GHOST STATION ZERO #1 BY ANTONY JOHNSON AND SHARI CHANKHAMA
Art
Characterization
Plot
Summary
Carrying a female lead, GHOST STATION ZERO #1 is the second mission of the CODENAME: BABOUSHKA series. With a high-intensity opening, this issue's primary failing is a lack of character depth. However, with an interesting protagonist and plot, it is worthy of past spy thrillers.
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Hollywood will always clamor for its next spy thriller. With the profusion of JAMES BONDs and JASON BOURNEs, we swoon over the sexy, adrenaline-fueled films that have defined the genre. As a rule, though, these stories usually play men as the lead hero, with female characters falling to sidekicks or love interests. However, in GHOST STATION ZERO #1, Antony Johnston and Shari Chankhama shake up these genre tropes with their strong-willed and bisexual lead female, Baboushka.

GHOST STATION ZERO #1 continues Johnston’s popular CODENAME: BABOUSHKA series with an all-new mission. Being the inspiration for the recent film ATOMIC BLONDE, CODENAME: BABOUSHKA is a high-action spy thriller full of high energy combat and shadowy intrigue. Contessa is a wealthy Russian socialite who moonlights as the world’s deadliest assassin, Baboushka. In her first mission, THE CONCLAVE OF DEATH, the US Government blackmails Contessa, forcing her to work for them. Now, Baboushka is back and headed to the Swiss Alps. Can her adventure break into its own vein of the spy genre?

The Search for the Ghost Station

Ghost Station Zero #1
Image courtesy of Image Comics

GHOST STATION ZERO #1 rides an adrenaline high from page 1. Starting in the shipping district of Shanghai, China, the reader is introduced to Baboushka as she handily dismantles a human trafficking ring. As she enacts her daring escape into the frigid waters of the Yangshan River, Baboushka learns about a new case from the US Government. Through her contact, Gyorgy, Baboushka discovers that a US agent named Jeffrey Barrall has gone missing in search of a Ghost Station. These former Cold War intel hubs contain secrets from dozens of world governments, secrets of interest to the United States. However, an unknown third party has begun to destroy these bases, leaving their secrets to the elements.

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Tracking leads to Montelmo Resort in the Swiss Alps, Contessa finds her contact in casino dealer Helga Herzog. During their meeting, Baboushka meets the casino’s fantastically rich and secretive owner, Sebastian Temple, as well as enemy spy, Tanaka. As the night continues, Baboushka takes her interrogation of Helga back to her suite, where a gun to Baboushka’s temple stops things short.

An Information Thriller, Not an Action Adventure

Besides the opening pages, GHOST STATION ZERO #1 does not have an action heavy plot. Intrigue defines the events, as Baboushka weasels her way through the Swiss casino. In this, Johnston sets a rather even pace with his story. Contessa’s dealings with the high society feel natural — as they should, given her background. She feels as at home at a poker table in Switzerland as she does brandishing a gun in China. GHOST STATION ZERO #1 shines in its balance, as we get to see both sides of Contessa’s skill sets. We open on the high-intensity assassination scene, getting to see Baboushka as a hero and killer. Later, though, the events slow down, giving us a chance to see Contessa as a spy and intel operative.

The plot did lose some of its steam, however, when Contessa is in the midst of her interrogation and the focus falls on Helga Herzog’s memories of Jeffrey Barrall. In this section, new characters and struggles have the potential to draw the reader’s attention away from this crucial informative moment. When Sebastian Temple is introduced near the end of the scene, it feels like a necessary new mystery thrust into our hands. But a rich, overzealous American Cowboy with anger issues? His cameo in this scene seems to be a simple means of distracting the plot and drawing it out to its full page length. There are several potent moments in GHOST STATION ZERO #1, but this particular scene feels confused and misdirected.

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Femme Fatale or Something More?

GHOST STATION ZERO #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

My first impression of Baboushka’s character in this story drew from my past knowledge of the genre. And in some ways, I never lost this. Baboushka felt over-sexed and over-confident as if she could do no wrong. Baboushka gets around as much or more than her spy predecessors (looking at you, Mr. Bond). These moments seem to be little more than a means to create a femme fatale character.

However, as I dug through the text, I came to a few realizations. First, there are certain aspects of Contessa’s personality that I am not privy too. I have not yet had the chance to read the first CODENAME: BABOUSHKA mission. As such, I lose some of her characterization. The second realization centered on her motives. James Bond rarely feels motivated in his stories. While his films are a staple in my film collection, he does his job for Queen and country. Meanwhile, Contessa works with the US to protect her name, her wealth, and more importantly, other people.

Baboushka’s opening sees our heroine busting a human trafficking ring. ON HER OWN. Using her US contacts, Contessa found and rescued a dozen girls in danger. She had no orders. This seems the best characterization for Baboushka. She rarely follows her orders to the letter, choosing instead to act on her own thoughts. While the over-sexualization of her character follows a spy genre cliche, one cannot overlook her representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. At the end of the day, Baboushka is not a perfect protagonist, but she represents one of the few females spies in the spy genre. More importantly, she does so on her own terms, not taking flak from any of the men who try to control her.

READ: Interested in other Image intrigue stories? Check out this review of ROMULUS!

Final Thoughts: GHOST STATION ZERO #1

In some ways, it is hard to approach GHOST STATION ZERO #1 if you have not read THE CONCLAVE OF DEATH. Johnston only alludes briefly to Baboushka’s past missions. We lose any sense of prior characterization for her or supporting cast in the present tumult. However, this might actually be a benefit for Johnston’s second Baboushka story. Like the genre tales that inspired GHOST STATION ZERO #1, this issue feels separated from past events. It is accessible as a whole entity of its own while adding to the work that has come previously.

While many of the characters in this issue seem like momentary glimpses, Baboushka herself receives some brilliant characterization. The art by Chankhama is wholly unique, taking inspiration from Manga anatomy and Renaissance painters in its style. While there were some visual glitches, the art had some outstanding moments. As a spy thriller, GHOST STATION ZERO #1 is a really strong opening salvo for the second CODENAME: BABOUSHKA mission. As plot lines get ironed out, I simply hope that character gets a deeper focus.

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