By: Frank J. Barbiere (story), Chris Mooneyham (art), S.M. Vidaurri & Lauren Affe (colors)

The Story: This temple is in desperate need of fumigating.

The Review: Homages are all well and good; there’s nothing wrong with indulging in nostalgia, even if we occasionally make the old times seem much better than they actually were.  However, an homage shouldn’t just be a pastiche of period conventions; it should have the imprint of the creator delivering it, rather than simply step in the footprints of his predecessors.  Some part of his contemporary thinking should appear in the work.

As much as the premise and look of Five Ghosts recalls the work of Joe Kubert, I’m pretty sure that Kubert would never have opened an issue on a stream of flowing semen.  Setting that bit of imagery aside, the first three pages take on a very interesting, sophisticated format, each divided into four panels, each panel showing a different period of Fabian’s life, each continued on their counterpart panels on the other pages.  It’s an unusual storytelling choice, but it does succinctly explain Fabian’s life to date, particularly with his twin sister Silvia and how he came by his “powers”: “a tragic encounter with an artiface known as ‘The Dreamstone.’”

Beyond that, we get little in the way of plot development or exposition in this issue, not even in regards to Zhang Guo, their mysterious new ally.  Instead, it focuses entirely on Fabian and Sebastian’s adventure in a not-so-abandoned temple, which is really what you came here for.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen ritual sacrifice in a comic that isn’t infused with melodrama, and with the addition of some actual spider-gods (or, at least, some very big spiders), it makes for a pretty nice action sequence.

The real fun of it, of course, is in seeing Fabian use his powers to bail him and his pal out of trouble.  Now, if one of the spirits whose abilities I can call on is a wizard, I’m pretty sure that I’d be speed-casting on him all the time.  Fabian is clearly more creative than me when it comes to mixing things up where his ghost-summoning is concerned: using the archer to fling a torch into an overhead spider-god’s eyes; relying on the detective’s observation skills to spot an environmental solution to the arachnid problem.  It’s good times, for sure.

Still, with so many different and formidable abilities available to him, Fabian’s spiritual powers could eventually become too clean and easy a problem-solving tactic.  Fortunately, Barbiere adds a physical price to Fabian’s possession that keeps him grounded and adds a layer of suspense to the story.  We still don’t really know what these “literary ghosts” are, though the name belies how dark and malevolent they really are.  Fabian’s takeover by his vampire spirit in this issue is actually more complete and even a little scary, compared to the way it manifested last month.  It does make you curious how total possession by, say, the samurai or detective will work out, and what other kinds of costs it can inflict.

The aforementioned opening pages show that Mooneyham is far more than a tribute artist.  Though his spry artwork and old-school sense of action calls to mind the Kubert style, there’s a lot more emotional realism to the way he portrays the characters that gives the issue credibility beyond its pulpy substance.  The coloring is also very distinctive, cutting down the number of hues competing with each other, but also making them more vivid.  It’s not only easy on the eyes, but it helps draw your attention to distinct details, like the green eyes and golden armor on the Gho Shal warriors glowing from the indigo night around them.

Conclusion: Not much substance to work on here, but a great bit of pure adventure comic nonetheless.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – A blimp-powered airship—with ridiculous wings.  Color me very happy indeed.