Every once in a while, a major publisher like Dark Horse will put out a book like this, that completely ignores the last forty years of comics history. Writer Tim Seeley seems to have pulled everything in “The Occultist” straight out of the Stan Lee playbook: mild-mannered college student with a secret, does-she-doesn’t-she love interest, mentor/father figure who’s secretly evil. Heck, there’s even a character who looks like Stan Lee. The difference between this and, say, “The Amazing Spider-Man” is that back in 1963 all this young-man drama was groundbreaking. Now this ground has been tread, retread and trampled so many times that it just holds no interest anymore. Comics have moved on.
Yet books like “The Occultist” still get published, so let’s put away cynicism for a moment and try to take it on its own terms. It’s not particularly edgy, but there is a bit of dark magic going on: there’s a cool idea about reading the “entrails” of a cell phone like a living thing once you spill some blood into it, and the titular Occultist banishes some hungry undead babies. That particular scene holds no real tension, though, since the Occultist’s powers are ill-defined so far; he pretty much just magics them away. (A side note on that: despite being “The Occultist” #1, this is actually the first issue of the second mini-series, so there’s some backstory that’s alluded to but not really explained. It’s mostly pretty easy to put the pieces together, but there’s one scene that’s particularly baffling without the explanation of Rob’s powers that presumably came in volume one.)
Like the writing, the art by Mike Norton is fairly uninspired and uninspiring. The comic is full of bland frames, awkward angles and stiff poses. Detail is lacking throughout, though there is one full-page dreamscape that’s pretty cool. On the flipside, Steve Morris’ cover art is fantastic, and Allen Passalaqua’s colors deserve some recognition as well. Passalaqua does his best to add detail where there isn’t any, and the glowing blues and greens he uses for magical effects are lovely, if not too original.
If it feels as though I’m beating a dead horse here, I apologize, but that’s the overwhelming sense that “The Occultist” #1 left me with: there’s just nothing new here. It’s all very cookie-cutter, like it was written and drawn from the “How to Do X the Marvel Way” books they used to publish. For a comic about magic, “The Occultist” just doesn’t feel very magical.