Picking up where the last volume left off, Fabian Gray is on the hunt — but not for dreamstones. After his friend Sebastian is kidnapped, Fabian alone follows the clues left by the abductor to a small village in Romania, where he finds a town under the thumb of a troubling plague that leaves its victims mindless beasts. Now in its third volume, Frank J. Barbiere and Chris Mooneyham’s “Five Ghosts” #13 finds itself at home in the horror genre with a fresh take on the monster genre and a delightfully manic new villain.
Colorist Affe deserves serious accolades for her gorgeous work in this issue. Right off the bat, she sets the tone with a green color palette; where her previous issues scaled towards soft reds and yellows, this one immediately casts a sickly pale atmosphere on the town and its inhabitants. Although her colors aren’t dark, the mood certainly is, and her washed-out figures, pallid settings, and cheerless lighting are to thank for that. On the other hand, in Fabian’s dream sequences, her stark colors — interrupted by faint splashes of green and red — come across as appropriately alarming, surreal, and completely separate from Fabian’s more wakeful moments.
As with previous issues, Barbiere works best with his borrowings from literature, myth and history; as such, he utilizes influence from all over the Gothic spectrum, echoing tales like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Dracula,” and virtually any short story by Edgar Allen Poe to tremendous effect. The result is, truly, conglomerate and, true to form, these homogeneous references easily acquaint readers with the trappings of the genre. Although Barbiere utilizes a whole spectrum of allusions, they feel united and timeless as he guides Fabian through the familiar-yet-alien Romanian town. Further, his use of contemporary horror film conventions — the shadowy figure, the warning nightmare, the looming threat — gels incredibly well with the older literary counterparts.
What’s more, Barbiere has found something truly wonderful in his monstrous creations, which appear to be some strange cross between zombies and vampires (at least in this first issue). I am no fan of zombies, but the way that Barbiere writes them here — from their introduction to the heart stopping final page — managed to impress even this out-zombied reviewer. The device, as Barbiere uses it, is phenomenally fresh; the way they tie to the plot, as opposed to existing around it, lends them more pathos than your average zombie tale.
Of course, these zombie-like creatures would not be nearly as effective without the Good Doctor, Fabian’s latest foe. His gleeful voice, in stark contrast to his creepy plague doctor mask, rings harshly against the townspeople’s suffering. From his mannerisms to his name, he leaves a lasting impression with his twisted actions and his unchecked pleasure at their outcome.
Mooneyham carries the action of the issue with his usual poise and grace; Fabian’s movement flow from one panel to the next, aided by some unconventional but easy-to-follow layout designs (including one particularly eerie point-of-view glimpse through the Good Doctor’s eyes). Additionally, his creature work feels particularly horrific in the way that it showcases the transformation of the villagers into their decomposed state. In this issue, however, he shines most in his full page spreads. The Elder’s “ghost story” fits organically into one page, winding downwards as the family’s actions become more and more dire and dark, concluding in a heart wrenching death scene. Nonetheless, he reminds the readers of its narrator, keeping the Elder in the upper left corner of the page. Likewise, he pits dream-Fabian against the spirit of Dracula, dwarfing the protagonist and highlighting how helpless Fabian feels in the shadows of his own actions.
“Five Ghosts” has truly hit its stride in its 13th issue. Although the fun faces like Jezebel and the pirates are certainly missed from the last arc, Fabian’s isolation works well with the themes of alienation that Barbiere weaves into this tale. This volume of “Five Ghosts” looks to be a fantastically fun horror romp.