By Donny Cates, Daniel Warren Johnson, Lauren Affe, and Chris Crank
Here is the appropriate reaction upon reading The Ghost Fleet #7:
Beth puts it best as she utters, “Seriously, what the fuck…?” While it may be a far too overused idiom, to say that this issue “turns it up to eleven” would be an understatement. Cates, DWJ, and Affe do not believe in your silly numeric scale and instead turned this book up to whatever weird glyph Prince used to go by and then melted all the faces off of everything. All of the faces. Melted. Beyond merely assaulting the senses with the type of ensanguined visceral enthusiasm and maniacal machinations borne from truly devilishly twisted and infinitely talented minds, this issue also manages to pull together all the softer, warmer and genuine elements that came before it into an impactful package of…well, awesome. Like, in the biblical sense. No, really. You will want to re-read this multiple times in order to relish in all the gory glory and painstaking beauty laid bare for all the heavens. Shit just got real.
Where to start? Oh, yes, of course: the cover. *Clears throat* That is Trace cutting through a damn TANK with A SWORD! Rarely do we see a comic where the innards aptly match the expectations set forth on the image emblazoned on its exterior, but good lord, this is just the appetizer for what’s inside. Daniel Warren Johnson right from the start effectively captures a sense of motion, force and even grace in one still image. The heft of the tank is tangible and the horror of what happens to its inhabitants tantalizingly gross, but the key here is balance. Everything is centered and the use of perspective well employed to fully convey the motion of Trace swinging down effortlessly from right to left as he comes to an elegant stop through his assault. Affe’s colors further enhance the direction and allow for the shadowed Trace to stand in the foreground, unmoving atop the lighter hue while the force of his blow is felt in the darker blurred background up top. The reason to focus so much on the cover, beyond the overtly clear fact that is undeniably cool, is because it’s this same skill and attention to detail that is felt throughout this issue and this series as a whole, and this thematic sense of balance that bleeds throughout this well constructed story.
Think back to those early issues where we see how strong the bonds were between Trace and Ward, where they transcend being coworkers and aren’t afraid to let each other know when the other one is fucking up because they care too much about each other to let that happen. Think back to the degree of betrayal enacted at the end of issue 1 and how it ravaged Ward and Trace alike for the issues that followed. Think about what’s been lost for each of them and what it means to have nothing left except for that last, faint glimmer of strength to set things right even if it costs their lives. Think about blowing shit up, too. That’s what Donny Cates has been doing this whole time in between the impeccable action sequences and wry, sardonic humor. Because he’s laid the groundwork out so thoroughly and subtly, these impossibly gigantic set pieces and sequences have been infused with far more meaning that simply being “badass” to look out. There’s actual, understandable sacrifice behind both Ward and Trace’s actions. They snipe at each other like a married couple because that’s the connection they have. They’ve both been broken. Cates has ensured that there’s a level of palpable heart intertwined with the supernatural and the explosive and he has done so in a way that was natural, even if its surroundings have been far from that. There’s no doubt that we’re almost at the end of this tale because this issue clearly and confidently, and on the back of what’s been craftily established, opens up with a declarative trumpet blare of “okay…let’s do this.”
When those gates open up, Daniel Warren Johnson comes roaring through with enthusiasm, skill and a trucker hat that reads, “YOLO my ass.” Issue #7 belongs to DWJ as arguably turns out his best work to date. Like a prize fighter, he starts out lulling you into a comfortable space with balanced panels and smooth flowing subject-to-subject transitions, focusing on delivering the important emotional states of these characters aboard a cargo jet. It’s tranquil and his rendering is as sharp and textural as ever, most noticeably with industrially straight lines of the inner mechanics of the plane and the sullen, introspective facial expressions of Ward. Then Mickey jumps out of the plane and we’re basically going to be stuck in Super Saiyan Beast Mode the rest of the way! What follows is a barage of innovative widescreen splashes and cinematic choreography. These aren’t merely stunning pinups with posed stunted figures, they’re images and sequences that tell a story. Far clearer and fluid than any dime a dozen action scene, DWJ infuses a sense of life into the larger than life motions and characters. Rage, horror, fear and determined resilience flow through the veins of these panels and every Boom! is followed with the natural calming exhale necessary to keep from feeling overwhelming. It’s that same balance that’s been at play all along, the attention to detail meets the yang to its yin with the raw, textured velocity on display. The sharp, structured speed lines contrasting with the heavy wrinkled folds of fabric, wild wind-swept hair and unabated spatters of blood. Order and chaos as one, Daniel Warren Johnson’s art owns this issue.
The irridescent glows of the past two desert-set issues gives way to a far more saturated, primary palette from Affe. It feels appropriately dark, awash in the blue moon shadows overseeing the menagerie of blinding hot explosions. Affe pushes the naturally inked textured of Johnson to a whole new level of tangibility, no where more so than the pulpy surface of this issue’s big reveals. She’s an expert lighting designer, able to look at the designed set in front of her an impart the desired mood on the subjects and the story as a whole. The foreground has its soiled subjects shrouded in cooling shadows contrasting the raging fires behind only to flip the script and have the calmed blue night sky give way to a figure alight by a hail of blazing gunfire. Cools atop warms in, what else, balance.
Admittedly, had you never read an issue of The Ghost Fleet and this issues cover lured you in with its siren song, saying “wow, this looks really cool” would be a fair reaction. But for the well-versed Fleeter, this issue goes above and beyond looking amazing; it delivers the payoff. It’s the payoff to a series that was never content to rest on its action laurels or on perceived trucking tropes. It’s the payoff to an emotional ride of loss and revenge. It’s the payoff in the form of sacrifice and sacrilege. It’s finally finding out what’s in that damn truck. (Hint: Put it back in! Put it back in!) What the hell just happened? Awesome happened, my friends. Awesome happened.