By Donny Cates, Daniel Warren Johnson and Lauren Affe
Donny Cates is a monster. Daniel Warren Johnson is a monster. Lauren Affe is a wizard. Cates is the type of monster that revels in manipulating your emotions. DWJ is, as always, running in beast-mode with his forceful, elegant and wholly unique style. Affe is basically the Dude’s rug, really trying together the whole package in the room that is your brain. You will laugh, you will cry, you will believe a man can fly…off the handle when he all he wants is his dog and his truck back, dammit. The Ghost Fleet continues to thrust forward at full bore with some metal on the radio and a middle finger out the window with issue #6, all while making sure to include a healthy dose of, as the kids say, “the feels.” Last issue re-set the playing field and this issue proceeds to just blow up the whole fucking thing because that’s how these talented creator roll, y’all.
Ugh…Donny, what are you doing to us? Not content to just make us chuckle and relish in the gunfire glory, Cates has instead insisted upon making the readers care about each and every character that’s appeared thus far, regardless of their motivations and/or species. This issue goes a long way to making you appreciate just how tightly constructed this series is; what began lo those many months ago in high-octane action and tranquil moments of introspection surreptitiously laid the groundwork for the operatic strokes Cates so callously and caringly throws at us here. The stakes feel grand and the twists are legitimately surprising, but most importantly the characters ring true despite some of their inherent over-the-top qualities (looking at you, Mickey).
It starts with an opening flashback that highlights Cates’ signature humor and will certainly tickle the funny bone (yes, that’s a euphemism for #sexstuff) of fans of The Venture Brothers. Plenty of knowing winks for Dark Horse fans are an additional chuckle. From there, prepare to take a ride on the adrenaline train, first stop: Tragedy-filled Rage Central. Injected with great depth that belies his action-hero/betrayed soldier and friend trope, Trace is a being of pure palpable determination as he deftly and chillingly hunts down the whereabouts of Axl and the mysterious truck that the biker gang absconded with last issue. Cates has done great work shaping Trace into a complex being, one not fully fueled by revenge, but rather a bundle of morality, duality and cold, efficient tactics. He’s a mixed-race homosexual former Marine/Henchman/Secret Operative Assassin that was always loyal to his friend (and his friend’s loved-ones) and those he served until he got screwed, so now he just wants to burn their whole organization to the ground with his newfound pup and a couple of smokes by his side, without hurting anyone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s Trace’s show, no doubt, and Cates keeps you rooting for him throughout, but continues to give us a great supporting cast who have plenty of fist-pumping “hell yeah” moments of their own (again, looking at you Mickey). It is all, delightfully awesome to witness.
Look at this art. Are you looking at it? Look harder!! Soak it in! While it may sound like hyperbole, it is not unreasonable to call this one of the most distinctive-looking comics around and easily one of the most gorgeous. Daniel Warren Johnson pours himself into his art, producing an exquisite exaggerated style with fine lines and tactfully incorporated heavy inks that makes for a truly rhapsodic experience. Good lord does he draw vehicles as well as anyone, giving the pickups, motorcycles, big rigs and cargo planes (spoiler?) found this issue worn texturing and tactile heft. As always, as great as he is with making the quitter moments shine, when it comes time to raise hell via a flurry of bullets, DWJ absolutely lets loose. He plays the page turns for all their worth and maneuvers the camera angles throughout for maximum cinematic impact. Issue #6, like every issue before it, is a pleasure to visually swim in.
Lauren Affe is a large part of that visual wonder, of course. Utilizing a blaring siren of a color palette that combines all manner of triad complementary colors, the sparse desert comes across as a kinetic killing field. Everything in this issue, interior or exterior, is aglow and thanks to Affe, all of Johnson’s pencils absolutely radiate with even greater fervor. She somehow manages to make the abundance of magentas, limes, and electric blues not feel like an assault on the senses, but rather more like a hypnotically captivating and soothing effect that commands attention and bolsters the pencils and inks.
Look, this book is straight-up great. It would be easy to say that the amount of love and energy being put into by this trio of monsters is akin to a bacchanalian frenzy, if it weren’t done with so much damn skill and care. The Ghost Fleet is so much more than what one expects and as we move ever-closer to the finish line, that same level of care is made all the more apparent with each gigantic leap of craziness. Issue #6 takes things up a notch (okay, a BIG notch) with its exemplary visuals and its satisfying emotionally draining plot twists. What’s going to happen? Did what I think happen really happen? Yes? No? Guns! Trucks! Ahhhhhh! ….. In other words, more of the same great Ghost Fleet.