Marvel found a lot of success with their street-level Netflix series, focusing on those less-super superheroes like Daredevil and Jessica Jones. Across town, Batman has always been one of the most beloved DC heroes, more because of his lack of powers than despite them.
Now, Comixology's original digital-only publishing line is offering their own twist on the gritty powerless superhero genre with The Black Ghost. Written by comics and crime writer (and Archie Comics co-president) Alex Segura and comic writer/artist Monica Gallagher with art by Marco Finnegan and George Kambadais, the comic follows a bitter alcoholic beat reporter named Lara Dominguez, whose obsession with a local vigilante called the Black Ghost gets her wrapped up in multilevel crime syndicate that has its eyes as much on real estate and media as it does in petty crimes. It feels like both an origin story, and a chapter in a larger story that's been going on for years — just like a good superhero comic should.
The story takes place in a city called Creighton. And while we don't know where exactly that is (the protagonist's former life in Miami has followed her to this new dying city), the grey skies and crumbling buildings could be almost any fading former factory hub along the East Coast. As I read, I kept thinking of it as the Bridgeport version of Gotham City or Metropolis — generic, but accessible, and fleshed out just enough to make it feel lived-in and real.
From the first issue, it's clear that The Black Ghost is going to shamelessly lean into the tropes of the genre — but with just enough inversions of expectations. From the down-on-her-luck investigator with a plucky sidekick she doesn't want to deal with, to the shady docks and warehouses, and of course, the Black Ghost's domino mask, it's very much a love letter to that certain kind of pulp storytelling. Even the artwork has an almost Dick Tracy-esque vibe — but with heavy ink and shadows and a cooler palette that curiously juxtapose the crisp digital coloring. The book also incorporates some neat hacktivist/cyberpunk-esque elements in the form of Lara Gallagher's mysterious digital informant, Lone, which adds another fun visual twist.
There are moments when the pulp genre aspects can get a little too heavy-handed (some of the "Big Bad" winks and the portrayal of alcoholism can feel generic). But I think Segura and Gallagher knew this going in, and planned for just enough twists to keep it fresh. While there were plenty of plot points that played out precisely as I expected them to, there were also some surprises that made me want to get back and re-read so I could track things differently the next time around. There's also something refreshing about reading this kind of genre story with a Latina woman as a protagonist, in a world that doesn't shy away from addressing things like gentrification, in addition to Generic Noir Corruption (There are moments when I would have loved to have seen The Black Ghost dive a bit deeper into the social structures of the city, but it's probably wise that it remains more accessible). Again: it's a solid example of the urban noir superhero genre, that's both fresh and familiar.
Most new comic books are stuck in an indefinite holding pattern right now, thanks to coronavirus. So if you're looking for something new and fresh to satisfy that pulpy itch — if you miss Jessica Jones, or want more street-level Batman stories, or have a craving for a less dude-heavy version of Dennis O'Neill's The Question — the first 5-issue volume of The Black Ghost is a delightful read. And you don't even need to leave your house to get a copy!
The Black Ghost: superhero noir comic starring an antiestablishment vigilante and a hacktivist sidekick [A conversation with writers Alex Segura and Monica Gallagher / BoingBoing]