Oliver Harrison peaked at fourteen as 'The Chosen One', a victim of child militarization and isolationist fascism. He fought against a man named Vanish, who alongside his followers, The Hollow, decimated the magical realm of Everkeep in war of ideologies. Now, years later, he's out living in our world just trying to sleepwalk his way through the pain.
The Hollow have returned, using the guise of superheroes to hide their existence. However, Oliver quickly sees through their charade, and takes up the title of 'The Chosen One' once more to eradicate The Hollows once and for all.
VANISH #5 is the kind of issue that, normally, would feel wasteful.
It’s the return to a series after a substantial delay that spins its wheels with an issue-long breakdown of a character’s psychology directly in the middle of a climatic story. However, Stegman & Cates really make it work through an increasingly creative and engaging narrative setup that hits upon themes necessary to understanding Oliver’s actions.
We open in a solitary confinement cell, Ollie restrained and being treated by his old headmaster. Immediately, it is said that everything he had done in the last four issues has been nothing but a long psychological break that resulted in the murder of multiple innocent people. Ollie’s sense of reality bounces back and forth between the cell and the world we’ve been in since issue #1, trailing him as he fights to get home and save his wife from an attack on their home.
Through this setup, the issue carries with it a real sense of weight and urgency. There is no way to tell which reality is the fake one, adding a level of suspense to Ollie’s mad dash home that would keep a reader on the edge of their seat. Oliver’s self-deprecation and internal lust for pain is explored throughout the issue. The series is beginning to finally set up a deeper understanding of the character’s motivations, growing them past a generic revenge plot with a splash of PTSD. What haunts Ollie and why is being extended as well, showcasing the truly sinister effect Vanish and his war had on the character.
There’s a trend to downplay the work of Donny Cates as nothing more than a lesser rehash of 90’s extremity, which is the kind of assumption that couldn’t be farther from the truth. While yes, Vanish is stepped in a certain amount of gratuitous edge, Cates & Stegman are trying to say something through all that edge in a way that only auteurs in this medium have tried to do. This issue is the one that specifically digs into the ever darkening spiral that untreated mental illness can lead to, and framing it through the lens of someone suffering from childhood indoctrination is even more compelling. Now, this isn’t the most perfect representation of mental struggle due to its fantastical nature, but it’s trying to say something with attitude and bold storytelling.
The cherry on top of this enriching entry into the series is, of course, Ryan Stegman’s pencils and visuals artistry which has been kicked up to eleven by the inking work of JP Mayer and colors that are wonderfully painted by Sonia Oback. This crew is putting out some of the best modern comic book art available on the stands. So much of the suspense and atmosphere in this issue comes not just from the writing team’s excellently woven themes and plot but from the visuals. There’s a transition effect utilized within the issue to help concretely establish the moments when Ollie flips back and forth between mental realities, and it is integrated directly into the art with deliberate choice. This works masterfully, an excellent example of blending the written story together with what sequential art is capable of.
VANISH #5 is the return of Ryan Stegman & Donny Cates' new age superhero fantasy, continuing the story that started in issue #1 more so than paving the way forward with a new arc. However, this issue is the best so far with a gripping pace and narrative that concludes sharply with a worthwhile cliffhanger.
Vanish #5: Welcome to the Madhouse
- Writing - 9.5/109.5/10
- Storyline - 9/109/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 8/108/10
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