While it likely won’t ever fetch you thousands of dollars on eBay (though who can guess with these things?), checking out the latest supernatural thriller from Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta is certainly a wise investment.
Written by Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Paul Azaceta and Elizabeth Breitweiser
NEW HORROR SERIES FROM THE WALKING DEAD CREATOR ROBERT KIRKMAN! Kyle Barnes has been plagued by demonic possession all his life and now he needs answers. Unfortunately, what he uncovers along the way could bring about the end of life on Earth as we know it. It begins here – with this terrifying DOUBLE-SIZED FIRST ISSUE featuring forty- four pages of story with no ads for the regular price of just $2.99!
Let’s get this out of the way now: “Outcast” is not “The Walking Dead.” Yes, both books are set in rural areas of the southern U.S., both books deal with supernatural entities, and both go for broke when it comes to shock value. However, the books are actually fairly dissimilar.
In fact, if I had to liken “Outcast” to anything, it would be to the television series Supernatural. As in that series, “Outcast” sees a lead protagonist who has been plagued by demonic forces throughout his life. There are those out there who are aware of these forces and are prepared to oppose them, though they are far from the pious catholic priests of The Exorcist. Family also plays a large role in “Outcast,” in ways that made more clear as the issue progresses.
The way that “Outcast” most differs from its spiritual predecessor is in its “worldview.” This is something Kirkman himself addresses in the book’s back matter. In “The Walking Dead,” the zombies and the resulting wasteland are essentially a plot device, one that creates the driving force for the human character’s conflicts. The zombies themselves, while grotesque and occasionally shocking, aren’t the most terrifying thing on display.
As abstract and unlikely the concept of a “zombie” is, we understand them. One can think of scenarios of how to thwart a zombie attack. Trust me, I’ve spent more hours than I’d like to admit contemplating such a scenario.Their demonic counterparts, however, are as foreign to human imagination as possible. Such entities exist in a dark corner of the collective societal subconscious that few enjoy contemplating.
Except, we do love to contemplate them. Regardless of your religious inclinations, it’s safe to say you’ve heard more accounts of demonic possession than zombie attack. It’s likely that you’ve indulged in a few tales yourself, either through a “based on true events” film, or a second hand tale from a friend of a friend. I myself can recall many hours spent with a college friend from Africa, listening to stories of witch doctors and unexplained phenomena.
The long tangent is going somewhere, I promise.
That sense of primal dread, ignorance, and compulsory fascination described above is brilliantly manifested in the pages of “Outcast.” In just one panel of a possessed child, wide eyed and grinning like a mad man, Azaceta and Breitweiser awaken a forceful uneasiness within the reader. The team hits the perfect point, creating something disturbing enough to push you away, but compelling enough to hold you in tightly.
Azaceta’s sense of page layout is terrific. The artist progresses the book’s narrative naturally through large, full panels, while also using smaller panels to highlight key points of interest. This is becoming an increasingly common technique in comics, but Azaceta takes a step forward. While the larger panels progress at a “regular” pacing, the small panels slow down the action. So, for example, when the book’s lead grapples with a possessed child, Azaceta’s inset panels focus on the child biting the hand of his foe. The panels offer a seemingly frame by frame view of the visceral and grotesque act of teeth piercing flesh, skin leaving bone. By showcasing a scene at two different “speeds,” Azaceta adds an extra level of depth.
Joining Azaceta is colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. Breitweiser, one of the industry’s best up and coming talents, carries over her penchant for setting a moody suspenseful tone from her recent work on “Fatale.” Her style recalls Jordie Bellaire’s recent work on books like “Pretty Deadly” and “Flash Gordon” but with a darker, more limited palette. The artist proves to be a terrific fit for Azaceta’s rounded, detailed lines.Continued below
While the art team nails the book’s atmosphere, it’s Kirkman that grounds the book’s human element. The writer’s penchant for writing instantly compelling and relatable protagonists is on display in full. Over the course of the issue, Kirkman slowly peels back the layers of Kyle Barnes’ life. Kirkman teases the reader with cryptic flashbacks and off hand comments, leaving the reader to piece together the events leading to this point. This willingness to passively guide, rather than force information upon the reader makes the issue’s revelations all the more satisfying and emotionally powerful.
Surrounding Kyle is a robust and complex supporting cast. One of the most enjoyable of these is Reverend Anderson, a man of God who spends his long nights in the back room of his church, smoking cigarettes and playing poker with the chief of police. The character has the uncanny ability to deftly switch roles, from vice-ridden washout to comforting preacher to righteous exorcist. While delving too deeply into the character’s relationships would spoil some of the issue’s fun, each character reflects a unique and crucial aspect of Kyle by which Kirkman coaxes meaningful interactions.
“Outcast” #1 benefits from the larger page count (42 pages of story, for $2.99!), allowing Kirkman and company time to traverse a lot of ground. The issue’s pacing feels very much like the pilot of a new television show, one that quickly establishes the lead’s background and instantly ropes the viewer into the ongoing conflict. By issue’s end Kyle has a clear motive and direction by which to propel the series forward. It will be interesting to see how the book settles into a more traditional page count, as well as how the story will progress in the long term. The book doesn’t quite seem quite so tailor made for the sort of status quo shifts that have propelled Kirkman’s other series into triple digit issue counts. Regardless, “Outcast” #1 is a very strong showing from all involved, one worth checking out.
Final Verdict: 8.7 – Buy