Review: The Empty Man #4

Unlike some, I am not typically what you might call a “horror guy.” Don’t get me wrong, I like a good scare, but modern horror - be it in film, comic books or otherwise - seems to be complacent in eliciting its fright through gratuitous gore, rather than the psychological stuff that cranks my tractor. It is the implied - that which lurks at the periphery of the story - which, for me, terrifies the most and leaves a lasting impression. In terms of gore, less is more. I have a similar problem with creature reveals. Again, I do love me some monsters and seeing them is (usually) a formative moment in any horror story, but the longer you draw out that anticipation, the more you tease your audience with dark corners and flitting shadows, the more it ramps up the suspense so integral to making those stories work. In all of this, Cullen Bunn and Vanesa Del Rey’s Boom! book The Empty Man straddles a fine line, with a fantastic, equal-parts psychological and physiological premise, but one that I fear is sometimes too quick to tear out its own guts.

The Empty Man #4 continues agents Langford and Jensen’s hunt for children who may have been kidnapped by either worshippers of a sentient virus, or by the living sickness itself ... or is that himself? This issue sees them guarding a once-faithful witness, who apparently has fallen afoul of that which he used to obsess over so ardently; in this case manifested as a toothy, leech-like monster apparently sent to kill or capture him.

Empty_Man_004_coverCar chases and fringe-peddling strip clubs abound, but perhaps the most compelling part of this issue is during the autopsy that takes place at its end. As cool as the creature may look, it is in no way as terrifying as the semi-disembodied voice with which our heroes converse, let alone the cryptic message it delivers, and I am left to wonder again why Bunn didn’t reserve his storytelling for these more intriguing encounters.

In fact, Bunn is at his best in the parts of this story that only flirt with revelation, whether it’s in the now-murderous underpinnings of his mysterious preacher character, or in the brief tales of Empty Man infections, with the one this issue giving a new meaning to the term antibiotics. Seeing a rampaging monster, however, is not something I want in a book like The Empty Man, at least not yet, when there’s so much other fuel on which to run. But maybe I’m being too hard on the pacing of a book that only has two more issues left. I’ll grant you that, if we can also agree that sometimes fastening stories to limited trade runs can be problematic.

Even still, Bunn’s dialogue feels effortless in this book, a writing trait that I’ve since come to admire in some of his bigger, more mainstream titles. And I’m completely invested in this story, especially because those moments where he is more sly are so damn good and, as regards the story’s progression, captivating. I’m not yet sold on this whole “alien invasion” thing, but it’s too early to see how that will develop; hopefully not at the expense of its introductory premise.

Artist Vanesa Del Rey continues to do a great job of visually etching out this story against Bunn’s narrative backdrop. Her figure work in particular enjoys the same frenzied panic that beats at the heart of this story. It’s something that permeates the book’s layout as well, with panels winking knowingly at the book’s still-secret symbols or zigzagging through its perilous car chase scene.

In fact, I’d like to see her take the same treatment to her page furniture that she does in her frantic art style, which is, this issue, expertly shrouded in everything from patchwork shadows to washed-out tracking lines, and even an almost noir glare by colorist Michael Garland (whose work I loved in Deathmatch).

I do wish Cullen Bunn had the time to slow down his story, as that is where his mastery shines - in the liner notes - and maybe see Del Rey take more chances with her effectively infectious art, but I am still enjoying the absolute hell out of The Empty Man. With an ending that confuses as much as it folds the various stories into each other, I’ll be coming back for another shot of this book next month, for its penultimate issue.

Score: 4/5

Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Vanesa R. Del Rey Colorist: Michael Garland Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 9/24/14 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital