Written by David Hine, illustrated by Shaky Kane, lettered by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
The long-awaited sequel to THE BULLETPROOF COFFIN! When indie publisher Image Nation hires Shaky Kane to write and draw his own comic book, the artist finally finds himself free from the tedium of visualizing the geriatric ramblings of washed-up hack, David Hine. See the awful consequences as jealous rivalry leads to a bloody showdown on the convention floor.
It’s been five years since “Disinterred” ended and I, like most people wo cared, assumed this was the end of “Bulletproof Coffin.” The critics roared in approval but the series never really set the sales charts on fire. So it was the most pleasant of surprises in early 2017 to discover we are about to receive some more of that sweet Kane & Hine team-up. Which is why it’s rather fitting this issue all about creators falling out with one another and the dissolving of a legendary partnership.
At first glance this exactly the sort of tired meta-gags that “Bulletproof Coffin” is meant to rise above. The creators are exaggerated caricatures of themselves (Kane – a paranoid and violent loner, Hine – a corporate sell out); the people visiting the comic-con are either sad nerds or greedy collectors; the Image Comics representatives are pseudo-cool bores. The truth is I could’ve enjoyed the issue even in this level of shallow satire. With Shaky Kane drawing the plot could be non-existent and I’d still be into what’s happening in each and every panel, Kane is a poet of the page. But then we get the story-within-a-story, and things get interesting.
The story, the one ‘Shaky Kane,’ wrote and draw by himself, is this amazingly sentimental piece about love and empathy masquerading as silver-age pastiche. It recognizes the charms that these old superhero stories often had, emotional honesty copulated with weird plotting that came from lack of any recognizable genre rules. throughout the early decades of the genre creators were making it up as they went along and the results were often far more interesting (in not necessarily ‘good’) than today’s overtly-regimented creations.
Pastiches of that style often fail by playing-up the humor, forgetting (or never recognizing) the attempts to connect to the young readers on a visceral level. In that “Hypno Vampires from the Stars” is as good as any random Fantastic Four issue from Jack Kirby. These stories were all grand melodrama and ridiculous technobabble – but their beating heart was real. Jack Kirby wasn’t faking, and Shaky Kane isn’t faking. The Image of Coffin Fly kissing and embracing the alien, finally meeting ‘the other’ with love rather than a sense of revolt is such a powerful piece. naturally, the ruleso f the genre dictate a violent and unnecessary end. A mirror of Kane’s upcoming destiny.
The other thing Kirby was famous for, other than being great, was being screwed over both by the corporation he worked for and by his most enduring creative partner. In the final act of this issue Shaky Kane’s comic-books, that no one wanted before, end up becoming a coveted collector’s item once they are stained with blood (is this a “Watchmen” shout out?): “Shaky Kane’s last work. Stained with the blood of his greatest fan.” Intones David Hine as he sweeps like a vulture to pick up the remains.
The tension between art and commerce has been a returning theme throughout almost every “Bulletproof Coffin” story. The original series started with the protagonist breaking into an abandoned house trying to find things he deems valuable: “I guess you could call me a collector. A culture vulture.” That two are one and the same. To collect a comics is to own it without understanding what it is for – something meant to be read, something meant to be destroyed by over-use. Preservation becomes and act of perversion, we might be disgusted by the kiss between man and alien, but we are the real weirdos.
The Blood-Soaked comics of Shaky Kane are final evolution of the modern market – alternative covers, special issues, anniversaries (made up ones) and celebrations. The actual creator, with his weird little obsession, becomes an afterthought. Locked away in a cell. Of course, what he’s locked away for is murder, which he did commit. Possibly the series makes the point that no one is innocent, Kane took part in the system and was fine with its abuses until it dumped him. The other possibility is that the creators just couldn’t resist a gag.
Thus ends, for now, the “Bulletproof Coffin” experience. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, found in a broken home, hidden in the crumpled pages of an old comic-book. the answer is you. Different every time.