‘The Ghoul Squad’ kicks off with a wagon train of peasants arriving at a Polish castle, seeking refuge from the elements.
While most of the people are ushered into a large, dark chamber, the leaders are taken to meet the Nazi general who’s commandeered the castle.
Meanwhile, a trio of soldiers who were hidden in the back of a wagon – yes, the guests aren’t the simple village folk they seem – stalk the labyrinthine stronghold, looking for a certain prisoner…
And gloomy as things are, the situation gets darker.
If you’re a male who grew up in Britain, you’ll be familiar with Commando books. I mean, look at that issue number. Originally telling tales of the Second World War, publishers DC Thomson later expended their scope to take in other modern conflicts as well as ancient battles. Patriotism, courage and putting aside one’s difference for the good of all are recurring themes, and while there’s always been a bit of jingoism – well, a lot – writers try to maintain a distinction between cruel leaders and regular footsoldiers. Most stories fall firmly within the realm of possibility.
Here, not so much, as writer Mike Garley sets his 1939 tale against a firmly supernatural background. And given that, I don’t think the story leans enough into matters monstrous. The general is of a vampiric bent, there’s that hairy fellow on the cover… but look at that title. I was firmly expecting the Ghoul Squad – knife-tossing Bill, level-headed Thomas, undercover expert Edward, supernatural expert Curtis and leader Dolores – to be said Ghouls, a British Creature Commandos. Instead, they’re taking on spooks from the other side. And while we get a very creepy family portrait…
… not one member of the creepy clan shows up!
Manuel Benet totally captures the feel of the Commando books I read as a kid – his visuals are sharp, clean, unashamedly melodramatic. The big moments come off nicely, while the general is delightfully eeeevil.
I love the black and white style, but it contributes to a storytelling issue – Garley jumps between the dramas inside and outside the castle, with each scene cleverly cueing up the next. Sometimes, though, it’s all too subtle. Colour would make the transitions a lot more obvious.
Still, a million points for getting in that classic Commando line: ‘Was ist dat?’ Throw in an ‘Achtung, Britisher!’ and it would have been perfection.
Benet’s cover is fun, showing how much colour could have contributed to this particular story. Still, this is a breezy, fun read, a clever marriage of genres, and there’s a set-up for sequels. With luck, Garley will go nuts with his characters and we’ll see the squad in all their ghoulish glory.