A member of the group for over two iterations, the Ghost has been a central player in “Thunderbolts” and even showed up in “Invincible Iron Man,” but he’s always remained something of an enigma.I’ve never questioned that approach, since the character’s creepy exterior worked better knowing as little as possible about what lies beneath. With characters like this, there’s always the danger that too much information will spoil the mystique and take away some of the appeal. That doesn’t deter Jeff Parker and Kev Walker in “Thunderbolts” #151, where they have the Ghost tell his story to Moonstone and it serves to enhance the character, for the most part.
With the team grounded for the time being, the members find themselves trapped on the Raft with little to do. What else would you expect Moonstone to do when bored except try to manipulate one of her teammates for her own twisted purpose? Ghost’s story is one of a nameless man (actually, his name is always blacked out) who worked as a computer programmer and engineer for an IT firm, acting as their resident wunderkind. The man’s importance to the company brings about dangers when his productivity is tied to the bottom line, prompting some criminal actions by his bosses that leave him in his current ‘ghostly’ state.
While creepy, especially towards the end, there’s something mundane and clichéd about this origin story. The sinister bosses, the nerdy workaholic, and the way they combine is very familiar. No doubt, this is done on purpose, partly to arouse suspicion that the Ghost is putting one over on Moonstone, but it also deflates the narrative. However, the way in which the story is told works to diminish some of these problems. The Ghost’s voice is laced with irony and an odd playfulness. He presents a tone that is both reluctant and filled with enjoyment, as if he wants Moonstone to believe he’s telling the story against his better judgment while also having fun with it.
Kev Walker’s layouts for the story within the issue are made up entirely of circular, curved panels layered atop one another. It’s a rather clever way to visually present the story, tying into the circular designs of the Ghost’s costume and mask, while also showing how he’s adding to the story, continually throwing in new details, watching as what happens now overtakes the past. The curved panels also sets the story apart from the ‘real world’ where Walker uses rectangular panels.
Walker’s line work is crisp and angular with a dark edge to it. His characters look as though something isn’t quite right with them. Early in the issue, he captures the strange manic quality of Moonstone in her eyes. As she tries to goad the Ghost into sharing his story, there’s a crazed look there and you can see the thrill she gets out of her manipulations. In the Ghost’s story, his art becomes progressively darker as the story continues and it moves from the mundane to the fantastic.
“Thunderbolts” #151 reveals an origin for the Ghost that explains a lot about why he acts as he does, but does take away a little bit from the character’s innate mystique. By basing his former life in something so mundane and executed in a somewhat clichéd fashion, it does detract in a small way. On the whole, though, it’s a story that livens up the Ghost and the aura he projects.