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"What if Dr. Frankenstein made a monster... of himself?"

So sayeth the blurb on the back of the The Coffin trade paperback. Admittedly, I haven't read Frankenstein in years, and it was probably an abridged kid's version, but i don't see too many parallels besides "mad scientist". I see more references to A Christmas Carol, in some ways, than Frankenstein, but that is, of course, my interpretation.

Dr. Ashar Ahmad falls into the typical "uncaring scientist" mode at the beginning of the story. He is only concerned with his research, ignoring his family totally. A point is even reached where he berates his wife/girlfriend for not having used some form of birth control years ago, after she asks him to take time away from his project to attend their daughter's kindergarten graduation.

Oh yes, the project. Dr. Ahmar is working on a very strange membrane. Composed of layers of polymers mere molecules thick, the polymers can expand and contract like living muscle in response to electrical stimulus; the project is at least in part designed to further the field of prosthetics. However, there is another curious property of the membrane: it is completely impermeable. Completely. When we meet Dr. Ahmad in the lab, he is observing a test subject: a dog, dead almost two days. Contained in an indestructible mechanical device, with its body wrapped in the membrane, the spirit of the dog could not escape its body, and the creature is still functioning. It can bark through a speaker implanted in its shell, the shell is motile so the dog can still run and jump and come when called; it even still tries to eat, responding to instinct still trapped within the machine.

Before we get to the point we all know is coming, let us meet the Evil Villain. (Of course there's an evil villain.)

Oliver Heller is 144 years old. He stays in chambers maintained at a positive pressure, and all who visit him are stripped and sprayed with serious disenfectants. You see, Heller is nearly completely made up of replacement parts, and needs to stay clean to survive. He is the head of a massive company (that has at least one medical research arm); indeed, he is one of the principal sponsors of Ahmad's work. He takes a very personal hand in the lives of his employees, signing all 20,000 checks himself. He keeps detailed medical records of every employee. When his employee Dr. Lynde returns from his mission to report on Ahmad's work, he discovers the hard way just how personal an interest Heller takes in his employees. Lynde is quickly pithed, his organs removed while he is kept alive by machinery; those organs are quickly transplanted into Heller.

Later that night, men break into Ahmad's lab and steal his notes. Heller is, unsurprisingly, interested in anything that may prolong his life. The men come upon Ahmad and his wife/girlfriend/mother of his child (also a scientist). Knowing that Ahmad is planning to quit the company, and not wishing to be discovered, they shoot both of them. Liv, the wife, is killed fairly instantly, but Ahmad is left alive. Before they can finish him off, they are attacked by the dog-creature, and escape into the night. Ahmad uses his final strength to drag himself into a secret room in the lab, where he had been working on a prototype of the machine, this one designed to be inhabited by a human. Ahmad crawls into the cocoon, is inserted by the machines into the suit, and dies.

Thus ends issue #1 of The Coffin, a four-issue series released in September 2000 and collected in August 2001 into a trade paperback. The story was written and laid out by Phil Hester, now more famous for his pencilling of Kevin Smith's take on DC's Green Arrow. The art was done by Mike Huddleston, co-founder (with Jim Mahfood) of 40 Oz. Comics; Huddleston would pencil and ink each page, and then scan it in and add grayscale effects with his computer.

The whole effect is extremely creepy. Hester details what happens to Ahmad after his death, both to his soul (treated to a time in hell while his body crawls into the suit) and to his reborn "body" as he tries to understand what has happened to him, and is forced to fight off others trapped as he is in Coffins made (imperfectly) by Heller.

The comic is available in trade form from Oni Press, and should be easily available at your local comic shop; please call 1-888-COMIC-BOOK if you need to find one in the United States. Which you do, if only to read this book.

Incidentally, James Cameron has supposedly purchased the rights to the movie adaptation, but little is known on that front.

with some help from

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