The Empty Man is one of those books that began so intriguingly; one that gripped me basically from the first time I read it’s solicit. Hellish sentient viruses? Check. An X-Files-esque duo leading the investigative charge? Double check. A weird priest figure, a morbid cult, ghost girls, hell and gruesome tales of death-by-insanity? Check, check checkity-check, check. But now that we’re nearing the end of this admirably-begun Boom book, I wonder if it bit off perhaps more than it could chew. I won’t spoil the premise for people who remain interested in following along; and to be fair, we still don’t know exactly what may happen, other than the so-called virus’ connection to a shady Reverend Markoff and a catatonic clairvoyant brother; not to mention possibly a gateway to some or another kind of hell dimension. Still, with strange bedfellows made, tentative alliances struck and a few new mysteries strewn, The Empty Man #5 sees a few new twisting tendrils (literally) thrown into the chaos, and an ending that tells us this shit right here isn’t quite over just yet.
With the end of this issue, we get closer to the convergence between each issue previous’ prologue and the story proper, itself. Of course, with only one more issue of The Empty Man to go, it makes sense that the team is wrapping things up; though I do hope they can do so without too much undue force or hurry in the next issue. My biggest problem, however, is that the closer we get to its ending point, the less intrigued I find myself becoming with The Empty Man’s overall direction.
Like I said, I’m a fan of the “sentient virus” concept that was, and is, the driver of this book; it’s something that has always intrigued me, whether as a fun bit of comics lore (Sinestro Corps member Despotellis) or in IRL fucked-up nature (ophiocordyceps unilateralis: that weird fungus that takes over ants’ minds and ‘splodes their heads). But now that we’re getting glimpses of what this Empty Man “virus” actually is, I’m less than enthusiastic about the finale.
As I also previously mentioned, I thought the “monster reveal” (last issue) came too early, but more importantly, it also makes it feel too much like this book wants to be a big-budget slasher flick, rather than the cerebral thriller I expected - nay, wanted. There are still elements there, and Bunn once again does a decent job of stringing the story along, but parts of this feel easy and cliché (the agents’ interrogation of Markoff, for example), while others feel overly complicated (the ghost girl’s whinging). I just feel let down by something I fell so hard for initially, I guess. It’s simmered down from a once-hot notion to something that’s is turning out to be mostly lukewarm.
The art here from Del Rey continues to be a strong point of the series, and makes me think here of an elongated version of Matt Kindt’s stuff, which is always a welcome element. I will say, though, that I’ve noticed a dip in consistency from its first issue, as she relies more on the scratches and scabs that line her images. Still, for the most part, I still really enjoy her sketchy approach to this story, but think it would complement it all the more if the narrative had more meat on which to etch.
While The Empty Man #5 was far from the book’s best entry, I’ll still be sticking around for the grand finale. Unfortunately, I fear that’s more of a commitment to finishing it off than actually being interested in what may happen next.
Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Vanesa R. Del Rey Colorist: Michael Garland Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 11/5/14 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital