By: Too many to list, and too many to even review—check out the issue.
The Story: I just get this haunting feeling that we’re not alone here.
The Review: It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, hasn’t it? The fault is entirely mine. I’m not much of a digital reading kind of person (for now); GrayHaven comics aren’t readily available at my shop; and frankly, I’m not convinced that I really want to go out of my way to obtain any. As admirable as GrayHaven’s objectives may be, they haven’t really produced anything you’d consider truly remarkable.
They only suffer even further by comparison to their more polished, bigger-name peers, and unfortunately, Vertigo’s Ghosts is a direct parallel to this latest volume of The Gathering. On a purely structural level, Ghosts already has a leg up on this issue in Vertigo’s choice to allow for longer features, generally resulting in more substantial, satisfying tales. It’s the difference between eating a Hershey’s Kiss and a Hershey bar; neither fill you up like a full-blown meal, but one at least keeps you happy for a longer time afterward.
Ghosts also succeeded based on its purely fictional nature, with creators delivering their personal visions of what a ghost story can be, which allowed for greater variety. Despite Ghost Stories containing easily two to three times the number of tales as its Vertigo counterpart, all of these mini-features (averaging two to three pages each) read a little monotonously. Publisher Andrew Goletz states in his intro to the issue that the theme of the anthology is “true ghost stories,” and the thing about true ghost stories is they are more suggestions of the supernatural, quite easily products of imagination as actual spiritual experience.
Sometimes the writers get in their own way by undercutting whatever suspense you’re supposed to feel from the spooks in question, as in Marc Lombardi’s “The Victorian,” where the resident of a haunted house remarks to a troubled guest, “Who? Oh… Do you mean the ghost?” In Dylan Faraday’s “To Old Blue,” the feature doesn’t become an actual ghost story until near the end, and since Faraday outright hands you reasonable explanations for its few mysteries, you’re not inclined to take it for anything other than a semi-sentimental tale. Paul Zukauskas anecdote about his late brother David (left untitled) abandons the literal ghost aspect entirely; instead, it feels more like Zukauskas way to exorcise his own grief over David’s death.
Not that these are inappropriate stories to be put into this issue, but they don’t quite feel like what you’d pay for in an ostensible ghost story anthology. Compare to Glenn Matchett’s “Black Aggie,” which manages to feel like it has some actual stakes, given the fate of its protagonist. Although the tale begins kind of predictably (in a cemetery, scoffing at the rumors told about the titular statue), it does reach a certain level of fearful tension because the object of terror is so different from your usual spooks, and more physically present as well. Timothy Nakayama’s “The Ghost in the Taxi” also begins conventionally, but pulls off a rather good twist by its conclusion. Not only does he unsettle what you thought you know about his story, he also comes closest to getting that deliciously creepy “true ghost story” feeling without coming across cheesy or vague. But these are bright exceptions to an otherwise bland collection of tales.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these two stories also receive the strongest artistic treatment in an issue full of truly mediocre to amateurish art. Even when the artists can draw a decent figure, they sometimes seem like they have no grasp on storytelling at all, as in “The Light Bringers,” where Rico & Teles completely defeat Erica J. Helflin’s tale by portraying its two female protagonists as completely unaffected (not just untroubled, as Helflin writes) by the strange entities they encounter—but then again, since Rico & Teles depict these entities as shapeless ink-splatter blobs, why would these ladies be bothered? Most of the time, however, the features suffer from artists who go too broad, too exaggerated, too hyperbolic to take the substance seriously. Take JDWilliams’ cartoony monster hands in James Murray’s “Hands!” or Martha Powers’ silly-crazy (rather than scary-crazy) eyes of the mad doctor in Marc Deschamps’ “What’s So Scary About Goodleburg Cemetary?”
Conclusion: As always, a mix of largely forgettable offerings studded with a few memorable pieces.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - I’m pretty sure that if I saw a man in Victorian gear come down the stairs, tip his hat to me, and then learn that he’s a ghost, I’d be hauling ass immediately in every direction possible, not making some excuse about leaving something on the stove.