• Ghost Fleet Volume 1: Deadhead

    Published by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: June 10, 2015
    Writer: Donny Cates
    Artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
    Cover artist: Daniel Warren Johnson
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    As explained in the beginning of the comic, a Ghost Fleet is an off-the-grid transportation method used when something needs to get from one place to another in absolute secret. It started back in the War of 1812 with General Jackson and a French pirate, creating secret roads and passageways. For this job in the present-day, the mode of transport in this story is a tractor trailer. Alongside the armored tractor trailer, driven by a redneck know-nothing, are two vehicles that seem to serve as spotters to make sure no one is threatening the unknown cargo. Inside one of the spotter vehicles is a set of partners that are very close, like brothers almost. In fact one wants to get tested to see if he’s a match for the other’s wife to donate a piece of his body to try to save her life. That’s pretty close.

    Trace, the one who wants to try to be a donor, is at the wheel giving his buddy Ward hell for not even letting him get tested, when the dopey kid driving the truck lets them know something is going on. The other spotter vehicle has stopped; the vehicle is NOT who they thought it was, and a militant-style attack ensues. Lucky for them they stopped and stepped out of the vehicle before the destruction began, because two seconds later the attackers blew it up. They jump in the truck and take it over from the dopey kid and try to get away. None of them knows what the cargo is, but after the chase is over that changes. A friendship changes as well, as Trace falls victim to a shitty turn of events at the hands of his good friend.

    Jump forward: two years has passed since Trace was shot in the head by Robert Ward, and he’s is looking for revenge. Ward has made some career headway in the Ghost Fleet, making the title of “director” while God only knows where Trace has been and what he’s been up to. Well, God and maybe the writer. The two former friends are about to be reunited in a most spectacular way due to the efforts of the militant and seemingly unglued Trace.

    On another front, a man named Senator Roland Cohle makes his way to report to some sort of cloaked council, inquiring about “the fourth”. It would seem two years ago when Trace and Robert had their falling out they were transporting “the third”. Cohle ensures the hooded council members that “the fourth” is in fact en route and his best man is on it. That man is Director Ward. Sadly for Ward, the shipment the Ghost Fleet is moving causes him some serious trouble, but before he can get too involved, his old buddy Trace comes back to collect that debt and in a serious way.

    Trace Morales’ recent acquisition, and 18-wheeler containing “the fourth” (whatever that is) becomes something he may not be interested in keeping once he learns who he’s stolen it from. He knows of course he took it from the Ghost Fleet, making the truck the only one the fleet has ever lost in his 200+ year history, but he doesn’t know who owned the cargo. And who does it belong to? A very powerful Washington senator by the name of Cohle, that’s who. And he’s a very dangerous senator one as well.

    Senator Cohle’s fact-finding briefing from the Ghost Fleet director, Robert Ward, gives the reader a good look at what went down mere moments ago when Morales pulled off the heist. Not happy with the news, Cohle gives Ward 48 hours to find his truck. Ward knows who has it and what needs to be done, but being Morales’ ex-partner in the Ghost Fleet and former best friend, he tries to reason with him over the CB radio before acting on his duty. Their discussion ends poorly, and Morales’ insanity appears to be coming out from hiding.

    Poor Trace can’t catch a break. That truck he stole has tapped into his psyche and boy do things go haywire for the guy. Ward’s dead wife, whom he loved as more than just as a friend, reaches out to him through a vision the truck’s cargo is apparently causing. It’s not a very sweet reunion though, and leaves the sad soul someplace lonely.

    In the meantime, Ward feels he has no other choice than to hire someone to go take out his former partner (who he believed himself to have murdered), and the guy he hires is not someone to be taken lightly. His demonstration of his expertise on the subject of killing makes it perfectly clear that Trace is not going to have an easy time of it, once this hitman named Mickey Reno finds him. And Reno not only has amazing death-dealing skills, he also has a t-shirt that is magical. Make sure you pay attention to it. We don’t get to see the confrontation between Trace and this Reno character yet (unless you caught the monthly issues, which are all out by now), but it looks to be interesting to say the least.

    This collection contains the first four of eight issues that make up this single tale of revenge, redemption, and supernatural, and the end of the book a few sketchbook pages are provided, which is just filler. But regarding the contents, Donny Cates makes an impact with the way he tells his tale. He starts the story with a single page of history and then within a couple pages kicks you hard where it hurts. The story is crammed full of action and violence, and the man barely lets the reader catch their breath in between the vehicle chases, the explosions, and some moments of serious intensity for poor Trace.

    The one-eyed Morales quickly becomes an interesting character: one who is obviously nutso, but when not in fanatic-mode is one who seems like a nice enough guy. After he steals the truck he and his dog Axl cruise to along to Iron Maiden, just hanging out, so there’s that. A nice little moment that doesn’t last long, and the portrait Cates is painting of the character is more than just some anti-hero stuff; this Trace guy is more than he appears to be.

    Daniel Johnson’s work on this title has a lot of energy, and there are a lot of action sequences where this energy is portrayed with expertise. He has the ability to draw gratuitous vehicular demolition and his style is bloody, gritty and hard-hitting. He employs a score of atypical angles to help with creating what has to be one of intense trucksploitation comics ever. Has there ever been another title that falls under that label? Either way this book is a thrill-ride for sure, and knowing how the 8-issue story ends it does NOT go where you might think.