Best Shots Advance Reviews: FIVE GHOSTS, NOWHERE MEN, More

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #3
Written by Frank J. Barbiere
Art by Chris Mooneyham and Lauren Affe
Published by Image Comics
Review by Forrest C. Helvie
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10


Tensions mount as Fabian and his ever-faithful sidekick enter Shangri-La, the immortal city and home to its master, Zhang Guo — a mystic who is familiar not only with Fabian supernatural condition but also the forces rising in opposition against him. This issue continues to provide readers with a fast paced narrative that begins to reveal some of the “hows” and “whys” behind Fabian’s connection to the five ghosts possessing him; yet, readers will certainly need to continue on with the rest of the five-part series to get all of the answers. 

The creative approach behind Chris Mooneyham’s art cannot go unrecognized in this miniseries, and Five Ghosts #3 is no exception. The decision to use the double-page spread as a part of Zhang Guo’s flashback was a really strong choice as it allowed for a grander feel to the mystic’s story. Moreover, the decision to use a limited color palette over what appeared to be un-inked pencils added to the haziness of looking back into the one’s memories — while the images are discernible, there is a certain crispness that is lost with time, and this would have been minimized had Mooneyham inked this particular page. 

In the same vein, it underscores Lauren Affe’s ability as a colorist to recognize the appropriate color set to convey tone and mood within a given setting. When I say this is a team who is looking to tell a pulp story, the artistic team ensures that even the paper itself takes on a pulpy look to it from the yellowing and texturing of the gutters in certain pages to even imposing “wrinkles” on the letters page. These little visual details go a long way in showing the amount of care and attention this book receives on all levels. It is clear that this creative team is going out of its way to ensure its growing fan base does more than just enjoy Five Ghosts, but that it experiences the book. 

Finally, the continued nods to other elements of pop culture continue to be enjoyable without being heavy-handed. Right away, readers will encounter a character who will no doubt remind them of a certain treasure-hunting scholar, albeit one whose moral compass points him in a decidedly different direction. It’s an interesting angle, and readers will be curious to see where Barbiere takes this thread of the story. Additionally, there is yet another part of the story that seems to recall a key aspect to one of Batman’s greatest villains as the mystic attempts to aid Fabian near the story’s end. In many regards, this series has become a sort of cultural Easter egg hunt in addition to providing readers with a consistently engaging narrative. Overall, Barbiere’s ability to acknowledge the world of literature, cinema, pulp adventures from the 1920s-'30s, and comics in general while still injecting new angles on these subjects is what makes this mini-series a real breath of fresh air.

Nowhere Men #5
Written by Eric Stephenson
Art by Nate Bellegarde and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Fonografiks
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
'Rama Rating: 8 out of 10


Who says you need capes and tights to come up with a fully fleshed comic book universe? The real joy about Image's Nowhere Men is the level of detail Eric Stephenson and company put into the history of World Corp., a Beatles-esque collective of sexy super-scientists and the cultural revolution they inspired.

In a lot of ways, Stephenson reminds me a lot of Alan Moore's Watchmen, particularly with all of the prose and visual back matter to this book. From magazine articles about super-hot international science sensation Esme to an ad about the telepathic social media service "Hi," there's an enormous wealth of ideas to Nowhere Men. Indeed, it's almost more fun to imagine this brave new world inside Stephenson's head than to analyze the actual plot unfolding — there's a deliberateness to all these characters, particularly as the formerly comatose Dade reveals what he was doing all those years while unconscious.

What's even more impressive is that the Fab Four of World Corp. barely make an appearance for the first half of the comic. Stephenson front-loads the book by advancing the B-story, featuring World Corps' present-day crew of genetically mutated astronauts. While this particular story isn't nearly as revolutionary as the original World Corps. crew, Stephenson lends a nice sense of wonder as these astronauts begin to embrace their new powers. Further still, Stephenson adds in some nice new wrinkles to the mystery of the destroyed space station, which looks like it will tie together the past and the present-day stories nicely.

Nate Bellegarde on art also works well for this book, particularly when he's able to stretch his design chops. Characters like the astronaut Jackson, with his tousled hair and stubble, or the hulking red behemoth Kurt, lend a nice visual panache to the book. His style is somewhat reminiscent of Jamie McKelvie, but not quite as ultra-clean. The backmatter, particularly an ad with the otherworldly beauty Esme, show that Bellegarde isn't just about seamless storytelling. And Bellegarde really surprises this issue with the action beats, such as Jackson showing off his powers or the space station blowing up, with the video screen breaking into static.

If this comic has a weakness, it's that it's a lot of big ideas after a somewhat lengthy publishing break — five issues in is a tough spot to try to jump in, and Stephenson's writing is more challenging than expository. If you haven't been reading the previous issues, for example, it might be harder to take the leap of faith into the world of Nowhere Men... but ultimately this is a comic that is too smart to ignore.

Frontier #1
By Uno Moralez
Published by Youth in Decline
Review by Zack Kotzer
‘Rama Rating 9 out of 10


Uno Moralez may be one of the most important, mysterious digital artists out there. So that fact that so many people, myself included, were excited for his first analog release is somewhat of an enigma. Paper is amazing, but Moralez’ creepy catalogue is in .gif form, animated in grand to unnervingly subtle ways for all the world to reblog. But to think his work simply wouldn’t translate to print is a stubborn viewpoint, and as the flagship release for Ryan Sands’ new label, Youth in Decline, it’s an essay that truly great art can strike you on any medium.

He may post a lot of selfies on his Instagram, but the Russian Moralez remains a bit of a delightful phantom. Time zones apart from the western scene and manufacturer of mute narratives, his work has a knack of drifting about the internet, haunting web pages and forcing users to wonder its origins and be tormented by the lack of context.

What we can say, is that Moralez work is at a crosswalk of key unsettling roots: the out of sync realities of David Lynch, the grotesqueness of horror manga and stiff remnants of soviet sentiment and dark Eastern European folklore. All coated in an absolutely bizarre pixilated glaze. Moralez creates mashed up fables for the virtual age.

Not every piece in the 32-page book is sequential, but you’d have to reconsider if you say they’re without narrative. Even among the company of aforementioned influences, Frontier #1 illustrates a certain fixation with the siren. Vision after vision, men and women are drawn to each other with horrible consequence.

For ill-fortuned sailors and bloated generals, encounters with the opposite sex lead to dreadful nightmares and demonic danger. A peeping tom’s bad curiosity is rewarded by being chased by a ghoul around his apartment like Karen Black and the Zuni fetish doll. Eroticism leads to foul endings, except for one tale, where a boy at sea is saved by the prayers of a parlor woman whose heart is linked to his. So love is great, but lust is terrifying.

It’s not a prerequisite to cruise through Uno Moralez homepage to see his stories in their original action, but it creates a unique context to witnessing his work in still. Being accustomed to his ghoulish portraits in motion, a tired, withering consciousness may be uneasy to stare at the printed work too long unless they glimmer or pop to life.

As for Youth in Decline’s new ongoing magazine, Sands has already announced that the radically different second volume of Frontier will be of Regular Show writer Hellen Jo’s Girl Gang series, confirming the series’ goal to publish uncanny capsules of criminally overlooked narrative art. I think I’m for that.

The Inflated Head Zone
By Zach Hazard Vaupen
Published by Spithouse
Review by Zack Kotzer
'Rama Rating 8 out of 10


“Why be a ghost when we can all pass through walls?” wonders a shirtless, headless, tattooed grunge buddy on a park bench, the only thing in this wooded forest that isn’t twisted around in knots. “I’d rather be a part of a reference point. I’d rather be a trackable moment in history.”

The poor sap is moments away from being killed, skinned by a black-garbed stranger, who does so in hopes of scoring some blog hits. Zach Hazard’s Inflated Head Zone begins with a segment where a mother knowingly lets her daughter pose for a passing pedophile.

It’s a melting world of the shady anonymous, where the norm is to be headless, so you can breeze through the world with little recognition. In one fringe house is a boarded up, squatting, smug, head-in-tact critic of the headless society, who dishes out his burns in the darkness, ignoring that he lives in a dingy stench and is himself mutated and revolting. It all mimics the unflattering web practices that some participate in casually and others obscenely, though the Internet is sparsely mentioned in the comic. Long live the no flesh.

Zach Hazard’s previous work displays a wide range of possibilities, from Dark Souls dungeons to hacked cyborg dogs to hacked pixel dogs. It’s all pretty eerie, and the framing device over all of Head Zone, a dead-leaves fall kitchen wallpaper, create an unsettling friendliness to the often too-cheerful discourse within Hazard’s dystopia.

His ink work is a little more lucid than usual. It’s still layers of shadows on darkness, and Hazard’s life-drawing-of-a-sailor’s-stick-n-poke aesthetic remains intact, but compared to some of his older releases there’s a clear curve to the more refined, more calculated, less drenched. It works. If there’s detraction, it’s reused panels and backgrounds that create pacing hiccups.

Hazard’s clever but surreal adaptation of the Internet’s 4chan identity politics is inspired and satisfying. There’s a lot of arm room for expansion, ambition and exploration, but for a tricky one-off fans and should-be fans of Hazard’s material should lose their head over it.

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