In Review: The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of the Ghost Ship

An excellent beginning to what is, hopefully, a long line of adventures for John Blake.

The Adventures of John Blake: Mystery of Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman

Published by Graphix, May 30, 2017. Jacketed hardcover of 160 pages at $19.99. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7. 

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: Swinging on a rope in Gold Gate Harbor, with the title vessel in the water navigating some huge waves and a tremendous explosion behind him, John Blake is coming at the reader on this cover from Fred Fordham. This is a good scene from the book, though it is from the climax, spoiling one setting. The combination of the modern structure and the old ship is neat, and the clothes that Blake is wearing will start questions in the reader’s mind before he or she even opens the book. Having the coloring on Blake be brighter than the background is a good way to make the title character pop out, and the lettering at the top gives the book an epic feel. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “Trapped in the mists of time by a terrible research experiment gone wrong, John Blake and his mysterious ship are doomed to sail between the centuries — searching for a way home. In the ocean of the modern day, John rescues a shipwrecked young girl his own age, Serena, and promises to help. But returning Serena to her own time means traveling to the one place where the ship is in most danger of destruction. The all-powerful Dahlberg Corporation has an ambitious leader with plans far greater and more terrible than anyone has realized, and he is hot on their trail. For only John, Serena, and the crew know Dahlberg’s true intentions, and only they have the power to stop him from bending the world to his will…” Time travel, evil corporations, and teens on the run have my interest piqued. I’m also a fan of comic books, so seeing this in graphic novel format has me intrigued. Overall grade: A 

The characters: John Blake is a boy that knows much information, but it’s slowly — deliciously — doled out to Serena Henderson and the reader. He’s on a mission to get home, though he has to get others home first. The less said about him, the more for the reader to enjoy, suffice to say he’s smart and athletic, but not perfect. Serena is outgoing, loyal, and wants to get home, too, but friends come first if there’s trouble. Danielle Quayle works for the Dahlberg Corporation and has discovered something that was supposed to remain hidden. What she finds draws the attention of Roger Blake, a spy for England who’s more Daniel Craig than Roger Moore. He’s assigned to find the Mary Alice, though has a hidden reason for doing so. The villain of the piece of Carlos Dahlberg, the creator of the apparator, a cell phone-like device, that is taking over world communication. He’s using the device for nefarious purposes and needs to find John Blake to secure his future. Henry Harland is Dahlberg’s hired muscle, known to M16 for his torture techniques. He crosses paths with several of the characters with the results being action filled. There are several supporting characters, the most important being the crew of the Mary Alice. Again, to tell anything about these characters would ruin several surprises. Every character in this graphic novel comes across as a complete individual. Overall grade: A+

The art: The artist on this book is Fred Fordham. There is no stated colorist on this book, so I’m going to assume that Fordham is also responsible for the colors. The visuals on this graphic novel are very realistic. The first two pages of this are very cinematic with a slow close up of a character who looks into the fog, as if waiting for something. The first appearance of a key character on Page 9 is outstanding. Page 12 shifts the point of view around constantly, given the demands of the story, and Fordham pulls it off excellently, never confusing the reader as to who is looking at what. 13 – 17 contains a great action sequence that’s only missing a score from Monty Norman. The first panel on 30 is great and is the first clear image of this vessel; having it so clearly seen at this point allows Fordham to make it murky later in the book. The crew of the Mary Alice are nicely varied, which each having telltale signs of their origin. Their pasts aren’t revealed quickly, allowing the reader to guess their stories before they’re told. The flashback sequence on 39 – 45 is excellent, with the coloring assisting the reader to realize that this is from several decades earlier. The design of the apparator is cool, albeit very familiar to another device associated with one of Pullman’s previous series, though the device that Roger gets hold of is sweet, almost Lovecraftian. There are several action sequences, with all being very clear to follow, almost like a staging manual for a film adaptation. Fordham brings a tremendous sense of realism to this tale. Overall grade: A

The final line: An excellent beginning to what is, hopefully, a long line of adventures for John Blake. A good mix of action, science fiction, and drama that will thrill readers of any age. Worth seeking out. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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