Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘The Ghost in You: A Reckless Book’

“Well, I’m gonna ride a saber tooth horse through the Hollywood hills”

Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips keep on keeping on with their latest “Reckless” book, The Ghost in You, which Image published, naturally (and which was colored by Jacob Phillips, just to make sure the credits are complete!). This time, however, our hero is absent (his absence is the focus of the next book, it seems), so Anna, who runs his movie theater, steps into the spotlight a bit more. Is the book still good? I mean, it’s Brubaker and Phillips – what do you think?!?!?

The fun thing about these books is that because Ethan – and, in this one, Anna – aren’t really private investigators, they can get involved in things that aren’t life-shattering events but still tread in the murkier side of life. In this book, there’s not really a major crime (I mean, there’s sort of one, but I doubt if the perpetrator will be punished in any meaningful way), but it’s still compelling. Anna gets a visit from B-movie “scream queen” Lorna Valentine, who just inherited a fabled mansion in the Hollywood hills, and she wants Anna to find out if it’s haunted or not. Tragic things have happened in the house, and Lorna’s dog went missing the night before, so she’s a bit put out. That’s the case: find the dog, and determine if a house is haunted. Of course, there are logical explanations for both those things, but again, neither involves a serious crime (some misdemeanors, that’s it). In fact, the case gets solved partly because of the kindness of one person who’s definitely not a good person, which is nicely ironic. But, of course, the case isn’t all there is to this comic. Brubaker is too clever for that.

Anna has been an interesting character throughout this series of graphic novels, but we don’t know too much about her, so in this one, that gets rectified. She takes the case partly because Lorna Valentine was kind to her at a convention back in the 1970s, when Anna, a child at the time, went with her father. Anna, of course, is steeped in film history, so that’s something, too, especially when the mansion is one that was built by a famous silent star in the 1920s. The book is also about Anna’s relationship with her mother, who’s an alcoholic, and how they interact with each other. It’s excellent stuff, because Anna has to learn things about her mother that she resists, she has to grow up a bit, and she has to learn what she can and can’t control in her life and in her relationship with her mother. As someone who has intimate knowledge of the relationship between a stable child and a very messed-up mother, this part of the book felt true to me. Anna doesn’t understand how to deal with her mother because she feels like she has to be the mother to a woman who’s older than she is and should be more stable. Throughout the book, she slowly learns that she doesn’t have – and, really, can’t – be that way. Even if she’s not wrong (as she is not wrong with regard to her mother’s fiancé), she can’t be right, either. Brubaker wisely puts another mother figure in her life so she can compare and contrast, and it’s a fascinating look at a woman who hasn’t been able to grow up completely because her parents weren’t able to let her (her father is dead, so he definitely couldn’t let her grow up). Despite being a mature person, she’s still a kid in some ways, and Brubaker does a very good job showing that.

The case also allows Brubaker to sink into the history of the movies, the abuses of the Catholic Church, and the vapidness of material success, which he doesn’t do with too much depth, but it’s not a bad way to weave a nice tapestry of “decadent Hollywood.” Anna loves movies, and while there’s no indication she’s unaware of the messy nature of the movie-making world, this is an interesting way to show the shabbiness of fame without being too obnoxious about it. We also get a bit about the abuse of power by the rich, and how law enforcement selectively enforces the law, and the way women in show business were marginalized. There’s a lot going on, in other words. But at the heart is the way Anna has to grow up a bit, and how she helps a person who’s been left behind by the world in a fairly major way.

It’s axiomatic that Phillips’s art, like Brubaker’s words, is superb. As he’s gotten older, he’s become more adept at creating more fluidity in his work, so while he’ll never been a genius at action, that’s not his métier, and the action he does put into his books is quite good in a brutalistic way. He’s excellent at varying his line weight, so we get solid, grounded characters outlined thickly, but he uses much thinner lines to show the fairy-tale quality to the mansion when it was first built, for example (there are two views of the mansion from an identical viewpoint but 60-some years apart, and Phillips uses much more ragged lines on the latter, which shows the mansion’s descent into seediness). His blacks are chunky and ominous, and he uses them more sparingly than he used to, but very effectively. This isn’t a dark book by any means – Phillips the Younger does a wonderful job with a wide palette to show some of the glamor of Hollywood, but also muting the colors a bit to show how things have faded – but Phillips knows when to use blacks to hint at the darkness under the surface of the sheen. It is, unsurprisingly, a beautiful book.

It’s so nice that Brubillips is doing well, financially, with these comics, because they’re not only terrific, but they’re the kind of model it would be nice to see in comics in general. I’ve said that before, but it’s still true, and while we might never see it, we can still dream, right? Each of these “Reckless” books is largely self-contained, so don’t worry if you haven’t gotten any already, but you really should, simply because they’re excellent comics. You want good comics, and here they are! Simple!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆


  1. John King

    Actually the latest is “Follow Me Down” and concerns the matter Ethan was looking into at this time.
    If I remember rightly, after 5 volumes Brubaker and Philips are taking a break to do something different – which means people who have not tried the series yet have a chance to catch up (and we have something else to look forward to)

    I will add that while each volume is a complete story there is an interconnectedness in the non-linear way they tell Ethan’s story – so, if I remember rightly, the third volume had some reveals about Anna (and hints about her future) setting her up for a lead role in the fourth.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Hey, I mention the next one! I’m just so far behind I haven’t gotten to it yet! 🙂

      I do like that they hint at things in each volume, as you note. I was actually thinking this would be a lot more depressing based on what was mentioned in volume 3, so I’m glad it wasn’t.

      I hadn’t heard they were taking a break from these. That’s cool – as long as they’re working together, I’m sure whatever it is will be well worth a read!

  2. John King

    (adding on from my previous post)
    the afterword of Follow Me Down says the next work from Brubaker, Phillips and Phillips will be another hardback graphic novel due in Spring as a “brief side trip” from Reckless
    though it won’t be long before they do a new adventure for Ethan and Anna in the ’90s

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