French roman graphique writer Xavier Dorison is best known right now for his ongoing western horror Undertaker series, but if you go back a decade you’ll find his S.P.O.O.K.S. stories were even better.
S.P.O.O.K.S. is a paranormal, conspiratorial western espionage action-adventure graphic novel series. Imagine a wild mash-up of “Mission: Impossible” + “The X-Files” + “The Magnificent 7,” set amid real-life historical events just after the American Empire’s turn into the 20th Century.
“S.P.O.O.K.S” stands for “Specialists in the Odd and Occult,” which doesn’t quite match up smoothly with the acronym, but, like I said, the series has been translated from French (where it’s called W.E.S.T.). The S.P.O.O.K.S. are a six man team (well, five men and one woman), who work unofficially for the U.S. government, investigating supernatural and secret society threats to the nation, first under President William McKinley and later Theodore Roosevelt.
The group has two leaders: A wealthy government-affiliated liaison looking to expand Pax America, and an operational field commander with a knack for gunplay and de-occulting otherworldly mysteries. The remaining SPOOKS are archetypical flawed heroes: Expert sharpshooter and surveillance guy; bone-snapping muscle with heart of gold; Christian Native American medicine man/exorcist; beautiful independent woman suffragist and Freud expert who thinks all the occult stuff is poppycock.
There are six volumes translated into English, telling three separate adventures across two volumes per story, one per year from 1901 to 1903, with each book running between 56 to 64 pages.
Written by Dorison & Fabien Nury and intricately and impeccably drawn and colored by Christian Rossi, the “S.P.O.O.K.S” books are ambitious, mature and smart, and very much intended for adults, not kids. The cinematic sequential art narrative storytelling is by turns subtle and over-the-top, presuming the intelligence of its readers — if you don’t pay attention to even the smallest dialog-free panel, you might miss something important — while at the same time boasting a number of rip-roaring shoot-‘em-up action sequence and unsettling battles with arcane dark forces rooted in this world or the next.
The first two books solve the mystery of a series of ghastly murders and “suicides” of wealthy American elites. The second pairing is set mostly in Cuba, as the S.P.O.O.K.S. are reluctantly tasked to help overthrow the Caribbean island nation and its voodoo guardian. The final entries are best left undescribed to reduce spoilers for the earlier volumes.
S.P.O.O.K.S. is like watching a big budget supernatural western noir film — or a trilogy of them — on the page. The plots are original, the dialog realistic, the action sequences are elaborately detailed and have gunpowder pop. Because it’s so deep in the visual intricacies, you’ll probably miss stuff, which will enhance an already great entertainment experience with future readings.