Recently reprinted in Trade Paperback as “The Pilgrimage of Lucas Hart” by Boom Studios
Those of us who were there come down on comics in the ’90’s pretty hard. It was a pretty tumultuous time filled with plenty of highs, but overwhelmed by the lowest of the low. One of the brightest points was the emergence of Vertigo, giving a very mainstream home to comics that weren’t so mainstream. Through Vertigo comics grew up, and fast, which isn’t to say they were the first or the only “suggested for mature readers” publisher, but they were certainly the ones that drew attention. With a creator-friendly attitude and a drive towards audacious, Vertigo triumphed in what could be easily called the Golden Age of the mature comic.
The bastions of the line came from across the pond: Gaiman, Ennis, Morrison, Ellis and their respected signatures: Sandman, Preacher, The Invisibles, Transmetropolitan. But that’s not to say they were the only thing worth reading, but so much else that Vertigo published got lost amongst the figureheads, some that should have shone just as bright, others that rightfully faded into the background. J.M. DeMatteis’ Seekers: Into The Mystery is certainly one of those titles, but which one?
Seekers: Into the Mystery was originally published in 1996, running 15 issues, which at the time seemed all too brief. The first five issues have just been reprinted by Boom Studios in trade, which I’m glad to see. I was there for the initial run, and I remember being quite fond of it, and rather disappointed when it ended. The unfortunate thing about memories is sometimes they’re not very specific. What did I actually recall from my first encounter with it? Little aside from the feeling of it being rather profound and that non-specific sense of “it was good”.
So the Boom trade provided a nice sense of rediscovery, and with over a dozen years having passed, the experience was familiar but fresh and surprisingly the crux of the opening chapter of the series had completely escaped me. You may consider this a SPOILER, but it’s printed on the back cover of the book, so I think it’s fair game.
Lucas Hart is a bit of a failure, an intelligent man whose life has crumbled around him. A flash-in-the-pan screenwriter with only one true success to his name after a decade in Hollywood, a long-dissolved marriage and a flimsy physical relationship with a starlet. He wakes up with night terrors - also experiencing them during the day - of a little red demon with knives for teeth trying to claw his way out from inside him. The severity of the terrors are strangely juxtaposed by serene dreams of flying as a child, and as an adult. Hart has no idea what any of it means except that it’s driving him crazy… until he realizes the demon in his belly is not trying to hurt him, trying to make him remember the abuses he suffered as a child and how he would fly to escape them.
The sudden emergence of long-repressed memories, however, isn’t the full story, but just the background, and some unusual character and occurrences come into play. A dancing woman, a scatological homeless man, a spiritual leader in the guise of Doug Henning, and even further, more tangible dreams of flying all lead to the titular “Mystery” which Hart ventures “Into”.
With this first volumes providing a third of the published story, it feels incomplete, and even to some small degree, unsatisfying. In most cases, the discovery of the abuse, explaining the dreams, would be it, but DeMatteis feeds in so much more that it’s an appetizer only, with the standalone fifth chapter laying the bedrock for a much fuller series. Given the breakdown of what was published (three 4-arc stories with an epilogue/transition issue after each) I can see why the decision was made to go with just the first 5 chapters (meaning two more volumes to go) but a full omnibus or the first two arcs of the series would have provided a more satisfying collection.
DeMatteis wrote Seekers in full narrative, which I often, but not always, find in comics to be a bit of a cheat to get the story moving at a pace unsuited to the medium. Here, it’s the strength of the writer’s storytelling, DeMatteis’ skill, and the story he has to tell that keep it aloft. Glenn Barr provides the art for the first arc, with Jon J. Muth providing art for the 5th chapter, and both provide a strong sequential sensibility, with a good accompaniment of imagery with narration in the panel flow, but I find their complimentary styles of illustration to be visually unappealing. Utilizing a thin, freehand line with scratchy inks, it’s not very clean and kind of bland.
What’s most apparent with the book is I couldn’t put it down. DeMatteis’ words have flow, making them endlessly readable, leaving me with the desire to do little more than dig out the remainder of the series from my long boxes. I can see why, given the opening arc’s subject matter, Seekers didn’t succeed. But if the direction the series was leading into at the end of the fifth chapter is any indication, I can see why I remembered it so fondly. The unusual cast, the unique sense of the metaphysical and the sense of discovery was enough to carry me through once, and I’m quite sure again.