If you listened to the Comic Bastards Mother Fucking Podcast™ a couple weeks ago, you’ll recall that I excitedly brought up Cullen Bunn’s creator-owned Boom book, The Empty Man, with my esteemed hosts, quickly falling saddened by its apparent similarities with True Detective. I still haven’t watched that show (yes, I can hear you screaming at me through the internet), but I guess I just don’t want my reading of this book to be tainted; not just yet. So I’m reserving judgements based on other likeminded material and just tackling this with as little external stimuli as possible. Saying that, however, I’ve also noticed some other similarities feeding into The Empty Man, not least of which is the X-Files vibe that is already gaining traction. Also, and this is through no fault of the title, but what in the blue hell is up with all these books this week with “viral” themes in them? So far, I count at least three (this, Armor Wars and Spread, not to mention the new Strain trade). I get that we live in a post-zombie world, but damn!
Anyway, The Empty Man #2 follows the formula set up in issue one, with an introduction featuring the cryptic, yet seemingly innocent faith healer coming into contact with the first victims of the virus, before his eyes suddenly turn to creepy spaghetti. The story then switches to what remains for me the best part of the Empty Manexperience so far, which is a quick wrap-up of incidents that have occurred since day one of the outbreak.
This is where Bunn’s sick imagination shines with brief but haunting tales of hideous infection, like a woman who suffocates herself in a really ... shitty way. As a (forced) caretaker of two cats, the less said about that scene the better. Brrrrr!
The rest of the story is filled with agents Langford and Jensen (basically Mulder and Scully analogues) alternately fighting and cowering from the beast that reared its ugly head at the end of last issue. As the so-called Witness (a member of the cult that kidnaps, studies, hurts and worships Empty Man victims) gets his comeuppance and the beastie gets away, we learn that one of Langford’s colleagues may be a little too eager to study the virus, and that Langford might not be the only one in this cast with a possible case of Empty Man. There’s an erectile dysfunction joke in there somewhere, but I’m better than that.
The most important thing in a book like this is tone, and in that, I think Cullen Bunn does a great job of establishing an unsettling undercurrent, particularly in his quick recaps of possession and in perusing a video interview of one of the Witnesses. Other than quick bouts of action, the story itself is not yet aggressive, but it sets an appropriately lingering mood. Yes, there are aspects in this story that feel borrowed from places as far-flung as A Nightmare on Elm Street, but I feel like Bunn is doing a good job of ramping up that tension for a follow through I hope will pay off.
Similarly, while feeling slightly rushed in places Del Rey’s art enjoys a sort of Kindt-eqsue impressionism with the better parts of Ming Doyle’s work seasoned throughout. Altogether, her style helps accentuate Bunn’s flavor of menace. When The Empty Man doesn’t dance around its main premise and instead relishes in its gore, that’s when she is at her best, doing a great job of illustrating scraggly, stained violence. Garland’s colors are pretty good in their diverse use here, though at times I wonder if they get too dark so as to muddy Del Ray’s art. Still, together they do a good job of setting that lurking-in-the-shadows tenor.
The Empty Man #2 does sometimes feel like we’re tumbling down a familiar rabbit hole, but regardless of what is being presented - and all of the narrative facets from which it borrows - I’m still enjoying the flirtatious pace of this book. I do think they forced a climax too soon with the revelation of our duo’s possible sickness and definitely should have held off on that big monster reveal this issue, but I’m willing to give this team the benefit of the doubt that we’re purposely being led astray. Ironically, that makes me want to stick around.
As long as The Empty Man doesn’t metastasize too horrendously and they can keep it contained, this series could be an infectious read indeed.
Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Vanesa R. Del Rey Colorist: Michael Garland Publisher: Boom Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 7/9/14 Format: Mini-Series, Print/Digital