Outcast – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Robert Kirkman (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Robert Kirkman is perhaps most well-known for creating the epic zombie horror series, The Walking Dead…but we’ll talk about that one later. Kirkman started his career in comics penning superhero parodies before signing on with Image to help with their new Superhero line. In 2003, Kirkman would launch Invincible before going on to be a mainstay at Marvel Comics, crafting series like the Irredeemable Ant-Man and a two-year run on Ultimate X-Men. In 2008, Kirkman became a partner at Image Comics and then went on to form his own imprint Skybound.
Outcast Volume 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him
Kyle Barnes is an odd young man who has been through a tumultuous life, constantly plagued by demonic possessions effecting those closest to him. As a young boy he was often beaten by his possessed mother, haunting his life in ways he could never escape. Just when he thought he’d escaped the dark cloud that loomed over him, he was hit with more personal trauma that wreaked havoc on his life in unimaginable ways. Now, years removed from these incidences, it seems like demons are back to plague Kyle’s life in strange ways, drawing him back into the fold against these creatures. Recruited by Reverend Anderson to help a young boy who appears to be possessed, Kyle discovers that he may be the key to defeating these demons. Desperate for answers, Kyle embarks down a dark path in hopes of finding some form of explanation as to why he is an “Outcast”.
Robert Kirkman presents the world with a whole new horror series in Outcast. To me, Outcast came off as a rather mixed bag of tricks, with some highly enjoyable aspects as well as some downright treasons acts against the art form of writing. Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this comic, that does greatly affect one’s reading pleasure, is that it has already been optioned for a television show and had been before the first issue was even released. Now one might wonder how that can affect your reading experience, having that knowledge before reading the series, and it does so in a simple way: it reads like it’s written for television. Immediately, you are taken out of any sort of enjoyment you can have for this story because all you can think about is how clearly every aspect of this book feels like it’s just going to, beat for beat, be translated into a television show. Your cliffhangers feel less like the end of a chapter and more like they’re leading you into a commercial break, using these dramatic moments to lead you into the scenes that immediately follow it.
Let’s attack all the bad aspects of this story before we get to the good ones. As I stated, this comic reads like it’s a television show which results in an almost unconventional style to it. No matter what way you try to slice it, in terms of storytelling, it doesn’t follow the proper structure of a story. There’s a clear beginning, a middle by extension, but no real conclusion or end. If you go based off of your three act structure, you have a first act, maybe a bit of a second act, but you’re hard pressed to really define what denotes the start and end of your third act. One could argue that the story itself is all a part of a larger first act (which would be an entirely fair assessment because that’s how it feels) but it’s incredibly disingenuous to give a reader a collected edition of a storyline with next to no resolution for the first arc/chapter. Yet again, one could argue that the final few pages is a form of resolution or provides some development for the lead character of Kyle Barnes but you would be wrong as it doesn’t give even an ounce of resolution towards the central conflict or theme of this book. Instead, the “conclusion” to this volume is a cheap, shoehorned bit of a writing that is force-fed to the reader, establishing this particular “conflict” in the fleeting pages of the third issue. It’s outrageous to try to comprehend any sort of resolution from this first volume of the series as all it really reconciles is that the story is actually ready to begin. Kirkman uses this entire first volume to put pieces in place, which is fine, only to then on the final page finally say “Okay, now we can actually MAYBE start to play with them.
Now, first two paragraphs aside, Outcast is most certainly not a terrible book. It’s a little hokey at times, but still has this oddly addictive quality to it where you want to keep reading. I believe the addictive nature comes from the mysterious nature of the entire story, with Kirkman choosing to slowly tease out the past surrounding the lead character in Kyle Barnes. To an even further point, it’s the multi-layered past of Barnes that keeps things interesting, as you learn about not only the possession of his mother and how it effected him, but the possession of other key characters in his life as well. Seeing how this affects him from childhood and even into adulthood is a gripping facet of the story you can’t look away from. Then the curious nature of what the “outcast” actually means only adds tension into the plot as you never truly know what type of unnatural force could threaten Kyle. Kirkman seeds so many effective elements within the plot that you can look at any minor narrative he establishes and still find something that will make you want to come back for more. The more the story progresses, the more you realize that this is so much more than just a supernatural horror comic. Outcast encompasses themes from the genres of mystery, thriller, crime, and horror to make a surprisingly complete blend of literary enjoyment. That is perhaps where Outcast’s greatest success lies, in the fact that it can be whatever type of comic it wants to be instead of just pigeonhole itself from page one. Make no mistake that it is definitely supernatural horror overall, but don’t think that it won’t surprise you with its use of different genres along the way.
Kyle Barnes and Reverend Anderson are your primary duo of the story, with Kyle being a miserable jerk while Reverend Anderson is the holy warrior of God, setting out to rid the world of the demons that possess innocent souls. The relationship between these two characters is rather interesting and another strong aspect of the story. It’s a classic non-believer vs. man of faith relationship but it’s how their interactions evolve that makes it all come together. You watch Kyle transition from a miserable grump into a man who needs answers, his drive to find resolve far outweighing his initial sense of apprehension. Reverend Anderson is a key element in the push to have Kyle open up more, taking a vested interest in the young man as he begins using him to help a possessed young boy. Following the duo after dealing with that possession, both characters start to turn a bit of a corner, not only in regards to their relationship with each other but in their overall demeanour as well. The cost of being a man of faith begins to take its toll on the Reverend as you move past this first possession he faces with Kyle, appearing to become more worn down with every scene he appears in, while Kyle only becomes stronger, opening up to neighbours, “family”, and even strangers in ways that seemed unlikely at the start of the story. It’s not a stretch to say that Kyle evolves for the better while the Reverend seems to take steps backwards, strengthen one of the central themes of the story wherein everyone close to Kyle becomes hurt or damaged.
Collects: Outcast #1-5
Best Character: Kyle Barnes
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “Seems like they’ve been trying to hurt me my whole life…I need to find out why.” – Kyle Barnes
Best Scene/Moment: Kyle and the Reverend interrogate a bad man – Issue 5
Best Issue: Issue 5. Issue 5 stands out due to a tense scene set in a prison featuring Kyle, the Reverend, and a man in desperate need of some holy intervention. It’s a scene that devours the bulk of the issue but it shows you, that when he’s at his best, Kirkman can write incredibly emotive and immersive scenes that suck you in for their duration and leave you begging for more when they conclude. This interrogation like scene hits a lot of high notes in terms of the dialogue as well as the mood, has a clear climax and will show you why Outcast is a comic you can’t help but continue to read. The only disadvantage to this issue is that you feel like you’re completely robbed of any form of resolution as the conclusion you get isn’t much of a conclusion to the story Kirkman begins telling in issues prior to it at all. Read the issue and you’ll get what I mean with that one.
Why You Should Read It: Outcast is a comic that I’d compare to a cigarette. It’s addictive. It’s a story where, whether you love it or hate it, you’re going to keep reading it if you give it a shot. If I’m being honest, the comic wasn’t necessarily my cup of tea at first but now that I’m removed from reading it and actually writing about it, I want to go back to read the next volume to find out what happens next. It hooks you in a weird way that makes you feel dirty if you try to wash your hands of it and walk away. I’m not really sure if that’s the defining sign of a great or irritating comic but it clearly does something right if it interests you enough to want more even if you didn’t love the first helping. If you like creepy, peculiar supernatural horror then you’ll adore this book for all it’s worth. The mood and tones Kirkman and company set throughout the entire story are genuinely chilling at times and sure to excite you if you enjoy films like “The Exorcist”.