Blind dates can be dangerous. Sometimes you find that special something, sight-unseen, and fall head-over-heels in love. And at others, all you find is yourself temporarily shackled to a sweaty pile of unwashed moose-pig. It’s one of life’s fun little risks, and it’s what got me into reading The Empty #1. I went into this book without knowing anything about it other than the title and its solicit, both of which sounded interesting. Then, when I finally sat down to read it, I saw its creative “team” and immediately had a very Bluthian “I’ve made a huge mistake” moment. After slogging through the first few issues of Five Weapons a couple years back, I can honestly say I’m not a Jimmie Robinson guy. Still, I was willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt and do my best to not judge it before reading. But it turns out the Jedi were right. Trust your instincts, you guys.
The Empty #1 basically tells the story of a long-necked, bug-eyed lady-creature named Lila, who has been forcibly thrust from her verdant land of plenty to find herself beached on the shores of Vaankam, a dusty, decrepit town filled with overly long-armed people and sickness. Vaankam is lost in a wider wasteland called “the Empty,” an area so-named thanks to large, sinewy roots that snake through and throttle the life from land, sea and air by emitting deadly poison into the atmosphere.
As you might notice, The Empty utilizes a few plot devices similar to those found in titles like Trees, Spread and even that recent Red Sonja/Conan book. It also comes cast with a pretty bad-ass female lead - Tanoor - who is cut from the same stylistic cloth (or lack thereof) as the main protagonist in fellow Image book, Dark Engine. This is all sieved through an artistic style, which, in parts, looks inspired by something Jim Henson might have come up with, and in others, what might happen if Lawrence of Arabia and Mad Max took some peyote and slammed uglies.
Now, I’m not saying that, artistically, The Empty #1 is without merit. Actually, there are some powerfully rendered scenes throughout; Tanoor’s introduction is downright explosive, for example. But the vast majority elsewhere, while technically sound(ish), feels overly cartoony, and almost amateurish. I guess that’s just Robinson’s style, which is obviously subject to taste. And while I understand the purposeful distortion of the characters’ proportions - presumably a commentary on evolution - it all came off as weakly-conceived or just didn’t resound on the follow-through.
In the same way, thematically, it’s fairly clear where Robinson is going with The Empty, using it as a thinly-veiled ecological warning. The veiny strands of pollutant bio-tubes, I would venture a guess, stand in as a more gamey version of oil pipelines, for instance. But that’s not even amongst the problems I have with this book.
Before I move on to my main issue with The Empty #1, I want to quickly mention the inanity of its pacing, both in its unevenly-distributed, expository-thick dialogue and characters popping up out of nowhere to turn a scene; and in the poorly-contrived actions and motivations of its characters - Lila at first seems knowledgeable about her all-too-convenient life-giving powers before “cutely” acting ignorant of ever having had them.
But the most striking problem I had with The Empty #1 is that it drips with an uneasy colonialist viewpoint, I think, of the Middle East, and carries with its message a pretty archaic theme of “white man’s burden.” And yes, I do know that Robinson is an African-American creator, but I still got that icky feeling of, “Here’s this fair chick from a Western courtly culture to save a hopeless desert township populated by savage nomads with the gift of instant civilization.”
Even the names, customs and garb of Tanoor’s “tribe” seem to shout this homogenized Arab / Persian culture, with the elder screaming savagely about “The White Devil.” It comes across as mockery, and even if it’s meant to somehow serve as a swerve down the line (with Lila’s people possibly having built the pipeline to ensure their own agricultural success), its inherent Orientalism would set Edward Said spinning in his grave.
Interestingly - or perhaps not - The Empty #1 feels ... empty, bringing nothing new to the post-apocalyptic world story and actually coming across as both boring and actively insulting. I’ll be keeping an eye on this book, but mostly through a painful wince of what’s coming next, rather than legitimate interest. But I live in the sincere hope that Robinson can change my mind or prove me wrong in subsequent issues ... dubious though I remain.
Writer/Artist/Colorist: Jimmie Robinson Publisher: Image/Shadowline Price: $3.50 Release Date: 2/11/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital