The horror genre is always a tricky thing for me. While I do admittedly love over the top violence and silliness like in the brilliant TV show, Ash vs the Evil Dead, it seems like much of the genre relies on torture porn to convey its thrills and chills. I always preferred the old Lovecraftian horror which disturbed by making you question your sanity and your powerlessness and hopelessness in the face of a greater evil. With the recent release of a fantastic sounding Lovecraftian card game (which Boxed Culture will be discussing next week), I wanted to take a moment to check out another Lovecraftian graphic novel series. In the past I’ve talked about The Doom That Came to Gotham and Fatale, which are two of my absolute favorite Lovecraft-inspired genre mash-ups. This week, I’m taking a look at a creator owned series, Five Ghosts. Originally the product of a Kickstarter campaign, Five Ghosts is written by Frank J. Barbiere and illustrated by Chris Mooneyham. It’s a pulp adventure/Lovecraftian horror mash-up that has an ex-pirate turned thief trying to figure out the secret behind a power that came at a very high price. The series is currently at 17 issues and as far as I can tell, is on temporary hiatus while the creators are busy with other work. The series is supposed to continue later this year but since it’s creator owned, it’s always a bit difficult to tell. Regardless, it falls in the camp of Lovecraftian mash-ups and is an interesting one.
The basic premise of Five Ghosts is very Nathan Drake-esque (if you’re familiar with the Uncharted videogame series). Fabian Grey, a former pirate and renowned treasure hunter/thief who is both good with the ladies and rather witty, is on the hunt for a very peculiar type of treasure. A tragic encounter with a jewel known as the “Dreamstone” left Fabian altered in a rather strange way: he is now possessed by five ghosts. These ghosts (the Detective, the Archer, the Samurai, the Vampire and the Wizard) have given Fabian power but at a rather nasty price. Fabian is on a desperate search for redemption, a search which requires Fabian to find the secrets behind the Dreamstone before the cabal hunting him pulls his powers out bit by bloody bit. It’s the kind of adventure that’s perfectly suited to pulp fiction and from the art to the dialogue to the plotting, it can’t be mistaken for anything else.
This series was recommended to me by my friend Jasyn and is often hailed as one of the best creator owned comic series out there but it just never clicked for me. In a lot of ways, Fabian reminded me of Nathan Drake. He’s smart, clever, witty and good with the ladies. He’s this swashbuckling adventurer and I see what people like about him. But it just never seemed like enough. Fabian goes from having no control over his powers to being this unstoppable magical force as the series goes on and that frankly bores me to tears. The Detective ghost (very clearly Sherlock Holmes) always shows him the right path to take or gives him perfect intuition and the other ghosts seem to solve all his other problems for him. He’s not a terrible character, but I never really connected with him and felt like he was significantly overpowered. Maybe it’s that pulp fiction feel but I also disliked the machismo and the fact that the women in the story are routinely shuffled around like pawns despite seeming to be kickass fighters. No one ever dies, they just have to be threatened so that Fabian can be motivated to do things. It’s not the worst thing I’ve seen in graphic novel storytelling but it’s an obnoxious trait. Issue #17 (the most recently released issue) feels like an abrupt pause to the story which is unfortunate since I’m not sure how soon/if they’ll get back to it. The art by Mooneyham is a bright spot in the series though, it’s very much got the feel of a pulp fiction novel and uses artistic license to make it feel almost dream like. Occasionally more like a nightmare. I enjoyed the art significantly more than the story.
I want to be clear, it isn’t that Five Ghosts is bad. If you like pulp fiction and you don’t mind overpowered or morally righteous heroes, it’s a rollicking little Lovecraftian adventure. For me though, it just never really captured my attention or my interest. It had moments of promise and the premise was appealing but I could never connect with Fabian or his concerns. Mostly I just wanted to skim over it and find out what happened to the other characters at the end. And that’s unfortunate. It’s another series that I feel had promise but just never delivered. The series has received high praise though so it may just be me. If pulp fiction is your thing, it might be worth taking a look.