“All that is me, that is not attached…that’s what I shall reclaim before he catches up to me.”
There’s a dread that accompanies Coffin Bound. It haunts the book like a specter, much like The Vulture Spirit haunts Izzy in the book. Eternally, you’re ready and on the watch for something cruel that’s about to happen, something devastating. This is a strange world, belonging to the likes of The Vulture and the EarthEater. This is a world where the primal powers reign supreme, to whom the mortal is nothing, we see a cracked mirror of our own. The eternal end that is ever-approaching, hanging on our shoulder, whispering to us, terrifying us of the prospect and the sudden force that hunts, taking us abruptly before we can ever realize what’s happened. Izzy’s existence mirrors our own, with the power of the comic form used to give form and shape to abstract ideas and concepts.
And so picking up from the end of the last issue, we follow our lead marked for death once more. She’s determined to fade away on her terms, not on that of The Vulture or The EarthEater. But this second issue doesn’t open with her. It opens with a gang of organ thieves, as the team of Dan Watters, Dani, Brad Simpson and Aditya Bidikar give us a better sense of the world that Izzy inhabits. There’s brutal horror here and amidst all the cruelty and carnage, there are kernels of truth and commentary that are very much about our culture and society today. Taking things to the absolute extreme, which fiction is quite good at, the creative team gets to really throw out some wild sequences, characters and ideas.
The gang of thieves have nothing but contempt for a world that is hellbent on reducing discomfort and minimizing effort as much as possible and yet they’re also lunatics obsessed with almost a religious devotion to the idea of physical perfection, for which they’re willing to mutilate their own fellow man. It’s horrific the way it is here not only because the idea of someone being capable of that is scary, but because of how the characters who’re doing it are written. Their descriptions of things as they commit carnage are filled with a maddening glee, the excitement of a sort of chef after ingredients, almost and that is what’s chilling. Phrases like “well-shaped digit of a finger” stick out and are memorable, helping the horror really land. Bidikar’s lettering choices remain on-point here, as he handles Watters’ words in great sync with Dani and Simpson’s artwork.
This is really the issue where the team gets to sort of escape the limits of a debut and cut loose, and they do. They kick into high gear and really dig in, delivering on the promise of the previous issue. If #1 was the hook, #2 is the context, the reason to invest. A better sense of both the characters and the world they’re surrounded by. We’re introduced to Cassandra, a now-blind man and his sister Taqa, with whom Izzy has a history. They’re her friends and the closest thing to family. They’re the first thing she absolutely had to see, having decided as to what her end will be. She shares a romantic past with Cassandra and a sisterly bond with Taqa, but this return to old friends isn’t a warm one. It’s almost methodical and cold. Throughout the issue, we see Izzy really struggle with the sort of lingering feelings, which make her grin as she sees this little girl and make her say things that only affirm attachment. That’s an interesting contrast, as she’s so desperate to fade, be away but has embers that still glow on, unable to go.
Even the moment of lovemaking, which should be intimate, strikes as detached and going-through-the-motions, as Izzy has made up her mind. There’s an emptiness to her, a hollowness, as she finally, in the moment where the embers should become flames, puts them out completely. There’s an absolutely gorgeous panel of minimalist beauty where in Dani showcases only Izzy’s eyes, which are closed shut, as Simpson’s purple covers the background. This moment is it, it’s vital. It’s her choice reflected visually. Her eyes shut, her mind focused on the regret of the past, she no longer feels she has a place. Especially given the specter of The Vulture over her and the EarthEater hunting her.
Speaking of kicking into high gear, the art really, really does. Dani’s choices are spectacular, excelling in the darkness, bringing a great sense of mood and expressiveness to the crude reality of Coffin Bound while making a lot of clever choices. The framing of characters is a particularly strong aspect of their work. We see Taqa hugging Izzy, a grin on her face, then cut to looking at Izzy’s back and Taqa’s face from there, distancing us from Izzy’s face and expression, then moving us towards the gun that rests on her back. The momentary smile punctuated by the symbol of death. Even following that, Dani pulls back to show The Vulture sitting at the top, as we again face Izzy’s back and the gun and Taqa is away from both Izzy and the reader. Little choices like that, which Dani can pull off on the page, those placements in space, really help cement the characters and the story in a strong way.
Brad Simpson also really comes out as a champion on this book with the colors, able to deftly shift from typical grays and blacks of grim reality to more expressive, abstract moods with brighter shades. He really helps set the tone of the book here, working in tandem with Dani. His evocative purples or fluorescent pinks, which shift to blood red in moments of violence or dull yellows, which convey almost a sickly and sad state of decay, all strike with great potency. The palette here is so striking and stand-out.
The team has some really powerful sequences within the issue. A moment of violence, between the antagonist Paulie Starlight and his associate is colored beautifully and is great on its own, but the way the page is laid out makes it even more effective. All the moments are in boxes, laid over a white page, of course, but the gutter space isn’t just empty. Instead, to indicate violence and showcase its visceral nature, you have the book covering that space underneath the panels in red zigzag lines of madness. This isn’t right. This isn’t rational. It’s madness. It’s violence. It fits with the reality of this world and it’s a clever little trick of visual storytelling. It’s moments like these, where the team gets to break from the grid in any way, with more abstract imagery, that the book really impresses. A moment early on, where Cassandra asks Izzy to stay comes to mind. That last beat could be covered by black-panel borders, but it isn’t. And that’s a deliberate choice. And as the white floods the rest of the image, Izzy’s hand is a shadow black, in contrast to it. That is telling. Cassandra is in the moment, open and he wants Izzy to be too. Little does he know, she’s all but gone. Her very presence is a black shadow cast on the page and go she must. That is the goal.
The antagonists of the narrative are worth discussing as well, as the EarthEater remains terrifying. The way Bidikar letters him and Watters writes him presents him as something that is so totally off and that continues here, as he hunts like an unstoppable predator of nature. But the other foe here is the aforementioned Paulie Starlight, the ex-lover of Izzy, the man that put the hit out on her and got her in all this mess. He’s a depraved and out-of-control monster, abusive and possessive beyond measure. And that, at least in part, helps add to Izzy’s reasons. Both he and Izzy are opposites, with one showcasing restraint, while the other is anything but restrained. One’s violence is the bare minimum, the other’s is a revelry of the endeavor. His presence in the comic builds and builds to an end that is truly devastating. But it’s devastating in such a matter-of-fact way, almost, that it feels fitting for the book’s reality and characters. This is what the normalization of chaos and carnage feels like. That’s what this reality is. It’s something off, something strange and so wrong. It’s bloody, it’s brutal and weird. That’s what Coffin Bound wants us to confront.
However, the most impactful moment in the book, which embodies its soul more than anything, maybe the call Izzy takes from her manager. He’s basically cut off a lot of his body to reduce effort. It’s horrifying and he communicates it with the mannerism of him having visited the dentist’s office. Once again, Simpson brings the splash of purple to make that beat click and it’s this wave of chilling dread that passes over the reader. The formal speech of the book continues, helping maintain a sort of distance, emotionally, which feels in line with the way Izzy herself keeps those close to her (and well, anyone, really) at an arm’s length. And it also helps the reader engage with the work as it is, a treatise on death and a dilapidated world, a realm of ideas made flesh, awaiting to consume the flesh of mortals. That creates a different engagement than regular, everyday speech would. There’s a distance, but that distance serves and helps perspective.
Coffin Bound #2 is a nice dive into the history of these characters, avoiding the troubles of info-dumps or heavy exposition and rolling out the details in a way that feel narratively relevant and digestible. You understand why Izzy might make the choices she makes and how the regrets of the past drive her, and you also get to see her struggle play out. The silent sequence with her walking out a home is a really sad but understandable scene, illustrating the characters of both Cassandra and Izzy and the entire issue allows us to understand who Izzy is in relation to others, what dynamics defined her and where she stands in contrast to the past. And then it brings everything to a conclusion that’s sure to hook any readers on the train. Watters, Dani, Simpson and Bidikar really have something truly special here in this nihilistic narrative.