For those who are familiar with the comic to The Walking Dead will undoubtedly be following the series Outcast by Kirkman and Azaceta which is about to reach it’s 18th issue
I discovered Outcast about 3 weeks ago. I have been watching The Walking Dead and had made it to the half-way point of Season 4. I’d been finding this season seriously boring in places. Now, I do understand why they slow the pace down and how important it is for character development, but it makes binge watching far less enjoyable. (Unlike Daredevil, which just ramps it up with each episode).
The Walking Dead comics, upon which the TV show is based on, have been running for over 150 issues and are highly praised. So, I hit the pause button on the TV show and ordered a copy of The Walking Dead Compendium One, made up of the first 48 issues. It’s brilliant, but clocking in at 1000+ pages, I’ll have to review that one at a later date.
Both series are written by Robert Kirkman, but this is pretty much where the similarities end. Outcast is a very different beast from The Walking Dead.
I’d been looking online for other comic titles – it’s nice to dip into other stories – when I came across Outcast. I had a hospital appointment, which I was told would include a lot of waiting around, so I downloaded the first 17 issues onto my iPad and prepared myself. It’s not often that I would want to hang around a hospital (especially as a patient) but when I made it to the 10th issue and was called in to be seen, I prayed that my appointment would be over quickly, so I could get home and continue reading. This is some serious shit.
Outcast has also been released in trade paperback (TP) format, each bundling together 6 issues. So to try and stop myself from rambling too much, I’ve decided to do reviews for each of these publications. I’ll try and keep spoilers to a minimum, but consider this a warning.
In preparation for this review, I decided to sit down and re-read the issues. When I was reading these for the first time I was so engrossed in the story I moved quickly through each issue and I didn’t really sit back to appreciate the artwork. Now, I’m not an art connoisseur by any stretch of the imagination, but I know what I like and this, I like. I am so glad that I decided to re-read, because what’s surprised me is how intelligently the series is written. It is written. It’s marketed at a mature audience, though doesn’t pander to them. The artwork is explicit without being grotesque and the horror elements really are genuine.
Outcast isn’t for the faint of heart. The series follows our anti-hero Kyle Barnes, who is estranged from his wife and child. He lives a deliberate life of isolation hiding from those who he has known and loved. The reason? The people around him become plagued with demonic possession. As the story progresses, Barnes is able to turn his fear into courage and as the story deepens the comic manages to merge both horror and mystery genres.
Barnes is joined by the Reverend Anderson, a troubled clergyman who had been possessed previously. After a failed attempt to exorcise a demon from a young boy, they two characters are brought together and with the help of Barnes, the boy is eventually saved. This sequence perfectly sets the tone of what’s to come. I remember the first time I saw The Exorcist and hearing the noises coming from the attic. I always argued that The Exorcist is a drama first and a horror second, and the same can be said of the first few issues of Outcast. I felt my skin crawl when I saw the images of the child possessed, behaving in a feral manner. “I know who you are, OUTCAST” he says to Barnes… and as a reader, the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Moving through the panels feel uneasy, particularly in the first issue, the longer you look into them, the more I get the feeling I should be looking through my fingers, or from behind a cushion. The Omen has come to town.
With anti-heroes, you find that their cohort is usually there is give some balance – the light and the dark, the yin and the yang. Anderson, who is a damaged man does little to give the story balance. He begins as the catalyst for Kyle to find his own strength, but he is plagued by his own literal and metaphorical demon:. he’s a smoker, a drinker, a gambler and a preacher. I have found Anderson to be a more complex and intriguing character to Barnes. There are moments while Anderson is playing poker, and his insights give the narrative pause, This is a clever tool to give the reader both rest bite and also give insight into Anderson’s complexities, especially as these moments are not witnessed by Barnes through whose perspective the bulk of the story is told.
The artwork in Outcast is exceptional. The penciler is Paul Azaceta and the colourist is Elizabeth Breitweiser and together they’ve managed to do something I never though possible: they actually scared me. Seeing the glint in the eyes of the possessed through the darkness of a room filled with deep greens, blues, purples and blacks was creepy. The explicitness of seeing a person who’d bitten a chunk from their own finger with blood splashed across the page pulled me straight into the horror. After I’d finished issue one on my second read through I spent time appreciating the strength of the artwork itself. I could feel the emotion, fear and dread from each of the characters.
The artwork is of such quality that the action and scares really do draw you in, and I love how the pallet changes with the mood. I’m no expert, but even as the pace of the story slows in traditional Kirkman style to give weight to the character development, the sense of dread does not. I begun this piece by complaining about the slow pace of The Walking Dead Season 4, but with the artwork here, the change of pace proves to be a major strength of Kirkman, Azaceta and Breitweiser. Over a couple of spreads, I’m able to get a deeper insight into the psychology of the protagonists and I’m able to understand relationships as I’m introduced to new characters. However, this isn’t without its faults: we are drip-fed details on previous relationships between characters and getting a bit here and there. For me this felt a little disjointed. I’m asking a lot of questions. Why did he do that? Why did Donnie deserve such a beating? As the issues progress, some of these answers are coming, but the mystery is still thick and foggy.
In Issue 4, we’re introduced to Detective Luke Masters, and the story kicks up a gear. It does also help that he’s instantly likeable and his story arc is certainly one of my favourites and as the mystery deepens in issue 6 with the unveiling of a key character moving forward, I hope to see Masters playing a more significant role.
Issue 6 – and the final issue published in volume 01 of the TP – is shocking. What is revealed begins to side on a conspiracy and the blending of genres is exceptional. Tension is built with each panel and they flow perfectly into one another. As soon as you finish issue 6, you’ll be racing to find out what happens next.