April 9, 2013

Review -- Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1

This Review Originally Ran On Comics Bulletin

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1
(Frank J. Barbiere, Chris Mooneyham; Image Comics)
So, how about this for a solicitation:

After a tragic encounter with an artifact known as "The Dreamstone," infamous treasure hunter Fabian Gray was possessed by five literary ghosts and has been granted access to their unique abilities. 

Five Literary Ghosts? Ooooh boy -- that's enough to get the English teacher in me all a'flutter -- I'm thinking Hamlet's father, Jacob Marley, Beloved, Madeline Usher, and some Turn of the Screwshit. 
But no.... that's not what we are talking about.

Rather, in Five Ghosts, Fabian Gray is possessed by The Wizard, The Archer, The Detective, The Samurai and The Vampire. As it turns out, he's not really possessed by Literary Ghosts, as much as by Literary Tropes. But hey, that's all well and good because, really, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because, as Image wants us to know, "A BOLD NEW ERA OF PULP ADVENTURE COMICS BEGINS HERE" and in Pulp Adventure stories, it's best to work with what you know.
All this aside, let me be straight with you: Five Ghosts is pretty great.

It is pulp adventure revved high. The book opens with Master Thief Damian Gray in Austria, channeling the power of each "ghost" as he steals jewels and kills Nazis (always a crowd-pleaser), and subsequently follows his exploits through Barelona, England, and finally Africa. The larger plot seems to revolve around Damian wanting to save his sister's soul, which apparently has been dragged into some-hell like place by a sort of tentacled demon thing. You know how that is.
To complicate things further, the literary ghosts that possess Mr. Gray don't seem to be overly happy about being inside of him, for, as they say, "This vessel grows weary". Their discontent is taking its toll on our titular hero.
Then, as an added bonus, there's some sort of floating head cabal that wants Gray's power to be theirs. They send their first emissary who gets to say one of my favorite lines ever quoted in a comic, "Answer Me, Filthy Flesh Ape!" (a command that I shall begin shouting at my students after Spring Break, I assure you). Finally, as if all this adventure were not enough, there's the additional "Something about a strange stone, spider gods and the like" for Gray to contend with.

Whew. Just remember, this is all going on in the confines of the first issue of a five-issue mini. Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom -- that's what I call grabbing your reader, baby.
All these pieces fit together beautifully in Five Ghosts. Certainly there are echoes of Lieberman and Rossmo's Cowboy Ninja Viking (Mooneyham's art is even Rossmo-esque -- which is a good thing) rampant here, but Barbiere and Mooneyham own what is going on in their book outright. They've served up a flawed but likable hero, high octane action/adventure, and evil things afoot -- and it's all there to entertain.
While this book isn't groundbreaking in storytelling or presentation, it is what it is, and what it is … is fun, a throwback to adventure tales of old with just enough off-kilter funk to keep it dancing new steps.

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