Brody’s Ghost is a supernatural, crime, and mystery comic book series published by Dark Horse Comics. The story and art are by Mark Crilley, also known for the Akiko and Miki Falls series. He has become increasingly well-known over the last several years thanks to his YouTube channel, where he produces How-To-Draw videos every week. It was through this channel that I first heard about his series, and I started reading back when it came out in July 2010. This past April the sixth volume of the series came out, bringing the story to a close. With the series all wrapped up after five years, I’d like to take this time to reflect a little upon it — not quite as in depth as a review of each volume, but an overview of my feelings as a whole.
The story takes place in an unnamed, dystopic-looking city in the near future, where the title character Brody lives. He’s in a rut, having suffered from a bad break-up six months prior. He’s stopped taking care of himself, his apartment is a mess, and his best ways to earn money are dead-end jobs and playing his guitar on the street. One day, while playing on the sidewalk, he is confronted by Talia, the ghost of a teenage girl who died of leukemia whom only he can see. Though very reluctant, he agrees to assist her in learning the identity of a serial killer known as the Penny Murderer — a “life task” she must fulfill to move on to the afterlife —which will also earn him reward money he desperately needs.
The story came a long way from volume one, and looking back it did so a couple of different ways. Brody quickly learns that he has psychic powers, which is the reason for his ability to see Talia, and he must strengthen these in order to be successful in locating the killer. Crilley does quite a good job of emphasizing how much of a bum Brody is in the beginning when this issue is addressed. Aside from his ragged appearance and disgusting apartment, there is a humorous moment when Brody removes his shirt in front of his trainer Kagemura (the ghost of a centuries-old samurai) revealing that his arms are feeble and he has a big paunch.
The character’s growth through training his body and mind to use his abilities is a compelling one, as his development is contrasted well with the problems of his down-and-out life. He is still clumsy and hard-headed at times, but his training is given enough time and care that when he becomes a more heroic figure it’s a lot more believable. It feels earned, as do all of his achievements, because despite his abilities he still struggles to figure out what he needs to do next.
The series also came a long way from volume one in terms of tone. It didn’t take long for the series to do so, but I had a lot of problems with the first volume because of how silly it could be. Notable moments were Brody getting in a staring contest with Talia when he first sees her, and him getting beaten up by a twelve-year-old who happens to be a part of a gang that’s mugging him. At this time in the series a lot more exaggerated and cartoony expressions are used as well. All of these factors made it hard for me to get into the story at first. By volume two, however, it moved past these silly aspects and only improved from there. It never becomes too grim, dark, and serious, but the silliness was dead-weight that needed to diminish.
Without going into spoilers, the plotline becomes a lot more complicated, a lot of factors becoming darker than we had previously been made to believe. The story is fairly light-hearted, all things considered, but isn’t afraid to depict murder and derangement when the narrative calls for it either. While never a focal point of the story, the dystopic city-scape is wrought with corruption as well, which impacts Brody regularly when trying to solve the mystery. Ultimately, the plot wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but the story is told in a captivating way, had interesting characters, and takes just as much time as it needs to finish.
Brody and Talia’s relationship is an interesting as well, as their mutual yet selfish motivations for finding the Penny Murderer often come to a head. Brody becomes too deeply driven for reasons I won’t give away, and Talia is too secretive, ultimately caring about what she wants more than particular ways Brody wants things done. Considering her fate, however, her feelings are understandable. They clearly care for one another too, but have difficulty actually trusting each other. It made for an interesting dynamic from start to finish.
Something I really appreciated about the story was that despite a strong supernatural presence in the beginning with Kagemura and a group of creatures call demighosts that help Brody to train his psychic abilities, it never gets too caught up in these fantastical elements. Boiled down, it’s a heavily urban story with a supernatural edge that the character uses as a means to an end. With this series being heavily inspired by manga (Japanese comic books), which I have known to get rather indulgent in their own universes and lore, I was happy to see that Crilley kept things more simple. This allowed for a more concise story to be told, where I never really felt that my time was being wasted.
The art is based upon the Japanese manga style of illustration in its character designs, though it uses a more realistic take on the style, similar to series like Death Note. The backgrounds are more Western designed, however, as Crilley seems to be a big fan of producing highly detailed landscapes, often giving them two-page spreads. Crilley masterfully adds intricate amounts of details to his backgrounds and settings that really gives them a personality of their own. A shining example of this is right at the very beginning. Seven pages pass without any text, yet the reader is given vast amounts of information about Brody, his situation in life, and where he lives simply through the illustrations.
With the series complete, I’d recommend Brody’s Ghost to someone looking for a lighter comic book read. At only six volumes in length, it’s easy to get into quickly and complete. It’d specifically recommend picking up the first and second volume if you’re not sure how much you’ll like it, which won’t set you back that much at less than $10 a book. It may not be overly ambitious as a storytelling piece, but it knows the narrative it wants to tell and tells it well, coupled with an art style that adds a lot of value to the reading experience.