Story: Brentt Harshman
Art: Emilio Utrera
Letters: LetterSquids Publisher: Self-published
WHAT IS IT?
A one-shot, 10-page (cover to cover) spy thriller that takes place during the Cold War.
It's pretty James Bond-y, minus the cars and gadgets and obligatory "intimate scenes," but it stars a strong woman instead of a smug man.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
It’s 1975. A spy must steal a powerful, darkly mystical book before the U.S.S.R. finds it and uses it against their enemies (i.e. America).
The book not only tells the future of the U.S.S.R., it also describes "arcane horrors, unthinkable weapons of mass destruction, portals into other dimensions," and possibly even more terrible things.
But is Helen, America's spy, ready for the twists and turns that await her on her mission to extract the tome?
Tight line work and truly stunning art bring a sense of class and elegance you'd expect from a spy comic like this.
Panels are more traditionally paced and designed. They have a measured, classic approach that fits the genre and characters as tight as a spy's glove.
Though it's only black-and-white, there's a lot of texture and shading so that you don't really miss the color. It looks like Utrera uses fingerprints to accomplish a lot of the shading, and I personally really love how effective it is. Utrera's panels are already fairly detailed city shots and library settings, and the shading folds in so much personality to each scene.
Lettering works hard to establish that tone, using a typewritten typeface for captions.
Sound effects hit the sweet spot; they don't feel overused, but they help elevate the action sequences. Showing characters' shouts as sound effects rather than word balloons with flourishes makes for a cool effect – it's a little "comic-booky," but it really works in the context.
Harshman writes a solid espionage story in only 8 pages of actual comic (if you don't include covers). Pages have a decent amount of dialogue or exposition, but he lets the characters tell the story. Because it's such a brief comic, every choice feels deliberate, every scene is tight. It feels like watching a Bond film with all the fat trimmed – it's not rushed, it's simply well-told.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
It feels a little strange to see a book cover about communism and the Soviet Union, but knowing it has very probably ancient magics in it. It's such a brief and specific part of history compared to what you think about when you think of arcane horrors and portals into other dimensions. But I think this is just a good time to suspend your disbelief and not think too hard about it.
No color in the interior, if that bothers you.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
The Great British Baking Show/Bake-Off often talks about how, if you don't create something wholly original, at least re-create a classic really, really well. And, while Soviet Ghosts may not tell a wholly new story in a new way, it accomplishes the latter with style and grace.
Soviet Ghosts is everything you love about Cold War spy thrillers: the sleek classiness of business suits and pistols, political intrigue, a hint of the supernatural. You feel how much Harshman & Utrera love the genre.
The classic espionage story is represented perfectly in this tight thriller by a talented team of creators.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Email Brentt Harshman if you want to read it: firstname.lastname@example.org
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