Balladeer’s Blog’s 31 Days of Halloween continues with this neglected horror hero.
THE COFFIN (2000) – Written by Phil Hester and drawn by Mike Huddleston, The Coffin was originally a four-part serial before being collected into graphic novel format. I’ll provide details below but right up front let me point out that the horrific but intriguing premise is that the Coffin is a dead scientist whose soul is trapped within a polymer techno-suit of his own creation.
Dr Ashar Ahmad, the brilliant scientist in question, is employed by Heller Technologies, whose eponymous owner is a vile and amoral tycoon. Heller himself is a figure straight out of a horror film.
He’s incredibly old and his withered, wrinkled body is still functioning only because of all of the legal and illegal organ transplants he has had. His body is a battleground of scars from all that surgery. Obviously immortality is what our power-mad plutocrat longs for.
And so Heller Technologies recruited Dr Ahmad to devise strong, lightweight polymers for medical purposes. To that end Ashar has developed polymers that can be used to form an artificial membrane that is perfectly impermeable and incredibly durable.
Extensions of that technology result in masses of polymers – literally thousands of layers – some of them only a few molecules thick. Dr Ahmad has managed to make it so that these polymers react to electronic pulses like the kind from a human brain to its body’s muscles, making the polymer “skin” or membrane expand or contract in response to those electronic pulses.
Obviously this invention could revolutionize prosthetic limbs but the ever-questing Ashar has pushed even further. He has moved on to animal experiments and has encased a dog in an entire “suit” of his polymers, like dog-shaped armor.
The membrane is so impermeable that the euthanized dog’s soul or life-force cannot even escape. Whatever that force is – and at first Dr Ahmad is scientifically skeptical about “souls” – it proves able to command the polymers just like impulses from the brain.
Encased within the dog-shaped suit the dead canine is still able to run and jump and even tries to eat, but of course it has no mouth, because that would let the soul/ life-force escape. It feels no hunger, however, because the contained soul/ life-force is self-sustaining.
Dr Ahmad is ready to move on to human experimentation, since encasing a human in a similar suit of polymer armor would give them practical immortality. The armor, which he calls a Coffin – is incredibly strong and the person inside would have no need of food or water ever again.
At death, the armor would contain the person’s soul just like it did with the dog. That soul or life-force would operate the suit like in the case of the dead canine.
In the grand tradition of evil magnates, Heller wants to use Ashar’s technology for himself and his own purposes. Our villain sends his sinister aide Ms Keen and a hired killer to Dr Ahmad’s lab.
Once there they kill the good doctor’s assistant Olivia Goldenthal, who is also the mother of her and Ashar’s daughter Billie. While Ms Keen downloads Dr Ahmad’s info on his polymers the accompanying assassin shoots Ashar.
Our hero isn’t quite as dead as the hireling thought, however, and before his life can ebb from his body he encases himself in a quasi-humanoid shaped suit of the polymer armor. Dr Ahmad’s body dies and his soul is now trapped within the Coffin of his own creation.
While escaping Ms Keen’s destruction of his lab Ashar becomes accustomed to his new body/ shell and learns that through manipulating the polymers he can make his limbs stretch, or form tentacles or whatever other shapes he desires. The polymer muscles also make the Coffin far stronger than he was while alive.
From there the macabre superhero must oppose Heller and his plans to create an entire army of human guinea pigs to be euthanized while wearing replicas of Ashar’s armor. He has been able to override the autonomy of the suits, making them electronically controlled by Heller himself, the perfect obedient army.
Ms Keen’s plundered technology has not enabled her and Heller to perfectly duplicate Dr Ahmad’s results, however, and their imitation polymer suits of armor contain microscopic imperfections which seriously limit how long the suits will be able to entrap the souls within.
Slow leaks will allow the souls to escape within weeks at most so Heller needs to know how to make his suits as impermeable as the Coffin’s own. While trying to stop the villain from getting his hands on the technology he requires, the Coffin also must protect Billie, his and Liv’s illegitimate daughter.
Amid the expected action we also see the late Dr Ahmad learn that his cold devotion to science and his disbelief in any sort of afterlife were ill-founded. Olivia’s dying wish was that the compassionless Ashar NOT care for their daughter, since Liv feels she’ll be better off without Dr Ahmad’s loveless nature in her life.
Not only does Ashar establish a genuine emotional bond with Billie while saving her from Heller but the Coffin also learns that Satan and Hell are very, very real. Our hero even gets to see portions of Hell and the torments of the damned.
There are assorted nice touches throughout the story, like the way Dr Ahmad is disturbed by the sound of his own weeping through the audio projector of his Coffin armor when he despairs over the way he is trapped inside. Or his wistful memories about dreaming and having orgasms, two things that are now outside of what he will experience from now on.
I won’t spoil the rest of the story, but it’s a grand – if morbid – adventure. And ideal for the Halloween season. +++
FOR MY REVIEWS OF MARVEL COMICS HORROR STORIES LIKE SATANA, THE LIVING MUMMY, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT, THE GOLEM AND TALES OF THE ZOMBIE CLICK HERE
FOR MORE HALLOWEEN ITEMS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/halloween-season/
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