Everything is sort of chugging along in comics isn’t it? DC have done another reboot (sort of), Marvel are in the middle of another baggy crossover (Civil War II anyone? No?), and more promisingly, the good stuff is still good. Over the past few months we’ve had cracking issues of Beast Wagon, Black Panther, Southern Bastards, and Island. All in all, it’s business as usual.
The same can be said for Robert Kirkman. I cannot say that I’m a fan of The Walking Dead. The comics dried up for me some years ago when it became clear that there was no end point in sight, and Kirkman’s fairly dull dialogue, and penchant for devoting entire issues to a single conversation, meant that the pace quickly flagged. Much more impressive for me was Outcast, now hitting its nineteenth issue this month. The plot – and there’s a bunch of it – concerns a young man, Kyle who exhibits an uncanny ability to drive demons out of possessed people. His town appears to be teeming with them, and the devil (in the form of a bloke called Sidney) may have moved in next door. Think The Exorcist, but replace the red brick streets with rural Atlanta and you’ll be close to the tone.
Outcast is a great comic. It’s far more interesting than The Walking Dead (which it cannot help but be – unfairly – compared to), and what it has to say about faith is complex and oftentimes quite subtle. It also helps that the art, by Paul Azaceta is a treat. His houses are barely held together shacks, wind whistling through broken wood slats and glass. His characters are unshaven, and barely sober. The comic feels lived in, and that’s hugely important for a book like this which has an enormous cast of characters, a complex bunch of relationships, as well as a slowly revealing mythology.
It’s the mythology side that gets shoved to the forefront in this month’s issue. Kyle has been kidnapped and tied up by his mysterious neighbour (probably the devil, I mean, it might not be, but it probably is), who monologues for twenty-two pages without really saying a single thing. I read the issue twice over, and I’m still not convinced anything actually happened at all. Sure there are some mysterious hints about something, but every single little nugget of information is so shrouded in bland, generic language that it’s impossible to discern any meaning from any of it.
The issue wouldn’t be quite as boring if, say, it was one of six issues in a trade paperback and that might be the crux of the problem. Kirkman doesn’t really write for a single issue. He’s writing with big long term goals in mind. He’s writing for his audience and that audience is those who pick up volume 23 of The Walking Dead, rather than issue 134. It’s certainly not a bad thing, but what it does result in is the occasional lacklustre single issue.
Outcast is not a bad book by any means – I’m still thoroughly enjoying it (and the TV series that recently started is also excellent), but it reads far, far better in groups of issues rather than one at a time.