By Laramie Martinez
Last week I was able to get a hold of a copy of Seekers into the Mystery. Written by J. M. Dematteis and drawn by various artists, the book seemed to be the natural follow-up to Dematteis’ Moonshadow which I had read earlier this month. It is another one of his “big question” stories, following a struggling screenwriter named Lucas Hart living in Los Angeles as he tries to cope with the memories of his traumatic childhood. Going in, I was pretty excited, I love Moonshadow, and this book seemed like it was going another, maybe more grounded, a meditation on life. Sadly, the quality of this series is inconsistent, the plot felt unbalanced, and the characters seem to grow and regress in a way that feels more than a little contrived. The plot also hinges on your acceptance of the philosophy presented within, which for me, never really was as profound as I think Dematteis hoped. There are some spoilers below.
The moral takeaway of this series isn’t anything new. Sure, it’s dressed up in an interesting way managing to combine astral projection, aliens, past lives, God in human form, and pretty much any religion or mythology, but the bottom line this book preaches is that “Everything Happens for a Reason.” Maybe I’m just a cynic, but that is one very tough cookie for me to swallow on its own and when you combine that message with a clumsy story about a man trying to cope with the memory that he was sexually abused by his father, it becomes nigh impossible to keep down. The two aspects seem intrinsically linked to one another, with their relationship and the main problem of the series coming to a head early on in the series.
After realizing he had been abused as a child, Lucas goes back home to confront his father, only to learn that he has died while Lucas was traveling. I have no problem with this, as a narrative device it’s pretty accurate, Lucas will be forced to live the rest of his life without that feeling of closure, a feeling that, for most people, remains elusive even after they confront their abuser and years of reflection. The problem arises, when at the wake, Lucas astral projects his spirit out of his body and sees his father’s ghost hovering over the casket. Naturally, Lucas begins screaming at him to which his father response by saying that Lucas doesn’t know the whole story, maybe his father has a compulsion because of past trauma, or maybe he was evil and will suffer for all time because of it. Or he states:
“Maybe you needed it. Spiritually, I mean. Maybe without the pain, I caused you – you wouldn’t be where you are today. Maybe it’s your suffering that put you on the path. Set you on your search.”
What? Really? I’m pretty sure you don’t need to be sexually abused to want to learn about the nature of the universe. Now, maybe you’re thinking that Lucas isn’t really seeing his father, that it is just his mind trying to make sense of these horrible memories and figure out a way for him to move on with his life. I could accept that as an interpretation if the premise of the book did not rely on Lucas’ ability to astral project. Are we to believe that this time he wasn’t actually astral projecting? That all the other times he actually was but this time we were just talking to his subconscious? It isn’t clear, and for a moment as crucial as this, you really need to be clear. Because otherwise, I’m forced into believing that the ghost really was his father trying to defend his actions. Which makes him one of the biggest dicks to ever grace the comic book page and we need to see more so we, as an audience, can hate him properly. Neither of these two paths are taken, however, and we end up with just a bad scene that taints the rest of the series.
It’s pretty hard to shake that scene since it appears on page 94 – 95, in a collection that has close to 400 pages. But I did my best and while there were good things about this series. The art, for instance, is amazing; it is exactly what I understood “mature comic art” to be when I was growing up. Glenn Barr, Michael Zulli, Jil Thompson, and Jon J Muth all do amazing work here. The collection also includes John Bolton’s covers which are fantastic. There are some issues that can be read as stand-alone works, which while they do have some problems (Anyone heard of the Magical Negro?) are not as glaring and the scene above.
I finished the book as a matter of principle; I felt like I was trying to get to the end so I could find something redeemable. But this series is just too all over the place. Even if I were to omit the father’s ghost scene, there are still a bunch of problems that would bring the series down to a 3/5. So, my final word on this is if you’re a huge fan of Dematteis, then you’ll probably find some enjoyment out of this series, maybe one or two issues, or a few interesting moments. But for the majority of readers out there check out something else, he’s better than this.
Also, everyone should read this.
Seekers into the Mystery
Writer: J. M. Dematteis
Artists: Jon J Muth, Glenn Barr, Michael Zulli, Jill Thompson
Publisher: Dover Publications