"The Occultist: Volume 2 – At Death's Door" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Originally published as The Occultist (Volume 2) #1 - #5
Written by Tim Seeley
Illustrated by Mike Norton
2013, 135 Pages
Trade paperback released on June 25th, 2014
Armed with the mystical power of the Sword, Rob Bailey is the Occultist, the latest in an ancient order that guards the borders between the living and the dead. This is a big responsibility for a loser college student, but he's making due. He's teamed up with Detective Anna Melendez to solve local supernatural crimes and he's being guided by James Charles, who is working as a mentor (although he's actually technoshaman Aiden Beck, possessing the body of James Charles, looking to steal the power of the Sword). That's the background for The Occultist as the second volume, At Death's Door begins.
This time around, Bailey is already established with his powers. While he's far from an expert with them, he can handle himself in a fight. The book opens with him and Melendez finding a group of angry spirits of starved infants who have returned as wights. If you needed to understand the tone of this comic, look no further than the fifth page where our hero fights off a horde of zombie-like babies, looking to eat him alive.
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The main focus of this volume is Beck's never-ending quest for the Sword. James Charles' body is deteriorating, so Beck's plans have been sped up. If he wants to steal this power from Bailey, he needs to move fast. He calls upon a group of college Wiccans that are literally playing with death to help get the Sword to reject Bailey so he can swoop in and take control. The co-eds are traversing the astral plane and knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door...or rather Hell. It gives them a rush that is amplified even further by Bailey's involvement.
This scenario puts the Occultist's true purpose front and center. While the first volume is mainly Bailey's origin story, At Death's Door shows what kind of responsibility he took on by accepting the Sword. He exists to protect the borders between life and death. He makes sure that one side doesn't break through to the other. It's like a form of segregation that everyone is OK with. By peeking into the land of the dead, he's riling up the spirits that are lurking just below the surface, willing to do anything to live again.
The Occultist has been described as a Peter Parker version of Doctor Strange, which is very accurate. Bailey is hopeless in real life, but he's a hero when he dons his cloak to become the Occultist. He's horrible with women. College seems to be going alright, but nothing special. He doesn't have many friends. His mom is overprotective and pushes Jesus on him. He puts all this aside when he's flying through the air using the Sword, showing confidence in his abilities and even cracking jokes and coming out with cheesy one-liners.
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This volume also begins to bring the Occultist into Project Black Sky, Dark Horse's superhero line. There are some quick hints at other heroes and someone that's looking for people like Bailey. I'm a little behind on these other Dark Horse titles, but seeing them pop up here makes me want to check them out to see how the Occultist fits into things.
Mike Norton absolutely kills it on this comic. The overall look of the Occultist is pretty cool with a long red cloak, like a lighter version of Marvel's The Hood, and a high-necked button down shirt that works to mask his face. It screams “supernatural hero” from the very first page. This is balanced by Bailey's clumsiness and general awkward demeanor when he's not in the zone.
There are a variety of creatures filling these pages. The aforementioned wight babies are simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying. As they come from something truly horrible, it's an aspect of the story that will stay with you for some time. And that's within the first few pages! Things get really crazy when Bailey ends up in the land of the dead. There are all sorts of creepy monsters down there and Norton brings them all to life (or death?) in a remarkable way. This escalates to a large battle, fitting for a supernatural hero book. The action is exciting and fast-paced.
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The trade paperback also includes the beautiful covers for the single issues drawn by Steve Morris. Each one gives a nice preview of the chapter's content without revealing too much. It's a nice treat and I'm glad that they're featured here.
The Occultist's adventures seem to just be getting started. He's learned how to control his abilities and now he's literally come face-to-face with death. Bailey might not have fully understood the responsibility that he now holds that came with this power, but he didn't need an Uncle Ben to tell him how important it is. This is the kind of comic and character that I wish Doctor Strange was. He's likeable and interesting and not some weird middle-aged dude cooped up in a big house with a manservant all day.