Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann
Published by: PYR
Publication Date: February 2010
Format: Paperback, 237 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Gabriel Cross is leading a dual life. By outward appearances he is the playboy, always partying, always throwing around his cash, unconcerned by the world around him. But inside he is haunted by the war he fought in and almost died in. He will not let New York sink into a city on the brink with the cops being controlled by the mob. With the mob being controlled by the worst mobster of them all, the elusive Roman. Splitting his time between his lounge chair and the rooftops of the city, "The Ghost" as the newspapers have named Gabriel, will help his fellow citizens by getting to the bottom of who the Roman is. Yet his carefully constructed personas are about to crash around him when the songstress he loves, Celeste, gets embroiled in the Roman's dealings, and Gabriel himself exposes his identity to perhaps the only trustworthy cop in the city. What the cost of these risks are, only time will tell. But hopefully, with time, the Roman's reign will also fall.

I never thought I'd say this, but there comes a time when there are too many superheroes. This overkill, especially by Marvel, makes me inwardly groan that there is yet another Green Arrow spin-off, yet another franchise being launched off the back of an already successful franchise, Black Panther anyone? Or worse yet, a reboot of a film series that is only a few years old, The Fantastic Four or Spiderman, take your pick! Obviously I'm in the minority here as the movies and television shows keep getting the viewers but I have personally reached my saturation point, so much so that I might not even keep watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. All this lead me to be a little leery of Ghosts of Manhattan. There was the part of me going, but it's not Victorian, but more important the part of me going, really, this book is "Introducing the World's First Steampunk Superhero," spare me.

So, despite my love of George's work I wasn't unbiased going into Ghosts of Manhattan, in fact George had a lot working against him with all my preconceived notions. And then I got a few chapters in and was hooked. The writing isn't as polished as George's other stories, but there's a rawness and immediacy that sinks it's claws in, much like a certain creature in this series second volume. The best way to describe this book is Batman meets The Great Gatsby with a little Bladerunner thrown in. Gabriel Cross has the vigilante stance as well as the violent past of Batman, but instead of emulating his "true" identity of Bruce Wayne, despite there being similarities; the 1920s lifestyle, the parties, the estate on Long Island, are all straight out of Jay Gatsby's biography. As for other comic book antecedents, there's a little Hell Boy thrown in as well. These twists and also just the demeanor of Gabriel give a story that could be full of tropes and cliches a spark of life that made a cold winter day just disappear.

The turning point for me was the introduction of the golems. I blame Terry Pratchett for my love of the golem myth, seriously, if you have not read Feet of Clay go do so now! There's just something so fascinating about golems. A figure made of clay and endowed with the spark of life but not intelligence, much like Frankenstein's monster it can be either good or evil depending on who gave it life and purpose. Not to mention the fact that they are indefatigable and nigh on undefeatable! Plus, if you think about it, they are basically automatons, which is a link back to George's other work and the scary creations in The Affinity Bridge. Which might be one reason I'm so fascinated by golems. There's something so modern about them, yet at the same time there is something so old, so historical, dating back to early Judisim. I just love that more authors are taking advantage of incorporating this myth into their narratives, golems were even used in an episode of Grimm recently.

The golems I think get at the crux of the matter as to why this book works. It's a fusing of the old and the new. Your run of the mill superhero is all about the present or the future, and of course the gadgets, with maybe the occasional need for and old relic, but that's a rare need. Here we have a superhero who is more Indiana Jones, more about the old and the new meeting and clashing and forging something no one thought possible. If the golems weren't enough to convince you of this then I bring into consideration the role The Metropolitan Museum of Art plays in the book. Not only is it the location of one of the most important scenes, as well as cringe worthy if you're in art lover, but the curator friend of Gabriel's, Arthur Wolfe, provides an entree into this older world. The relics and artwork The MET house create an important link between the here and now and the time when golems and Roman currency were more common occurrences.

This is the heart of the book, the way to make a superhero story that will actually engage me. Ghosts of Manhattan is something more. By not just being about a vigilante on a roof with his gadgets we get this other side, an old world past that hints at the supernatural and the dark arts. Before the modern era superstition and urban legends and fairy tales were so important. People didn't just listen to them as entertainment, there was truth in the tales. As time has progressed more and more people forget that perhaps, just maybe, even though we are ruled by technology and the microchip, that fairy tales can be true. The Ghost learns this the hard way and in doing so takes us on a ride that puts all other superheroes in the shade.


Newer Post Older Post Home