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The Bulletproof Coffin Returns with More Meta Mayhem in The 1000 Yard Stare

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<i>The Bulletproof Coffin</i> Returns with More Meta Mayhem in <i>The 1000 Yard Stare</i>

Like your comics meta? And weird? And retro and day-glo and bonkers? Then you may already be a fan of writer David Hine and artist Shaky Kane’s sporadically published Image series The Bulletproof Coffin, which returns this month with a one-shot: The 1000 Yard Stare. From issue to issue and even panel to panel, few comics have ever offered more surprises or showed more love for the medium’s history and possibilities. If you dig off-kilter stories and intelligent escapism, this series has enough fun and freaky layers to get lost in forever.

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The first six-issue arc features protagonist Steve Newman (whose name is also spelled Neuman, Nyman, Nayman, Noman and Norman in a nod to spelling inconsistencies in old-time comics). Steve is a Voids Contractor who cleans up the houses of the deceased, but not before taking a peek the night before to look for collectibles. Steve discovers some comics that shouldn’t exist: brand-new issues by legendary creators “David Hine” and “Shaky Kane,” featuring heroes such as Coffin Fly, Red Wraith, the Shield of Justice, the Unforgiving Eye and mega-breasted Ramona, Queen of the Stone Age.

These comic are impossible because their creators, fictional versions of Hine and Kane who went on a Lee-and-Kirby-ish run of creativity in the 1950s for Golden Nugget comics, hadn’t worked on those characters in decades. The perfectly named Big 2 Productions had long ago bought out Golden Nugget, leaving Kane to wallow in Steve-Ditko-style obscurity and Hine to sell out, becoming a Big 2 hack. Newman isn’t exactly a fan: “The very thought of Z-Men Final Meltdown still makes my stomach heave.” Meanwhile, some of Steve’s dreams exactly match the stories of these new comics, which involve Steve becoming Coffin Fly and romancing Ramona.

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The Bulletproof Coffin: The 1000 Yard Stare Interior Art by Shaky Kane

As Steve either becomes unhinged from reality or discovers a massive conspiracy involving an apocalyptic future and the mysterious antagonists, the Shadowmen, he finds refuge (and clues) in comics. Fleeing his loveless marriage and monstrous children for his attic of collectibles, Steve is the most relatable protagonist ever: “There’s no point fighting it any longer. Those comic books are calling me like long-lost friends. My head is filled with visions of ray guns, toxic aliens, rippling muscles and pounding club fists.” Without spoiling the whole first arc, Steve’s quest to find Hine and Kane (portentously referred to as “the creators”) is deadly, weird and awesome.

The second volume is even weirder than the first, consisting of six fairly disconnected issues, each of which delves into a specific character or crevice of the series, such as the Shield of Justice’s origin or the gross adventures of the Hateful Dead (Vietnam soldiers transformed into zombies by aliens). This volume peaks with the strangest issue of series: the fourth entry, titled “84,” features 84 panels in four-panel grids with no logical relationship between the panels. If William S. Burroughs—pioneer of literary cut-ups—made a comic book, this would be it. Presumably, the new one-shot will also plumb one of the many depths of the Bulletproof Coffin world.

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The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred #4 Interior Art by Shaky Kane

Though Hine and Kane (the real-life dudes, not their creepy fictional counterparts) pay homage to stories involving superheroes, detectives, UFOs, femme fatales and jazz clubs, their main genre is horror. Paranoia and dread dominate every story. Kane’s Kirby-esque art heightens the horror, especially through the male characters, who are almost all pockmarked, lumpy, craggy monsters—even the little boys. By contrast, the women are buxom and gorgeous, as if teleported from the set of a Russ Meyer film.

This series isn’t just meta on one level—it has more layers than Inception. Some stories appear to be the dreams of Sharon Sharone, the alter ego of Ramona. Others are apparently tied to Sharone’s creepy nephew, Timmy, playing with his toys (and explosives). Then there are the Watchmen-like extras that heighten the absurd reality of the comics within comics. There are pin-ups, cut-outs, a letters page and ads for products such as U-Control Darling Lab Monkey. Grant Morrison would be proud (of the meta, not the monkey).

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The Bulletproof Coffin: The 1000 Yard Stare Interior Art by Shaky Kane

Few series work on so many levels. The Bulletproof Coffin can be read as a wacky adventure series, a Burroughs-esque art comic or an homage to the history of comics. The more you know about comics history, the more there is to love. The Bulletproof Coffin is a multi-layered cake of meta goodness, and we’re lucky to get another slice.

Mark Peters is the author of Bullshit: A Lexicon. Follow him on Twitter.

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