The conceit of most ghost stories is that the spirit remains on the earthly plane because they have unfinished business. Their tragedy, their anger, their need for closure keeps them tethered to our world. So until they get their satisfaction they continue to exist between our world and the next. It’s a basic premise, one that’s been exploited in movies, scripted television, and comic books, but there are plenty of reality tv shows nowadays that cash in on the idea of “ghost hunting” for the purposes of discovering lingering spirits and capturing them on camera for the world to see. While those efforts continue to remain fruitless, it’s still an excellent starting point for Kelly Sue DeConnick’s beginning arc on Ghost for Dark Horse Comics.
Collected from issues #0-#4, Ghost Volume 1: In the Smoke and Din is a story about revenge and redemption wrapped up in the mystery behind who the titular Ghost is and why she’s been brought back from the afterlife. It’s appropriate then that DeConnick begins her arc with two paranormal investigators for the tv show Phantom Finders (my new favorite title) attempting to communicate with “Resurrection Mary”. Tommy Byers, the host and mouthpiece of the show, is largely a parody of the host of Ghost Adventures with his bravado and annoyingly bro-like, man-child attitude in his approach to the paranormal. His partner and cameraman is Vaughn Barnes, a former investigative journalist whose life is an absolute mess due to problems with alcohol that cost him his job and his ex-wife. The partnership between Tommy and Vaughn can be summed up in one word, which Vaughn clearly states in the first panel: Bullshit. They’re both selfish, loathsome people – though Vaughn seems to be the only one aware of this fact – but when Tommy acquires a mysterious box that brings an actual ghostly apparition into our world they both begin a journey that leaves them very different people by the end of the first story arc. This ties in nicely to the revenge plot of Elisa Cameron, a.k.a. Ghost, a cub reporter killed five years ago by the very box that brought her back. Though most of the volume is devoted to discovering who Elisa is and how she’s connected to the box, as well as the box’s connection to an otherworldly plot in Chicago, it’s very clear from the moment we meet her that she’s hardly one to be trifled with. In life she wanted to be a champion for the dead, a voice for those who couldn’t speak themselves, but only in death does she truly become that force for justice and revenge.
As I said before, the plot device of “Resurrection Mary” is appropriate for the book’s opening since it’s a bit of a nod to the fact that DeConnick is starting from scratch, resurrecting the character of Ghost who was first introduced in Dark Horse’s imprint Comics’ Greatest World back in 1993. Though Ghost has had regular ongoings since her introduction, DeConnick is going back to the beginning, grounding the character in the real world of Chicago and making the discovery of her identity and the mystery of her death the main focus without venturing too far into the paranormal – at least for now. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of weird stuff happening with demonic possession, devilish politicos, and one bat-shit crazy woman named Dr. October, but the real focus of the book is Elisa’s reconnection with our world and her former life. At the beginning she’s voiceless, full of anger and pain, which DeConnick aptly connects through the story of Athena’s “birth” from Zeus’s skull, but as events start to unfold and more information discovered, she finds her purpose. I like that DeConnick makes Elisa relateable as a person despite her cold and unnerving demeanor. It’s little things like when she feels sunlight against her skin again, or the fact that she’s always hungry and doesn’t notice when some frosting is stuck to her lip. While these would normally highlight her removed state from humanity, these moments actually serve to remind us of her humanity, grounding her even more.
Having her go into Ghost mode, however, means she get to kick all kinds of ass! When you start with your main character pulling a gangster’s heart out of his chest, where do you go from there? How about a high-speed car chase with Elisa phasing trough a truck while firing guns at her pursuers? Yeah, that’s what I thought. We can all thank Phil Noto for scenes like that – at least the visual side of them. Noto’s style, photo-realistic meets illustration, is perfect for this book. The realism lends itself to the grounded nature of DeConnick’s story while the illustrative nature of the art allows for Noto to play with the otherworldly aspects of the book. I won’t lie, the final sequence of the last issue looks a bit jumbled and confusing since three characters basically have the same features of black hair and dark eyes, so it’s hard to know who’s doing what, but it’s a nitpick at best in an otherwise solid trade.
Final Thoughts: Based on how it ends, I detect many road trip-esque shenanigans on the horizon!