I wasn’t familiar with Dark Horse’s Ghost series prior to In the Smoke and Din but I knew any book written by Kelly Sue DeConnick with art by Phil Noto was a book that I’d want to check out. DeConnick and Noto have sucked me into this world and I’m not only going to keep reading this series, I just might go check out the four previous Omnibuses.
The story begins with Tommy Byers and Vaughn Barnes filming an episode of their TV show “Phantom Finders.” When the gizmo that is supposed to summon the spirit of “Resurrection Mary” appears to have actually worked, the fun begins. A ghost materializes and then sticks around. DeConnick writes realistic reactions for the two Phantom Finders who cannot believe what they are seeing, as well as Ghost’s reaction to not knowing who or what she is. The writing is compelling and strong. I particularly enjoyed Barnes’ rant of adding “bro” to the end of famous opening sentences (“All this happened, more or less…Bro”) and Ghost’s inner monolog describing what it felt like to transform from her human state to her apparition state.
A considerable amount of the book deals with detective work in an attempt to discover Ghost’s real identity. DeConnick’s characters drive the plot forward; their desires, interests, and investigations are what propels them into the deeper and darker story, which includes the torturous Dr. October and even the Mayor of Chicago. As the layers to the story unfold, salient details emerge at a satisfying pace. This isn’t a case of piling mystery upon mystery: DeConnick answers questions while opening the door on new ones.
Phil Noto’s art is expressive and detailed using relatively few lines. Everyone’s facial expressions have range and nuance to them and Noto does wonders with Ghost’s eyes, transforming them from “innocent and vulnerable” to “feel my wrath” with ease. While fear is a relatively common expression in comics, wonder is rather unexplored in my opinion. Noto seizes on the opportunity in the story to show people being amazed by what they are seeing. Noto shares the color work with Lee Loughridge (colors on chapters 3 and 4) and the general muted tones used throughout become the perfect foils for the luminescent images where Ghost positively radiates from the page. Throw in some covers by Alex Ross and you have a book that is just as engaging to look at as it is to read.
If I had to come up with any drawbacks to the book, they are minor to the point of nitpickiness. I think that Vaughn Barnes and the Mayor look a little too much alike and there are times when I experienced momentary confusion. Also, if I’m really going to quibble, I don’t see why the first chapter is “Chapter 0.” Sure, I have an inherent distrust of all things prequel, but this book really starts strong and a zero number indicates something cursory or superfluous (and Chapter 0 is anything but).
In the Smoke and Din comes out on July 31 and I recommend it for its well-paced and well-plotted story, believable characters, and clean expressive artwork.