Friday, June 10, 2016

Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him (Outcast #1) by Robert Kirkman, Paul Azaceta (Illustrator), Elizabeth Breitweiser (Colorist)

Trigger warning for discussions of child abuse 

All of his life, demons have surrounded Kyle Barnes in one way or another.  With his is life in shambles he is haunted by memories he just cannot seem to shake; Kyle lives alone, wanting nothing more from life than to be a hermit in peace.  The demons however aren't done with Kyle yet and if he has any hope of getting his wife and child back, he needs to find out the extent and limit of his power and why they are so attracted to him.

A Darkness Surrounds Him, is the first graphic novel in the Outcast series from the creator of The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman.  Just like its predecessor, though Outcast ostensibly is about demons, it's actually about what happens when someone is confronted by the impossible and how they survive. What happens to a child when a loving mother suddenly turns abusive and violent and how does this then effect said child into manhood?  Kyle is so obviously suffering PTSD that his pain simply echos off the page.  It is symbolized in part by the locked door in his home that he cannot bring himself to enter - the room where he finally fought back against his demon possessed violently abusive mother. Kyle lives in filth, there's no food in his home and all he wants is to lay his memories of violence to bed - to stop them continually playing in his mind.

Kyle at least has his foster sister Meagan, who tries valiantly to lift him out of the abyss but even this relationship has been tainted with violence.  As a child, Kyle started sneaking into his Megan's bedroom to sleep on the floor.  Kyle became Megan's only defense against an older foster brother who would sneak into her room and molest her.  By the time Kyle ended up as Megan's foster brother, he was already used to taking a beating and so he took beatings repeatedly to protect Megan. It is why his brother in law staggers to understand why a man like Kyle would be abused of beating his wife and child.

The violence against children doesn't end there.  Kyle runs into a local preacher who knows a little bit about Kyle's past.  When a local child needs an exorcism, the Preacher approaches Kyle in a parking lot in belief that Kyle somehow chased a demon out of his own mother.  Kyle is completely resistant to this but decides to help anyway.  This is when he sees demon activity for the first time and discovers that somehow, his blood scares them away.  Thus begins Kyle's work to cast out demons; he is the Outcast. Kyle begins to visit his comatose mother and for the first time realises that she doesn't hate him and had been possessed. This realisation however leaves him with questions that are in need of answers if he is ever to get his life back.

Make no mistake about this, none of this is easy to read whatsoever.  It seems at every point, someone is being abused. Even a good deed leads to violence.  When Kyle exercised the demon out of the child, he was in a physical fight with said child which entailed, punching and kicking. Think about that for a moment.  A grown man is punching and kicking a child with all of his strength.  It is absolutely unrelenting and serves to show how dark and grim this world is.

That being said, within the rhythm of darkness there's a strong element of repetitiveness.  It was not necessary to portray the preacher and or the preacher and Kyle performing exorcisms so many times. I've already seen The Exorcist though Kirkman's demon spewed black sludge instead of green and sucked on Kyle like a desperate succubus.  This time would have been better spent explaining what Kyle is and how he became this way.  Sure, the first volume is all about introducing the characters and the world but it also needs a provide a solid reason for why the set up exists, not dangling it on a carrot, hoping that readers will be curious enough to pick up a second volume.

We already know who the antagonist is and he reads like one big cliche. Yes, he's the devil and he has several names.  He's taken an interest in Kyle and isn't above killing the lonely widower who lives next door to get to Kyle. He's like every single avatar of evil that you've ever seen - nothing to see here folks.

This is a typical almost biblical story of good versus evil. The preacher naturally has his holy water and crucifix.  Unlike Satan, the preacher at least is an interesting character.  His only son wants nothing to do with him, he drinks hard and gambles.  The preacher isn't sure that God is actually watching each person and instead wonders if God is actually losing the war against Satan?  His crisis of faith however is short lived because the next morning he is back to believing that he is God's weapon.  Kirkman really needs to be careful with this one because he is on the verge of being didactic with this religious philosophy he engages with in Outcast.

Outcast is set in a small town and from the amount of possessions and exorcisms, it must be some hotbed of demon activity.  This is something Kirkman is going to have to get around to explaining as well.  Readers always have to be given a reason as to why evil is supposedly attracted to a specific geographic location.

This small town in the middle of nowhere at this point seems heavily erased.  I don't recall any character of colour worth speaking of.  In fact, Kyle's next door neigbour is a black man in the television series which recently aired its pilot but is white in the comics.  At this point, there are no LGBT characters either. I am not impressed in the least.  I hope that in volume two, we see some kind of inclusion.

Kirkman has earned a lot of goodwill from me because of The Walking Dead Comics and television show, the books not withstanding, and so I will give this a shot.  It's obvious that once again Kirkman wants to tell a character driven story, rather than one driven by the evil or the threat of the supernatural. It's a good format for story telling and encourages the reader to engage with the characters.  It's not his best work thus far, but it has caught my attention.