The Occultist, a graphic novel by Tim Seeley and Victor Drujiniu, is a combination urban fantasy and thriller (available July 31, 2012).
The first volume of The Occultist collects the first five stories Dark Horse Comics published about their titular character, arranging them in a format that’s accessible to the new reader. The Occultist himself is a young man with a troubled background who unwittingly finds himself the receptacle of great power and responsibility.
Chosen by a mystical Book to be the wielder and embodiment of a Sword that fights the demonic and undead. Robert Bailey, a fairly average college student, suddenly finds himself in command of powers he doesn’t fully understand, though the Book and a ghostly mentor do their best to guide him through. Granted, said mentor isn’t the most knowledgeable chap when it comes to the Sword’s occult abilities, but he does understand the power of books and learning, offering up solid advice such as this when Robert is near tearing his hair out in frustration at not being able to find the answers he wants in the Book that chose him:
“You keep asking for facts, and you want ’em delivered in nice clean sentences with clear wording. But sometimes it isn’t about what the Book literally says. Sometimes it’s about what the Book means.”
Unfortunately for Robert, the Sword itself often has its own opinions as to the course of action that ought to be taken next, particularly when confronted with situations that threaten his stability and safety. Robert does his best to resist the less socially acceptable of these suggestions, but can’t help succumbing to the temptation of allowing the power of the Sword to convince his ex-girlfriend to get back with him. This moral compromise eventually has unhappy consequences, though it’s presented with a deftness that comes to characterize this title’s refusal to be heavy-handed about its philosophies.
Of course, being a receptacle of power means that people are going to be out to wrest the position from you, primarily through the application of deadly force. Robert soon finds himself the prey of a team of assassins, and accidentally winds up enmeshing in his troubles the detective who was investigating the mysterious happenings that resulted in him gaining his powers in the first place.
Detective Anna Melendez is not pleased to be dragged into the supernatural battle for Robert’s life, but proves to be a worthy partner as the duo face down first that motley set of killers-for-hire, then a demon that claims to be the Sword’s ancient nemesis. It’s around this time too that Robert gets saddled with the unwieldy moniker “The Occultist,” as the man who originally put the hit out on him had no idea of his real name and needed something memorable to label him. That man, Aiden Beck, wants the Sword for himself, and utilizes a clever form of technomancy to advance his ends. Beck’s original plans are seemingly thwarted . . . but it becomes clear as the trade paperback progresses that any such setbacks, in good comic book villain style, are only temporary.
Also in good comic book fashion, once the origin story is dealt with, the storytelling becomes smoother and the banter between the characters begins to sound more natural. Robert and Anna develop an easy professional relationship that moves tentatively toward becoming more personal, though their initial coffee date is interrupted by a baby-snatching gone demonic.
They uncover a rather ghastly set of circumstances that they face with a deadpan humor, surmising the following:
Anna: We’ve got a human-flesh dress, Chelsea the possessed schoolgirl, and a missing kid who’s now a vampire. What does it add up to?
Robert: A more interesting date?
Of course, I can’t review a comic book title without commenting on the art. While Victor Drujiniu is primarily responsible for the pencils, it’s really interesting to see the effect Jason Gorder’s inks in the first chapter have on the storytelling. The first chapter has a more old-fashioned, 1980s feel to the art, whereas the following issues have a slightly warmer feel to them. I’m guessing this also has a lot to do with the (uncredited but obvious) switch in the coloring process, which looks significantly more digital from chapter two onwards, though seems to veer back toward more traditional methods in chapter five. Overall, though, the art is nicely dynamic, suiting the story well and eschewing complicated layouts that would detract from the narrative.
The publishers also include a neat little behind-the-scenes peek at the creative processes that helped birth The Occultist, as well as a one-page homage to Silver Age comics at the end. Altogether, this volume serves as a nice introduction to one of the strongest Dark Horse titles I’ve had the pleasure of reading.
Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She
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