By Donny Cates, Daniel Warren Johnson, and Lauren Affe
The Ghost Fleet is starting to become a problem. Granted, it’s the best possible problem to have because Donny Cates and Daniel Warren Johnson are apparently the most lovable of jerks as they rub your face in it month in and month out. Ghost Fleet’s problem is that it is too damn good and finding new ways to convey that is almost akin to a Sisyphean task, lest one begin to sound like the idiomatic broken record. But for posterity sake: The Ghost Fleet #4 is as viscerally stunning as any other book currently being published and it is an addictive rush of a reading experience that simultaneously delights in its’ narrative richness and grabs you by the balls with its innovative breadth of ideas, all the while screaming “Awww Yeah!” It is, in all seriousness, a must-read book made all the more appealing with the addition of a monster of a bounty hunter, Mickey Reno, and a turn towards the face-meltingly (literally) surreal all while maintaining the depth of character already cemented from the three prior issues. Plus: Truckasaurus vs El Destroyladon!
Taking a brief respite from the massive amounts of explosions found last issue, Cates ensures we get a pleasant mix of relationship background, the supernatural and a hearty dose of professional firearm fury. Instead of letting this title ride on the laurels of big rig action with quick one-liners, Cates deftly injects honest, tragic elements into the former partners past and present. Opening with a flashback with palpable despair, both Ward and Trace are further developed into believable characters that fuck up and support each other. There’s a tranquility to the tragedy being built here that hits you in the gut as you read it, and punches you again as the story shifts to the present and we see the state both men are in and the role Sara (Ward’s deceased wife) has, and apparently will, play in their lives and relationship with each other. It’s solid, emotional work and allows for less page real estate to be given to heavy action, but the introduction of Mickey Reno more than makes up for it. With a catchphrase spouting t-shirt (you’ll see) and a truly twisted laissez-faire demeanor, Reno makes quite the first impression.
Cates has the pace flowing effortlessly, dipping in and out of space and time and allowing for the seemingly mundane to have as much, if not more, impact than the over-the-top squall of bullets. Dialogue has always been Cates’ forte, and The Ghost Fleet continues to deliver, but it’s the scope of the story being told that’s most impressive. This is not “supernatural truckers” but something far grander and quite literally out-of-this world (or reality) that is being doled out in masterfully satisfying bits.
Speaking of transcending this mortal plane to a higher level of existence, how about that Daniel Warren Johnson? This dude is transforming into a drawing deity and one that needs to be mentioned in the same breath as the industry’s brightest stars. His work on The Ghost Fleet continues to be that blissful marriage of form, function and style. Incorporating his uniquely exaggerated (but not overly so) anatomy with a fantastic instincts for framing have the art consistently stealing the show on this book. DWJ utilizes his line work and detail to great effect, knowing when to amp it up to convey the kinetic shock of an out-of-body experience suddenly taking hold and when to dial it down to let the natural weight of a slumping shoulder or a tripping foot or an empty parking lot do all the talking. The two-page splash of Reno doing what he does best is blisteringly fast and vivid, with speed lines and bullet-gorged holes aplenty. Like Cates, Johnson does it all, the quiet and the loud with precision and care, that it’s nigh-impossible to not get lost in their world along the way.
Lauren Affe’s colors are as large apart to the tone and impact of the story as her collaborators. This issue she incorporating a muted palette to the opening flashback and controlling the light to allow for the mood and the nostalgia of a sad winters night from years past to take hold. It’s not a bright, happy memory by any stretch and the somber colors and glints on the snowfall make sure to reinforce that. In the present, the more saturated colors return and nowhere are they more pronounced and effective that a trip-fantastic of a splash page that blends flaring, searing warms atop an astrally-cool foreground. It is phenomenally trippy and intentionally stands out amidst a fairly dark issue overall. Johnson and Affe are an art team made in crazy floating-skull heaven.
To think that an issue that features Scarface-level mansion manslaughter and otherworldly visions that cause characters to bleed from the eyes, could be called “toned down.” But The Ghost Fleet #4 continues to build its own history and shape its future through compelling characters and heartfelt interactions even as it exhilarates with the controlled insanity that is one of the best comics being published. The Ghost Fleet is consistently rewarding and this issue is no exception, even if continually singing its praises is a beginning to be a problem, it’s the best kind of problem to have.