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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

What Do You Mean They're Not Superheroes?: Belief in The Atheist

You know how sometimes you pick up a book thinking it will be one thing and it winds up being another? Or perhaps more appropriately have you ever bought a book for what seemed like the wrong reason only to be pleasantly surprised?

I'm a writer kind of guy when it comes to comics. Some people develop an interest in an artist and follow him from book to book no matter the character or characters he is drawing and no matter which company he is working for. Others will find a character that they connect with and they will read the titles that the character is featured in. Me, I follow writers, I follow them to characters I am unfamiliar with, I follow them through genres that typically don't strike my fancy, I even follow them outside comics to their ambitious novels, eager television scripts, ardent screenplays, even to their humble blogs. When I find a writer I like I rabidly consume everything that they have penned, like any good fan.

I first experienced Phil Hester's writing work on The Coffin, one of the first comics I bought once I got to college. I have a very distinct memory of coming back to the room I was staying in (not my dorm room, long story) with a stack of comics that I had never heard of ... It was really a thrill. The Coffin was a really good mini-series that had all the elements of a really good horror story and it was probably the first horror comic I had ever read. It would probably not be until buying the first issue of Kevin Smith's Green Arrow that I even knew he was an artist. Once I knew that he was perhaps better known for his art it actually made me appreciate even more the craft and dedication I had discovered in his writing. I wound up finding all these hidden gems like The Wretch, Deep Sleeper, Thirteen Steps, The Stronghold and, the focus of this article (though it got a bit wander-y there in the beginning): The Atheist.

The first issue of this 4 issue mini-series came out in April of 2005 and unfortunately due to the delays of paid work and the frustrations of changing publishers the final issue only came out in December of last year. This book, however, was worth every moment of the wait. Now available in Trade Paperback (and with a second mini-series currently being worked upon) I cannot do one iota less than to give my fullest and greatest recommendation. This is a mini-series that challenges the preconceptions of it's readers and forces the audience to ask the question, "Is that which will eliminate our fears more frightening than that which we are afraid of in the first place?".

What this series is about is, in it's broadest terms, possession. Now as scary as any monster from any horror story, as frightening as any serial killer imaginary or real might be, as deeply disturbing as any cult bent on creating planetary chaos is, there is nothing more frightening to me than the thought of something outside of myself taking over the function of my body or the bodies of those around me is perhaps the most chilling concept in all of fiction. What appears to be happening in the story is that the young of North America are suddenly running away, which on it's own is not so odd, to Winnipeg. They are participating in huge parties that defy reason. What is more curious is that many are dying, some by overdose, some by suicide, and some by sheer exhaustion. What is truly frightening though is that all the runaways are exhibiting similar "symptoms", sluggish movement, a 101 degree temperature, and their personalities have been replaced by those of people long dead.

At the center of this story are two characters, Antoine Sharpe, and Melissa Nguyen. Sharpe is know, by some of the very few who know him, as The Atheist. He is a man who is purely and completely logical. He either knows something, or he doesn't know something, and that is all. He believes in nothing that he cannot know, that logic cannot explain. And while the title, The Atheist, may have caused some controversy but it aptly describes the central character. Miss Nguyen is along for the ride as she is a member of CSIS and is interested in seeing the best outcome for her city.

The book is smart, scary, incredibly well written and deserving of all the acclaim it is bound to receive. John McRea turns out some of the best work of his career and Will Volley puts a fantastic look on the final issue. So don't just believe my opinion, go out buy it, and find out ... Know for sure.

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