What it says in the title.
The Bulletproof Coffin #1, by David Hine and Shaky Kane. Image.
June 2010 is shaping up to be a hell of a month. And though the comics internet is sure to see more buzz for the new Brendan McCarthy and Frank Quitely work that releases over the next weeks, there's another book washing from the hands of ex-weirdo-Britcomics creators, too. It's The Bulletproof Coffin, and the first issue is out now.
The (relatively) big draw on this book is the presence of artist Shaky Kane, who hasn't done comics work in years. Imagine McCarthy with a quarter of the public profile and Jack Kirby aesthetics instead of a Ditko debt and you're getting close. Kane shouldn't be confused with McCarthy, though; while there are similarities between the two, they are vastly different artists. Where McCarthy's art (like Ditko's) is akin to sequential windows with an infinite depth to them, dirtied up with details, Kane's art is pure clean Kirbyist pop. Slapped with flat, bright Kool-Aid colors and full of open space broken up only by tiny pen-marks indicating a creeping-in of dirt and decay, Kane's panels are aggressive things that scream comics! so loud that passersby can hear them. (Literally: a dude was reading this over my shoulder on the subway.)
His art revels in the machine-made plasticity of comics, characters' figures approximating reality more with their sheer awkwardness than any "human" movement or grace. This is comics art that is in love with the flatness of the printed page, any rendering lines drawn for the joy of the markmaking and not any illusion of three-dimensionality. Angular cut-outs against single computer-color tones that clash and clang against each other, they create a completely convincing reality with a basis in all the most quietly uncomfortable parts of our own. Kane is one of those rare artists whose every panel commands excitement.
But equally exciting to me is the presence of writer David Hine, whose return to weirdo comics is marked by this series. Hine is one of comics' least acknowledged major talents: his 1993 Strange Embrace (recently reprinted in color by Image, go find it now) is up there with From Hell and Raw volume 2 as some of the highest-quality stuff published during a certain time in our medium. He's been wasting away in the superhero hinterlands for the better part of a decade now, bashing out random place-fillers for the Big Two -- a fact which powers much of Bulletproof Coffin's story. It's been a while since Hine has worked on anything where he could let loose with the kind of twisted creativity that Strange Embrace's every page crackled with, so a series which lets that wellspring go is big news.
And yep, Bulletproof Coffin is definitely big news: Kane's art looks incredible, sometimes like Geof Darrow inking Kirby, others like a Charles Burns/Mike Allred collaboration. Both of those comparisons miss the inexpressible strangeness of this comic, though; every panel is shot through with random bizarreries, a funhouse mirror facial expression, a dropped background when you least expect it, a psychedelic Charles Manson poster in the corner. This is an anarchic-looking piece of art, something that evokes Silver Age-y weirdness with such singleminded purpose that you'll want to check your Marvel Essential and DC Showcase books just to make sure it wasn't your imagination that those stories had wholesome bits too.
The script is perfectly in tune with Kane's visions, a funhouse ride of mind-bending new realities. Bulletproof Coffin is first and foremost a story about some weird-ass Silver Age comics, namely those published by a defunct company called Golden Nugget and -- here's the kicker -- created by the writer/artist team of David Hine and Shaky Kane. Yes. Those books are cult classics now, appreciated only by "culture vultures" like Bulletproof's protagonist, an everyman-ish city morgue employee with your typical unsavory family: brain-dead wife, TV junkie kids, pink genital-less dog.
Mostly, though, this is a comic about those comics, these lost, hypothetical '50s and '60s Hine/Kane collabs which were supposed to have ended when Golden Nugget was bought out by -- oh shit -- "Big 2 Comics", a rival company. According to the story, Kane went underground, producing largely unseen religious tracts and Russian porn. And Hine has been working on mediocre superhero comics since anyone can remember (!). That story falls apart, though, when our man the culture vulture finds some newly printed, as-yet unseen Hine/Kane comics in a recently deceased old geek's house. And it only goes deeper into this... fictional metafiction, with "authentic" paper dolls for Golden Nugget characters, a "behind the scenes " section with bios on the alternate versions of the authors, hell, even a grisly, atmos-pop Hine/Kane Golden Nugget story plopped right into the middle of the comic's narrative to stop anyone from getting bored.
It's deeply weird stuff, the kind of material that makes you just think around and around in circles, think about industry lore and artistic ambition and Kirby and commerciality until it all falls back into the semitoxic soup that we know as "comics". And that's the point: Bulletproof Coffin makes you take it all in, makes you consider everything about the medium that doesn't go on the pages, from the circumstances that lead to the books' creations to the weirdest place you the reader have ever found a good read. It builds mythology, which is what amazing comics have a way of doing.
But this is not the grand, iconic mythology of one of the "Big 2", or the snappy soap opera of the other. This is pop culture that attacks the reader -- both within its pages, as the protagonist finds the pivotal comics in the most ominous way possible before a similarly ominous TV blasts him with horrible images from a show he really doesn't want to watch -- and outside, where it attacks the reader's preconceptions about those weirder early Silver Age stories and what comics creators are allowed to say about their work for hire. It's a completely intoxicating brew, each panel and balloon laden with its own idea. Best of all, this is only issue one -- and like the greatest comics, anything can happen from here.