Ghost Station Zero #1 continues the premise of writer Antony Johnston and artist Shari Chankhamma’s previous Codename Baboushka comics — what if the story was about the femme fatale super spy, and not the James Bond-type she sleeps with? — and dives deeper into Baboushka’s Russian connections and history. What Cold War secrets are lying in wait for this icy blonde badass?
While Ghost Station Zero continues Baboushka’s story, it’s a standalone miniseries and a great jumping on point for new readers. Starting in media res during a mission in China, in which Baboushka saves women from the sex slave trade and punishes their captors, it becomes pretty clear pretty quickly who Baboushka is and what she does for a living. Working with her handler Gyorgy, she makes a daring escape that I won’t spoil and continues on to her next mission as if it were no big deal. Aren’t all escapes from murderous gangsters daring, you ask? Maybe, but this is a truly beautiful escape; Chankhamma’s illustration here deserves praise for how deftly it depicts the movement, speed, and change of environment.
Baboushka’s main mission in this comic is to look into her colleague’s disappearance in Switzerland and take over his investigation into a group of abandoned Soviet bases called Ghost Stations. EON, the US intelligence agency Baboushka started working for in her previous series, has been quietly finding these Ghost Stations, extracting whatever’s useful, and destroying them. Someone else has started doing the same thing, though — and they’re getting to the Ghost Stations before EON can.
If you’ve seen Atomic Blonde, the new Charlize Theron movie with her playing a female James Bond-esque spy character, Ghost Station Zero will seem familiar. There’s a good reason for that: Antony Johnston wrote The Coldest City, the graphic novel Atomic Blonde was based on. The main characters in both The Coldest City and Ghost Station Zero are ass-kicking bisexual female spies with white-blonde hair, and if that’s what Johnston is into, who can blame him? Baboushka is fun, smart, sexy and sassy. It would feel a little too Strong Female Character if it weren’t so clearly playing with pulp tropes.
Pulpy it is, in the best way. Ghost Station Zero, like the other Codename Baboushka comics, is From Russia with Love turned on its head. Baboushka is perfectly at ease in a white fur coat and cap in the Swiss Alps, in a red and white leather catsuit at the docks in Shanghai, and in a slim black dress miles above the Earth, reporting back to EON on the way to her next mission. She’d fit in perfectly with Sean Connery in his Bond suit. Baboushka’s great in a fight, and in the sack. But instead of showing her joining the mile-high club with a handsome man, the only sex scene in Ghost Station Zero #1 involves two women, and it’s not titillating at all.
Ghost Station Zero keeps its smart, feminist attitude going in the back matter which features an essay on motherhood by Clara Fernández-Vara, a writer, game designer and professor at NYU. Fernández-Vara calls for more “action mothers” like Sarah Connor and Beatrix Kiddo to be written by women. While these characters created by men are amazing, kicking butt and protecting their children (or taking revenge), women also need to be writing their stories.
Ghost Station Zero plays with tropes from pulp fiction, spy movies, and Strong Female Character stories of all kinds, while telling a fun, interesting, crime tale. It’s formulaic in the way that all spy stories are, and that’s why we love them. Come for the badass blonde, stay for the smartly written bigger-than-life adventure.