Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #4 (of 5)
“The Five Trials of Fabian Gray”
Writer: Frank J. Barbiere
Artist/Cover: Chris Mooneyham
Colors: Lauren Affe
Logo and Graphic Design: Dylan Todd
Review by Eric Owens
First, a recap for anyone unfamiliar with the series. Fabian Gray is a world-traveling treasure hunter in the vein of Indiana Jones or Doc Savage and other action/adventure pulp heroes. As the title implies, he’s possessed by five ghosts, due to the five shards of a dreamstone lodged in his chest, apparently due to an accident involving him and his fellow adventurer and sister, Silvia, for whose condition he’s seeking a cure. Each ghost represents a character type from fiction. Since the characters aren’t named, I’ll just refer to them as the bowman, the swordsman, the detective, the wizard, and the monster, but chances are you can figure out the specific influences as you read. On the plus side, Fabian can tap into each of their powers, which he frequently needs to escape Nazis, spider gods, and so forth. On the negative side, he doesn’t have total control over the ghosts and the stone is destroying his body and soul.
That brings us to the penultimate issue of the series, which finds Fabian dunked in the Spring of Purity in the Forgotten City of Shangri-La. As his body is submerged,
his soul is brought to the Dreaming where he is tested by each of the ghosts in order to prove his worth and hopefully gain control over their powers. The final ghost, the monster, has a special surprise waiting for Fabian.
Meanwhile, above ground, Fabian’s friend Sebastian and Zhang Guo, ruler of Shangri-La and fellow dreamstone bearer, do battle against a demon who calls himself Iago and the fire-breathing dragon he rode in on. Well, Zhang Guo does battle. Fabian’s friend, being powerless, sensibly cowers behind a rock. It’s not totally clear to me if Iago’s masters are connected to the Nazis or if both groups are hunting down fabian separately, but hopefully that will be revealed next issue.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t sold on this series at first, but Barbiere’s writing continues to improve with every issue and it’s a shame that there’s only one part left. My one major problem with the writing this time was that for an issue titled “The Five Trials of Fabian Gray,” the trials themselves were pretty brief and varied in quality. The test from the bowman was clever and unexpected and the battle with the swordsman was a fun, if too brief, fight. However, the answer to the wizard’s riddle wasn’t very magical and the only powers of deduction Fabian needed to pass the detective’s test was to recognize a famous London address while being chased by a monster. I know there isn’t room in a limited series like this, but I’d love it if the trials had each been extended. Also, I wish I didn’t have to look back to issue #1 to find out Sebastian’s name, but that’s a minor point.
As far as the art goes, it continues to be fantastic. Mooneyham’s visuals are a perfect fit for the pulpy action of the story and the visual storytelling in the often silent trial scenes is well done. He seems capable of handling any scenario that’s handed to him. Affe makes a nice visual distinction by coloring the scenes in the Dreaming with a washed out, muted palette in contrast with the bright, vibrant colors of the fire and magic back in the real world.
If you can, track down the previous issues, since it’s a bit late in the story to jump on with this issue. There’s so much potential and so much fun in this concept that I hope good sales and good sense lead to Image reuniting the team for at least another volume.