At some stage, years ago, I fell out of love with Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. It was an “it’s not you, it’s me” scenario: the long-running series simply lost traction with me and I let it slide. Which means, for a long time now, there has been a Kirkman-sized hole in my reading list. Then the first volume of Outcast landed on my desk: a supernatural horror story, which sees Kirkman partnered with artist Paul Azaceta. And it blows The Walking Dead out of the water, because it takes everything that series encompasses and refines it.
Whereas The Walking Dead juggles a large cast of characters, Outcast has a tighter focus. Kyle Barnes lives in solitude, and for good reason: since childhood, his loved ones have fallen victim to demonic possession. He’s not exactly content with his isolation, rather he wallows in it. In the back of his mind, perhaps he thinks he deserves his fate. But when a reverend, schooled in the art of demonic exfiltration, comes to Kyle for assistance, he decides it’s time to seek an answer to the question that has haunted him throughout life: why him? Why his loved ones? And where did his anomalous ability to dispel these evil forces surface from; why does his mere touch wither the darkness?
Outcast is a comic oozing in atmosphere. It’s creepy and unsettling, both artistically, and in terms of Kirkman’s storytelling choices. Compared to The Walking Dead, which excels at its peak violent and gruesome moments, Outcast takes a subtler approach, and is all the better for it. Blood splatters these pages, sure – but effectively rather than excessively. The dialogue is nuanced, with most of the characters true motivations still shrouded in mystery, even at the conclusion of this first volume, which offers more questions than answers: but that’s its obligation, providing plenty of impetus to return later in the year for the second volume, or ideally start reading the series monthly.
Outcast is a proper horror comic. It is genuinely unnerving, forming knots in the readers’ stomachs as the story unfolds. If you loved The Walking Dead, you’re already reading this. But if you’re not, check out the first volume. It’s Kirkman and Azaceta performing at their peak. Long may it continue.