Outcast 1

outcast 1Today, Scott and Drew are discussing Outcast 1, originally released June 25th, 2014.

We want to trust. We want to have faith…in everything. That’s who we are.

Reverend Anderson, Outcast 1

Scott: Faith is a complicated word. On it’s own, it’s almost inseparable from religious connotation. But I use the word frequently without giving any thought to God or the doctrines of any church. I ask people to have faith in me. I proclaim my faith in baseball teams and film directors. I advocate being faithful in relationships, and I refer to my morning coffee — and the trip to the bathroom it induces (indeuces?) — as “Old Faithful” (I think because of this). Sometimes there’s weight behind the word, but often there isn’t. It’s a word that probably suffers from overuse. Like Reverend Anderson suggests in this first issue of Outcast, I want to have faith in everything, but maybe that’s foolish. Writer Robert Kirkman is determined to make everyone think about faith, to examine the forces behind what they believe and why they believe it. With the help of artist Paul Azaceta, he’s crafted a compelling start to this story, as thought-provoking as it is creepy.

This issue introduces us to Kyle Barnes, a young guy whose life seems to have gotten away from him. Kyle lives as a recluse in his filthy house — it’s only his sister Megan who seems to care at all for his wellbeing, despite the fact that Kyle has no interest in seeing Megan or her daughter. But there’s a dark history contributing to Kyle’s behavior; his mother was possessed by a demon when he was young, and his wife was possessed some years later. Something about Kyle was able to drive the demon away both times, but only by means of what is technically considered domestic abuse, and thus he is no longer allowed to see his daughter. Still, there’s something special about Kyle’s ability to attract and repel these demons, which is made all the more clear when he’s recruited by Reverend Anderson to visit Joshua, a local boy who is now possessed.

Get ready for nightmaresCreepy kids and demonic possession are the two things that never fail to send shivers down my spine, so I hope Kirkman and Azaceta both suffer cruelly for introducing me to Joshua. He’s so thoroughly scary that, in a perverse way, I was hoping to see more of him, even wishing he might stick around for several issues to antagonize Kyle. It appears that won’t be the case, as Joshua’s true purpose is only to establish Kyle’s ongoing predicament. Kyle is an Outcast — someone who demons seek out — and it’s no coincidence that people around him keep being possessed. It isn’t clear what they want from him, only that they won’t stop coming after him. Someone else close Kyle is probably the next host, and given Kyle’s anti-social lifestyle, that isn’t a very long list.

While Kyle isn’t the most affable guy, it’s tough to say he’s not sympathetic. Kirkman structures the issue perfectly, slowly revealing bits and pieces of Kyle’s dark backstory over its 44 pages. Flashback’s to Kyle’s experiences with his wife and mother are seamlessly incorporated by Azaceta.

Been there, done thatThis is a perfect example of showing and not telling. Never do we get a “15 years earlier” or anything to signify a flashback, just an occasional gray panel. The first time it happens it’s maybe a little confusing, but by the third time it’s 100 percent clear. Making it even easier to understand, and all the more brilliant, is the fact that the flashbacks are triggered by actual things that are happening to Kyle, like haunting memories he’s being forced to relive. It’s a very cinematic touch. Couple that with the issue’s structure and pace, and it’s taylor-made for TV, something Kirkman knows a bit about.

The one bit of artistic flair I’m not such a fan of are the miniature square inserts, which are peppered throughout the issue. They’re little more than stylistic flourishes (if a detail isn’t important enough to warrant an entire panel, it probably shouldn’t be included at all), and this issue isn’t exactly hurting for style. Worse though, is that they seem to be sprinkled in at random and are often totally redundant, cluttering up perfectly fine, appropriately-detailed layouts.

Stop with the squaresAlso distracting is the uniform size and shape of these little squares; they look like a bunch of suggested thumbnails for a Youtube upload of this issue. Again, this makes me think how adaptable this issue is for TV, where rapid cuts to details like these would be right at home. I really hope Azaceta moves away from this feature in future issues. The art is near perfect otherwise.

Anything Kirkman attaches his name to is bound to be haunted by a ridiculous amount of hype, but this issue actually lives up to it. I’m not a big horror fan generally, but this is the type of creepy that I find really compelling. I love what Kirkman and Azaceta are up to, save for those little squares. Drew, you’re a little square, what do you think? (I had to. Sorry.)

Drew: Let the record show that you’re the one who made the super lame joke about squares, and that I only laughed at it a little, so if anyone here is a square, it’s probably you (did I mention that I’m rubber and you’re glue?). Seriously, though, I’m very pleased you opened with that epigraph. I feel like Reverend Anderson’s feelings on faith are central to the identity of this series.

CynicAt first blush, I was struck by the meta-commentary here, as Kirkman seems to be commenting on fiction as a matter of faith — both the creator and the audience has to be willing to believe in something they know isn’t true in order for fiction to achieve. It’s no coincidence that he chose drawing — “illegible scribbles” — as an example of this magic. Indeed, a few simple brushstrokes are all Azaceta needs to imply faces or cigarette smoke, and while we are able to cull meaning from those lines, Kirkman is drawing our attention to the artifice. We see the scene because we want to see the scene,because we have faith that there’s a scene here to be seen. It’s what allows fiction generally to capture our imaginations, albeit usually without drawing quite so much attention to itself. Kirkman is reminding even the most faithless of us that we do believe in the power of fiction — that we can see the faces when we could see illegible scribbles.

But these words also have meaning within the narrative, and I think those may be even more telling: Reverend Anderson is one cynical dude. He doesn’t compare faith to some truth that the world is missing out on, but to the misguided artistic abilities of children and the parents who perpetuate their misperceptions about those abilities. That is, he seems to acknowledge that faith isn’t a matter of truth, but of some ingrown desire for comfort. Maybe he’s just a pragmatist, but you’d think a guy who has witnessed actual demonic possessions would be a little more frustrated by non-belief. He can’t just see it as a matter of comfort — he knows this stuff is real.

Then again, Kyle has witnessed two of these possessions by the start of the issue, and even after meeting Joshua for the first time, he’s reluctant to believe this is the power of demons. By the end of the issue, he’s accepted that something has happened, but I still wouldn’t call it faith. He doesn’t come to believe it because he wants to, but because having this happen to him three times establishes a pattern, and he needs to find out why. What that reason might be has my mind whipping all over the place — what is an Outcast? — but I’m happy to wait to find out more.

Oh man, and can we talk about the art? I can see what you mean about the squares, but I was so enamored of Azaceta’s art, I barely noticed. Indeed, I think part of the reason those panels are so frustrating is that the storytelling is so clear without them, they’re simply unnecessary — like seeing an athlete in peak performance shape using crutches just for fun. It’s clear, it’s compelling, and it also looks fantastic. I tend to be a sucker for that chunky line-smart style (it’s no coincidence that Daredevil and Wonder Woman are amongst my favorite series at the moment), and Azaceta uses it to full effect here, virtually flooding certain panels with shadow. It’s a moody, noirish atmosphere that quite intentionally recalls that of The Exorcist. Heck, Azaceta even goes so far as to give Reverend Anderson’s shadow a fedora, just like Max von Sydow so memorably wore on the poster for The Exorcist.

Fedora?Ultimately, I think this issue is actually much scarier than The Exorcist — we get all of the supernatural creepiness, with none of the gross-out projectile vomiting or absurd body feats that always pull me out of that movie. This is shot through with legitimate horror, made all the more horrifying as the patten in Kyle’s life begins to come into focus. Indeed, the scariest thing here isn’t the possessions, but the thought that they might have some larger meaning in Kyle’s life. I still have no idea what that might be, but I can’t wait to find out.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

3 comments on “Outcast 1

  1. “Anything Kirkman attaches his name to is bound to be haunted by a ridiculous amount of hype” – Haha, good pun, because Haunt WASN’T overly hyped even though it was Kirkman and McFarlane. Clever.

    I didn’t love the art as much as you guys. I thought (again) that the colors were too murky. I struggle with dark coloring in comics and a lot of the dark blended colors with the shadowing made some of the action difficult for me to follow. I did like the story quite a bit and the double issue flew by. It held up well to rereading and did a good job of showing a lot about several characters who I know have an active interest in.

    My concern with this – I love Invincible. Kirkman is completely blowing up the world over there right now and the story is outstanding. If this is a critical hit, I’m worried how much time he’ll spend in the Invincible world (which sells about 15k comics last I looked) compared to The Walking Dead and this.

    Anyway – a solid start. Maybe the most intriguing thing to me was his back letter page, where he talks about, “Zombies are not real. . . The exorcist? Yes. . . very real, very scary.”

    • I was also interested in talking about that letter. It feels a tad disingenuous to say that he’s presenting a real thing in this series. He backs off before saying that demonic possession is something that really happens, but emphasizes that the experiences that people are having feel real enough that they may as well be. And that’s something that I totally agree with, and could be an infinitely compelling narrative, but that’s not quite the same as the story of Outcast.

      Now, it’s fiction, and so like, it’s totally fine that there really is a demon specifically targeting Kyle’s loved as (as a means of getting to him?), but Kirkman’s letter got me thinking about how the opposite almost NEVER happens in fiction. Every exorcism movie I’ve ever seen lands on a more spiritual explanation of what’s happening than on logic-based explanation. You’re never going to see a story that’s comfortable saying that a victim of possession is mentally ill, psychologically damaged and indoctrinated into a culture that makes them believe that possession is possible in the first place.

      Oof, so far off topic about what this comic IS. Sorry about that.

      • What we’re talking about isn’t what the comic is, but what it might have been, and how the authors perspectives lead to this story, so I’ll let (y)our digressions slide. After all, there was a rather personal note in the back of this comic that led to a pretty clear insight into what the author was thinking about when he wrote this story.

        I don’t know much about Kirkman other than I think I saw him on some web-blog that had him bowling against some other writers or comedians or something. And I think he was a bad bowler.

        As an aside – Kirkman has been getting VERY dark over in Invincible. I’m mildly curious as to what some of you would think about it, because issue 110 had rape. A moderately graphic rape scene. We know Kirkman doesn’t pull punches, but this issue hit some people pretty hard. The difference is:

        The Viltrumites (Invincible’s dad was 100% Viltrumite) are super powered. Superman level strength and invulnerability. Long story short, instead of conquering Earth, they are going to send some of their people to Earth disguised as us (they look like us) and breed to us (we’re genetically compatible) and breed a bunch of half Viltrumites and eventually take over the planet through assimilation. I don’t remember how many they started with (it was just a few) but at least one was a woman. She couldn’t bear to breed with weak earthlings. In issue 110, she forced herself on Invincible (as she could bear the thought of breeding to him, even though he was weak, he was half Viltrumite), and held him down and raped him, then left him saying she’d be back because it might take several times.

        All this while Invincible’s former friend turned arch nemesis is killing EVERY super hero on the planet in an effort to take it over to run it himself. It’s been graphic, bloody, and now with the lead character raped and in shock – and it gets worse in issue 111.

        At Retcon Punch, there are some strong feelings towards sexual assault in comics. This wasn’t the same (to me). It was disturbing and vile, but it was done by a disturbing and vile character and, to be brutally honest, sort of made sense as a character – she was forced to a task and this was the only palatable solution to her.

        I know, this wasn’t about Outcast, but I wanted to bring it up somewhere. Issue 110 is now sold out and available only by ebay for like $15, so I don’t expect people to be running out to get it. I think Invincible is as good as a comic gets (and Robot taking over the world is a freaking awesome story so far, I have been shocked by several scenes over the last few issues), and this doesn’t degrade MY feelings about it, but I know many others have struggled with this.

        Is rape permissible in comics? It can’t be tastefully done, but can it be appropriately done?

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