By: Frank J. Barbiere (story), Chris Mooneyham (art), S.M. Vidaurri (colors)
The Story: Who wins—samurai or Nazi? As if you had to ask…
The Review: Ever since I started covering Joe Kubert Presents, I’ve been reflecting on the lack of good, old-fashioned adventure tales on the stands. If you have an appetite for either superhero material or concept series of varying degrees of originality and grimness, then you can easily have your fill. What I’m really hungry for is some simple excitement—globe-trotting mysteries, mortal heroes doing extraordinary feats, thrills without fraught drama or abstract thinking.
The moment I read the premise to Five Ghosts, I knew I’d found something to satisfy my craving. And right from the opening sequence, this debut issue didn’t let me down. You have the eponymous Fabian singlehandedly breaking into an Austrian castle full of Nazi guards to steal the “Augusta family jewels”—with the help of “five literary ghosts”: the wizard, the archer, the detective, the samurai, and the vampire. The whole thing feels like a childhood fantasy come alive, the kind where you imagined yourself imbued with all the talents of your favorite heroes.
Childhood imaginings, however, rarely come attached with serious peril or cost. As if to remind us that this is still a comic from a respectable publisher, Barbiere ensures that Fabian doesn’t enjoy his gifts untroubled. In one fairly dramatic scene, we see that such powers come with rather serious side-effects, which Fabian admit grow worse all the time. Besides that, he’s haunted not only by the figures that lend him their skills, but by a traumatic event in his past, possibly related to his “condition,” that resulted in some grisly consequences to his own sister.
It’s this mystical part of the story that gives it a gloss of sophistication beyond its purely adventurous goals. Summoning the abilities of various fictional archetypes sounds great at first, but if “[d]emonic possession” is the cause, you might want to rethink the merits of the deal. Judging by the ominous whispers from Fabian’s “ghosts,” (“This vessel grows weary…”), Fabian’s life, and possibly more, is at stake, not to mention the fact that he’s gained the attention of one malevolent magician, appropriately named Iago.
All very interesting, of course, and I’m perfectly willing for Barbiere to develop this plot thread however he pleases, so long as he keeps bringing the pulp. And that he does indeed, with tough-as-nails, Spanish bombshell Jezebel; bespectacled, loyal, and martyred sidekick Sebastian;* trips to the distant corners of mid-twentieth-century Earth; and encounters with colorful folk like the Gho Shal, an African tribe of warriors, each with eight glowing green eyes. All I know is my ears pricked at the mention of strange stones, spider gods, and abandoned temples, and suddenly the theme song from Indiana Jones started humming in the background.
Just as I’ve been waxing a bit nostalgic over the stories of Joe Kubert’s time, I’ve also developed a finer appreciation of his art, and I’m very pleased to see that his spirit lives on in artists like Mooneyham. You get that same delicate linework that always seem to suggest swift, agile movement, as well as a plain but effective style of storytelling. Vidaurri understands that too many heavy colors would only overwhelm Mooneyham’s painstakingly thin lines, so instead you get washes of bichromatic, complementary hues—baby-blues and honey-golds, blood-reds and pale-violets. If you can time machine yourself back to the Silver Age and place this issue on the stands with the works of Joe Kubert or Gil Kane, no one would notice the difference.
Conclusion: John Carter meets Phileas Fogg and Doc Savage. For all those who yearn for a pure escapist adventure, your prayers have been answered.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * And you know, you can only get away with naming characters “Sebastian,” “Jezebel,” and “Fabian” in a pulp title.
– Speaking of which, I’m guessing Barbiere is a major Shakespeare fanboy.