by Donny Cates, Daniel Warren Johnson, and Lauren Affe
Well, shoot. They did it again, and all our wallets will need to be a little lighter this week because Cates, Johnson and Affe have delivered their best issue to date with Ghost Fleet #3. A visceral powerhouse driven with a raw finesse, this series should now be plowing its way full-bore to the top of your stack. Do you like mysterious machinations perpetrated by shadowy organizations? Do your other comics lack the surgeon general’s suggested amount of Iron Maiden? Do you feel your eyes ready to be hypnotized with a forceful blast of bio-luminescent glory? Do you think that Snake Plissken was a bit of wussy and needed a dog? You’re damn right you do. Buckle-up there cowboy because this book ain’t making pit stops.
Let’s start with the visuals because frankly, they’re what will punch you in the face (lovingly!) first. Look at that cover. Daniel Warren Johnson and Lauren Affe don’t even let you open the book before they start to s how off. A man and his dog on a big rig under an impossibly vast night sky (surely there’s a country song about this?) crafted in such a way that displays both Johnson and Affe’s innate skill, but also encapsulates an entire story in one image. A moment of brief tranquility, two beings on equal footing faced with a force so much larger than themselves that the very notion of understanding, letting alone conquering, it are non-existent. It’s peaceful and beautiful, with impeccable body language wrapped around a soothing cool, almost glowing blue. Great, right? Well, then you open it up and everything gets exponentially more impressive.
The opening sequence, framed as a retelling of events by Director Ward to Senator Cohle, is smartly paced and stunningly rendered. Affe in particular really shines with her day-glo palette here as magenta flames dance with neon yellow gas masks and electric blue uniforms, culminating in a visual spectacle that feels as though your black-light poster decided mushrooms are for chumps and what we all need is some badass truck high-jacking up in here. It’s utterly surreal while being thoroughly grounded at the same time. Johnson has decided to never alter out of his beast-mode and continues to deliver his distinct expressive, sketchy style with resounding force. The semi-lanky nature to his character’s limbs and facial musculature is fluid and vivid allowing for a perfect conveyance of emotional states (often horror and/or straight gangster) and motion. The assorted vehicles carry appropriate heft and suave sleekness, the camera angles are varied and cinematic, and the characters are fully realized embodiments of betrayal, remorse, rage and fear. Johnson’s pencils look like he’s having so much fun he can’t even contain himself and coupled with Affe’s provocative colors, this is a book that looks like nothing else out there. And the scenes in the rain! My god, the scenes in the rain. Sigh.
Donny Cates might be Loki, you guys. He’s spinning a yarn so damn convincingly and captivating, you’d be hard-pressed to not immediately follow him wherever it leads and hand him your hard earned dollars along the way. There’s a confidence to his writing in Ghost Fleet, a sign of restraint and respect for tension and mood that belies a book ostensibly featuring an 18-wheel behemoth on its covers. Characters have been developing piecemeal, as they should be, with Ward an intentional mess of regret and capability and Trace a heart-driven semi-hero and this issue takes each of them several steps forward. Ward’s and Trace’s CB conversation in this issue rockets their characters and the story forward with believable propulsion and hints at a past with lots left to mine. There’s of course the mystery of the Fleet’s cargo, answers of which are still scarce here, and the overall history of both the Fleet itself and the unseen-this-issue Silhouette, which if these intial three issues are any indication, will be revealed in both good time and in awesome fashion. Cates not only is building a broad story, but knows how to tell it and this issue is a great example of him knowing when to let the art shine and knowing when to flesh-out themes, ideas and character bits. Plus, he put a dog in here so that’s basically price of entry right there.
This review might seem profusely positive and glowing, but folks, go read the issue and say with a straight face this wasn’t the best one yet. Admittedly, Ghost Fleet is a surprise, but a very welcomed one. Unique art, genre-mashing events and on-point storytelling, maybe your eyes are playing tricks! You sense and suddenly eyes fix! Fear of the dark! *throws up devil horns*