Writer Robert Kirkman, a household name with The Walking Dead breaking TV rating records seemingly every month, knows how to do slow boil storytelling. Hell, the entire premise The Walking Dead was built on was, “what if the zombie movie didn’t end after two hours. What then?” Though he’s dabbled in other series in the superhero vein one might best compare Outcast to his zombie series. Partly because it’s set in a much more realistic world with more relatable characters, but also because it’s slow. In a good way. Slow can be very bad though, especially for the instant gratification junkies of the 21st century. So…is it good?
Outcast Volume 1 (Image Comics)
This is also billed as a horror series, although you wouldn’t get that from reading the first few pages; if anything you’d think this was a brooding take on depression. The story focuses on Kyle Barnes, a man who lives in his mother’s house and never seems to want to leave it. It’s a mess, much like his life, and he’s attempting to get by day by day. He lives his life this way due to his history with demonic possession. His family has been involved in them as he grew up and he even spent some time helping a priest exorcise demons. But of course, ignoring an issue never resolves it and ultimately the story is about letting the darkness out—literally and figuratively.
Why do demons have to be so freaky?
Robert Kirkman writes a pretty compelling comic series, one that drives you to keep turning the pages and wishing it’ll never end. Fitting, considering he’s said The Walking Dead will never end. Kirkman keeps things interesting by slowly revealing Barnes’ relationship with his mother, a compelling dynamic between Barnes and his sister and a mysterious man in a black suit who has his eyes on Barnes. One might compare the exquisite pacing to that of Steven Spielberg, as the story is always moving toward something. It might be a small mystery or a reveal of a power Barnes may or may not have, but there’s always something to keep your interest. It’s comics like this that remind us an action sequence is not necessary to make a story exciting.
The subject feels very fresh as well. There really is nothing out there in the comic world concerning demons and exorcisms in the real world. Even in film it’s a topic that most would bring up The Exorcist and leave it at that. Of course it helps that the story is slowly unveiled, as from the get-go we’re wondering if Barnes or anything can be believed. This thoroughly grounds it in the real world so that when weird stuff is confirmed it’s shocking and scary.
That is one realistic looking setting.
Of course this is a visual medium and much of the horror and great pacing comes from the amazing art. Artist Paul Azaceta frames every panel extremely well and one wonders if he’s a cinematographer on the side as well. His layouts tell a story in and of themselves and there are some choices in this series that I’ve never seen before. Little touches like a small 1 inch panel over larger panel showing a close up of a characters face does a lot to convey the emotion being exhibited by a character. He does this a lot in the series (maybe it’s his staple?) but it goes a long way in humanizing the characters. That makes it feel grounded and much more real, and the more real horror feels, the better.
There are also some amazing touches to make this feel as real as possible, like mountains in the background in the image above, or minor details in a room like pictures or vases. So often artists draw a blank room which makes the characters pop out, but also makes things flat and unrealistic.
The color by Elizabeth Breitweiser is also worth noting as it bounces around a lot, but helps make characters pop when necessary. There’s a darker tone given to every panel in this series—even in daylight, the imagery seems muted, which helps create a sense of dread in the series. There are a lot of cooling colors like light orange that are used which make things feel colder and creepy. She tends to use this as backsplash on some panels to make things pop, and while it’s not the brightest of colors it is when viewed within the color palette of this series.
Can anyone say ouchie?
Is It Good?
A fantastic first volume that should not be missed. It’ll crawl under your skin and remind you there’s dark things in the night that’ll get you…and then there’s Outcast.