Over six years in the making, “Brody’s Ghost” is this manga-inspired supernatural adventure/crime drama. Originally appearing annually in digest-sized graphic novels, Dark Horse now assembles Mark Crilley’s series into one 600-paged volume, complete with all the original chapters as well as various shorts that’ve appeared here and there. Taken as a whole, we’re given this book that explores these ideas of grief, of moving on, and of personal evolution all while maintaining a high energy level and some deep emotion.
Written and Illustrated by Mark Crilley
After losing his job and his girlfriend, Brody is haunted by a ghostly teenage girl who says only he can stop a dangerous killer and must undergo training from a centuries-old samurai’s spirit to do it. The hunt becomes personal when Brody learns his ex is destined to be the next victim! Includes all six volumes, plus the color stories from Dark Horse Presents!
Mark Crilley first appeared on my radar through this series of YouTube videos he produced about the craft of comicking. He uploaded these long and involved tutorials covering subjects from developing stories to translating ideas to a page to figuring out what to do with a thing when it’s finished. Sometimes the videos are a bit cheesy — especially because Crilley is prone to dad jokes or explaining his jokes — and there are definitely parts of his process and advice you could toss out a window. Still, they do come from a love of the medium and a desire to share the intricacies of the format. If nothing else, these videos demonstrate the sheer amount of work it takes to make a comic, and I think seeing the time and investment helps you appreciate the final product a little better. And Crilley does know his shit: he knows what he wants out of a comic and painstaking crafted “Brody’s Ghost” to reflect his own ambitions and interests from it.
For the most part, “Brody’s Ghost” is a well-constructed comic. It’s well aware of its identity and Crilley strives to maintain that personality. Although it’s 600 pages long, the book moves at a breakneck speed, charting Brody’s evolution from a sort of schlubby, borderline depressed shut-in to superpowered super-detective. There’s plenty of fights, plenty of mysteries, plenty of twists, and plenty of strong character moments. The panels are huge, the futuristic cityscapes rendered in impeccable detail, and everyone has this over-the-top delivery that can only work in the context of the story. Everything on the page seems to evoke Crilley’s favorite manga series; honestly, it doesn’t feel too far removed from the stuff you’d typically find in “Weekly Shōnen Jump”.
Since his girlfriend left him, Brody has been living in a state of abjection. His apartment is filled with forgotten pizzas, small animals, and dejection. He survives by playing his guitar on street corners, until one day he spots a ghost girl, discovers he’s a ghostseer, and is tasked with helping catch this serial killer running around, murdering young girls and leaving a penny on their foreheads. However, the last couple months haven’t been kind to him, so it’s necessary for him to first get in shape and channel his powers before he’s ready to set out.
Crilley cleverly depicts Brody’s progress through the environments. The opening pages are cramped and claustrophobic; you feel like the mess of his life and his apartment could crush him at any given moment. As the story develops, however, the world around him opens up and Crilley allows more negative space inside the frame. It’s never gone, though, and you get the sense that Crilley’s talking more about living and working with your problems rather than just flat out ignoring them.
I think that’s what this book is trying is trying to explore. Running underneath every scene, through every character, and in every joke is this deep brokenness. Not just from the people who’ve been murdered or are related to people who’ve been murdered, but also people whose relationships have fallen apart. Scenes where Brody goes to try to talk to his girlfriend (and naturally fails) are handled with the same emotional sincerity as when Brody’s going around interviewing families of the victims of the Penny Killer. We’re as deeply invested in seeing if Brody can come to terms with his own life as we are to see if they ever figure out who’s the Penny Killer.Continued below
This might be why some of the missteps feel so evident and obvious. For a story dealing so much with people attempting to move on and cope, Brody’s training and tutelage goes by in a quick montage. Crilley has all the characters make a big deal out of Brody’s gut, but gives him washboard abs in, like, a single frame transition. He lets the story linger when Brody has to give up all his material possessions, and it gives the moment a real heft. It’s too bad the rest of this sequence wasn’t treated with the same earnestness. Everything else in this part reads like Crilley only thought toward the next scene, and that hurriedness never lets some beats develop. The ending also feels a little too neat and a little too wrapped up. Crilley leaves his characters in a place that’s almost counter-productive to their growth and character arcs.
But again, these moments stick out because so much of the rest of “Brody’s Ghost” is so well delivered and interesting. Crilley used his extended page count to develop the characters and their motives, and with this complete edition, most of the payoffs feel well earned and substantial. It’s easier to see what Crilley was attempting and whether or not it actually paid off. The book is at times funny, at times exciting, at times deeply empathetic, but most of all its a book that knows its identity and ambitions, and achieves a good deal of them.
Final Verdict: 7.5 – Crilley put his heart and soul into this, and that comes through on each page, even with a couple structural stumbles along the way.