House Of Cards

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #5 by Shaky Kane and David Hine 

The Bulletproof Coffin’s shift from narrative to all-around general whatsit continues apace! Even before the latest two issues, it seemed a thoroughly hyperlinked work, its images and details easy exits and entrances for the reader to another moment in “Our ‘story’, so far…” The key novelty of Disinterred #4 – 84 different moments that both invited and rejected the urge to place themselves within a whole, each instance fertile, multivalent, and pointing to some slippery, maybe nonexistent, association, with the firing of the reader’s synapses intended to echo the formal fireworks on the page – may be the plain way it made that interactivity explicit.

As such, it seems natural the issue following would be a 180-turn – if the earlier issue cast we helpless readers everywhere and nowhere along a sea of images, #5 of Disinterred may be the series at it’s most blunt and direct. Well, for one thing, these images come with numbers, making it a sequential narrative which wears its sequence openly, a comfy converybelt of a comic just like the funnybooks of yore. Reinforcing this is the issue’s illustrative quality, each page a single panel depicting few “moments” but many definite situations, so there’s always the sense of time subtly manipulated, nudged a bit to get all the necessary information across, with all the words refused entry, made to linger below the image. Which is just a way of saying it’s a comic skewed more than most toward a storybook aesthetic, an appropriate style given that it positions itself as a set of bubblegum cards.

Bring on the pop pastiche! This series of trading cards – The Hateful Dead – comes with the Mars Attacks!-type can’t-miss premise of zombie soldiers in Vietnam and you can bet that a good portion of the images which just flooded your head at the mention of that idea are present in this issue. (ALSO: “’Nam-bies!” Jinx.) And when you’ve got a stupidly awesome idea like this – so close to fanboy pandering but for the fact that it feels so right – you’re obliged to run run run with it, which makes this issue a mighty showcase for visceral effect – something you can, in good faith, pass along to someone not in the know (but with an appetite for carnage). Heads mounted on pikes! The zombie immune to the flames which gush from his beloved flame thrower, his flesh now roasted meat! Eyeballs as a spoil of war, decorations fit only for the hardier grunts! And many similar blood-soaked antics under the East Asian sun. Yeah!

The more typical pleasures of the series – the constant metatextual concerns; the ever-unfolding central plotline – lay in wait for those, like me, who can’t help but stare too hard. The issue concludes with The Hateful Dead exiting through a portal toward a post-apocalyptic landscape; veteran Coffinauts have a good idea where they’ll end up – in issue #3 of the original series, ready to do battle with Steve Newman and Ramona, Queen Of The Jungle. Or maybe not – this sea we’re in is tumultuous, always shifting, and we can’t play Ismael with this Coffin; who knows what story down there awaits its end? What we can cling to is the backmatter of that earlier issue, which presented a summary of their rise-and-fall “original” context, the uproar which ensued when these good n’ gory cards first came into contact with children. The layering of fictions is charming, but more interesting is the fact that more than half the images in the current issue derive from those two pages, the cards laid out around the article’s text, often just redrawn with little variation.

On one level, it’s another aspect of the conceptual brio which has overtaken this here series – the issue reveals itself, to no small extent, as an exercise in reappropriation, with marginal elements already present made more potent through a modest recontextualization. More concretely, it ties into the structural conceit which announced itself on the first page: the cover of a collector’s album book specifically intended to hold these precious relics (collect ‘em all!) – this one belongs to Timmy, the boy seen playing with his tuff tuff toys a few issues prior. It’s something of a return to the first series’ approach: a deliberate remove, a fiction within a fiction, a collection of Hateful Dead cards. What makes it stand out is that last bit – it isn’t simply a set of images but a set of images collected; an object.

And so, it defines itself as something of independent value, or at least gestures at it (insofar as a comic entrenched in the floppy format can gesture at another medium, grasping at whatever faithfulness it can get by effectively destroying it, reformatting its front and back, image and caption, within a single page*). Regardless, we have only the text to go by, a text which premises its existence before our eyes upon its status as something pre-loved, an assemblage borne into being thanks to a collector’s passion, circumstances which make it the most elegant iteration yet of the series’ materialist concerns: the joyous junk which clutters its contents and the skein of uncanny associations which come attached to them – a lure which leads to a trap – here rendered equivalent in depiction and expression.

The Bulletproof Coffin has always had its eye on this notion: making its format an ongoing event, with all the ancillary elements of the traditional floppy tied into Coffin’s central narrative, everything allotted some space within the roomy collective copyright symbol of David Hine and Shaky Kane (beyond the back interior cover, typically an Elephantmen ad), making it alot like, say, 1963 by Alan Moore ‘n Pals, along with sundry other titles. The series manages more postmodern heft with this device though – a device which which reaches its greatest resonance in this issue – thanks to the above-mentioned ever-present ambivalent materialism, every installment a casual affirmation of the medium-as-the-message.

The series may exist best in single issue form, its most vulnerable and porous state, the one it greets the surrounding culture with before it crosses the threshold of approval and gains the robust weight of bonus material, a sturdy spine for support, and an armor of blurbs for protection – fragile, disposable, and thus more ready to accrue whatever value said culture wishes to impose, whether it be the (very unlikely) value of monetary investment (mint/near mint or bust) or the ability to fulfill the function I value, its readability, as represented by the basic care I take as I cart this issue around for the purpose of writing about it, placing it in a bag-and-board prison cell lest it become smushed or torn by the other items in my bag, where it sits not three inches away from me, itching for freedom (and, perhaps, vengeance) as I jot down these notes during my lunch break.

There – I’ve had my say. You can take or leave it as you’re so inclined. What we do know is that you owe me a Coke.

* And, of course, I’m discussing the destruction of a hypothetical object. Looking for love in the hall of mirrors…

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