparent that his eccentric rantings may have some credence to them after all.  Maybe he has secretly run New York City for the past 30 years?

The graphic novel is at its most exhilerating when Brownfield’s “equations” come together and influence the city in some apparently small way, their full effects at times only revealing themselves later in the narrative.  Greg Scott succeeds in the unenviable task of making maths seem exciting and vibrant on the comic page, presenting Brownfield’s talents as incredibly cool.  Soule, meanwhile, invests Spencer with real gravitas, the weight of both the heart-rending tragedy of the past and declining health casting a dark shadow over his future giving his actions a poignant focus.

Heller Wilson may be the ostensive main character of Strange Attractors, and he steps more centrally into focus in the story’s third act, but the character that’ll end up staying in your mind after you’ve put the book back on the shelf is crazy old Spencer Brownfield.

StrangeAttractors2

30 Character Showcase #26: Meeks

This month marks the arrival 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.

26. MEEKS

TheWake3Created by Scott Snyder and Sean Gordon Murphy

Yesterday I talked about how Lee Archer was the emotional core of The Wake.  That may be the case, but I’d say it’s Meeks that steals the show.  Full name Leonard Meeker, he is the wildcard in the ragtag group of marine experts assembled at the beginning of The Wake.  A genius deep-sea engineer turned master hunter and black market trader of rare marine life, he is described as living in a home fortress of his own design floating on international waters outside of anyone’s jurisdiction, due to his status as a notorious criminal.  It’s a fascinating backstory – practically building him up as a larger-than-life supervillain! – that makes it feel like he could be the antagonist of a different story, but in this particular story it’s only a brief burst of exposition amongst all the other things that are going on.

I was gutted when, in issue #3, it seemed like Meeks was killed off in abrupt, premature fashion, in a moment reminiscent of the “Clever girl…” bit in Jurassic Park.  So imagine my joy when he resurfaced in issue #4, and ended up being one of the longest surviving members of the ensemble!  Against the odds, despite him being set up as a villain and a foil for everyone else, his rude, acerbic demeanour makes him oddly likeable, and at the end of the day he ends up getting something of a heroic send-off.  Combine this with a cracking design by Sean Gordon Murphy – a look reminiscent of Lex Luthor of the high seas – and what could have been a throwaway character turned out to instead be highly memorable.

Now… where do we start the petition to have Snyder and Murphy do a Meeks: Magnificent Bastard Super-Pirate prequel series?

TheWake4

30 Character Showcase #25: Lee Archer

This month marks the arrival 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.

25. LEE ARCHER

TheWake1Created by Scott Snyder and Sean Gordon Murphy

Okay, by necessity this spotlight is going to require some spoilery discussion of the first 5 issues of The Wake, the excellent Vertigo series from Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy.  If you haven’t read the story and don’t want to delve into any of the plot twists, best step out of this post now.

Still here?

Okay, in the grand scheme of the narrative of The Wake, as it is laid out by the end of issue #5, Dr. Lee Archer is a character who was always destined to be doomed to a watery grave.  But for the first half of the series, at least, she is our heroine, the chief protagonist who stands as the emotional core of the story.  Right from the first chapter, she feels fully-realised: we don’t go into her history in detail, but we get just enough to hint at the trials in life that have shaped her.  The Wake woud not have the masterful tension it does if it wasn’t for the fact that we invest so much emotionally in the fate of these characters, Lee in particular.  We are rooting for her to overcome the increasingly insurmountable odds and be reunited with her son, and are devastated when even after everything she tries, that ends up not happening.  And that final video-link conversation between Lee and her son is just heartbreaking.  Her poignant final words just about brought a lump to my throat.

I’m interested to  see where The Wake takes its bold new direction moving forward.  But Snyder and Murphy will certainly have their work cut out replacing Lee Archer in the protagonist role.

TheWake5

30 Character Showcase #24: Fox

This month marks the arrival 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.

24. FOX

PrettyDeadly6Created by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

We end our weekend-long focus on Pretty Deadly with a look at one of the more enigmatic figures to appear in the first issue.  Fox is Sissy’s guardian, strikingly mismatched with his companion.  She’s a little girl, he’s a towering old man.  She sings and talks lyrically, he  speaks little.  He is blind, yet seems gifted with second sight… and perfect aim with his guns.  Based on some of the cryptic statements he makes to other characters, we can conclude that he has a fascinating backstory, and that whatever sights he saw before being struck blind were quite horrifying.

He’s an intriguing figure: protective, but too distant to really be called paternal.  He reminds me of a bit of a ronin figure, or like the hero of Lone Wolf and Cub or, of course, Zatoichi.  He’s a man of mystery, and I’m eagerly anticipating learning more!

PrettyDeadly7

30 Character Showcase #23: Sissy

This month marks the arrival 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.

23. SISSY

PrettyDeadly5Created by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Yesterday we talked about Deathface Ginny, the ostensive headline character of Pretty Deadly.  But based on the first issue at least, the actual main character of the story is Sissy.  A young girl with a distinctive cloak made from a skinned vulture, it is her who sings the song of Ginny in the first issue, and her whose ill-advised act of theft brings wicked forces down on her and her companions.

A favourite moment of mine in Pretty Deadly #1 was the conversation between Sissy and the little boy in the house they’re sheltering in.  I loved the dynamic of them both appearing to be around the same age, but Sissy being much more worldly and beleagured than her wide-eyed companion.  Throughout the issue, Emma Rios does a great job of alternating between making Sissy appear very wise and alien with her unusual eyes, and emphasizing how young and childish she actually is with her oversized clothes and soft features.

I don’t know if Sissy will remain a focus once Ginny enters the fray, but for the moment I find her to be a compelling young protagonist.

PrettyDeadly4

30 Character Showcase #22: Deathface Ginny

This month marks the arrival 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.

22. DEATHFACE GINNY

PrettyDeadly3Created by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

It might seem strange to include in this list a character who has thus far barely appeared in a comic story.  In Pretty Deadly #1, we experience Deathface Ginny almost entirely through other characters telling us of her story.  But that speaks volumes of the impression the character makes, even in her limited role in the opening stages of the Pretty Deadly narrative.

A big part of that is the highly striking design given to her by Emma Rios.  It was a face that popped up in backmatter ads months before the book’s release, and that alone was enough to generate real buzz about the book.  Once we get into the comic itself, though, Kelly Sue DeConnick crafts an intriguing mythology around the character, suggesting she is the daughter of Death himself, and how if you call for her, she’ll come riding on the wind.

We might not have seen a lot of Deathface Ginny thus far, but I’m keen to see more…

PrettyDeadly2