By: Frank J. Barbiere (story), Chris Mooneyham (art), Lauren Affe (colors)
The Story: Fabian takes the pulp adventurer’s version of the SATs.
The Review: Much as I love pure action-adventures for their enthusiastic devotion to having fun, I do have to admit that they risk losing any kind of depth or meaning beyond the plot. Some would argue they don’t have to—I would make that argument—but if they don’t, then they can’t expect to have much chance at lasting value. Longevity almost entirely depends the strength of the characters, the story’s themes, and the complexity of its concepts.
For all of Five Ghosts’ strengths, the title falls short in all three departments. Fabian is likable enough, and can serve his role as protagonist well, but your interest in him never rises to the level of attachment. You’re fond of him, as you might be of a distant relative’s child, but you’re never going to volunteer to babysit. Even at this late stage of the series, you’ll struggle to describe Fabian’s personality and character, and you’ll fail. Ultimately, Fabian is useful only to move us through each issue’s adventures, nothing more.
Strangely, you may have more affection for the supporting cast, possibly because they didn’t spend most of the series possessed or comatose. You might not care so much for Sebastian, who passed the bulk of his time trying to make himself as small as possible as he desperately tries to revive Fabian from his latest faint, but the end of Zhang Guo is kind of a sad thing. Of all the characters, he has the most mysterious (thus intriguing) personality, with the clearest, noblest purpose, making him far easier to sympathize with than our eponymous hero.
With character development this lacking, it’s hard to scrounge up anything else that’s meaningful from the series. There really isn’t a theme to speak of, and the novelty of the story’s concept and premise pretty much ended somewhere in the second issue. What’s left is simply the action and adventure, and unfortunately, Barbiere doesn’t have the time or space to make either as expansive or as thrilling as they should be.
For example, Fabian’s sojourn through the Dreaming and the trials hoisted upon him by each of his ghosts could generate enough material to fill several issues. To truncate the sequence to a single issue, punctuated with cuts back to Zhang Guo and Sebastian fending off Iago’s attacks, just seems like a sadly missed opportunity (though probably by no fault of Barbiere’s own). As such, the trials come across as a little too straightforward and easy, especially since they intend to test Fabian’s skills on his own merits. Honestly, the trials in the first Harry Potter novel seemed more taxing than what we get here.
What remains a constant draw to this series is Mooneyham’s art, which is so fleet and classy that it’s hard not to enjoy it. He may not be the most inspired storyteller, nor does he offer much in the way of strong emotional moments, but then again, the script doesn’t really call for that. What it calls for is plenty of pulp action, from wrestling with bears to fencing with samurais, and this Mooneyham delivers. His art goes beyond homage; it simply fits into that whole era and aesthetic of comic book visuals.
Conclusion: An enjoyable little read, but ultimately a very little one, with hardly enough substance to occupy your mind as you’re reading, rather yet when you’ve put the issue down.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – Who is that woman who appears with the Wizard? Why isn’t that one of Fabian’s questions?