Warning: Major Spoilers Below!
‘I can heal the old way. It’s slow and painful, yes. But I’ll heal.’
Well, it’s been a bit. You’ve all had time to not only read it, but really let it sink in. So let’s talk about it. Let’s dig into Coffin Bound #4, the wild finish to a whirlwind of a story. It’s the end of this first volume, with the creative team set to return in the near future and it’s a really interesting note to go out on for the moment, bringing this chapter of Izzy’s life to a close.
The story has very much been, fundamentally, about death from the beginning. The very title ‘Coffin Bound’ is a prophetic warning, an eerie, creeping reminder of how we’re all bound to that goodbye in the eternal night of the nevermore. Colored in warning yellows, that very first cover to issue #1 now feels even more fitting as we reach this point. Death has haunted this book since the start, from that very first cover and title. Death is its fundamental promise. It’s a book where Death is given shape and molded into being, like clay, in the form of the monstrous entity known as the EarthEater. And death still, very much, consistently haunts the book. And since it does, it becomes the central question of the narrative.
And so we open on it. Death. Unstoppable. Unpredictable. Shocking. Devastating. And picking up from the conclusion of the last two issues, one where the death was revealed to us and the other wherein it was revealed to Izzy, we finally see her grapple with what’s happened. The burden proves too heavy for her. She cannot take it. No more. She’s had enough. She cannot run. Running from things was pointless, it resulted in the absolute failure of her goals. So her leap in this very moment? Only one choice remains, run again. Only this time straight into death’s arms. Izzy cannot cope with what’s happened and so for a moment, she’s about to do what she’s accustomed to doing by this point now.
Notice the panels above, brought to life by the spectacular art team of Dani and colorist Brad Simpson. The images in the panel are, on a basic level, meant to show Izzy cutting her skin. But that’s not quite what the art team shows us. Throughout this run of the first volume, the team has excelled at minimalist panels of abstract intensity. Moments rooted in conveying a key idea or feeling, more than anything. And this is that. In these two beats Izzy isn’t merely cutting her skin, she’s cutting the very idea of skin. It’s an abstract image that doesn’t go for specificity. And while specificity is usually very good and tends to be rather helpful, here it’s pulling back from that and going into the realm of the abstract that makes the moment all the more visceral and potent. You get to project and visualize the specifics to surround the image in this moment, rather than the art handing them to you. And when it comes to horrific imagery, allowing the audience that ability to project and complete an idea, that can land really well.
And it fits the book, which is set in this quite mad world of visual metaphors, surreal entities, ideas and formal tongues, all kneaded together with a healthy dose of existential dread. This is the narrative where the antagonist is an evil poet. A dark scribe possessed by the need to write. If that latter bit strikes you as a tad bit amusing, it should, because for all its relentlessly heavy moments, the ever looming dread of death and all the suffering, the book does manage to be darkly funny. It has moments of levity that genuinely surprise or release tension in necessary places, carefully balancing the experience of the whole enterprise.
As ever, Aditya Bidikar’s lettering stands out here, with the incomplete borders on balloons, the simple lines for tails, which are both a mix of black and white, all part of the nature of the people of this world. Black and white, incomplete, messy and somehow just right. And then there’s the extra-normal beings of this world, who are lettered even more strangely, as is to be expected. The scratchy and constantly crude hexagons of the vulture being, the hilariously over-the-top and deliberately contrasting captions of the EarthEater, this is a world that feels nonsensical, it’s not one you can decode or ‘understand’ with logic. It’s strange, it’s wild, it’s unrestrained. It’s a constant, fiery explosion over which you have no control over. To seek control is a fool’s errand. Control is futile. Understanding and acceptance are wise. This is a world of poetic illustrations that is the human consciousness, as we’re completely immersed into the perspective of Izzy. We see her need to control the parameters of her end, we see the price of that, the absolute futility of it and in the end, we see her despair as the epiphany finally hits.
Even in the above moment, where in Izzy bears The Prophet’s eyes, she sees the world no differently than she did before. She expected one thing, but that wasn’t what she got. And isn’t that life? To shed one’s covers, to open one’s eyes once more, shedding the cloth that binds one’s sight, only to find not the world you were expecting to see. It’s never gonna be how you expected or wanted. But you still have to act. You still have to make do.
Few things perhaps express the core sensibility of the book than the regular scenes with Ben, Izzy’s manager. Things reach the height of the ridiculous here as he’s reduced to nothing more than a brain with glasses muttering the two words above. That is it. A woman debating philosophy with a living brain sporting glasses and muttering GLUB GLUB on a phone call. That’s the dark fun and also horror of the book in a microcosm. Dan Watters’ writing threads a careful line here, where in it’s just odd enough to be funny, but also maintains a level of creepiness that lands.
And in regards to creepiness, the book’s body horror moments with Paulie are strikingly repulsive in this installment. It’s a gruesome fate for good ol’ Starlight of the poetry, as the book also gives us the proper, complete lowdown on all that went down. There’s a bit of contrasting commentary from both Izzy and Paulie at moments, to give us their perspectives on their history, which proves to be a good choice. And Brad Simpson’s colors, which give the whole flashback sequence a faded look by draining some of the vibrancy of the pages makes the moments standout without making them feel entirely out of place. The faded feeling is transportive in a good way that adds to the story that Dani’s telling on the page. And Dani, really, has the hardest task here. Being given a brain with glasses on a phonecall isn’t easy to pull off. That takes a bit of work to sell, especially in the context that it’s placed in. It’s meant to release some of the tension by adding levity while also maintaining the creepy undercurrent of things, which is a response that requires a level of precision to elicit when tackling things here. And Dani’s efforts prove admirable. The interesting layouts, the use of shadows, blacks in general and negative space on the whole continue to be a standout strength for the artist. They really know how to make a good use of the page.
And that’s how you end up with moments of intricate beauty like these. Look at the gorgeous purples that coat our characters as they fall through green and black. It’s a perfectly minimalist image with rough, crude details, as you’d expect, which especially matches this sequence of glass cracking. And if Ben Brain is one way of summing up the book, this is another. It sort of encapsulates Izzy’s story, really. Holding onto the person closest to her as they fall, with her on the bottom, surrounded by darkness and uncertainty. Not letting go. Confident. This is her at the end, this is where she must and does arrive.
Izzy’s been running from things for so, so long. She ran from her tragedy, her trauma, the very consequence of having to live with and see Cassandra and Taqa after what had happened. She could not bear that and so she ran. She then ran from death, wishing to erase her existence. She ran from both her tragedy and from her death. But neither helped. And that’s essential here.
To paraphrase Taqa, the first time around? She hurt them, her family, her closest friends. The second time around? She absolutely destroyed them. When you run from the problems and try to ‘heal’ in shallow, artificial ways, literally, as depicted by Paulie and Taqa, you just end up hurting the people closest to you. They feel abandoned. They feel hurt. They feel lost. You cannot run from those who you care for you and hope things will turn out well. Hurt is all there’ll be. Izzy could heal a billion times over at Paulie’s club, numbed to pain, but that still wouldn’t change a thing. For the numbed pain of the flesh is nothing in the face of the impossible pain of the soul, the thing which can never be numbed. The thing that eats away at one self. The self-destructive, imposed punishment isn’t the path to forgiveness, acceptance, absolution or happiness. It’s just a road to extra pain.
But what’s worse is trying to erase everything. Trying to make it so that everything is back to square one. To cleanse and erase your past. As Izzy learns, to ‘erase’ one self truly means to destroy the past, which means to destroy those who inhabited it, the actual people. And that price? It’s not worth it. It’s never worth it. Erasure is a path to doom, not anything truly meaningful. It’s a futile attempt at control of the inevitable. It’s another attempt to run from that which must be faced.
And that’s the lesson here. Life isn’t for running. You can only run from things so much. Life is for living. And to live isn’t to run, it’s to stand. And it’s not standing without fear in the face of death, without regrets, without mistakes or completed business, it’s none of that. That isn’t human. It’s standing despite the fear, the regrets, the mistakes, the incomplete business. It’s acceptance. It’s living in the moment. It’s not just being or existing, it’s living, truly. It’s knowing whatever may or will happen happens, but living on anyway. We may all be Coffin Bound and we may all seek control and an ideal for how our end should be, but much like Izzy taking off the cloth to see the world, it’s never gonna be what we expect, because that’s just not what life is. You do all you can, the best that you can and you live. And on that one day when Death comes knocking, you stand. You take in the moment, because even one moment, that single moment, is worth far more than you realize.
As Taqa tells Izzy, she may not heal the artificial way, all numb and will have to heal the long and hard way. And that applies to not just the injuries of her flesh, but the real, deeper injuries, those of her soul. She’ll heal the way we all do. With time, with effort, with no shortcuts or numbing. You can’t run from the past or erase it. You accept it, face it and take a stand and live in the now, doing your best. And that’s what that last page is all about, as Watters’ mission statement, Dani’s vision, Simpson’s atmosphere and Bidikar’s unification of all of the above makes it astoundingly clear.
Coffin Bound #4 is a striking over-sized conclusion of 40 pages that really rumbles with purpose and perspective, closing off this opening chapter of Izzy’s life. It’s a book about death, sure. But more importantly, it’s about how to live in the face of death. It’s not easy, it’s never perfect, it’s messy and takes time, but you make do. It’s hard to say where Izzy’s path is from this point onward, but at the very least, she now understands and knows how not to live. To seek no anti-life or erasure, for that is merely pain and destruction, but to take the harder path forward. To live in the moment and stand.