Overview

The Atheist #1

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The Atheist #1

Credits

  • Words: Phil Hester
  • Art: John McCrea
  • Inks: John McCrea
  • Colors: N/A
  • Story Title: Incarnate, Part One
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Apr 13, 2005

When the supernatural comes calling on the world of men, men call Antoine Sharpe, The Atheist.

It’s a reincarnation revolution. Rapists, murderers, and all manner of criminals and ne’er-do-wells have ditched the afterlife for better, more exciting digs—the bodies of young people. 10,000 of them have descended on Winnipeg, drinking and partying until their bodies give out and fall flat from exhaustion. To get to the bottom of this freak-out from beyond, a secret division within the Defense Department has assembled an investigative team. Among them is Antoine Sharpe, skeptic extraordinaire and perhaps the most intuitive man on the planet. He doubts everything, and has spent his career debunking one hoax after another. Nothing he’s examined has turned out to be authentic paranormal phenomena. Will these strange events turn out to be no different, nothing more than symptoms of a disease or mass psychosis? Or will Sharpe come face to face with something he’s never experienced—the real deal.

I’m fascinated by the supernatural detective story. Though its true origins are murky, it certainly has logged a lot a mileage, and will continue to do so, because it taps the veins of two deep human needs—the need to believe that there’s something more to life beyond the mundane, everyday world, and the need to believe in order. Naturally, these two needs, both powerful and compelling, conflict and are irreconcilable. One is about mystery, faith, chaos, and the limits of the imagination; the other about logic, reason, analysis, and the limits of truth. Simply put, the supernatural detective story pits the right part of the brain against the left. The nature of reality itself is at stake, and when these two needs clash, it’s a zero-sum game. One must be made subordinate to the other. But when both are brought together just right, so that the conflict itself is the focus and not necessarily the outcome, you’ve got one hell of a story. The Atheist ranks as one of the best of late.

The Atheist #1 turns on an intriguing premise that opens up any number of narrative possibilities. However, even more intriguing is Antoine Sharpe, who’s introduced to the reader in as bold a manner as I’ve seen in the genre. There’s something different about him—somehow he’s both left and right brain to an extreme, disturbingly intuitive and ruthlessly skeptical and logical. In this way he can be seen as Mulder and Scully wrapped up in the same body, with a healthy dose of Shaft to differentiate him from the brand of paranormal detective we’ve seen in the past. But more to the point, in the way that this opening story has myriad possibilities, so does the character. Despite his icy, bad-ass exterior, Phil Hester has impressively set Sharpe up as his own private battleground, and as the subtext throughout the issue, the tension within Sharpe himself resonates well. Like Sherlock Holmes one moment and Edgar Cayce the next, one gets just a hint of Sharpe’s struggle, as well as the sense that the veneer of harmony he exudes will be tested like the faith of Job. If The Atheist can pull this off it will be among comics’ best new arrivals.

Yes, my expectations are high, but only because Phil Hester has rewarded them in the past, particularly on last year’s mind-bending miniseries Deep Sleeper. Like it, The Atheist #1 is technically adept, tightly paced and plotted, with interesting characters and distinctive, rhythmic dialogue. Hester also seeded the relationships between his characters with layers of tension that the reader will be eager to see develop.

Artistically, I’m still wondering if this sort of story works best in black-and-white. Without color to establish and enrich mood, the images lack the impact they could otherwise have, as well as the sense that the world is not at all as it seems. Still, John McCrea does an admirable job of turning what seems to be a weakness into a strength. His images are well-drawn, and there’s detail, emotion, and narrative drive in his panels. Without color, he uses shadowy blacks to convey an ominous, portentous vibe, particularly in Antoine Sharpe’s unnerving two page introduction, which had me wondering if Sharpe himself was one of the resurrected dead. In fact, the black and white works best when Sharpe is the main focus of a particular panel. Defined as much by contour and contrasts as by bold, stark lines, the art does as much as the text to highlight his dual nature. Overall, despite a pulpy Moonstone sort of cover that makes the full moon behind Sharpe’s head look like a pimp-daddy hat, the interior art works well because it opts for a different path towards the supernatural and comes off with the atmospheric allure of film noir.

Readers looking for something new and different should give The Atheist #1 a good look. It’s an excellent debut.

-Dexter K. Flowers

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