Patrick: I like to think of myself as a pretty mild-mannered, in-control kind of guy. One of the things I pride myself on is my skill for conflict resolution — and as a cornerstone of that, my communication skills. I sincerely believe that just about any conflict can be ameliorated with enough patience, understanding and communication. That being said: I once punched my friend Jeff in the stomach. Straight up stocked him in the gut. I was mad about something — who even cares what — and rather than make him understand that I was upset, I just hit him. I was twelve years old at the time, and I’ve passed so many peaceful years since then, that tend to think of that person that hit Jeff as “not really me.” That was someone else’s behavior. It’s the same thing I think about the version of me that used to drink to the point of blacking out, and vomiting in the bed (only happened once, thank goodness). That wasn’t Patrick, that was drunk-Patrick, which is just a different version of “not really me.” While the first issue of Outcast settled very neatly on a question of faith, the second issue is interested in these ideas of fault and identity.
The issue opens on Kyle in the hospital with comatose mother. It’s an uncharacteristically chatty scene, but Kyle lays the themes of issue bare as he walks through the logic-puzzle that is forgiving his mother for the abuse he underwent while she was possessed. The forgiveness required of Kyle of pretty abstract: his mother — under possession of a demon — beat him, tormented him, and generally made his life terrible — but he only recently came to terms with the idea that she was not responsible for her actions. That’s a scenario that none of us are going to relate to 100%. As a metaphor for mental disease or alcoholism or addiction or any number of things, it’s plenty potent, as we’re about to see throughout the course of the issue, but the literal reality is hard to identify with. I mean, right? If Kyle were coming to forgive his mother for how she used to get drunk and beat him, there’s a clear relationship between culpability and forgiveness.
Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta make a special point to remind us just how much Kyle is trying to forgive.
It turns out that the abuse at the hands of his mother was just the beginning, as his life in the foster system had its own share of hardships. On a routine trip into town to grab some cleaning supplies, Kyle runs into someone from his past: Donnie. What Donnie did is never depicted on the page, and Kyle and Mark’s conversation about it is horrifyingly vague, letting us draw our own conclusions about the nature of the threat he posed to Kyle and Megan. Donnie’s back in town as part of the Twelve Steps, clearly trying to make amends for mistakes he made while drinking. Kyle’s not so ready to forgive Donnie for his transgressions and beats the everloving shit out of him.
The difference between Kyle’s reaction to his mother and to Donnie — who is actually seeking forgiveness — is striking. Mark reminds us that Kyle is not without fault either, having beaten up his own daughter. The audience understands the extenuating circumstances there: she was also possessed, so Kyle was actually fighting the demon. That gives us three examples of people that did terrible things: Donnie, Kyle and his mother. Everyone has their own demon – direct, in-direct, or metaphorical. While Kirkman and Azaceta linger on Mark and Kyle’s violent reaction to Donnie’s plea for forgiveness, there’s no suggestion that what they’re doing is right. Everyone is seeking forgiveness and the question of who deserves it is infinitely more complex than any of these characters wants to admit.
Greg, after getting a full exorcism story in the previous issue, did it feel a little strange to you that this issue forewent possession entirely? One of the strengths of that first issue was the way it tossed readers in the deep end without much in the way of orientation. This issue starts to fill in a lot of that emotional history. Kirkman is such a strong writer, but it’s fascinating that most of the storytelling takes place in the present. By preventing the audience from actually witnessing the incidents in question, we’re left to make the same kind of subjective judgments that Kyle has to.
Oh, and I guess there’s a Demon In A Hat that has some kind of long-term plans for Kyle. Greg, you should feel free to throw out your most wild theories about what he’s planning, but I’m a little exhausted at the idea that there are some larger machinations at play here. I’m so attached to the story of a man trying to find peace with a world full of demons, that I don’t really look forward to, y’know, Satan’s plan for his soul or whatever. Reverend Anderson seemed to recognize The Stranger when he appeared in the church, so the shit is clearly about to hit the fan. Maybe I’m in the minority, but maybe we should just keep the shit away from the fan. Who wants to deal with a shit-splattered room, anyway?
Greg: I’m with you, Patrick — when the clean room of a subdued, melancholy story of emotional soul-searching is this effective, the foreshadowing of throwing shit around in the future seems less like a promise to the reader and more of a threat. Obviously without a character like Demon In A Hat to promise a big, bad future conflict, the narrative engine of the title runs the risk of sputtering to a halt. Let’s just hope that Kirkman continues to take stock of where his characters are from an emotionally grounded, real point of view, and not let the supernatural business overwhelm it. This issue’s tone was so strikingly balanced and consistent that I’d hate to see it dissipate.
I like how you pointed out that, despite much of the story revolving around the reiteration past traumas and moments of violence, we mostly stay in the present. From a nuts-and-bolts storytelling point of view, this means that we as readers are left to imagine the strength and ferocity of these despicable acts, which lends power to the text, since the abstract is undoubtedly more terrifying than the concrete (although as I write that, it strikes me as a contradiction to your notion that the concrete violence enacted makes the abstract metaphors ethically trickier to swallow). From a characters-behaving-as-real-human-beings point of view, this means that the folks in this issue are all struggling with “forgiveness spectrums,” attempting to move forward and move on rather than staying in the regressive rut of violence of the past. In the beatdown from Kyle and Mark (the issue’s rightly upsetting burst of violence in the present), it’s interesting that Donnie seems to be further along this spectrum — he’s getting professional help, making amends for his transgressions, actively maintaining a friendly, positive attitude. Maybe this is just my imagination not willing to meet up with “the facts” of Kyle and Mark’s memories, but their beatdown struck me not as an emotionally justified outburst, but an unhealthy, infantile temper tantrum. Is there something I’m missing?
Switching gears, I’m in love with the aesthetics of this issue. Azaceta’s world feels real and simple, a little bit Daniel Clowes-esque, and overwhelmed by shadows that muddy, but never fully hide, the human subjects within. Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors are striking in their relative subtlety and both complementary of and ironically juxtaposed against the narrative. Respective examples: the muted purples and greens of the hospital amplify the scene’s somberness, whereas the church’s reds and browns make me feel like something hellish is going on between the pews.
Specifically, I’d like to highlight the use of close-up “insert shots”; that is, panels of a character’s silent reaction that “interrupt” the flow of an action in its larger context. Take a look at this, from Reverend Anderson’s sermon.
Like I said before, Breitweiser’s colors don’t do this guy’s moral credibility any favors, but this insert shot is the final nail in his “can’t-fully-trust-this-guy” coffin. The jump from a thought stemming from Jesus’ famous “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” sentiment, to a facial expression that seems to say, with its pursed smile and extended finger, “You best believe I’m casting that stone,” is succinctly evocative to me. It makes me think that the Reverend may have some past traumas he is avoiding (and I’d love to see some of those expose themselves in the future).
Now, take a look at the Reverend’s (probably well-founded) warning to Kyle:
I love the symmetry in composition and color: both subjects facing our left, hands performing an aggressive motion, mischievous smiles crossing their lips, and framed by a devilish red. Perhaps this similarity implies that the Reverend senses his own evil tendencies in this Hat Demon. Perhaps later issues will continue to explore the supernatural horror drama as a metaphor for family traumas and violence by connecting the Demon’s actions explicitly with the Reverend’s!
Now I’m cooking you up some wild theories, Patrick — but let’s continue to try and keep our beds and kitchens clean from any body fluids.
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