This breathtaking mini-series is anything but dull. Frank Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham created a straight-out, slam-bang action epic that has a touch of Indiana Jones, a touch of Doc Savage and a touch of all-out pure action craziness, with a bit of Dracula, Musashi Miyamoto, Sherlock Holmes, Merlin and Robin Hood thrown in.
The subtitle of this comic is “The Haunting of Fabian Gray,” and how can you ask for a more appropriate subtitle for this “literary pulp adventure”, as Barbiere calls it? Doesn’t that name just ring with a thoroughly delightful pulpy goodness?
But a name doesn’t mean a damn thing. I mean, my parents could have named me Cleveland but that wouldn’t have made me want to run off and join a circus. No, what really sells this comic is the thrilling combination of art and story – words and pictures, panels and moods all tumble one upon another, filled with energy and excitement and just the right amount of density per scene to maximize the time that we spend on it. Barbiere and Mooneyham give readers the ideal amount of exposition necessary to thrust us all around the world, while we watch our hero be attacked by giant spiders, fly on bizarrely incredible airships and confront the frightening ghosts inside him because in the end, inevitably, perfectly, appropriately, majestically and perhaps unavoidably, the whole tale comes down to an evil bastard imperiling the life of Fabian Gray’s beautiful paramour Sylvia.
How can it not be so, and why would you ever want it not to be so? An adventure like this depends both on its familiarity for the reader and for the way that the creators render all those familiar tropes unique. All of this pulpy action, with evil Nazis and sorcerers and native tribesmen and all the other seemingly endless perfectly realized ideas that Barbiere and Mooneyham throw into this frothing whirlpool, feels both fresh and familiar, like a new friend telling you an old story in his own distinctive and very compelling way. It’s a beaten road lit by a new neon sign that allows you to see more than you ever thought you would see, while also remaining able to enjoy the very thing that’s being celebrated.
And much as Five Ghosts delights and moves ahead with the speed of a goddamn rocket, none of this would work without Chris Mooneyham’s really rather breathtaking artwork. It’s a feast for an old-school fan like me to pick out Mooneyham’s influences, especially the segments of the story that read like fairly direct quotes from Walter Simonson’s art for the classic “Manhunter” series that ran forty damn years ago and still casts a long shadow over pulpy adventure comics. You can see Simonson frequently in Mooneyham’s linework (as you can see other great artists from the ‘70s era like Val Mayerik and the pre-American Flagg! Howard Chaykin) in all the little graphical elements he includes – pages with a zillion panels, full-panel sound effects, a charmingly loose and noodly line.
Mooneyham and Barbiere walk an unbelievably difficult tightrope with this comic, but they walk it comfortably and adroitly. For me, reading this mini evoked a little bit of nostalgia, a smidgen of pure joy, a soupçon of thrills at the potential for comics. If I sound a little breathless when I describe Five Ghosts, that's because the series actually made me breathless. How can you ask for more than that from a comic like this?
Please also read our video interview of Frank, conducted at the 2013 San Diego Comic-con!