Hey folks, Taylor here. As I hope y’all know, I co-host comixology’s weekly podcast “It Came out on Wednesday” with Jake. While we usually cover a nice chunk of new releases for review, there are plenty of books that slip through the cracks or merit a second, in-depth look.
Here, I take up issue three of “The Bulletproof Coffin,” giving special attention to the opening and some of the broader ideas of the series.
First thing’s first. If you haven’t gotten around to “The Bulletproof Coffin” please do. The Image mini-series by acclaimed UK indie team David Hine and Shaky Kane is about Steven Neuman, a junk diving repo-man of sorts, who stumbles across an apocryphal stash of Golden Nuggets comics. Golden Nuggets is an old comics publisher that was bought out by Big 2 Publishing (Big Two? geddit?). This fictional comics franchise was cancelled in the ‘60’s but the issues Neuman finds are new. Soon Neuman, a fanatical collector of pop cultural ephemera, finds that he is beginning to confuse his identity with that of his favorite cult superhero, Coffin Fly.
The first two issues of this six-shot left me satisfied but I was worried by the concept as a whole. I had faith in Hine’s writing, but by nature of the premise, the series seemed bound to resort to dated postmodern trickery and gimmicky storytelling conceits. I was especially worried with the conflation of Neuman and Coffin Fly; an awfully familiar meta-textual move.
I’m happy to say this third issue has set my doubts aside. It opens with Neuman as Coffin Fly, prowling the ruins of a wasteland future in a death tank. Neuman feels at one with the machine and tries to get into the role of Coffin Fly. As the narration reads:
“There was a blurb that ran on the contents page of the Coffin Fly’s comics. How did it go?”
‘Doomed to a life of unimaginable solitude! A creature who is less than human, yet also so much more—’ COFFIN FLY!
‘In the far-flung future, the Earth has been reduced to an arid wasteland! Here Coffin Fly wages a lonely war against those who would plunder and desecrate mankind’s heritage!’
“Yeah. That was it.”
Here we’ve got quotes doing double duty. The double quotation is strictly Neuman’s. The single quotes throw a monkey wrench into the narration. They could be Neuman’s memory of the original Coffin Fly blurb but they come with a suddenness and clarity that complicates this conclusion. They appear to stand alone, a self-sustaining heroes’ incantation that has a life all it’s own. Also, the words seem like they could be in dialogue with Neuman’s words. Maybe the voice is a possessing spirit (a trope not at all unfamiliar with superhero comics)?
I’ve zeroed-in on this opener because it makes a proper guidepost for the themes of this issue and the series as a whole. The first pages have Neuman/Coffin Fly scouring the wastes for cultural artifacts. He’s collected water guns, glow in the dark watches, and toys shaped like fast-food icons. He understands his mission but continuously asks ‘why?’ Through Neuman’s identity crisis and scavenging, Hine and Kane are confronting us with our own need (even, duty?) to sort out the culture that surrounds and shapes us. We are the unwitting subjects—consciously or not—of collective cultural debris that encompasses Bach and B-Movies at once. Other writers have approached these ideas but Hine and Kane keep a loving focus on comics with tactics such as the superhero blurb.
Later in the issue, Coffin Fly teams up with Ramona, Queen of the Stone Age. Ramona is another character from the Golden Nuggets universe made flesh but she also harkens back to real world comic heroine Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. The imaginative world of the fictional Neuman is willed by the impression Sheena has made on the minds on our own comic culture. Coffin Fly and Ramona team-up to fight the Hateful Dead, a legion of undead zombies from the Vietnam War. The Hateful Dead is an inspired bit of lunacy that runs the risk of distaste. The zombie mob is equal parts generic recycling and genuine historical trauma. What saves the odd creation from offense is that Hine and Kane use it to once again highlight Neuman’s role as a social and pop culture curator. As he guns down the horde, he lives out the memories of the soldiers in his mind—memories relived in joyously purple prose. That fateful zombie showdown captures the best of the series so far. It both confronts and indulges in familiar pop culture tropes and a collective cultural history.
Tagged: image comics · the bulletproof coffin
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