Book review: Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him

Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds HimOutcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him by Robert Kirkman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This volume gathers together the first six issues of Outcast, a still-ongoing comic written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Paul Azaceta. It’s getting variable reviews, which I suspect are largely because of its author: for a while now, Kirkman (the creator of The Walking Dead in case you’re visiting our planet) has been considered kind of untouchable. And so, the tall poppy thing comes in.

(Cue record-skip noise. Here’s where I point out that I don’t know Kirkman’s work on The Walking Dead except from the TV show, which wore thin for me a couple of seasons ago. The best thing associated with the franchise, I believe, are Telltale’s great run of tie-in adventure games (the third, not so much), but this is open to revision when I finally get around to reading the omnibus versions of the work. Got it? Good.)

So yeah, I think given the role of zombies in popular culture, and the way Kirkman’s synonymous with that, people are a bit over him, maybe, and keen to put the boot into the new project, Outcast, with tunes from the I Like Your Old Stuff Better Than Your New Stuff songbook. But with me, I don’t really give a fuck about the old stuff, so I’m able to take this recent work with a fairly open mind.

(It probably also helps that I haven’t seen the Cinemax adaption of same – I’d rather read the source first and then see what the show brings to it or chooses to focus on.)

So far, what I get, I like. This series tells the story – so far at least – of exorcisms, and their effects both immediate and long-lasting. Kyle Barnes is the reluctant lead – a guy who’s had experience of family members possessed. Demonic shit seems to follow him around, so it’s unsurprising that he chooses to spend a lot of his time alone.

He’s moved back to the town where his mother was possessed – she’s now catatonic in a hospital, it seems – and has run into Reverend Anderson, a gamblin’, drinkin’ man of God who goes head-to-head with demons and is TOO OLD FOR THIS SHIT. And as the meme generator goes, they fight crime. (Well, demonic squatting I suppose, but you get the drift.)

The leads appear suitably bummed and resigned at this point, so I suspect there’ll be a lot of horrible shit to come. At least, I hope so – if there’s one thing Kirkman has shown it’s that he knows how to do horrible shit to his characters (and his readers) for the sake of keeping the story moving along.

Graphically, it’s a pretty cinematic rendering – lots of little cut-in reaction shots or attention-drawing elements – coupled with an art style that appears clean on first glance but features some excellently emotive colouring (by Elizabeth Breitweiser) that captures some of the bucolic autumnal shades found somewhere like Calvin & Hobbes. In terms of illustration, there’s elements of line work where more coarse markers are used to make broader strokes that suggest an element of chaos struggling under the control.

I’m not a huge comics guy, but Paul Azaceta has drawn for Spider-Man and Daredevil so he knows his shit. It seems to sit well with the subject matter: there’s a distinct ’70s realist illustration style that I really like, and it adds an underscore of pulp to the proceedings. Because let’s face it – if you’re going to make an exorcism story, the options you have, really, are historical record or quasi-exploitative ’70s-inspired stuff. It seems Kirkman’s narrative is steered towards the latter, which I have no trouble with.

The only real problem with this collection is that we’re still setting the scene. There’s six issues gathered here, but by the end of the book we’re still getting started. Backstories take a while to establish, particularly in a new property, and Outcast is not much different. Still, it gives an early-on hint as to how the rest of the story is going to play out by introducing the Evil opposition to our ragtag Good Guys pretty early on:

I know, right?

So yeah, it’s a little by-the-numbers in some areas at present. There’s four more trade paperbacks currently released (though I read digitally through ComiXology, which at time of writing has this volume for a measly four bucks) and I expect there’ll be a bit more !!! as the run goes forward. I look forward to it, at any rate.

My Goodreads profile is here.

Say something

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s