*Review written by contributor Lido Giovacchini
I generally try to be more forgiving of first issues as the writing team is getting their feet wet and often a first issue isn’t fully indicative of how good the book can get if you give it the chance to continue. My general rule is to try and see more of the books potential in the first issue and let that inform my judgment though of course one can’t overlook the quality of whatever it is you’re reading. One nice thing about first issues though is that you don’t need any recap or back-story so I don’t have to complain about that later…in most cases, The Occultist however defies this concept. For those of you like me who didn’t know going in The Occultist is a pre-existing character from a smattering of Darkhorse Presents comics who has finally managed to work his way up to his own 5 issue mini-series. The character is something of an old standard at this point in the form of the magic boy, in this case that role is filled by college student Rob Bailey who has somehow become bound to an ancient tome of spells called the Sword. Now imbued with its power he battles the supernatural alongside a small supporting cast while trying to balance his supernatural life with his collegial career. An issue I have almost immediately with The Occultist and that I knew would be trouble is the recap, the book starts with a summation of who Bailey is and where his power comes from but never really explains where or what the sword is nor does it give you any grounding about Rob’s supporting cast who for the record include a Hispanic investigator named Melendez, a secretly evil mentor named Mr. Charles who looks like a fatter commissioner Gordon, and a girl named Valerie who he had previous storylines with.
As a first issue The Occultist #1 shows more promise then perfection, you can feel a little bit lost going through it as the entire supporting cast is just thrown at you and not really established with more then a few mentions and reveals that I think you need prior knowledge of the universe to understand. But for the most part the series core make-up is established it’s in essence Spider-man by way of Grimm with a uniquely spooking and horror based visual aesthetic that looks really cool and helps The Occultist stand out. I like the artwork on a lot of the mystical effects and Rob’s costume is pretty cool, it makes him look like a younger Dr. Druid in my opinion and that is no bad thing. A lot of possible storylines for later in the series are set-up too while others are put to rest in a manner that feels like it’d be more impactful if I’d been reading the appearances in the Darkhorse Presents comics. For instance the issue features a sequence where Rob goes inside Melendez’s dreams as a way to ascertain if the two have any kind of romantic future together, it’s a decent sequence for really cementing the two’s relationship and establishing that Rob can do this but I feel like it’s result would be more impactful if I’d seen more back and forth between the characters before this point.
If there is one problem with The Occultist #1 it’s that it lacks a real focus as this isn’t really the beginning of some bigger story or mystery or at least it doesn’t feel like one. It’s more just following Rob as he goes through his life, fighting monsters, going to college, sneaking into his partners dreams etc. the usual things you do as a college student. There’s some set-up for a bigger focus and storyline with Rob’s mentor secretly being evil and trying to live forever which does take up a sizable amount of the book but I’m not sure if it’s connected to the cliff hangar ending as it’s a cliff hangar that really requires you to know about the character’s universe and I haven’t been able to find out that much in online searches.
Going back to what I said at the start of this review a key thing for me with first issues is the question of promise and The Occultist promises good things to come. Rob is a likable protagonist who feels realistic without ever being annoyingly out of his depth. The universe and visuals are cool and the mythology is interesting and just horror oriented enough to help the book stand out in that sweet spot between horror and dark fantasy. There are a few hiccups but a lot of those have to do with being a new reader and unfamiliar with the character I’m sure that once the series starts going in earnest that won’t be a problem. The Occultist is definitely one to keep an eye on guys I’m expecting very good things to come in the next few issues, recommended.