If you haven’t encountered a rabid Walking Dead fan proclaiming they’ll riot if Daryl Dixon dies, I envy you. In the past five years, zombies have become as ubiquitous as Starbucks, and their fans as faithful as churchgoers. Zombie walks, countless b-movies, video games, and even conventions have risen all across the country. While zombies have been a sub-genre of their own for decades now, Robert Kirkman’s comic, and subsequent TV show, THE WALKING DEAD, turned the mindless mongrels into an epidemic.
Critically, the show has had varying degrees of success, yet it has become the highest-rated show in cable television history, with audiences almost double of GAME OF THRONES or BREAKING BAD. We’ll be getting an inevitable spin-off, titled FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, in October. Because of the runaway success of Kirkman’s series, it came as no surprise that another of his books would be optioned for television.
For the uninformed, OUTCAST, by Kirkman and Paul Azaceta, is the story of Kyle Barnes, a man whose life has hit rock bottom and is constantly battling his inner demons, figuratively and very literally. The series is currently at issue 10, and has been horrific so far. Patrick Fugit is starring as Kyle, with filming set to begin in August, though the pilot has already been shot. A trailer was released during Comic-Con this past weekend.
At its core, OUTCAST is about a self-destructive, guilt ridden man who finds himself capable of fighting demonic possession, though the method of choice is not enviable. While the series is still in its infancy, especially compared to THE WALKING DEAD (which is currently on issue 144), OUTCAST can have a resolution. Kirkman has admitted that he doesn’t have an ending planned for his zombie epic, and it can be felt during certain seasons and arcs from both mediums.
This is where THE WALKING DEAD has arrived at a plateau, and where OUTCAST can continue to devastate.
Eventually, everyone has the same revelation about zombie films and books: “The real monsters are the PEOPLE!” The threat that seemed so frightening is relegated to scenery, and the only danger left is in the form of larger hordes, the death of prominent characters, and a zombie fight that ups the gruesome factor from last week. Until we get to the legitimately disturbing Whisperers, that is, but let’s not worry about that now.
Initially, it seems like there isn’t much of a difference between the two stories. Regular people encounter a seemingly supernatural enemy and they must work together to survive. While this is a major simplification of both stories, the common ground allows us to compare. The first difference lies with the enemy. Unlike a zombie, you can’t take a katana to a demon. They reside inside people, holding an innocent soul as a shield against its would-be attackers. Kyle must, quite literally, beat the demon out of the host. In THE WALKING DEAD, whenever they encounter a new enemy, the option to kill them has finality, while a person can't really be sure if they've killed a demon in OUTCAST. No matter how large the horde, and how difficult the fight may be, there is a solution, whereas demons have no discernible, ultimate weakness.
When it comes to the amount of characters, there is also significant difference. THE WALKING DEAD has a massive cast, while OUTCAST won't. A plethora of characters makes sense for a zombie show. Cannon fodder is needed, everyone is involved, and the main goal is survival, even if collateral damage is suffered along the way. For OUTCAST, only a few people really understand what's going on. Kyle Barnes has plenty of solitude to fight through his demons, while Rick is being checked and balanced by Michonne, Glenn, and other characters. We've seen Rick become insane and come back from it with the help of his friends and family. Kyle is alone, even when Reverend Anderson is helping him fight these possessions.
This is where OUTCAST has the chance to shine. Zombie hordes aren't as relatable as personal demons. Kyle's suffering and battles will open up his character, allowing for a deep exploration of self-fulfilling prophecies, redemption, and addiction. THE WALKING DEAD can show how far a person will go to protect those they love, but what do you do when they need protecting from you? How do you protect your family from someone you dearly love, yet is a danger to himself and everyone around him by no fault of his own? These aren't questions that can be answered in one episode, let alone an entire season.
Bringing these demons to life is a broad call for interpretation, and the desire to include every possible real world demon (addiction, adultery, depression, and more) will be high, but as long as they keep the focus on the characters, OUTCAST has the potential to reach plenty of people. Too many demons can weaken the story of those within, while a few well written, well regarded illnesses can resonate with many.
Rick, on the other hand, is going to go crazy, realize he's a monster, and then steady himself for the sake of his people. Again.