Written by Frank J. Barbiere and drawn by Chris Mooneyham
Published by Image Comics
On hearing that this comic was about an adventurer ‘possessed’ by five literary ghosts, I had an inkling I’d be hooked.* Fabian Gray can access the abilities of these five archetypes at will, but not without cost and the price does seem to be rising. Powered by the otherworldly dream-stone in his chest and driven to save his sister from a mysterious coma, Fabian searches the world for answers to his many questions.
Fabian Grey is not a smiley do-gooder, he has that old fashioned callousness and mercenary nature of the great Pulp heroes. Assisted by his friend Sebastian, their travels through the mystical undergrowth of the 30’s take the reader to Nazi castles, African temples and Shangri-La.
I grew to love Mooneyham’s art. Reminiscent of old war and horror comics I plucked from dusty New Zealand second-hand shops as a kid. Flashbacks are clearly shown with a shift in tone and colour, and each time Gray uses his abilities a spectral figure appears to let the reader know who he is channeling. The illustrative nature of the art has a retro-action feel, which is enhanced by the watercolour style of colourists S. M. Vidaurri and Lauren Affe.
The covers to the issues are exceptional, many by Ben Templesmith but my favourites are those by Mooneyham. Like old-fashioned film posters, of the type of film that inspired Indian Jones (and a particular but embarrassing childhood favourite, King Solomon’s Mines. Richard Chamberlain as action hero doesn’t hold up but that Sharon Stone turned out to be a good choice). And I love a good tagline.
Now it wouldn’t be a pulp story without Nazis and sure enough they play an understated role that will unfold in future volumes. And who doesn’t enjoy the sight of a samurai possessed hero slicing through SS troopers with a katana?
Alongside the pulp action, there is a strong horror vibe that the art does a fine job of showing. Things take a turn for the gory when certain ghosts are around and I loved how Fabian holds himself differently when channeling each ghost. And it’s not just Dracula, demonic forces, cannibal cave dwellers and giant spiders all keep things dark and unearthly.
Next time: One of the tightest creative teams of the recent history rises again as Greg Rucka and Michael Lark team up to bring us Lazarus. Another dark, dystopian future in another fantastic creator-owned book from Image Comics.
*But not without a few questions. To start with, what does that even mean? Literary ghosts? Sherlock and Dracula ok, but Merlin and Robin Hood are more legend than literature and Musashi (while an undoubted legend of a hero) is more historical, they have all had books written about them so who am I to nitpick.