Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Brody's Ghost Collected Edition by Mark Crilley

Brody's Ghost was a six-book series that came out from 2010 through 2015; I saw the first volume and then lost track of it. Crilley, of course, first came to comics-readers' attention with his series Akiko, an all-ages series that ran for a decade starting in 1995 and spawned a series of prose novels as well as the comics stuff.

And, since time wounds all heels, I'm chagrined to realize that Akiko ended a good decade ago, and that Crilley, who I thought of as a young guy, is actually a couple of years older than me (and so is young slightly less than I am, which is already not much at all). It really is horrible how we all keep on getting older and more tired and how good things we enjoyed move further into the past and away from us.

But Crilley doesn't need my ennui. He spent the first half of the current decade writing and drawing this series, and it's now assembled -- nearly six hundred pages of main story, sidebar color extras, covers, sketchbook pages, and similar stuff -- in Brody's Ghost Collected Edition.

Brody is a slacker and a loser, living in a dump of an apartment and getting by on busking and the oddest of odd jobs, pining over Nicole, the girlfriend he lost most of a year ago and resolutely not getting on with his life or doing anything constructive. (He also seems to have been dumped for a scary anger issue, and not his general mopery, which makes him that much worse.)

His world is a mildly dystopian near-future city, all ruin and corruption and piles of junk, though Brody never has to worry about finding food and there's no sign the corrupt cops specifically target any particular populations, or are corrupt in any more corrosive ways than simply taking bribes to let criminals sell their illegal wares to a willing population. This is not a story of world-building, so a reader should just take the signposts and leave it at that.

One day, Brody sees a ghost -- Talia, who was sixteen when she died six years ago and who claims to have been kept out of Heaven until she accomplishes one major Good Deed on earth. That good deed is to stop the Penny Killer, a particularly unpleasant serial killer of young women, and she needs a ghost-seer to do it, since she can't directly interact with the physical world. Brody, since he can see her, is by definition a ghost-seer, and so she intends to haunt the hell out of him until he does what she wants.

Brody's Ghost was originally published as six books, so each book has a definite shape, and leads to a major change or shift in the plot. As you might have guessed, Talia does recruit Brody in the first book, since it would be tedious to have six hundred pages of a mopey guy refusing to help out a cute goth ghost girl.

I shouldn't tell you too much about the later plot twists, though I can gesture in the direction of saying there will be some -- fairly conventional, nothing that breaks suspension of disbelief -- and that the second book is mostly about turning slacker-Brody into ripped ghost-seer Brody through intensive training by a samurai ghost. (Crilley has always had a tropism towards Japan and japonaiserie, as seen both in the character of the sensei and the fact that his character has a sensei to run him through a hundred-page training montage.)

Brody's Ghost is a solid comics story in a pretty conventional idiom: guy discovers he has a mysterious power that he has to use to make the world better, and fights against it (and his mentors) for a while before finally doing the thing he was Meant To Do. I'm not crazy about the Brody-Nicole relationship: we don't see it ever being particularly healthy, so I tend to think of it as purely Brody projecting his own neediness and demands onto the more stable and grounded Nicole. (I suspect Crilley did not want to reinforce this interpretation.)

Crilley tells that story in his mature style, one part manga-inspired and one part animation-crisp. His lines are always clear and communicate instantly, which is a rare gift. The dialogue is also quite good: his characters are real and living (well, some of them are dead, but you know what I mean). If you grew up on Akiko, you're right about the age to really like Brody's Ghost.

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