*Edited by Kaitlin Campos
One of my most common complaints doing these reviews is that a series will fail to provide an adequate recap or grounding for its reader, thus leaving them to twist in the wind as the story washes over them. Now, there is the obvious problem with this that it can make a comic far too dense and impenetrable to successfully allow for new readership, but that’s not really a big problem, as a lot of the time character dialogue can serve to fill in new readers, and there are always outside sources for the legitimately determined in the audience.
The bigger problem with this is perfectly exemplified in The Occultist. I mentioned in my review of issue 1 that the series seems to assume you had read all the previous appearances of the character and how that was a mistake for the beginning of a new series, but little did I know how right I was. The problem is that the Occultist’s previous appearances aren’t required reading to understand this series; they’re required to care about the series, to be engaged by and invested in the characters, because The Occultist is written from the assumption that you already have a reason to care about its cast. It really doesn’t provide one, in fact quite the opposite; the series almost goes out of its way to detract from the likability and worthwhile nature of its main character.
But let’s back up and provide some grounding of our own: The Occultist has enjoyed several previous appearances in Dark Horse productions, which I suggest you track down before even considering reading this comic, as his ongoing series really isn’t a very good introduction. The eponymous occultist is one Rob Bailey, a Rhode Island college student and wielder of the intense mystic power of The Sword, a mystic book of spells that grants him mystic powers and the responsibility to police the lands between the living and the dead. However, this power comes with a catch: if he abuses it, or becomes too immature, it will leave him to find another host— in essence, it’s Spider-Man crossed with Harry Potter and a couple scoops of Ghostbusters and Ghost.
The Occultist so far has been a kind of tragic descent into lackluster mediocrity. For some reason, the opening story arc of this completely new series is one where our fearless hero doesn’t do any monster fighting, but instead has spent the last 3 issues using his superpowers to try to escape the friendzone while tooling around the astral plane with a bunch of rich prep school jerks. That right there is the biggest problem with The Occultist; it’s trying to tell a dark story of the hero in essence falling from grace as its opening arc, which is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.
This works off the assumption that this series is only being written for people who are already familiar enough with the Occultist character to care about his well being and care if he loses his power. New readers, like myself, who are reading this comic by way of introduction are given nothing to latch onto; no good reason to invest in Rob Bailey’s fate beyond the fact that he’s the main character. At the same time, this just isn’t a very good fall-from-grace story.
More than anything, The Occultist reminds me a lot of what has come to be called “emo Peter” from Spider-Man 3; the portion of the film where the hero morphs into a hedonistic, shallow, callus jerk who is more of an annoying, poser frat-nerd than anything else. It’s not a deep trudge through the darkness within Rob’s soul so much as a wallow in the shallow waters of painful hedonism. It doesn’t go far enough, nor look fun enough, to really come off as a legitimate darkening or change to the character. It just seems dorky.
Rob’s descent into amoral debauchery and flaunted responsibility is just to hang around at the gates of the underworld with his astral girlfriend; it’s not fun enough to look troublingly tempting like Hercules’ partying, it’s not hedonistic enough to result in real change like Iron Man’s alcoholism, and it’s not dark enough to show us some new side of the hero like Spider-man’s use of the symbiot. It’s squarely in the middle ground, which is honestly the worst place to be with this kind of story.
As for this issue itself, it’s okay overall; this is the penultimate issue of this arc dealing with Rob’s fall from grace, allowing the angry dead to be set free as well as him possibly losing the Sword powers, but that all gets neatly resolved by end of issue with no legitimate change to the status quo, making things seem like a slightly bigger waste of time than usual. To this issue’s credit, there’s more of the interesting visual design and monster fighting than initially gave me high hopes for the series, but by this point, any investment I might’ve had has been thoroughly drained away from the series to be replaced with the grey sludge of apathy. Maybe if you’re a hardcore The Occultist fan, this series has been great, and if the idea of Rob Bailey awkwardly stumbling around with a handful of rich dweebs in the astral plain sounds fun, you’ll like this, but anyone to else, no, I don’t recommend this issue.
There’s one more issue in this arc, which I’ll probably review, but something tells me I won’t be coming back to The Occultist any time soon after that.