Review: Five Ghosts #1

What could be better than an innovative self-published miniseries that’s all set to debut at NYCC this week? A really, really good innovative self-published miniseries that’s all set to debut at NYCC. Seriously, if you plan to be a part of the craziness these next couple days, this stylish and action-packed comic should definitely be on top of your pick-up list.

Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Illustrated by Chris Mooneyham

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.

This magazine contains part one of the serialized storyline The Haunting of Fabian Gray in which our hero returns home to confer with his closest ally; a new adventure is set in motion; dark forces begin to gather; and unexpected opponents are discovered in the jungles of Africa.

“I’m not a thief,” insists Fabian Gray, “I’m a treasure hunter.” And, it turns out, thanks to his condition, our dashing hero is five other things as well: a detective, a vampire, a samurai, a wizard, an archer. All these abilities turn out to be pretty useful when breaking into well-guarded lairs, and right off the bat we see Fabian in action, infiltrating a Nazi fortress and taking out guard after guard. From there the story whips along at a breakneck pace, circling the globe and rapidly getting us acquainted with the characters that populate this brightly coloured world. There’s deftly laid out action as well as slower-burn moments of intrigue, and while the backstory relayed to us in the solicit isn’t quite made accessible to us in this issue, Barbiere gives us everything we need to understand what’s moving Fabian forward: he’s on a quest for an arcane object that might bring his sister out of a comatose state.

While (as you probably noticed) the plot is deeply rooted in 1930s-era story conventions, “Five Ghosts” feels more like a tribute than a pastiche, and never forgets to do its own thing. The ghosts that inhabit Fabian Gray — while being a pretty interesting story element in themselves — are rendered in high style, looming over Fabian as he makes use of their powers, while a demonic possession scene distinguishes itself as something much more sinister. It seems there are benefits as well as dangerous drawbacks to Fabian’s condition, and together with the new plot elements that come up at the end of the issue — they have to do with a hostile tribe and a spider god — it seems this comic will be covering some exciting territory indeed.

The only real drawback to this issue, story-wise, is that it could spend a little more time setting up the universe that it inhabits. As things stand, we understand that Fabian has these five ghosts to draw on, but it’s not established whether these literary characters (among them Dracula and Sherlock Holmes) are also considered literary in Fabian’s world. That is, does Fabian live in the same universe as Sherlock, and channel his specific spirit, or does Fabian, like us, look upon him as a fictional character? The fact that the solicit calls the artifact that gave Fabian his powers a “Dreamstone” does seem to hint in one direction, but as things stand some clarification is in order.

The art for this series is something special. Culling the best elements from 1960s pulp covers and Golden Age adventure comics and meshing them together in a way that feels sleek and modern, Chris Mooneyham sets out gorgeous page after gorgeous page, each one so strongly composed and intricately put together that it could stand by itself as an accomplished piece of art (there’s a splash panel depicting a plane crash-landing that alone is worth the cover price). At the same time, the art style doesn’t overwhelm the story, and it’s easy to follow Fabian’s adventures.

The colours (with assists by S.M. Vidaurri) are bold and bright, with each locale and each rapid sequence of events being afforded its own limited colour scheme. It’s a lovely way of underscoring the subtleties of pacing in a comic that goes by very quickly, as well as being effective in terms of keeping those scene changes easy to follow. Dylan Todd’s graphic design is also great, doing some interesting things with a Vitruvian Man motif on the inside cover pages while keeping the overall look clean and simple.

I don’t think I can recommend this issue enough. So far as highly stylized comics go, this one’s confident and fresh, pairing up its strong aesthetic with a unique concept and a fun and fast paced storyline. And all the while, you can feel good about supporting an independently produced comic. Everybody wins!

Final Verdict: 9.0 — Buy

About The AuthorMichelle WhiteMichelle White is a writer, zinester, and aspiring Montrealer.

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