"Humans Should Stick To What They Do Best. Rut, Die, and Rot."
(WARNING: The following review will contain minor spoilers solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you'd like to know my assessment spoiler-free, then leap down to the last two paragraphs. Otherwise, a spell may be cast ...)
When the tale unfolds, Robert Bailey seems like the typical college student. He has girl troubles. He's struggling with his classes. His mother won't let him grow up all on his own. He's working his way through college at a local used bookstore when a chance encounter with a secret book impresses a magical identity known as `The Sword' upon him, and he becomes ... The Occultist! With the direction of his dead former employer (the bookseller, Mr. Elder) and a police detective who dresses like a common street tart to guide him, Robert may very well find out what the Sword is, why it's chosen him, and what destiny has in store for him.
Sadly, much of THE OCCULTIST feels rather rushed. Quite a bit of it feels cobbled together quickly. As a result, the narrative never evens out to a comfortable pace. Characters and demons get introduced quickly and with little explanation, and, while some of them appear to be villains, their actions betray their real intent. At 130 pages, the story feels like it may've started out as twice that, with much of the logic left on the editor's table. That, and it's a world where most main characters look like underwear models. Also, the fact that a police detective who'd most likely have to be in her thirties is attracted to a young man just starting college ends up feeling more than a bit `creepy' to this reader.
Still, there's a lot here to digest, and I can't an overwhelming sensation that THE OCCULTIST is the ind of story I'd like to enjoy more. All of the good guys' hearts seem to be in the right place, and there are some obvious hints of developments to come that if handled with greater exploration could serve to turn around the kid-friendly appeal of the book and maybe amp up the risk to the main players.
As this first volume stands, events unfold fairly quickly - in fact, in some cases the reader is never really shown what happens when the Occultist unleashes its fury on a foe; instead, we're only shown the pile of rocks or rubble the villain is buried beneath in the very next panel. Granted, some of it might be for humor's sake, but, as a reader, I'd rather be more `involved' in the events, not just shown the climax for a laugh. There's even a last little twist to keep the tale going for yet one more bout, yet it comes with very little foreshadowing, and it feels more than a bit contrived. Some of the action and dialogue is more than a bit juvenile, and an awful lot of it evolves out of circumstances or convenience, but THE OCCULTIST, while off to a rough start, might evolve into something a bit more admirable. There's always something benignly noble about a young hero discovering his way in life, but if he gets too caught up in the trappings of day-to-day existence the bigger tale will get buried under juvenile trade. Part of the problem here is that the young man's identity seems to seize the boy, to use his body to do what it wants, and it doesn't seem as if the he's along for the ride except physically. Would his spirit really feel all that better sitting in math class while his body fights for salvation of the known universe? However, if it goes big - if it somehow presses Robert into the service of doing deeds in the name of justice or righteousness - then the journey might be one worth not only taking but sticking around to see what the ultimate destination truly looks like.
While not a failure, THE OCCULTIST deserves to be more than a "Buffy, The Vampire Slayer" for boys. What attracts readers to books isn't only what attracts viewers to television shows. Given more depth, Robert's adventures might come alive in ways creator Mike Richardson never initially imagined. Artwork by Victor Drujiniu is acceptable but nothing much grand here. For one thing, too many of the females have essentially the same face, which becomes even more obvious when they interact with one another. Here's hoping the book gets more attention in the installments ahead.
RECOMMENDED. I wanted to love THE OCCULTIST. It has everything that makes a comic book great - an impressionable hero, a sense of magic and mystery, and some great monsters. What's missing here is greater definition. I wanted a more-intense fleshing out of Robert Bailey and even these incidental characters, but, alas, this first volume wasn't quite meant to be. Part of me wonders if the book received some haphazard editing. Still, I'd invest time in a second volume with hopes that the writer and artist find greater balance to weave their tapestry.
In the interests of fairness, I'm pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Dark Horse Comics provided me with a digital copy of THE OCCULTIST, VOLUME 1 by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.