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Requiem for a Ghost

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While ghost and ghoul strips might be in sharp decline compared to last year, the supernatural remains in full force in webcomicdom this month. In particular, Top Webcomic’s reigning champion – the semi-Victorian thriller Phoenix Requiem – is deliciously atmospheric this week.

 

Nurse Anya Katsukova finds herself alone at night bearing only a night gown and candle as things go from creepy to downright sinister in the span of a couple pages. The window is open (almost never a good sign in 19th century literature). An animal has seemingly knocked over a cremation urn deep within the house. But before Anya can clean up the mess, she hears a hiss and turns to see a creature growing out of the cremated ashes! Hiding within curtains, Anya watches as the creature heads upstairs. Trailing the creature, Anya tries to lock the ash-monster out of the house, but the creature isn’t so easily dissuaded. Suddenly she turns to find Jonas Faulkner – her enigmatic former patient – standing behind her.

 

The next part is probably my favorite – as the very unhinged but mostly unflappable Jonas realizes Anya is in her night-dress. It might not be a big deal in modern days – but it is a big deal in the quasi-Victorian Age of Phoenix Requiem. Anya’s mortified look – followed by Jonas’ intense blushing as he turns his back – is priceless. Jonas claims he was sleepwalking, or at least, habitually ending up in places “with no recollection of how I got there.” Whether he is telling the truth or not is another matter, as Jonas is the most secretive character in the cast.

 

Next: the exposition. The creature we are seeing, according to Jonas, is a shade. They are corrupted ghosts who died a horrible death and are now permanently bound to earth, and although Anya could never see ghosts before, she can certainly see the results, as the shades hold sway over human ash, using to create physical forms of being “awfully disrespectful of them”, as Jonas says.

 

And now, the plot thickens. Anya hypothesizes the shades might be behind – or connected to – the plague spreading throughout the town, and dissembling bodies faster than they can burn them. If the infected are “half-alive” when they are burned, they create more shades through a hot and searing death, and as Jonas says, it’s “witchcraft of dark sort.”

 

There’s quite a lot to like in this span of a few pages. You really see the improved shading and texturing in this installment’s palpably gothic setting. Everything from the smooth texture of Anya’s dress to the dark shadows casting throughout the room is framed in perfectly atmospheric tones. A bold contrast to the strip’s anime-like origins, The Phoenix Requiem’s current art is comic book store quality – and comic book store worthy.

 

Then, there’s the story, which is for once equally supplementing character dynamics rather than being shuffled to the background. The idea of the plague creating shades from the burned alive plague victims is a compelling one – the history and literature of the time are filled with accounts and references to wrongful cremation or burying. Now we see a spiritual consequence to the act. Of course, the revelation is further reinforced by the chemistry between Anya and Jonas – and their reaction to one another in the middle of the night.

 

A good story to read on Halloween and an excellent comic to start reading regularly, The Phoenix Requiem is making improving by leaps and bounds through matters of life and death – and everything in between.

 

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