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.
Creepy 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.
This 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.
Also 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.
At 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.
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.
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