The latest in Vertigo’s line of one-shot anthologies, “Ghosts” has a spooky theme to fit the week, though much of the book doesn’t actually qualify as horror at all. How does this one stand up to its predecessors, “Strange Adventures” and “Mystery in Space”?
Written and Illustrated by Various
Check out this all-new anthology from some of the biggest talents in the industry! Stories spotlight a space heist on a ghost ship, a spirit who wants to play synthesizer in a techno band, a ghost-for-hire haunting agency and others dark, twisted tales.
With stories and art by some of comics’ greatest talents, this special features a cover by Dave Johnson, and a variant cover by Brendan McCarthy!
Al Ewing and Rufus Dayglo’s ‘The Night After I Took the data Entry Job I Was Visited by My Own Ghost’ — what is this, a pop punk album? — starts the anthology off right. Science fiction and the supernatural have been mixed and matched multiple times before, but in this story Ewing is able to come up with a riff on both that is both unique and obvious with hindsight, a true “wish I had thought of it first” idea that could be used in stories both humorous, as in this short, and grim. Most of the story is told by narrative, often a no-no in the comic medium, but Ewing avoids “telling” the reader what they are seeing in Dayglo’s art, resulting in a well done version of the double-narrative trick that comics do so well. Speaking of Dayglo, he’s the star of this story; his charming style oozes personality, and even though there are only a few actual sequences, his art is a cinch to read. It would be nice to get a look at Ewing’s script in order to see how much of the paneling was done by him and how much by Dayglo, but for now we’ll just have to be content with this enjoyable, if slightly simple, read.
Vertigo favorites The Dead Boy Detectives make an appearance in this issue as well in ‘Run Ragged,’ though it’s one of two stories that are difficult to judge. You see, this is ‘Run Ragged’ part one, with the rest of the story to be continued in future Vertigo anthologies. The problem is that writer Toby Litt does not use his eight pages effectively: while the story is clearly going to be one of those mysteries where two seemingly unrelated cases turn out to be the same case (hello, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang), this first installment reads like Litt got distracted halfway into the story. I repeat: it is abundantly clear that the seemingly unrelated incident that happens in this issue will tie into the original mystery, but it doesn’t read that way. Perhaps when the story is complete and read front to back, it will be less jarring, but Vertigo’s first story told across these anthologies is not off to a strong start, writing-wise — which is a shame, because the combined talents of Mark Buckingham, Victor Santos, and Lee Loughridge make this story look very lovely and read like a dream.
The decade-spanning ‘Wallflower’ by Cecil Castellucci and Amy Reeder is interprets the anthology’s subject matter in a very different way, about how we can become ghosts in our own lives, and in the lives of others. Much like ‘The Night After I…’ — and only in this way — the majority of ‘Wallflower’ is without dialogue, carried along by a captioned, sparse narrative instead. The real storyteller is Reeder — in fact, the story could stand well enough on its own without any of the lettering. Reeder does a particularly notable job following her characters through their years. The unnamed characters clearly age as the story progresses, but not to an exaggerated extent — they may have aged thirty years from page one to page eight, but they are still the same character. That requires a subtle handle on anatomy and body language that many artists do not have, and yet Reeder pulls it off like it is nothing. The story’s weakest point is its final page, which seems to be a bit of a mixed metaphor, but I fully admit that could just be because it went over my head.Continued below
It is difficult to review something like Joe Kubert’s ‘The Boy and the Old Man.’ On the most obvious surface level, it is not a finished comic: Kubert only finished the pencils before passing away. Because of this, ‘The Boy and the Old Man’ is equal parts actual comic book and comic book history, seeing as it is the very last comic that the legend drew. Even if it is technically incomplete, though, the comic stands as an example of why Joe Kubert was one of the greats. Even if the pencils are unfinished, Kubert’s skill with telling stories through sequential images still stands out, no matter at what stage of the process he was at. The pages also display the man’s incredible talent for capturing the human form in its every twist and turn, capturing the motion the human body is able to evoke without resorting to heavy exaggeration. The story itself is based on ancient myth and folklore, and is appropriately told in a manner that expertly imitates the style of oral storytelling. Joe Kubert was a revered fogire during his life for a reason, and even someone who has never experienced the master’s art before can see why in these unfinished pages. Rest in peace, Joe.
Neil Kleid and John McCrea’s ‘A Bowl of Red’ is an absolute delight, presenting a wonderful twist on a classic horror staple. Kleid seems to perfectly understand the fanatical devotion people can attach to food, especially a specific kind, and the way he has chosen to accentuate that fanaticism is both clever and well executed. The stellar dialogue carries what is already a great concept, taking its semi-ridiculous nature completely seriously without making a mockery of itself, and the ending is perfect for a short one-off like this. John McCrea is the proverbial cherry on top: one of the more underrated artists in the industry, McCrea’s pages are easy to read without being simple, stylized without being distracting, expressive without being silly (except for in situations where silly is the goal). All in all, he’s a comics artist for people who love comics, and ‘A Bowl of Red’ is yet another notch on his belt that demonstrates why.
I’m not sure what to say about ‘Bride.’ I mean, Phil Jiminez is fantastic, and it’s very interesting to see what his work looks like now in comparison to how it looks in the Invisibles omnibus I am slowly making my way through — he refines his craft while still retaining his basic look and feel, while many artists choose one or the other — but the story is… well, it just “is.” There does not seem to be any point, any reason, besides just giving Jiminez a vehicle to draw risque things. For something that is clearly supposed to be somewhat shocking and uncomfortable, it really is nothing interesting — though considering the final panel, that could very well be the point. If so, Mary H.K. Choi could certainly be considered clever, but that doesn’t make the story any more entertaining to read.
Paul Pope is Paul Pope. Really, there isn’t much more to say about him at this point. His work is so delicately crafted, so finely honed that any aspiring artist who sees it will either be inspired or crushed — how could they ever get that good? ‘Treasure Lost’ is pure Pope — beautifully rendered with wildly contrasting smooth and rough designs and an eye for detail that is unmatched. Just as notable, though, is coloring legend Lovern Kindzierski, whose palette choices bring a life to Pope’s work that has never been seen before. David Lapham’s script, while enjoyable enough, is the sideshow here: the real reason to read ‘Treasure Lost’ is to enjoy eight pages of bliss as two of the best artists in their field come together to create something wonderful.
I can’t talk about what makes ‘The Dark Lady’ my favorite of the stories in this anthology too much without giving away the twist, but I can say that Gilbert Hernandez’s art is the definition of versatile, going from playful to ominous in the span of a few panels seamlessly, not at all disrupting the reading process. Each panel is a work of art, with a striking sense of composition that could allow the individual pieces to hang separately in a gallery and still impress the viewer. Perhaps the key to this comic is the dialogue, though, in that how spot-on “normal” everyone sounds helps the twist sneak up on the reader… but even then I’m saying too much!Continued below
Perhaps the most anticipated story in the book, even if the anticipation came with trepidation, was ‘Ghost for Hire’ by Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire. Lemire is no stranger to Vertigo, but Johns is a name one is used to seeing exclusively on superhero titles — superhero titles such as, for example, “Justice League” — and so one might understandably be wary of Johns’s foray into the world of Vertigo. Initial caution aside, ‘Ghost for Hire’ is a delightful little story. The concept itself is a clever little idea, one that is made even more pleasant through Johns’s excellent characterization of the two protagonists. With the Chance brothers, Johns is in rare form; in the little time that we get to know them, the two pop off the page due to Johns’s solid dialogue work, just begging to be used again in the future. Unfortunately, the two antagonists of sorts are a bit too capital-B Bad (as opposed to capital-E Evil), and are more like cookie-cutter replicas of people we are not supposed to like than actual characters. With more pages, though, Johns might have been able to avoid this, and considering the lightheartedness of the story, it isn’t too much of an egregious error. Lemire’s illustrations are as excellent as always, with the same amount of heartfelt expression and smooth storytelling that we’re used to from him — and it’s always nice to see he can do fun comics just as well as he can do emotionally crushing comics.This might not be the best of the anthology, but it is the story I want to see more of — make it happen, Vertigo.
Perhaps the one adjective that could best describe this Vertigo anthology is “clever.” All but a couple of the stories in this book do something unique and thoughtful, and execute it well. $7.99 is a lot to cough up for one book, but at 70 pages, it’s a nicer deal than most of DC’s books that are “holding the line.” Fans of Vertigo both new and old are sure to enjoy this anthology, as are those who want something a little unexpected from their weekly comics haul.
Final Verdict: 8.0 – Buy it!