In the tradition of some of the most classic pulp tales, Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray follows the adventures of the title character through what I'm assuming is a 1920s-/1930s-era world complete with Nazi's, wizards, Spider gods and dream stones. It's this last bit that causes Fabian Gray to be haunted by five very distinct ghosts, whose power and knowledge are his to command. Or are they?
From Image Comics, Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray is interesting to a point—and I got to that point fairly quickly inside of volume one. Written by Frank J. Barbiere with art from Chris Mooneyham, Five Ghosts follows a very familiar formula. A hero searching for something (unrevealed yet predictable) encounters various enemies easily bested by his power and intelligence while he travels around the world with a reluctant sidekick. Where the story differs is in the clever use of the dream stones, which allow people to tap into the world of dreams and fiction, which are set up in the story as a large, collective pool of memories a few people can access. Gray is “haunted” by the ghosts of an archer (we can assume it’s Robin Hood), a detective (who bears a striking resemblance to Sherlock Holmes), a wizard (Merlin?), a samurai (no clue), and a vampire (Dracula?).
Unfortunately, like the pulp's that inspired it, Five Ghosts is dominated by an all male cast of characters, and an over-reliance on pulp tropes. There are only two female characters I remember getting any sort of time on the pages, and neither has anything worthwhile to do. One is shown very briefly in bed with the title character as he finishes telling a story highlighting his abilities and powers, and the other, well, is a damsel in distress needing to be saved, which is beyond sad. The potential for this story in this world, with such an original premise, is incredible, yet the lack of female characters completely threw me off. Add to that a vision of tribal Africa that feels pulled out of one of H. Rider Haggard’s Allan Quartermain novels, and it almost feels offensive by today's standards.
The dream stones are clever and imaginative. As is the concept of a collective racial memory people can draw on for knowledge and power. But the overall packaging of the story turned me off by the end, even given the extraordinary artwork by Mooneyham.
I suppose if you are a fan of this type of male-dominated pulp, you might find more to enjoy here than I did.
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and 2013 Hugo Award Winner for Best Fanzine (Editor - SF Signal). He lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast was nominated for a 2012 and a 2013 Hugo Award. In addition to his Kirkus posts, he writes for atfmb.com, SF Signal and Functional Nerds.