Note: This is a review of the first three volumes of Outcast: A Darkness Surrounds Him, A Vast and Unending Ruin, and This Little Light.
There’s a lot I want to like about Outcast. When done right, possession is one of my favorite horror subgenres. Peeling back the veil into the supernatural and seeing how it manifests in our physical realm creates for intriguing metaphysical horror. It’s also a fascinating exploration of good and evil and the battle between the divine and demonic. Sadly, Outcast lacks a lot of these thematic underpinnings.
Kyle Barnes is a man with little to live for. A rocky relationship with his mother and a wife and child who are afraid of him means he lives most of his life in isolation. But when he begins to unravel the roots of his ugly history, he finds many people in his life have been possessed by demons. He begins working with the washed-up Reverend Anderson who knows a number of people in their town who suffer from possession.
Part of Kirkman’s charm as a writer is his ability to take well-developed genres and turn them on their heads. The Walking Dead is a zombie story that takes us through the mundane moments inbetween the epic set pieces that usually make up a good zombie tale. Invincible is a more mature take on Spider-Man where death and violence have real weight to them. In both cases, Kirkman does the unexpected but ultimately affirms and celebrates these genres.
Outcast does not follow this trend. Instead, it seeks to make possession a generic supernatural evil. Kyle’s history of possession isn’t rooted in the religious, demons are not cast out through the use of the crucifix and scripture. Instead, Kyle possesses some ability that draws out demons and often makes the people in his life easier targets for possession.
This isn’t flipping the genre on its head, it’s removing its fangs, getting rid of what makes it so rich and interesting. For a story about a history of demonic possession, the possession lacks the history of previous lives or ancient demons. They’re faceless black whisps of evil that fade into the darkness, not potent evil forces to be battled against.
But where the book lacks in genre and theme, it makes up for in the art. Paul Azacerta’s art is vivid and vibrant. His detail to human faces makes for a lot of great performances. He also does a great job of making violence sparse and shocking. Blood are jutting lines and specks and demonic spirits are fiery wisps.
The art is elevated even further with the coloring of Elizabeth Brewster. She choses an intriguing color palette of teal and orange. This makes for a chilling pallet that pops off the page. The ways he also lights a page makes for these dark, vibrant images that look gorgeous and gaudy at the same time.
It’s a shame that a book that contains such great art suffers from a lack of solid content. Kirkman’s writing fails to capture what makes the possession genre compelling. By secularizing the possession, Outcast loses a lot of its potency. The art is enough to make for some great, chilling moments, but without the sense of true threat, Outcast is a defanged beast that is more bark than bite.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing