"Exorcism With A Fist"
FROM THE PAGES OF COMIC BOOK SPECTRUM
In 2014, I was just getting back into buying comics on the regular. I had started a pull box for the first time in over seven years and was really into Image Comics and their newfound indie feel that grabbed my attention about ten years prior with The Walking Dead written and illustrated by two guys from my state.
Lo and behold, as I began scouring the new release wall at my local comic book store, I found something that more than caught my eye. It was another series by Robert Kirkman that featured his take on demons and demonic possession. Kirkman had already proven himself in my book by bringing my love for zombies back from the dead and creating characters I actually cared about, so his take on demons had to be equally as gripping.
I drove home with a mild stack of new books, but I really only had one on my mind the whole way home. That was, of course, Outcast.
The artwork by Paul Azaceta was breathtaking and fit the tone of the story perfectly. It was choppy and sketchy line art, which was astoundingly complemented by Elizabeth Breitweiser’s colors. It gave you a feeling of bleak hopelessness that Kirkman’s characters hammered home.
We are introduced to a mother and her son getting ready for dinner and the boy has a little more than meatloaf on his mind. His mother recognizes this as she catches him growling and gnawing on his fingers while blood pours down his hand and onto the floor. This scene sets the tone and foreshadows the intensity for the rest of the series. You know you’re in for a wild ride already.
We are then introduced to Reverend John Anderson and Kyle Barnes who are our two main protagonists. We meet the good Reverend while he is playing poker with some friends and spouting half-drunken theology to them. It’s a great intro to the character because, as we find out later in the series, his sensational views of Christianity are mixed with a more unhinged, manic side to him that continues to build on itself. The Reverend’s continuous struggle with his faith is honestly something I think so many can relate to. Everything he has been taught and believed to be true is turned on its head, yet he almost forces himself to continue to believe in spite of Kyle continuously challenging him and the very reality of what continues to occur before his eyes.
Kyle on the other hand is a complete mess from the start. We meet him in the trash-ridden house that he grew up in, which still haunts him with memories of his abusive mother and a certain event that looms over the entire series. When Kyle was a child, his mother was possessed and when he finally fought back, he unintentionally (and unknowingly) exorcised the demon from her by punching her. Later we discover that this action put her into a coma-like state where she remains to this day (and he, of course, blames himself for this).
Our two unlikely heroes meet and begin working together on the Reverend’s local mission of exorcising people in the community as an uptick in demonic possession has been secretly plaguing the area. Rev John remembers that Kyle’s mother’s situation was similar to the boy's from the beginning of the first issue, so he recruits the reluctant Kyle in his mission against evil. After a couple of tries, Kyle realizes light and, somehow, his own touch is affecting those who are possessed. Unfortunately, he comes to this realization, first, when he hits the possessed young boy in the face after an extremely violent altercation during the exorcism. So naturally, this brings unwanted police attention, and even when the boy’s mother drops all charges because her son had been successfully exorcised, Kyle’s brother-in-law/police officer just grows more suspicious and disgusted with Kyle.
It is here that we begin to realize it wasn’t just Kyle’s mother who was possessed, but his wife (now ex-wife). Kyle caught her beating their daughter while in growling and snarling demon mode. Kyle, of course, jumped in and fought his possessed wife, exorcising her by knocking her out. However, his wife had no memory of what happened and to prevent her from being arrested and socially shamed, he took the fall and confessed to beating both his wife and daughter. His wife, believing this to be fact, naturally separated from him, gaining custody of their daughter.
At this point in the story, I was absolutely hooked and rooting for Kyle with all of my heart. The kind of man who would do something like that deserved my support and attention. Kirkman’s writing is superb here. Admittedly, not a lot happens in the first volume of Outcast, but that was okay with me. The character development more than makes up for the slow pace of the story. There’s a daunting shadow that looms over the entire first volume and you know that even though the story hasn’t moved a ton; when the shit hits the fan, it’s going to be huge.
And that daunting shadow is personified by the reveal of Sydney; a strange, complicated older man who seemingly has it out for the Reverend but is very polite and even saves a young child from being hit by a car. Still, there’s something very wrong with Sydney and it’s clear that this is definitely our main antagonist.
Overall, Outcast Volume One is a breath of fresh air that I was not expecting. And if you know me, you know I appreciate a good breath of fresh air ;). It had all the character-driven splendor of The Walking Dead, but on a seemingly smaller scale of story that promises a big return down the road if you stick with it, and team Kirkman/Azaceta/Breitweiser certainly make it a no-brainer to stick around for the long haul. Outcast is a solid 10/10 for me and will be adored by anyone who even remotely enjoys supernatural thrillers. I can’t recommend it enough. It almost single-handedly got me back into comics in the 20teens. So head out to your local comic shop, local library, HOOPLA, or Comixology and get your hands on the first volume of this demon-infested, slow-burn thrill ride.