By: Way too many to list—check out the review.
The Story: Proton packs won’t work against these ghosts—not even if you merge streams.
The Review: Early in my reviewing career, I covered an intermittent anthology series called The Gathering (which has no relation to the card game that somehow survived my prepubescent years). At the time, I felt most of its offbeat features were raw and unpolished, on both the story and art sides. Vertigo’s Ghosts takes up pretty much the same format, only with established talents on board, resulting in a much more impressive book. Get ready; this one’s a doozy.
If a title like “The Night After I Took the Data Entry Job I Was Visited by My Own Ghost” doesn’t tip you off, then you should know that Al Ewing writes the story as a send-up of the old yarn about being haunted by your past ambitions. It’d be a rather pointed and preachy piece about sticking to your guns rather than settle for less* but for its funny twists (how knowing Kurt Cobain can land you a management position, I don’t even begin to know). The way Rufus Dayglo draws characters, they’d be amusing doing nothing, but uncomfortably chugging bears or enthusiastically rocking out? Hilarious. Chris Chuckry provides appropriately punk colors.
Toby Litt’s “Run Ragged” suffers a bit from Multiple Personality Disorder, erratically switching tones and even plotlines every couple pages, only to inexplicably break off at the very end, leaving what happens after “School’s in forever!” to the “next Vertigo Anthology…” The trailing ellipses don’t inspire much confidence that will actually happen. Anyway, it’s a fun, silly kind of ghost story, charmingly drawn by Mark Buckingham, whose simple lines look even better with Victor Santos’ ultra-fine inks than on Fables. Lee Loughridge switches up the colors from one monochrome (pink and fluffy) to another (grey and noir) to fit the story’s own turns.
Frankly, the tale of the 1950s housewife learning to pursue her own ambitions has gotten quite old. That’s why “Wallflower,” despite gorgeous and stylish art from Amy Reeder, comes off flat and trite. Cecil Castellucci relies exclusively on worn clichés about male-female relationships to portray the story’s tension and to advance its conflict. Though touching at times, even the most interesting and complicated bits of the story don’t have much inspiration to them.
It’s impossible to separate “The Boy and the Old Man” from the context of its creator’s fate. How can you look at a tale about a man in the throes of his death and not wonder how much Joe Kubert knew about what was coming to him? That allegory is happening in the piece, you can have no doubt. Maybe it’s the rough pencils, still raw from their initial creation, or the urgent language of the script, but as with any good ghost story, you sense its desperation to give you a warning. Haunting in itself, made doubly so by the circumstances of its telling.
“A Bowl of Red”, by Neil Kleid, is a baffling piece. Your first instinct is to call it parody—you are dealing with the devil’s chili, after all—and yet the tone gets so intense that you begin to wonder how seriously you’re supposed to make of the damnation facing those who encounter the Undead Pepper. John McCrea’s cartoony art (with Andrew Elder’s straightforward colors) don’t clarify things, either. All in all, it feels a bit like a New Yorker piece: humor so wry that it almost loses its humor.
As strange an oddity as that is, it has nothing on “Bride,” which seems an exercise for Mary H.K. Choi to trot out every social depravity she can imagine. I’ll give you one detail to know what I mean: “They just had a threesome with a stunning six-foot albino woman by the maze.” Like Choi, the characters seem proud of their own messiness, which makes their sordid ends a kind of cautionary tale. Phil Jimenez’s beautiful forms (lushly inked by Andy Lanning and colored by Andrew Dalhouse) only highlight the disturbing nature of it all. I imagine he took on this project mostly as a way to stretch his legs out of his comfort zone—only it may do so to you, too.
I don’t know what “Treasure Lost” is doing in this anthology. If it has any connection to ghosts, it’s only in the barest of metaphors; no matter how you look at it, it’s a sci-fi fantasy. That bears no reflection on its actual quality, though. Paul Pope tells and draws (with David Lapham assisting on the script) a lovely alien setting, despite its stark events, and it has a tragic element to it that’s almost Shakespearean: misunderstanding leading to death, that sort of thing. Lovern Kindzierski provides a color palette you’d seen nowhere else; the fleshy reds, sickly yellows, and pale blues recall his work on Animal Man, only even more varied and intricate in hue.
Of all the features, Gilbert Hernandez’s “The Dark Lady” comes closest to what you’d consider the traditional ghost story, with a twist that is gut-wrenchingly tragic, made even more so by the characters’ cheerful, undisturbed reactions. All along you’re enjoying yourself, listening to these two boys indulge in the hyperbolic urban legend stuff we all loved at that age. It only takes one horrible revelation to upend the story’s tone completely, recasting its whole context. The childlike figures emphasize this mingling of darkness and innocence, black and white (which confuses you as to why Lee Loughridge needed to be on board for “colors”).
Finally, we have a celebrity piece in the mix. You don’t get much bigger names in the biz nowadays than Geoff Johns and Jeff Lemire, two writers with radically different tastes and styles, but who share a love for warm, humanistic tales. True to Johns, he writes a sweet, sentimental piece that features another rare relationship in comics, that of brotherly love (not as in “bromance,” but genuine brothers). It reads a bit like a kids’ movie, but it ends the anthology on the right note: with a ton of heart. José Villarrubia is a pro at coloring Lemire’s thin, twitchy linework by now, giving it a bright finish that masks the gaunt figures.
Conclusion: If you want to have an anthology, this is the way to do it. There are stories of every kind from every angle and more likely than not, you’ll at least appreciate all of them, some more than others.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * By the way, for any of you tormented by the thoughts of where you’d be had you followed your dream of being a rock star instead of whatever grounded job you have now, I have the answer: you’d be desperately competing against hundreds of other wannabe rock stars, most likely peaking at several thousand views on YouTube. Meanwhile, the citizens of your country need you to go back to helping them with their tax forms and cleaning their teeth.