A couple of years ago, quite by accident I came across a trippy, violent, breathlessly energetic punk rock pop-art explosion of a comic book. Written by David Hine with art by Shaky Kane (real name Michael Coulthard), it had it all – costumed vigilantes, a prehistoric warrior woman, zombie GIs, 50s-style sci-fi colliding with 60s psychedelia… an acid-stained superhero tale brimming with imagination and verve. One wide-eyed read and I was hopelessly in love.
That comic, you may have guessed, was and is The Bulletproof Coffin. It might be a cop-out to say this in an article that’s supposed to be a recommendation, but this is a hard one to describe; one of those ‘you have to just read it’ punts that should be taken every once in a while. With that said, a (loose) description of the plot: Steve Newman/Neuman is a voids contractor who, through his line of work, comes across a series of old, very rare comic books. The comics appear to tell stories which exist in both some pulpy parallel world, and Steve’s reality (although ‘reality’ in TBC is very much a relative term). As Steve becomes more obsessed with the comics (even taking to dressing up as one of the main characters, a vigilante named Coffin Fly), the lines between the dimensions of four-colour fantasy and reality blur and disappear completely.
TBC is essentially a comic about comics, both in terms of plot and actual layout. Splitting each issue up in this collected volume are various fake advertisements, interviews and wink-nudge article pieces written as though the comics of the story have real world history to them. The effect is a loving ode to the creativity and vitality of the ‘golden era’ of comics, and by the end a gleeful middle finger at the dull, po-faced seriousness and ‘edginess’ that crept into superhero comics in the 90s and has, to an extent, stuck around like a fart in a spacesuit today.
Hine writes a thrillingly ‘meta’ story full of memorable characters and nods to pop culture, building the ‘comic within a comic within a comic’ narrative with a skill which ensures that, as weird as things get, they’re never confusing. The book also has a wickedly dark sense of humour which is backed up wonderfully by Kane’s beautiful psychedelic artwork. Using clean, bright colours which seem to pop off the page, Kane creates a super-detailed, instantly eye-catching world here, calling back to greats like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko while feeling resolutely modern. I’ve read a whole lot of comic books in my life, and TBC is honestly one of the best-looking.
In fact, it’s one of the best all round. The Bulletproof Coffin is the antithesis of cookie-cutter, committee-approved superhero comics shoved out by big-name companies with repetitive, uninspired storylines, bland characters and lazy artwork; one of those fantastic little gems you find in the weirdest corner of your comic book store, and a reminder of how much pure fun the medium can be.