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Review: Out #1

Out #1

Comics are a particularly fertile medium for different interpretations of the vampire mythos. From Vertigo’s Vamps, about a female biker vamp gang that spills the patriarchy’s blood wherever they go, to Image’s Dracula, Motherfucker!, a pulpy reinterpretation of the original vampire’s bloodsucking brides, there’s no shortage of examples about the storytelling possibilities the classic monster can still hold.

Rob Williams and Will Conrad’s Out, published by AWA Studios, is another great foray into vamp territory, but what makes it stand out is how well it tweaks the monster’s foundational myths to produce a more nuanced but infinitely more terrifying version of it. There’s enough classic horror here to satisfy veteran vampire fans with enough variation to keep those hungry for new blood well fed.

Out is essentially a prisoner of war story (P.O.W. for short) set in the final days of the Second World War, with the Allies quickly gaining on the Nazis in their home turf. Like any good POW story, the comic focuses on a small group of captured Allied soldiers that are being kept in a massive castle located deep in the mountains of Czechoslovakia. Dark priests and strange rituals are taking place inside the castle and they end with prisoners being fed to something that thirsts for blood, something ancient.

Out #1

A Native American soldier called Nocona emerges as the main character in all this, a code-talker that speaks several languages and that represents a whole group of First Nations servicemen that the American military enlisted to transmit coded messages during the war (codes the Germans didn’t know how to crack). His knowledge of languages figure greatly into the story and it’s one of the things that help make the vampire a deeper and more frightening character.

Without giving too much away, Nocona’s interactions with the vampire (who’s trapped by the Nazis in an effort to turn a losing war in their favor) are fascinatingly terrifying because of the character’s ability to speak in the same tongue as the creature. This allows Williams and Conrad to flesh out the monster beyond snarls, growls, and hisses.

Conrad creates a horrifying vamp here, bat-like in parts and almost alien-like in others, but William’s scripting choice to allow him to attempt communication means there’s more room afforded to its development as a multidimensional character. The comic shines in this regard.

Usually, vampire characters that are in a permanent bat monster mode rarely get the chance to speak or to add nuance to their personality. Williams and Conrad challenge this by doing the opposite, and it works well enough to set their vamp apart from the ones already out there in the field.

Nocona’s presence, though, isn’t just relegated to vampire whisperer. He’s also trying to help other POWs in the castle escape. It’s here that he meets a soldier that represents a level of attraction beyond any call of duty. His and Nocona’s interactions are among Out’s strongest and they help further differentiate this horror tale from the rest, especially in terms of how naturally it unfolds. Nothing is ever forced or propped up for shock value. It’s an organic type of development and it adds layers of emotion that pay off in the end.

Out #1

In a sense, it’s not unfair to describe Out as a cross between Dracula and The Great Escape. The elements of a POW escape yarn are firmly present and a lot of the tension Williams and Conrad produce comes from the same sense of urgency war movies of this iteration are known for. In turn, the horror elements turn the narrative two-tiered, a ‘busting out of captivity’ scenario paired with a creature feature that makes the need for escape all the greater. It’s smart and it makes for compulsive reading.

Out is a great example of how to take tradition and twist it into something that can appeal to more current sensibilities. It’s a classic horror story that reads like a POW war narrative with key adages and permutations that elevate it into more compelling forms of storytelling. Williams and Conrad came up with a clever and violently emotional exploration of war, death, and everything in between. In the process, they might also suggest learning other languages can be the deciding factor in some life and death situations. You never know when you might need to talk down a blood-sucking creature from using your head as a wine glass in its native tongue.

Story: Rob Williams Art: Will Conrad
Color: Marco Lesko Letterer: Sal Cipriano
Story: 9.0 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.0 Recommendation: Buy and learn an ancient language or two.

Purchase: comiXology/KindleTFAW