Review: Outcast Vol. 1 - A Darkness Surrounds Him

Outcast is a series I was reluctant to start purely because of how disillusioned I’ve become with Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. While it continually impresses me that he can keep the universe of the comic and the universe of the show separate in his head and write for both, after a while it grew stagnant for me; they find a new place to live, someone in that place rapes or kills someone in Rick’s group, they have to fight, they have to leave, repeat until Rick finally bites it possibly never. However, where The Walking Dead lacks a thesis statement for focus (it’s basically just “let’s see if these idiots can survive, and for how long,”) Outcast knows what it’s about, and it doesn’t dither about with it. This is gran mal good vs. evil, God vs. everyone else, playing out on a very intimate scale. As far as summary goes, Kyle Barnes seems to have a knack for attracting people with demonic possession problems. He also has a knack for getting those people un-possessed, at the expense of the quality of his own life. He’s a very sad man, who is very good at what he does, when he decides to do anything. The local reverend enlists his help to save a little boy, and it opens the floodgates of backstory about Kyle. Discovering this narrative thread at Kirkman’s pace is one of the most enjoyable parts of the book, so you’ll have to read it yourself.

Outcast-v1-000The pacing of Outcast is Kirkman’s real coup. After having a couple series run over 100 issues, and one series that he wrote the first arc of before farming out to other writers, it’s nice to see him take the reins of the beginning of a story, which it seems he intends to tell to the end, and introduce the readers to the characters and the world. It lets the story breathe so it doesn’t become to overbearing in its seriousness, and it interplays well with Paul Azaceta’s art. The use of the small focus-boxes within larger panels is an interesting, somewhat cinematic trick (what I would call the equivalent of a cutaway to some relevant or atmospheric detail in a scene). It gives the reader a better sense of the world without drawing us too far away from the action of a scene.

Paul Azaceta’s art is new to me, and that makes it all the more exciting. For a book that has to rely a lot on mood, he nails it every time. Those focus-boxes are super helpful when he employs them during exorcism scenes--for such a complicated ritual and situation, it’s nice to see what’s happening outside of the focus; the peripheral details are the fun. He’s great at making all his characters into individuals, and his heavy inking gives every scene a sense of slight sturm und drang that helps build the tension. Horror books are tough on an artist, since the world-building and tension is the bread and butter of scares here; you can’t have jump scares, outside of a page turn, but you can fuck up a reader so that they can’t sleep when they put the book down before bed.

Part of the atmosphere in this book comes from the lettering work of Rus Wooton. The guy’s tall, angular letters always lend a little bit of dignity to a book, and when he deviates from his formula, he is so rock-solid that you have to notice. You have to be affected by it. He’s been doing stellar work on Black Science and Deadly Class, and it’s a delight to have him on this book, as well.

Elizabeth Breitweiser is, as always, the queen of palettes on this book. No matter who she’s working with, on which title, Breitweiser makes every single artist she works with look like a master. She can cover a flub with a fantastically rendered palette in a panel, she can build a mood like you wouldn’t believe. Even her coloring on character reflections, where the colors have to be slightly off, are gorgeous. She’s a large part of why the covers of the book and the interiors are so striking, and have such personality.

Speaking of the covers, my biggest beef with Outcast volume one, as a collected edition, is the lack of not only chapter breaks, but reprinting of the covers at all. The Outcast single issue covers are striking and violent, and their muted color palette actually kind of helps them stand out on a shelf; they also include the title of each issue, which tends towards the enigmatic, but is always intriguing. The fact that they’re not even collected at the end seems disrespectful to the work of Azaceta and Breitweiser; those covers are part of the magic they bring to the series.

I never picked up the singles of Outcast, but reading this volume, I’m concerned to do so. You can’t tell where the issue breaks are for most of the issues, which, if you’re going to write this strongly towards a trade, and you have name recognition like Kirkman (who I think even my parents are familiar with at this point), why not just release a standalone trade? I realize it would probably make it so that Image couldn’t do a $9.99 first trade like they normally do to offset revenue lost from single issue sales, but still. Where the pacing serves the story in these six issues, it does not seem like it would do so from issue-to-issue.

This is a great volume to pick up. It’s tense, it’s gross, it’s got big ideas, and it’s Kirkman getting back to a place where his dialogue seems natural. This book is up there with Nailbiter as one of the best ongoing horror series out there, and I can only hope it keeps up this team, this emotional level, and a regular release schedule. I’ll definitely be checking back in for the next issue, to see where that takes me.

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Outcast Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist: Paul Azaceta
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letterer: Rus Wooton
Publisher: Image/Skybound
Price: $9.99
Release Date: 1/28/15
Format: Trade Paperback; Print/Digital