Outcast 26

Alternating Currents: Outcast 26, Ryan and Drew

Today, Ryan D. and Drew are discussing Outcast 26, originally released March 29th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Just when they think they have the answers, I change the questions.

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper

Ryan D: If you are writing a serialized work of fiction — especially one which you plan to keep going for an extended period of time — then you must ask yourself: how do I release information to my audience? Questions proposed by the initial thesis of a work (i.e. “why would a man dress up like a bat to fight crime?”) need to be answered eventually for the readers’ intellectual illumination; however, if you answer these questions too quickly without supplying new ones (i.e. “what happens when this bat vigilante tries to take on an apprentice?”), then there’s no way your story can go for more than a few chapters. In Outcast 26, Robert Kirkman, who has written at this point 165 issues of his most commercially successful series The Walking Dead, again proves his ability to sustain an interesting initial concept by supplying the audience with nourishing answers before shifting the questions in a way which makes me keen for more.

After the action-packed skirmish and big reveal of last issue, the curtains rise here on a methodical first page of a man named Mr. Stone being driven to a destination. This change of pace allows the repercussions from the recent occurrences of the past few issues to sink in. The “council of weirdos” (as the letters page calls them) comments upon the disappearance of their former figurehead, Sidney, who the audience knows was murdered brutally at the hands of Reverend Anderson. With Sidney dead, this “board room” scene reminds audience that what served as the most clear and present danger for most of this series thus far was actually just a wheel within wheels of the larger overarching schemes in place here, of which we, just like Kyle Barnes, are just beginning to sniff.

Much like in so much American Noir — a genre with which colorist Elizabeth Bertweiser is very familiar — Kyle serves as the entry point for the readers. Generally, we learn about this world at the same rate and in the same way he does. Because of this strong identification we have with Kyle — established despite the lack of our access to Kyle’s inner voice, a tactic which many comics employ — I very much appreciated how Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta portrayed the large decision Kyle makes to help the man who just saved him and his family from an altercation with a crowd of “demons”, the same man who just revealed that he is Kyle’s father. One choice here would be to leave this man, despite his claims and his obvious power in expunging demonic spirits, so that Kyle could best protect his ex-wife and daughter; however, Allison urges Kyle to help:

I love the storytelling here. As Kyle is processing the situation, the man, Simon, suddenly takes a nose-dive to the pavement, removing any chance of Simon being able to remove himself from the situation on his own, raising the stakes and urgency of the decision. While the previous panel showed the gas station building and trees in the background, Azaceta applies a monochrome color wash for this panel to highlight the action.  The two internal mini-panels both contain their own background color wash to distinguish them from the larger panel’s motion, but both still contain the same turquoise-blue flecks signifying the kinetic forces of the larger panel. Though these may seem like small choices, I find that the bottom of this page show the harmony of writer, artist, and colorist as they depict a crucial cross-road for the protagonist of the series. Even the fact that the audience does not see Kyle’s decision until turning to the next page helps heighten the suspense, and shows how much thought goes into this comic.

Another interesting question which Kirkman keeps changing on us revolves around the mental state of our good Reverend Anderson. After literally eviscerating Sidney with a knife, I find it incredibly interesting watching Anderson’s decent into…whatever it is he’s spiraling into. Perhaps most telling would be his relationship with Brian Giles, former (and formerly possessed) chief of police. Kirkman established the friendship between the two characters way back in issue 14, but despite this friendship and Giles’s personal understanding of the horrors of the forces behind the possessions, the wordless looks which Giles casts towards the Reverend speak volumes about how much Anderson is changing beyond recognition. Once exiled to the barn, we get to see Anderson in isolation:

Wearing the same shirt, still covered in Sidney’s blood, like a brand or a scarlet letter, I found his recitation of Biblical verse to comfort and justify himself to be both heartbreaking and chilling, in equal measure. It’s uncertain whether Anderson will end up playing the villain, but I am finding his character arc to be the most engrossing in the title now, and his mounting volatility certainly adds to any incident in which he’ll be involved.

Drew, I didn’t have a chance to go into the relationship mending between Kyle and Allison or the part of the story most directly alluded to in this issue’s title, “The Knife Sharpens”– that of Kyle beginning his exorcism training montage with Simon.  How did you find the fledgling interactions between father and son here? And are there any other questions this issue gave you or answered?

Drew: This issue introduced a huge question for me, but I think the best way to get to it is to talk about the tentative relationship between Simon and Kyle. Or, perhaps more specifically, how it contrasts Kyle’s relationship with Reverend Anderson. Kyle never bought into Reverend Anderson’s explanation for the possessions, and while that constantly left their partnership strained, it was clear that Kyle trusted Anderson. Moreover, it’s clear to us that we could trust him — he may be misguided in his beliefs (and his methods, for that matter), but he’s definitely opposed to whatever it is that’s possessing people. He didn’t have answers, but at least we knew that his heart was in the right place.

Simon, on the other hand, is a complete unknown. He seems to have a bit more knowledge about the possessions, as well as Kyle’s abilities to fight them, but it’s less certain that he’s actually on Kyle’s side in this. That may be a wild theory (though Kirkman’s noncommital answer in the letters page when a reader suggests that Simon may be more like a replacement for Sidney than he is for Anderson certainly fans the flames), but I’m suspicious of the inset panel of Simon’s smile as he thanks Kyle for saving his life:

Simon's smile

It’s not entirely clear what he’s smiling about, but because he doesn’t make eye contact with Kyle for this smile, it suggests a kind of private — perhaps sinister — agenda. Perhaps more importantly, this is a technique we’ve seen before in this series, usually to show us Sidney’s secret smiles. This could just be a totally benign nervous smile — this is ostensibly the first time Simon is speaking to his son — but Kirkman and Azaceta are at the very least planting some seeds of doubt.

But again, the rub is that Kyle wants to trust Simon. He seems to have the answers (or at least some of the answers) Kyle has been looking for, and that is much more appealing than Anderson’s literal stabs in the dark. But the disturbing thing to me is just how much faith is required to believe Simon — especially when faith was the sticking point for Kyle and Anderson. That is, Kyle has no reason to believe Simon other than that he kind of sounds like he knows what he’s talking about, and that he’s confirming whatever vague information Kyle already had about what’s going on — very much the same way Anderson would appeal to one of his flock. To my eye, Simon is a religious figure by another name, informing Kyle of mystic energies that feels very much like the kind of hokum Kyle would reject from Anderson.

But it works. By the end of the issue, Kyle is totally won over, asking Simon for training. This could very well represent a turn for the better for Kyle, uniting him with a master to teach him how to defeat his enemies, but it could also be the start of a con job. What really intrigues me about this issue is just how hard it is to tell the difference. Is Kyle’s faith in Simon well-placed, or is he being deceived?

The one piece that gives me faith that maybe Kyle’s gut instinct is good enough is that scene with Allison, where her own instincts seem to be leading her in the right direction.

Allison's instincts

Then again, maybe she’s falling into the same trap Kyle is, and is simply being bamboozled by Simon’s apparent usefulness. That she’s also trusting Kyle a bit more may be coincidence, or even part of Simon’s evil design to Trojan horse himself into their good graces — it really could go either way.

The real skill here isn’t in making Simon’s allegiances ambiguous, but in making the answers he holds so tantalizing in spite of his ambiguous allegiances. If he was just good in a fight, taking him in wouldn’t be worth the risk, but the fact that he might be key to solving Kyle’s biggest questions about himself and the world around him pits his desire for answers against his suspicion of strange newcomers. Kyle might have made the right choice here, but knowing this creative team, I think it will be a bit more complicated than that.

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?

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