Image Comics are on quite the killer roll when it comes to series debuts, aren’t they? Two weeks ago, we had Lazarus, then last week (at least in the UK, where it was shipped a week early), we were treated to Sheltered. And this week we have the marvelous Ghosted #1, from writer Joshua Williamson and artist Goran Sudzuka. I originally had no interest in picking this up, for the most embarrassing of reasons, which I shall now confess. I got Joshua Williamson, writer of comics like Masks & Mobsters, mixed up with Kevin Williamson, screenwriter of Dawson’s Creek, the Scream films and the risible TV series The Following. And I thought, “Pffft…. another TV bigshot thinking they can slum it in comics, no thanks!” But after reading some glowing reviews, and hearing that the artist was Goran Sudzuka, whose work I greatly admire, I decided to grudgingly check out the first issue, only learning of my error after the fact. And I can say now, what a tragedy it would have been if that mistake had caused me to miss out on this comic treat!
Before I get into the story, I want to first pay my respect to the incredible artwork of Goran Sudzuka, as when I was in the comic shop and on the fence about picking this title up, it was a glance through the pages at Sudzuka’s work that tipped the scales in favour of me giving it a shot. I initially became a fan of his with his work on Y: The Last Man. Everyone thinks of Pia Guerra as the artist of Y: The Last Man, and yes, she was the co-creator and primary artist on the series, doing fantastic work. But a sizeable amount of fill-in issues and arcs were handled by Sudzuka, who did a fine job, but perhaps he didn’t quite get his due as he did such stellar work in recapturing the spirit of Guerra’s visuals and crafting a sense of visual consistency rather than really letting his own style shine through. But with Ghosted, Sudzuka gets the chance to shine. The opening page splash is as immediately arrresting an opening image as you’ll find in any comic, instantly marking out Sudzuka as an artist of superstar quality. And he’s definitely given some superstar moments, with a couple of jawdropping double-page tableaus popping up in the book, though he equally excels in the quieter moments of character interaction where the heart of the story truly emerges.
There’s a real trend towards roughness in art these days, and overall I really enjoy it. Artists like Fiona Staples, Nick Pitarra, Riley Rossmo, Iain Laurie, Jeff Lemire and Rafael Albuquerque have emerged as some of my favourites in recent years with a sense of looseness and fluidiity that gives their imagery an unorthodox, vibrant energy, whereas the safer Big Two “house style” of much of the artistic A-list is starting to leave me a little cold. But standing out against this more abstract trend emerging in comics (particularly creator-owned comics), Sudzuka’s meticulously crafted and structured figures and locales with their clean, thick ink lines feel strangely refreshing, like a throwback to an earlier age of storytelling while at the same time feeling utterly modern and relevant. It’s a blend of the old-school pulp of a Darwyn Cooke with the pop vibrancy of a Mike Allred, while still very much being its own distinctive aesthetic.
But credit should also be given to colorist Miroslav Mrva, whose colors blend so organically into Sudzuka’s art that it’s difficult to distinguish the two. But the colors are crucial for establishing the mood of the comic as the genre hopping (which we’ll get to in a bit) continues apace. The cold, clinical blues and greens of the opening sequence put us into the bored, despairing mindset of Jackson T Winters in that early part of the narrative, then once things take a turn for the strange and fantastic proceedings seem to become drenched in a psychadelic red wash, which at some points reminded me of the effect Brian Bolland achieved in the original colouring of The Killing Joke. Then once we get to the Trask Mansion, it’s like all color is just sucked out of the story and we’re plunged into a world of dreary, foreboding grey as the narrative takes a darker turn.
And what of the writing of Joshua “Not Kevin” Williamson? Quite simply, he plays a blinder. This is a superb story, build around a delicious high concept I wish I’d thought of: I actually had thought of something quite similar, but this covers that territory so well I now feel like I’d be as well abandoning the idea. In short, this is about a heist in a haunted house, resulting in a genre mashup that’s equal parts Ocean’s Eleven and The Haunting. If that doesn’t make you go “Ooooooh!” and make you want to go pick up this comic immediately, I seriously fear there’s something wrong with you.
As far as first issues go, this is remarkably dense, and feels packed with content and narrative incident. I felt like I’d really got my money’s worth and got a good chunk of story here. As opposed to say, Guardians of the Galaxy #1, where I closed the book feeling like I was really very little the wiser to these characters and their world after reading and that we had progressed very little into the story, Ghosted is marvelously paced, covering a lot of ground and, indeed, spanning multiple genres. As we open, we’re in a prison story, and it’s in these early pages that we get to know Jackson T. Winters. While the prison segment is over with pretty quickly, Winters carries that with him, and in that we can see how damaged an individual he is. From there, we slip briefly into Hammer horror territory, with sinister older gentlemen in red smoking jackets in lavish mansion studies, and supernatural doings afoot. In this sequence, the plot is truly set into motion, as Winters is employed by enigmatic millionaire Markus Schrecken to “steal a ghost” to add to his collection of mystical artefacts, pointing him in the direction of the notorious Trask murder house. After that, we make the seamless transition into the most giddily fun sequence of the narrative, as we slip into the heist caper genre. Here, we see Winters recruiting his team, an oddball band of misfits who in their brief introductions all quickly establish their own personalities and interesting wrinkles, making me think this will be a fun band to watch interact. And just when we’re thinking this is going to be a fun, cool adventure, we take all these crime characters and pop them down firmly into the horror genre, with Williamson quickly crafting a sense of dread as the ensemble enter into the Trask mansion, menacing even in daylight hours. I just recently said in conversation with someone that the haunted house genre is considered nigh impossible to pull off in comic form, so I’m keen to see how the creative team manages as we progress into the next issue.
In summary, Ghosted #1 is quite simply a delight. Readers in America will be fortunate enough to have both this and Sheltered #1 hitting shelves at the same time. These are very different books, but they have a few things in common. For one, even against the murmurs from fans about Image becoming more and more of a playground for the biggest names in comics rather than the proving ground for the stars of tomorow as it has been before, both titles demonstrate that Image is still a great platform for emerging talent to present comics that deserve to be breakout successes. And, of course, both are excellent. In a week where both Batman and Superman Unchained came out, its these two Image titles that I would mark out as the essential purchases for savvy comics readers. If you’d told me when I first read it that the fantastic Lazarus would be my least favourite of July’s Image debuts, I would have laughed you out of the room, but Image are going from strength to strength. If you like comics with great ideas, backed with stunning art, there should be no reason not to give Ghosted a try.