Review by Ian Keogh
Serbian scientist Nikola Tesla was a scientific genius whose achievements can easily be researched online. The Three Ghosts of Tesla presents a world greatly changed by his inventions, and one where he disappeared, rather than died in 1937.
The immediate reaction is to Guilhem’s lush art, a stunning amount of work put into recreating New York as it was in 1942, where poverty is given substance and detail. It’s a work ethic that extends to everything else seen, and explains why Guilhem (Bec) spent seven years producing the three volumes combined for this English translation.
Richard Marazano’s plot takes place during World War II, with Travis Cooley moving to New York with his mother believing his father has died serving in the US army. They move into a shabby tenement block on the same floor as a mysterious old man. At the same time the city’s concerned about ongoing murders, we’ve already been shown strange technology being used to kill and there are men in strange diving suits walking along the bed of the Hudson river.
A smart and curious kid being caught up in events they don’t really understand is a staple of children’s fiction, as is gradual friendship with a reclusive eccentric, and both are well applied. Most of the first volume is introductory, setting up what follows, almost everything seen from Travis’ viewpoint, although the supporting cast comes to include a police inspector, a journalist and American soldiers stranded on a small Pacific island. Once introduced they’re also followed, but Marazano is conflicted by having to include them to foreshadow how events play out, but their appearances are cursory at first before being more smoothly integrated.
Beyond that Marazano introduces further real world personalities with Tesla central, but not as might be expected. During his life Tesla’s greatest scientific rivalry was with Thomas Edison, although that’s been exaggerated in service of a narrative, and Marazano exaggerates still further by turning Edison into a cartoon villain with unpalatable attitudes he’s not known to have had. It’s disappointing. Here the rivalry is renewed with fantastic inventions played out as the world war occurs in the background.
Overlook the liberties taken with historical figures, and this is a thrilling pulp adventure elevated into something better by the stunning art. There’s not a page where something doesn’t catch the eye, and this can be as different as an ornate tenement staircase and a functioning armoured suit. For some readers the desperate race against time forming the final European volume might be dragged on a little too long, but it’s within the boundaries of a movie thriller, as is an overplayed final few pages, but that art, oh, that art.