Alternate history/action adventure as a story genre in comics walks a tight rope. These comics can often be incredibly faithful to the genre they are interpreting (e.g., The Rocketeer), attempting to completely emulate a time period/feel, or they can be bold, branch out and attempt to create some new stylistic choices and narratives. It is the latter category that Five Ghosts falls into, and continues a very aggressive campaign as of recent times from Image comics about putting creator owned mini-series on shelves for the public to try. Some have been high profile duds (did anyone really find a reason to care/read Morrison & Roberts Happy?), but it is the attempt that in some cases speaks better volume than the product, and as long as chances are being made, serialized comics still have a heartbeat and something to say not only creatively, but also in being a nice dose of well crafted entertainment.
Imagine James Bond as a treasure hunter in WWII-era Europe. Now with that in your noodle, mix in a dash of Mignola—or I guess for Image readers Brubaker—supernatural elements (yes, yes, Hitler was obsessed with the supernatural, I understand), with a concept that our hero is actually possessed by the spirits of what writer Barbiere describes as “five literary ghosts” that he can summon to aid him when needed. These generalized ghosts are: the wizard, the archer, the detective, the samurai, the vampire. Whether the proper titles of these literary ghosts will be revealed (I don’t know why not, as I can’t imagine there would be copyright issues, but then again, in this litigious society who can take a chance), is of interest to me purely for the comparisons to Moore and O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series I am sure some critics will make. However, I temper that by saying in no way do I think that would be a fair comparison based on what I am reading in this introductory issue, and that is in no way a negative statement as this story and art are quite, quite good and pave a solid foundation for a stand-out mini-series.
While the story by Barbiere is good, the art is a relief. I say a relief because in comparing it with so many other titles on the shelves getting high exposure (ahem, you know what I am talking about), the artist of this comic is attempting comic art. Mooneyham designs numerous scenes well to convey a sense of the kinetic, attempting to play with narrative movement through panel manipulation and line work. After finishing the comic a second time, I believe Mooneyham’s work can stand as an example of how good comic art in a monthly can be right now, putting it on the front line of the arguments so many Ditko/Kirby Scholars are always hollering about (and to a degree, they are right) that many modern comics don’t convey movement, or action like they should, and instead leave the reader with pictures of characters in poses or simply static.
I read a lot of sub-par serialized comics as a fan, and most of them I don’t waste any time reviewing or recommending. With Five Ghosts you have such a good foundation that I think if you pick it up you are going to be handing it off to all your friends as a recommendation.