REVIEW: The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship
The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship
By Phillip Pullman and Fred Fordham
Scholastic Graphix, 160 pages, $17.99
There’s little original in Phillip Pullman’s first graphic novel. We have a mystery ship shrouded in fog. Time travel. A rich madman. A plucky heroine. Still, he manages to spice things up then stir them into a tasty concoction that makes this book a cut above many of the more recent releases from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint.
First, it is taller and wider than the other books and artist Fordham takes advantage of this with solid sequential storytelling, barely wasting a panel. Pullman’s characters can be talky but at least here he’s giving them meaningful things to say.
We open with multiple threads all involving the Mary Alice, a sailing vessel that is legendary in its random appearances, always foreshadowed by thick fog, making it hard to discern. There are two different sets of people seeking it, one to understand it, one to destroy it. They work at cross-purposes throughout, which heightens the tension.
Then we have Serena, an Australian teen, who tumbles overboard her family’s sailboat only to be rescued by the boy in the red shirt, John Blake himself, the master of mayhem. As we learn throughout the book, the Mary Alice’s predicament is one of his unfortunate making and he’s trying to set things to rights. To accomplish that, he has to expose Carlos Dahlberg’s perfidy and it turns out, he needs Serena’s help to pull that off.
Dahlberg comes off two-dimensional while everyone else is nicely delineated by Pullman. Some of the best scenes are watching Serena acclimate herself to life aboard the Mary Alice and getting to know her time-lost crewmates. I actually wish there was a little more of that and little less mustache-twirling action.
It’s an ambitious tale with a lot packed into the pages. Fordham designs good characters and layouts but some of his figures are too stiff. The color work is also strong, which helps the overall story.
The best part may be that this is a done-in-one story. If we never see John Blake again, the readers will be satisfied. On the other hand, the title says “Adventures” so expect to see more of him in the future. This recommended for ages eight and up although younger readers may find the time travel paradoxes a little difficult.