"Ghoul"ish Pictography

"The Ghoul" #1 from IDW Publishing

Steve Niles and Bernie Wrightson are an unexpected team-up to my mind, despite the fact they both work mainly in horror comics. The whole project is unexpected, really. Is it horror? Adventure? Fantasy? Superhero?

The story concerns a monstrously huge guy who goes by the codename The Ghoul with the features of Frankenstein's Creature and the attitude of Hellboy as he lands in Los Angeles to assist a Detective in a very strange case involving Hollywood royalty.

Wrightson's art is gorgeous. The man who earned his chops designing and drawing "Swamp Thing" (the original straight-horror version, before Alan Moore worked on it) and a billion little projects of his own as well as other horror work for the Big Two (DC and Marvel) does not disappoint and I'm sure Steve Niles is thrilled to be working with him.

Steve Niles is a very talented character-writer. Being among the few writers in the comics world to have published a work outside of superheroes and outside of the Big Two that got big-budget Hollywood treatment (his "30 Days of Night") has established him in the business.

To get right down to it...
My problems with "The Ghoul" #1 are few, but somewhat grave:

(1) The story, in this first issue, lacks energy. Its scant sixteen pages hardly contains anything exciting or scary, although it does build a fairly firm character base. Maybe it's all an intentional effort to tease us and make us wait for the insanity on the streets of L.A. to come, but it didn't make issue one very fun. The Ghoul becomes a distinct character over these pages, as does Detective Klimpt and that's very welcome in a medium that has often gotten by on 2-dimensional bland characters in the past. The tease at the end of the story implies that the next issue will be goddamn full of The Ghoul killing hellspawned demons all over Los Angeles, a concept I fear will be too much of a one-trick-pony to carry another sixteen pages.

(2) Did I mention it was $3.99 for 16 pages? Since most comics clock in at 22 pages, the nominal industry standard, and a lot of comics from the Big Two have been extending and extending that to try to give us something worth our $3.99, that was a bit disappointing.

This feeling was assuaged a bit by the five pages of prose story featuring The Ghoul to be found at the end. They were a GREAT five pages that deepened our understanding of who The Ghoul is GREATLY. But it shows him to be really a bit of a Hellboy-clone...

(3) Well, The Ghoul is a huge monster with a gruff attitude but a heart of gold who works for the government as a paranormal investigator. The main difference is that The Ghoul looks like Frankenstein's Creature, while Hellboy looks like Satan. I've said it before: I'm not the first person to call people out on 'copying other people's work' but the similarities are shocking. So far, The Ghoul as a character is off to a much better start than Hellboy was. The first Hellboy story was not very good at all and the character only became endearing to me after things loosened and the character appeared in some lighter comedic stories.

(4) We really don't get a feel for the location the story takes place. The story opens on the airstrip where the climactic scene of "Casablanca" was filmed. Okay. Awesome. But other than one wonderful-but-splashy nod to L.A. all we see are highways and the inside of a garage.

I really did enjoy parts of "The Ghoul" #1 very much, but I'm wary as to whether I will pick up #2 when it hits the street.

"The Ghoul" is a cool idea that is, so far, not being executed very well. I'm not so sure the project amounts "to a hill of beans in this crazy world." "You're getting on that plane... you've got to listen to me! ... If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with it, you'll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life."

Sorry. "Casablanca". Really good movie.

To sum up. Wrightson's art is liquid light gorgeousity. Tom Smith's colors make the line-work shine. Niles' character's are wonderful, unique, and fallible. But the pace and content of Niles' plot are a mess.

You may or may not see a review of "The Ghoul" #2 from me in the future.

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