The Bulletproof Coffin #1 (Image Comics)

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The Bulletproof Coffin is a gust of desperately needed fresh air. It defies categorization.

 
32 pgs. full color; $3.99
(W: David Hine; A: Shaky Kane)
 
The word “quirky” gets thrown around a lot, in reference to all things pop cultural. It’s an adjective that—like “eccentric” or “iconoclastic”—relies heavily on context to determine its connotation. Quirkiness in and of itself is neither inherently good nor bad; it simply is. It’s all about how it’s done. More often than not, where comic books are concerned, quirkiness comes off as contrived. It’s a cheap way to appeal to a niche audience. It’s an easy buck. It’s a hyperbolic pull quote on a dust jacket. When it’s done without the heft of self-consciousness, quirkiness can succeed. A good example would be Mike Allred’s wonderful Madman, a book so genuine in its mission that it can charm its way into even the coldest of hearts.
 
Not far from that example comes issue #1 of The Bulletproof Coffin. This day and age, too many creators rely on a high concept to sell a book. Plot is the utmost consideration, and characterization, story structure, the viscera of the reading experience lag somewhere behind. If a book can’t be sold in a couple of sentences, it’s not gonna cut it in a cutthroat marketplace. So, The Bulletproof Coffin is a gust of desperately needed fresh air. It defies categorization.
 
At the core of the book is an obvious collaboration between writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane. This isn’t an artist kowtowing to an egomaniacal author, nor is it a writer pandering to a hotshot cartoonist. Rather, it appears to be heavy dalliances with both. Hine and Kane share a rapport that lends The Bulletproof Coffin effortlessness, a grace that is rarely found in “quirky” books from aboveground publishers. Not to suggest these fellows aren’t trying, or that it comes easy to them. They just make it look that way.
 
The cover pokes eyes from the dour patchwork of the stand. The stark white background and simple logo immediately draw attention, and the figures evoke a curiosity bordering on nausea. Are those kids, or midgets? What’s with the masks? Who the fuck DREW this? It looks like what might happen if you got Doug Mahnke and Geoff Darrow together to jam over a bottle of absinthe. This cover is a perfect example of how to get a comic book picked up for a flip-through.
 
The guts of the book don’t disappoint. Inside, there’s more of that art: clean, moody, a strange blend of nostalgia and dread. The script chimes in with masterful rhythm, never obtrusive, consistently economical. The dialogue and characterization both avoid the overwrought nature of a lot of those other darned “quirky” books, achieving an almost Lynchian serenity. It’s hard to draw comparisons to other comics for The Bulletproof Coffin, but Twin Peaks is a pretty decent analogue from another medium.
 
Not only is the quirk factor employed without pretension, so is “metafiction”. Hine and Kane’s names are used for background characters, and when the lead character sits down to read a mysterious comic book, the reader does so right along with him. Taking over eight pages, “The Unforgiving Eye”—a pitch perfect homage of the old EC tradition—features one of the most memorable characters in recent history: A giant eye that sits comfortably in the collar of a cloak, which obscures a classic three-piece suit. This is the sort of imagination people miss out on when they’re tripping all over their high concept. Similarly, a text piece at the end of the issue fleshes out some background, and hints at the promise of the next five issues. The directions extend exponentially from here. Anything could happen. 
 
The characters feel detached and distant, but this quality serves only to make the main character of Steve Newman more likable and human. He’s the perfect foil, the everyman for us to take this bizarre journey with. We’re in his shoes, and Lord knows where they’ll take us, but I’m looking forward to getting there. So should you. | Justin Crouse
 

Click here to read the sold-out The Bulletproof Coffin #1 for free, courtesy of Bleeding Cool, and click here for a preview of issue #2 right here at PLAYBACK:stl.

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