Ghosted – 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Joshua Williamson (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Joshua Williamson is a creator who is perhaps more well-known for his creator owned comics than he is for doing “work for hire”. Although he’s been in the industry since 2007, having worked for DC Comics here and there as well as a few smaller name publishers, it’s Williamson’s work over at Image Comics that he’s most well-known for. Williamson is responsible for penning the horror hits Nailbiter, and Ghosted as well as the action/fantasy series Birthright. It’s a rare but increasingly common trend in this industry today to see creators like Williamson who break in more because of their independent work than their work for one of the “Big Two” publishers but that makes it all the more worthwhile to highlight a fantastic talent like Williamson with one of these weekly challenge posts!
Ghosted Volume 1: Haunted Heist
Jackson Winters is a career criminal enjoying his retirement…in prison. Known for pulling of many high-profile heists, Jackson is suddenly broken out of prison and hired by the wealthy Marcus Schrecken to execute one of the oddest heists of his career. Marcus, a collector of rare and precious artifacts, tasks Jackson with stealing a ghost from a haunted house in return for his freedom and plenty of money. Although initially reluctant, Jackson makes the sensible decision to steal the ghost for Mr.Schrecken. Jackson quickly puts together an ace team for the heist, recruiting people from all walks of life, ranging for skeptics of the supernatural to petty magicians and even reality television “ghost chasers”. Even with an oddball group assembled, Jackson still lacks the key element to the heist; a plan. As the team begins to scope out the haunted house they quickly discover that this “simple” heist is much more than it’s cracked up to be, with Jackson learning that there are far more secrets to this house than he ever could have imagined.
If you’ve read along up until this point for my challenge, first of all I want to say thank you. Secondly, I’m sure in some sense you have to understand just the sheer volume of comics I have to read within a week to keep this challenge functioning AND stay ahead. It’s comics like Ghosted that make this challenge rather easy for me, showing me that enjoyable stories can come from some of the most unexpected places. I’m a big fan of one of Joshua Williamson’s more well-known comic series, Nailbiter, and was excited to check out some of his other work starting with Ghosted. What makes Ghosted so cool is how original the concept of this first volume feels with it being a horror heist story, easily comparing it to “Ocean 11 meets The Shining”, an apt comparison indeed once you finish reading. It comes across in this story that Williamson understands what I believe is the most important aspect of comics, they need to be fun. That doesn’t mean a story necessarily needs to be funny but it also doesn’t mean that a serious comic can’t be fun either. A fun comic is just something you read and walking away having enjoyed and that’s exactly what Ghosted manages to do, being a series that deals with all kinds of strange, serious, and dark things but still ends up being an all around enjoyable read.
Like I pointed out in the previous paragraph, presenting Ghosted as “Ocean 11 meets The Shining” is the perfect way to describe this series. It has classic heist elements like a rundown of the handpicked team, the “game time” planning sequence and major plot points of the team hitting unexpected speed bumps that weren’t in the original blueprints. Then Williamson injects the creepy feeling of a Stephen King story with the subject matter at hand, placing the heist inside of a haunted house with doorways to Hell and legions of irritated spirits. You could remove the horror or heist element from the story and all around this comic would still hold up within whatever genre it would be left in after. I’d even go as far as pointing out that if you removed any mention of ghosts from the first issue that it would be a near perfect opening for any other type of bank heist story. On the other end of the spectrum, the creepiness of this series, coupled with this first arc being set in a haunted house, immediately reminded me of Joe Hill’s “Locke and Key”, which is nothing if not excellent. The nature of the horror in this comic is definitely more about being chilling or disturbing than it is about being gruesome or gory, although there’s still a bit of gore in this one. The true feat of this series is how well Williamson manages to blend the two concepts of creepy horror and thrilling heist together to largely satisfy the reader in five short issues.
In being a heist/horror story, you get a fast, thrilling pace laced in with rising tension throughout. This rings true during the entire plot of this collection as we go from the slow planning stages to the tense “stake out” phase before finally getting to see whether the team reaps the reward of completing a successful heist. With the interjection of the horror element, the heist is so far from being a cut and dry job for the crew to achieve. The biggest challenge the team faces is how to steal a ghost from the haunted house and with that comes a unique set of obstacles. With an average heist story you’d have to account for things like guards who monitor the desired object, as well as tons of other pieces of security. Then you need to worry about things like the getaway, the repercussions of getting caught, the division of the score and so on. The horror element changes all of that, sprinkling in pieces that are unique to ghost stories and having them take places of these classic heist tropes. Instead of guards you have evil spirits, the getaway is about surviving the experience, and beyond all this there are still unknown variables that contend with the goal at hand. What this all equates to is a heist story that twists and turns at unexpected areas to give you a thoroughly compelling story. In my mind the only true pitfall to the story is that it takes a few jumps to connect dots and doesn’t connect certain plot points together too cleanly. Towards the ends of the story you get the sense that with another issue in the collection Williamson could have really delved more deeply into the history behind the haunted house and the spirits within it instead of rushing to wrap it all up.
One of the high points for this story is the cast that Jackson draws together for the heist. Including Jackson, who is the mastermind of the heist, the team also consists of Oliver King, a “professional” skeptic, Robby Trick, a man who procures and sells rare objects, Jay and Joe Burns, “ghost hunters”, Edznia Rusnak, a medium, and Anderson Lake, a hired hand from Marcus Schrecken. As Jackson highlights throughout, each character is there to bring something unique to the team. Save for maybe one or two of the mentioned characters, Jackson’s assessment rings true, as nearly all of these characters have a somewhat important role to play in not only the heist but the overall story as well. In terms of actual character progression, not much of it occurs to any of the characters besides Jackson Winters. I can think of maybe one or two other characters that go through some form of growth or change but overall, it is the lead character in Jackson that goes through the most noteworthy of changes. By volume’s end much more light is shined on the character’s mysterious past as a career criminal and you actually get to watch him start to move past some of the demon’s that plague him. As a primary character, Jackson is already charming yet arrogant enough to be a likeable lead with Williamson putting some great bits of humour into his character. You get a sense that Jackson is a womanizer, with some of the words that come out of his mouth being downright offensive, but it’s important to remember that the way the character speaks is an important wrinkle to his personality, highlighting that he’s still a scoundrel even if he’s the character you’re supposed to be cheering for.
Collects: Ghosted #1-6
Best Character: Jackson T. Winters
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “What does Richie Rich want with little old me?” – Jackson Winters (*full disclosure, this is far from the best line. All the really good ones are just far to inappropriate to post on this website*)
Best Scene/Moment: Everything kicks off – Issue 5
Best Issue: Issue 4. Issue four stands out because of all the interesting things that occur. The team learns how to steal a ghost, discovers there’s a lot more to the haunted house, and a few members of the team go through some changes. It’s just an all around intriguing penultimate issue for this first arc because of the number of fun plot pieces that come into play, all of which set up for a pretty fun finale.
Why You Should Read It: You should read Ghosted because it’s a surprisingly enjoyable series. It deals with some dark subject matter but still manages to be an incredibly fun comic. Like I stated earlier on in the post, Joshua Williamson just gets it. He understands that comics are supposed to be fun to read and don’t always need to be grim and serious although comics that do tackle that sort of stuff can still be enjoyable to read. That’s exactly what Ghosted is at its core, a fun comic about stealing a ghost with all kinds of weird stuff going on in between. It’s a great heist comic, a solid horror comic but a fantastic heist AND horror comic when the two are put together. I’d readily recommend this to fans of Locke and Key or any sort of horror series that doesn’t need to be gruesome to be enjoyable.