Midnight Mystery: City of Ghosts #1: Learning to live with the truth
Midnight Mystery is a book that surprised us last year. Creator Bernie Gonzalez came out of nowhere to produce one of the most entertaining, well-crafted books we’d seen from a publisher that wasn’t Marvel, DC, or Image. Focusing on the bizarre cases of private dick Zeke King, the book features convincing dialogue, clear and simple visual storytelling, and an aesthetic kinship with the likes of Darwyn Cooke and Bruce Timm.
Midnight Mystery’s second volume, City of Ghosts, debuted this week. So how does its first issue hold up?
At first blush, you might be tempted to lump Zeke in with the stereotypical, hard-boiled private eye. He walks alone through a dark world. He’s seen things he can’t explain, and the things he can make sense of are usually tainted by human failings or frailty. But Gonzalez begins to dig deeper into Zeke’s psyche in City of Ghosts #1, and there’s more to the detective than cynicism. Cynicism is disillusionment, blindness. Cynicism is ugly circumstance hiding the fairer truths of life, like trust and friendship. But Zeke is not the hardened detective protecting himself from further hurt; rather, he understands the deeper realities behind the bad things that have befallen he and his friend, Gus, and that understanding is what isolates him from his friend, blinded by denial.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
City of Ghosts begins with Zeke in an awkward face-to-face with an agent of his next client, who wants him to get to the bottom of an associate’s—Willie’s—death. Gonzalez uses their conversation to provide a brief recap of the first volume of Midnight Mystery, but he does more than that, too: he sets up the question at the heart of Zeke’s identity: do you really believe?
The client’s agent wants to know how far Zeke will go in search of the truth, but the same question lies just beneath the surface of his and Gus’s strained relationship. Zeke will no doubt be on the case of the untimely demise of Willie, but the loss of Gus’s wife will be—is, in fact—central to the drama in City of Ghosts. This sort of parallel drama is not new in detective stories, but the narrative depth is nevertheless welcome, and very effective at drawing me in. Midnight Mystery is not merely entertaining, but genuinely stirring.
On the case
Zeke works the case for the rest of the book, trying to track down anybody that might have had contact with Willie, and the gruff reception he gets from potential informants seems—much to my delight—like something right out of black and white detective films. Before the end, things get a bit weird—as it should in this book—and we’re left with a rather striking cliffhanger. There isn’t a whole lot to comment on here, but it’s not because it isn’t good—it is! Gonzalez’s storytelling remains simple—often just three stacked, widescreen panels on each page—but it is incredibly effective. I enjoyed Midnight Mystery’s first volume, but the artwork has matured considerably here. This is the cream of the Alterna crop, but Gonzalez’s work needs no qualifier next to it—this is just excellent sequential art, plain and simple.
More to come
The book wraps with a check-up on Roland Blackwood, Midnight Mystery’s first villain, who will undoubtedly cross paths with Zeke again at some point in the future. For now, he’ll continue to use his son to help him find a permanent body for his itinerant soul, and I’ll anxiously await City of Ghosts #2 and the resolution of this issue’s cliffhanger.
At $1.50, this book is a ridiculous bargain. If you’re not reading Midnight Mystery already, find a comic shop that stocks it, or order direct from Alterna—you won’t be sorry.