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‘Empty Man’ #1- series begins with mixed results

‘Empty Man’ #1- series begins with mixed results

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Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Vanessa R. Del Rey
Published by Boom! Studios 

Empty Man is a horror comic book about a disease that may not be a disease and which drives its victims violently insane. Is it supernatural, or is it some kind of plague? While the idea behind the comic is interesting, the main characters are not particularly interesting. With a few more issues, the series may fully take shape.

We first see a preacher giving a sermon in a gas station while being taped for public access. He speaks about faith and later meets a member of his congregation with unusual facial scars. She asks for two people to be healed while she holds a picture of two children. Five years later, the United States is being ravaged by a phenomenon known as the Empty Man. In a nutshell, people are driven totally insane and commit violent acts, with some of the victims leaving behind a note saying “The Empty Man made me do it.” Walter Langford and Monica Bennett are two government agents investigating the latest death in Atlanta, which has left two children missing. Their questions lead them into conflict with an organization that has a strange fascination with the Empty Man.

Empty-Man-001-PRESS-4-3f35bJust for once, I’d like to see two cops or investigators who get along and don’t bicker the entire time. What chief takes two people with radically different personalities that clash and decides to pair them? The “by-the-book” cop and the “edgy, says-it-like-it-is” smart aleck was a tired trope when Lethal Weapon came out in the 1980s. Langford and Bennett pretty neatly fall into this cliché, and their dialogue could be interchanged with any number of cops from TV shows, movies, and comic books. It’ll take some work for their relationship to actually feel human and not quite so shallow.  It’s fine that the book wants to spend so much time on the Empty Man, which is the real star anyway.

The premise is certainly scary, although it’s sort of hard to figure out what Empty-Man-001-PRESS-3-888e9happens at the end of the comic. Religion certainly seems like it will be a part of this, partly because of the opening and little visual clues that are scattered throughout the comic. The artwork gives the comic a gritty feel appropriate to the dark theme, and when she wants to make an image look disturbing, it certainly looks disturbing.

What’s interesting is that the more graphic violence doesn’t really come off as shocking, but there are definitely disturbing scenes which convey true horror. For example, one scene features a newborn being fed to dogs, which is certainly violent and shocking. But shock isn’t necessarily horror, and there’s so much shocking violence in horror today that it’s not exactly a novel approach. On the other hand, a scene in a shower where a man scrubs himself bloody comes across as much more disturbing. Perhaps it’s just this reviewer’s preference for psychological horror. In any event, when this series opts for that approach, it works better.

– Zeb Larson

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