Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: Red Velvet Fishcakes

 

Hickman, Jonathan, writer, and Dragotta, Nick, art. East of West. Image, 2013.

Barbiere, Frank J., writer, and Mooneyham, Chris, art. Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray. Image, 2013.

Brubaker, Ed, writer, and Phillips, Sean, art. Fatale: Death Chases Me. Image, 2012.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap] comet ended the American Civil War, resulting in Seven Nations of America, rather than the current USA we know and love. Chairman Mao Zedong and two other men have penned a second book of Revelation. The Four Horsemen have all been reborn as children, except there’s one missing and now, in this futuristic, Old West-meets-Cyberpunk universe, three Horsemen are looking for their lost member. Oh, and a symbol that looks exactly like the Triforce from Legend of Zelda keeps showing up all over the place, except it’s upside-down, which probably means that Gannon has won.

East of West is a lot of interesting ideas all tossed together. It’s as if someone was going through a cookbook and found some really great recipes and, instead of making a bunch of dishes, decided to take parts from all of them and make a sort of Frankenstein dinner. In some cases, this can work, but the first issue of East of West is less like Turducken and more like red velvet fish cakes.

A lot of the clunkiness stems from the fact that the first issue throws backstory at you hard and fast, like baseballs in a pitching contest, which is something that will probably resolve over the next few issues. The art is absolutely incredible and enough to carry the story through its sometimes choppy writing. Despite its awkwardness, East of West has strong ideas and breathtaking art, and is worth a look.

Possessed by five different ghosts after an encounter with the Dreamstone, Fabian Gray (the lesser known relative of Dorian, perhaps?) can now harness the abilities of an archer, a vampire, a detective, a samurai, and a wizard. Gray is a treasure hunter, and I’m pretty sure he learned his trade from the same school where Indiana Jones and Lara Croft learned archeology. I expect it took years of training for all of them to perfect the art of beating the snot out of people who are trying to protect their valuables, and then mercilessly stealing precious and important cultural artefacts.

Sometimes, I think I’m the wrong gender to be reading a lot of comics, because a lot of comics are very obviously not written for women to read. Five Ghosts is absolutely one of these comics. Women in this comic are not characters but plot devices, things which cause Gray to do what the story requires of him, from his hot lady friend to his comatose sister. Comatose women are the best because they don’t do pesky things like speak or have personalities, so Fabian Gray can monologue to his heart’s content without interruption.

Overall, I was rather disappointed with Five Ghosts – in addition to the whole not-for-ladies thing, both the art and the story manage to be rather bland, despite the subject matter and action sequences. There are a lot of great relic-stealing and butt-kicking stories out there. This isn’t one of them.

I was all ready to slap Fatale with the same brush for its female character having the superpower of being hot, but it managed to pull something quite clever out of what at first seemed like a festering pile of stereotypical nonsense. I don’t know how it was done, any more than I know how magicians get rabbits from their hats. I’m absolutely positive that any other comic that had a female character with the power of sexiness would actually turn out to be a bunch of rubbish – though I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, knowing that Ed Brubaker is the one responsible for it.

I hate it when people say things like “one of the best writers of comics,” because it adds a distinction where there doesn’t need to be, underlining the notion that doing anything with comics is somehow less important than writing or creating art for another purpose. Ed Brubaker is one of the best writers in any medium.

Nicolas Lash is living a relatively normal life, until he meets a strangely alluring woman named ‘Jo’ at a funeral and everything goes pear-shaped. Cults, strange artefacts, bizarre rituals, and Jo – everything always leads back to her. This…this is how you write about weird relics and supernatural hijinks. This is how you use art to show desperation and fear and horror. This is how you pull everything together to make your reader feel tension and suspense, to make them white-knuckle their way through the book.

If there is an afterlife, HP Lovecraft is there, sitting in a big easy chair with a plethora of ghost cats on his lap, reading Fatale and grinning like a maniac.

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You can buy East of West, Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray and Fatale: Death Chases Me on Amazon.com.