QUICKIE REVIEW: “Home Sick Pilots, Volume 1: Teenage Haunts”

A punk rock ghost story sounds pretty cool, right? Home Sick Pilots often lives up to its cool-sounding premise, but the plot and characters surrounding that premise are a little too thinly sketched for the comic to work as well as it could—for now, anyway. Simply put, volume one of Home Sick Pilots is a promising start to an ongoing series, but it’s not a home run. On paper, all of the elements are there. The artwork is great, the premise is intriguing, the pacing is solid, the broad strokes of the plot work well, and even the characters are interesting. The problem is just that not enough time is spent on any one thing, so everything feels a bit glossed over as though this volume is more of a prologue than a first act.

Home Sick Pilots, Volume 1: Teenage Haunts
Written by Dan Watters, illustrated by Caspar Wijngaard
In the summer of 1994, a haunted house walks across California. Inside is Ami, lead-singer of a high school punk band- who’s been missing for weeks. How did she get there? What do these ghosts want? And does this mean the band have to break up? Expect three chord songs and big bloody action as Power Rangers meets The Shining (yes really), and as writer DAN WATTERS (Lucifer/COFFIN BOUND) and artist CASPAR WIJNGAARD (Star Wars/Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt) delve into the horrors of misspent youth.

For example, Ami (the main character) wanders into this abandoned, haunted house, and ends up bonding with it due to some pretty severe trauma (that gets revealed throughout the five issues). That’s a really cool idea, connecting the loneliness of a traumatized girl to the loneliness of a haunted house, and the ghosts that live within it. It’s a great hook for a story and it does a lot of the heavy lifting here. However, we don’t really get to see that trauma (or, more importantly, how it impacts her). Instead, we’re just told that it’s made her life hard. We also don’t get to see any of the backstories for the house or its ghosts, which is really frustrating when there’s even a moment where Ami tells the ghosts she’s aware of all of their stories. That seems like the perfect time to explore those stories if the central thesis of the storyline is that Ami and the ghosts are connected via their shared trauma. But this… doesn’t happen.

If Ami’s trauma (and her connection with the house) is the main idea of the book, then too much time is spent on other stuff—like exploring how the house has given her powers, and how she has to hunt down the ghosts that have escaped the house, and how her friends are trying to find her, and how there’s this weird secret group also trying to find the ghosts. Now, to be fair, all of those storylines and ideas I just mentioned are interesting. I mean, watching Ami hunt down all of these ghosts with the powers the house has given her is super cool, as are the moments when the secret group’s ace-up-the-sleeve enters the fray, acting as a great foil for Ami and the house. But, like Ami’s narrative, none of these ideas are developed enough to stand on their own.

Neither of Ami’s friends are developed particularly well. Buzz gets more development than Rip, but neither of them are given anywhere near enough to make their storylines as interesting as they could be. The house, itself, could’ve used more development, too. The house (and/or the ghosts inside it) is sentient, but to what degree. Much of the mystery revolves around what, exactly, the house is having Ami do. And I’m not sure I’m satisfied with how it was explained. There is an answer, to be sure, but it’s given very quickly and then never explored. Now, maybe all of these things will be tackled in future issues. It is, after all, an ongoing comic. But I just find it hard to be invested in this world when things feel so thinly sketched.

It kind of feels like the comic couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a paranormal superhero story or a more introspective one about trauma that just happens to have ghosts in it, so it tried to be both. Either focus would’ve made for a great story—an intimate, character-driven thing would’ve been cool, as would a more bombastic, Power Rangers-esque affair. But trying to go down both routes results in neither being done as well as you’d like.

All of that being said, Home Sick Pilots is still very enjoyable. As I said, it’s largely carried by the strength of its premise and the fact that the broader aspects of its storyline do work. It’s just also hurt by what feels like a lack of focus. For a five-issue storyline that moves at such a quick pace, there might just be too much going on for any of it to be handled with the depth and clarity it deserves. It’s difficult to do four storylines any real justice when you’ve only got five 30(ish) page issues to do it in. It may not be perfect, but it is a promising start. I would love to see future arcs slow down a bit and properly delve into each of these plotlines, allowing the characters to feel more fleshed out and giving the various storylines a chance to breathe. This is such an exciting idea and I am genuinely interested in seeing what comes next. I just wish this first volume had spent more time developing all of these ideas instead of trying to throw them all together so quickly.

3.5 out of 5 wands

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