Atheist #1

Written by Phil Hester
Art by John McCrea
32 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

Every time I turn around these days, there’s some new sort of “final days” media being released. The end of the world is a popular subject, and while the exact nature of how civilization is going to fall, one of the central ideas that pops up in most of these is the idea of the dead coming back among the living. That’s one of the main conceits of The Atheist, but Phil Hester and John McCrea’s take on the idea is just different enough that it almost immediately caught my attention.

Can the dead really come back? From young teens to college students, children to members of the military, people are suddenly dropping everything they own in favor of running off in search of hedonism. When questioned, they explain it’s really very simple: they’re the dead, their spirits able to come back into the living. Antoine Sharpe is being brought in to help investigate these claims; nicknamed “the atheist” because of his disbelief in all things supernatural, even Sharpe himself might be hard-pressed to come up with another answer to what’s really going on across the country.

Hester kicks off The Atheist with the most memorable scene of the comic, as a fake “communicator with the dead” starts getting a real message from the other side with eerie results. It’s a great way to kick off the series, and while the rest is certainly good, it’s hard to live up to that initial promise of things going horribly wrong. The rest of the issue is mostly set-up for the series to come, introducing our main protagonist and the rest of the supporting cast. It’s a good way to meet them, although the initial focus is primarily on Sharpe. Perhaps most importantly, the end of the first issue we’ve got a good point from which to launch the rest of the series.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen McCrea illustrate comics, and his new style is a lot rougher and grittier than what I remembered from Hitman. There are a lot of thick, dark ink lines here, and the amount of shading and darkness on the pages not only provides a strong look in terms of anatomy and physique, but helps bring the darker scenes that Hester’s written really come to life. In some of the scenes, characters actually seem drawn more by the absence of lines; McCrea lets the reader’s mind fill in the details, and what sounds like it might not work is in fact quite effective. This is a definite change in style for McCrea, refining his talents to produce something just right for the new series.

If I had a complaint about The Atheist #1 it would be that we’re only just getting started. This is a first issue where we’ve had enough set-up that I really want to see what happens next. Hopefully the second issue will plunge us right into the middle of the dead coming back life and what, if anything, can be done to stop them. Hester and McCrea have laid enough groundwork here that there’s story potential for issues to come.

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