Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Exorcize Regimen

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 29th, 2014

Outcast by Kirkman & Azaceta #1
“A Darkness Surrounds Him”
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artist/Cover artist: Paul Azaceta
Colors: Elizabeth Breitweiser
Letters: Rus Wooton
Editor: Sean Mackiewicz
Publisher: Image Comics/Skybound Entertainment
Price: $2.99 US

There are a number of creators whose new works I’ll check out no matter what, and both writer Robert Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta are on that list. While they don’t necessarily reinvent the wheel with this new horror-genre comic, they blend misdirection, mood and characterization to deliver a solidly entertaining read. Kirkman always seems as though he’s in tune with the pulse of pop culture, and the possession premise at the heart of this new series ought to make the most of that paranormal trend that’s still prevalent today. I’ve never been terribly interested in the exorcism niche of the horror genre — I’ve never seen The Exorcist — but what held my interest here was the challenging construction of this inaugural issue as well as Kirkman’s decision to ignore cliché and convention specifically when it comes to the development of a key character.

Kyle Barnes’s haunted by memories — memories of his childhood, memories of his marriage, memories of a family he no longer has. He endeavors to cut himself off from the world, hiding in the darkened rooms of the home in which he grew up, but a woman in his life — his adopted sister — refuses to let him wither away in isolation and despair. She drags him into the light, and it does little for him — save for a chance encounter with the town pastor, who knows Kyle has something special inside of him. And he may just be able to help the clergyman with the latest problem being experienced by a couple of members of his congregation.

I’ve been a big fan of Paul Azaceta’s work ever since I first saw it on Talent from a burgeoning Boom! Studios a few years ago. He’s got the sort of minimalist style mixed with a strong eye for anatomy and background that’s been growing in the industry in the past decades or so. I see artists such as Michael Lark, Chris Samnee, Matthew Southworth and more being in the same vein. Azaceta’s done some work for Marvel, but unlike others, such as Samnee, he hasn’t necessarily risen in prominence in the industry as much as I would’ve expected. With Outcast, there’s no doubt that will change. His performance artistically here is up to the same standards as earlier projects, but Kirkman’s name is going to shine a much deserved spotlight on his skill.

Azaceta’s always boasts a dark style, and that noir leaning serves the tone of this story quite well. The darkness is one of the many tools the artist employs to deceive the audience. There’s a compelling parallel between the protagonist’s back story and the supernatural conflict that serves as the catalyst for the larger plot, and at first, they seem like one and the same. Azaceta’s designs both clue the reader in on the distinctions while at the same time stringing him along, maintaining the illusion as well. The character designs are fantastic, as Azaceta illustrates all of the characters as regular people. There are no action heroes, no models, no body builders in this world. The way he conveys the contortions in a boy’s face later in the issue is quite compelling, suggesting evil without showing it at first.

I have to take a moment to point out another visual component I absolutely loved here and that struck me as somewhat unconventional, and that’s Rus Wooton’s lettering job. His dialogue letters remind me of the style of Bob Lappan, whose work I remember fondly from the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League comics of the late 1980s. The thin characters are clear and striking, and there’s just something so sharp about the look of the lettering. The colors are strong as well, with Elizabeth Breitweiser offering some clear clues regarding those parallels and the flashbacks while also reinforcing the tense, eerie atmosphere.

There’s a small, concentrated cast of characters introduced here, but by far my favorite among them as Rev. Anderson. He’s not the stereotypical holy man one finds in genre fiction. He doesn’t speak in overly flowery language, nor is he a coward or a hypocrite or a judgmental prick. He’s presented as a regular guy whose job is a bit outside of the norm. I like that he plays poker. I like that he smokes. I like that he’s kind and open and daring. He’s a well-realized character.

Ultimately, Outcast appears to be a story about purpose. Kyle goes from self-pity to self-realization, discovering direction. While the trauma and tragedy that defined his life aren’t relatable, that moment when one comes out of despair, out of that dark hole into which we all retreat after loss of some kind — be it personal, professional or even spiritual — we’ve probably all felt that sense of empowerment and clarity wash over us at a turning point in our lives. This is a smart take on horror, offering some familiar elements enhanced by a real sense of humanity. 8/10

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