Hey everyone! Welcome back to another edition of Pulp, Forte’s little corner of comics-based nerd-dom. The year is quickly disappearing – how did it get to October already? Rest assured, though – even though the weeks are flying by, I’m still here, sequestered away, reading comics to talk about. This week, I’ve dug up an indie gem from back in 2013 – Ghost Town, from Action Lab Comics’ adult imprint, Danger Zone. Created by Dave Dwonch and Rob Ruddell, and written by Dwonch and Ryan K Lindsay, Ghost Town mixes down-and-dirty crime drama with a nice bit of sci-fi to create a semi-dystopian society reminiscent of Brian K Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man.
In 2014, a hyper-patriotic terror organisation known as the American Reclamation Front infiltrates a mysterious scientific facility in the middle of the desert. A scientist working on a mysterious, cutting-edge project suddenly turns on his colleagues, and guns them down. He disappears with the project – a working time machine – and the facility is destroyed, with almost all of its employees killed. Using the time machine, the ARF send a bomb into the near future, completely obliterating Las Vegas. They threaten to do the same to Washington DC, and the government, not wanting to take chances, completely evacuates the city. Now, DC has transformed into a series of independent boroughs, ruled by crime lords, gangsters, nationalists and other hardened types. Those that chose to remain in DC – now known as The Rad – live with the shadow of the bomb over them every day. Nate Lawson, however, has no qualms about venturing into the Rad – as long as he’s paid well. When a mysterious benefactor employs Nate to retrieve his daughter from the clutches of a kingpin, Nate assumes it’s just another job – but this one might just cost him his life.
It’s a pretty big setup, that’s for sure. It’s hard to properly explain the story without the sci-fi preamble – the events of the very first issue essentially set up the entire premise, and without them, half of what I’m talking about wouldn’t make sense! Ghost Town shifts very quickly from sci-fi concepts to gritty, realistic crime drama in the space of a single issue, and it’s a little jarring in the space of a single volume – the majority of the volume follows Nate, and the sudden transition from X-Files-y CIA investigations to running from crime lords is a little odd. I’m willing to cut the writers some slack, though – this is definitely a large scale story, and I have no doubt that there wouldn’t be that kind of issue in the long run.
My favourite part of the story is its setting – the re-imagining of Washington DC as a series of disparate, violent mini-kingdoms is really intriguing. We’re only shown a few glimpses of a fraction of the boroughs, and I really want to see more. Even in those small glimpses, life seems to vary wildly from borough to borough – The Hub is a safe, community-minded bastion, while Hades is violent and filled with gangsters, and Odie’s borough is filled with rough, white nationalist biker types who spend their spare time organising dog fights.
The weakness of the book comes from its art – the quality seems to jump around wildly from panel to panel. Some character close-ups look mangled, while others show great detail and look fantastic. It’s very inconsistent, and a little distracting – important scenes come across as silly and half-baked. It’s not enough to completely distract from the narrative, but it’s a sticking point in an otherwise interesting and compelling comic.
Ghost Town has some great ideas, and its twists and turns will keep you on the edge of your seat – worth a read!
By Alastair McGibbon