“What the hell did I just read?”
That’s the question I had for myself every time I finished a chapter of Coffin Bound. And this isn’t entirely a negative thing — the team of Dan Watters, Dani, Aditya Bidikar, and Brad Simpson have pulled off something entirely unique here.
When our very own Ritesh Babu reviewed the first issue of the series, he surmised that the series may work very well in trade. It seems he was correct, as the final panels of each issue flow perfectly into the next. Things that are obscured in one issue are answered more directly (or at least slightly illuminated) in the very next. It feels like a road trip book in the purest sense.
But even then, the story is still full of half-truths and visual metaphors. As mentioned, Ritesh did a hell of a job diving into the symbolism in each individual issue, so my job here seems to be trying to encapsulate how it feels to read this in one go. And man, it’s a trip.
The world that Izzy inhabits is an absurdist nightmare, one that stands at the crossroads somewhere between Samuel Beckett and Clive Barker. This is a world where exotic dancers bare everything, including what’s beneath the skin, where rogue surgeons stalk the countryside in search of perfect body parts to claim for themselves. Beneath all of the gore and spooky imagery, there’s an odd lightness of being to the whole affair.
Izzy’s self-destructive mission isn’t born out of anger, but rather a sense of duty. She approaches the entire situation pragmatically. When her car breaks down, she fixes it. When men with guns arrive, she kills them. When a talking vulture tells her that her time is come, she just wants to have an idea of what the end will look like.
She’s not alone in that regard. As I read Coffin Bound straight through, I found myself anxious to see what insanity waited beyond each turn of the page. I very frequently found myself having no idea what I’d just seen or why … and loving it.
“Every mark that I left, everything that I created … I shall undo,” Izzy tells Cassandra, and by extension, us. “And then I shall lie in an unmarked grave. And when the world takes my bones, I shall never have been here.”
All of the dialogue feels darkly lyrical. It’s as though each character has just stepped into a spot down center, ready to deliver a soliloquy. Paul Starlight’s Byronesque rants and Izzy’s fatalistic monologues feel like poetry. Hell, even the simpler lines of dialogue feels like this. From the fumbling excuses of Paulie Starlight’s thugs to the confident staccato of Cassandra’s warnings, every line carries a peculiar kind of melody.
I will confess to having some difficulty reading large portions of this book. Or rather, I had a difficult time looking at it. Not because of the artwork exactly, mind you — It’s a gorgeous-looking book with artwork that wonderfully captures the apocalyptic and otherworldly tone of the prose. It’s clear that this creative team is perfectly in-sync.
No, what made it difficult for me was the constant body horror on display. Some of it hits just the right absurdist note for me to be able to chuckle through the queasiness; however, the majority of the violence in this book caused me to shudder and nearly cover my face with my hands.
This is a book about self-destruction in more ways than one. When it becomes literal, when characters are actually cutting themselves and peeling back the layers of their own skin, I had a very hard time soldiering on. This is a personal preference and I have a suspicion that fans of Watters’ surreal Lucifer or the previously-mentioned Clive Barker’s nastier work will find a lot to latch onto here. For me, it was a step too far in many instances.
A lot of how you feel about this book will ultimately boil down to personal preference. I thought it was written and illustrated splendidly, but I hesitate to fully recommend it, because there are certainly moments here that were hard to stomach.