Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: Professor Hefner’s Mediumship Academy

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Williamson, Joshua, writer and Suzuka, Goran, artist: Ghosted. Image Comics, 2013.

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Brisson, Ed, writer, and Christmas, Johnnie, artist: Sheltered. Image Comics, 2013.

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Developing a character is a lot like making cookies without a specific recipe. You have an idea of what kind of cookies you want and a concept of the ratios of ingredients you need to add to get those. It works fine until you start thinking things like: “Hey, one cup of chocolate chips is tasty, so four cups of chocolate chips would be really, really, really tasty,” and wind up with a burnt, sticky mess instead of extra-chocolatey cookies.

Jackson T. Winters, the protagonist of Ghosted, is like that. One cup of jerk makes an interesting character. You might even be able to get away with two cups of jerk if you tone it down with something else – generosity, maybe, or an adorable kitten sidekick – but Jackson is a four-cup-of-jerk protagonist and is beyond salvation even by the cutest of kittens.

Jackson is in jail (Judging from the other prisoners, I think this is the Negative Black Male Stereotype Penitentiary) when a prison riot is staged by a mysterious hot lady named ‘Anderson Lake’ with the sole purpose of busting him out, making him an even less likeable protagonist. It would be one thing if he were a self-righteous jerkwad who was constantly being reminded that his perceptions of himself are way overblown, but no, this guy is rightfully arrogant – he really is that amazing.

Lake is working for Markus, an old tycoon who wants Jackson to steal a ghost for him. Yes, that’s right, a ghost. This all makes sense because Markus is a wacky old rich guy and all wacky old rich guys collect weird things. He’s already got oodles of things, so a ghost is the next logical progression. Obviously.

Apparently, in the 1970s, the Trask family was murdering the heck out of people: Over a hundred people died in their house. Not satisfied with the more pedestrian forms of murder, the Trasks were into all kinds of occult shenanigans. This is, of course, exactly the right breeding ground for ghosts to put in a wacky old rich guy’s private museum. I’m sure that there wouldn’t be any problems with those sorts of ghosts. Nope.

To pull off this heist – which is, by the way, time sensitive, as the whole ghosted1-web-w622-h350building will be demolished in two weeks – Jackson puts together a crack team of weirdos to pull it all off, including two-thirds of the Ghost Adventures team and a hot medium. As a medium, let me assure you that being super good-looking goes with psychic abilities. It’s true. The Playboy Mansion is actually a mediumship training facility.

I wasn’t terribly sure what to make of Sheltered, at first. A bunch of people are living in a bomb shelter – and they’re all rather anti-government in the way that ultra-right-wing, paranoid conspiracy theorists tend to be. I was a bit nervous that this was going to become a vehicle for the author’s hatred of Obama and gun control, but it never quite got there. I was also worried that there would be zombies or something silly like that, but it didn’t get there, either.

Instead, it’s a strange tale of a group of people. Maybe they’re paranoid weirdos, or maybe they have legitimate reasons to start up a bomb shelter commune. Maybe this is now, or maybe it’s a few years in the past or future. Maybe the violence that breaks out between them is infighting, or perhaps it’s the government. It could even be something supernatural. There are a lot of things going on and none of them is really explained, and that is the beauty of Sheltered. It’s a slow burn and those sorts of tales are so rare today, especially in comics.

The art is minimalistic: Simple, clean drawings add to the feeling of isolation and separation from the modern world. The characters are delightfully normal-looking – exactly the kind of people you would expect to be shelter denizens.

Perhaps I’m not doing my job when I tell you that I have absolutely no idea where this story is going. It does, however, have my interest, and I’ll follow it closely and let it unfold as it chooses to. It has a lot of potential, and is off to a great start – if it can keep up this amount of intrigue, it will be an amazing series.

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