Over worldly horrors and the weakness of Human kind forge the backbone of BOOM! Studios’ The Empty Man series. Part all-consuming virus and part supernatural invasion, The Empty Man twists and turns each issue but at its beating heart is the story of human suffering and a fight to survive.
Fear and pain are the biggest enemies that Cullen Bunn’s protagonists have to face. In this issue technology also poses a problem, but how will the world react to visual proof of the Empty Man virus made flesh?
The Empty Man has manifested into the Human world and is smarter than it’s been given credit for. A deliberate sacrifice leads to worldwide attention giving the virus the exposure it so desperately wants.
The next stage of contamination has begun and only a small handful have a chance of fighting back.
Bunn starts this issue off with a man in the wilderness, affected by the Empty Man virus. This opening is like a twisted version of the 2001: A Space Odyssey opening sequence and it portrays the effects of the virus on a small society. It also leads to the image of a strange figure, religious in nature.
This opening acts as groundwork for this issue of The Empty Man. It expands on the history and mystery of the virus while at the same time preparing the reader for the explosive outbreak that is about to happen. It also has greater significance to a scene later in the comic which is worth waiting for.
The construct of this issue is expertly managed with a definitive beginning, middle and end. It stands on its own two feet and is surprisingly easy for new readers to engage. Quick, throw away lines from various cast member’s give insight into already established character traits without having to elaborately go over the same ground. There is even a flashback sequence that fits perfectly into the story, giving important narrative information without stopping the natural flow of the story.
Bunn builds tension between the ‘heroes’ of the story by highlighting the differences between them and their priorities. There is a conflict bubbling just under the surface that is reaching breaking point. This situation is made more prominent because everything in this issue is surging ahead at great speed. The sense of urgency can be felt in each sequence and conversation. The Empty Man has stepped up the game and Bunn makes sure that the reader knows it.
The layouts for each page set the pace of the story. It starts with a slow walk and unevenly placed panels on the page. The grid pattern changes from page to page in the introduction, slowing the reader down while this set piece unfolds. After this the layouts begin to reflect the increasing pace of the narrative with more panels to a page; high, thin panels to fit more onto a row; and even single images broken up by gutters indicating several things happening at the same time.
Jesus Hervas picks his composition to match the narrative, constantly moving the reader forward and not allowing them to take a breath. The main characters are on the run, for their lives, and Hervas lays out the pages to illustrate this.
The best example of his layouts comes with Agent Jensen’s flashback sequence. He breaks all of the rules and makes the sequence appear like a collage with images torn from a previous comic and stuck into this one. The effect is mesmerising and disturbing. It reminds the reader of the horror that lays at the heart of this comic.
The color work for this sequence also stands out against the rest of the issue. Niko Guardia gives everything a crimson wash as if it is all soaked in blood. The horror of the Agent’s memory is reflected in the palette Guardia uses.
This crimson color is only used sparingly throughout the rest of the comic and on most occasions it’s when there are images of the mutant creatures, often only seen by Agent Jensen. This makes the appearance of the Empty Man virus stand out whenever it is featured on a page. Instantly your eye is drawn to it amidst the sedated colors of the rest of the world.
The speech balloons bleed into the page layout to help the pacing of the narrative. The most successful part of Ed Dukeshire’s work in this issue of The Empty Man is making the large amount of Radio and T.V. broadcasts stand out from the regular speech. The different types of caption box make it clear exactly where the speech is coming from. In the opening, the on site reporter’s speech flows onto another page even though she does not and Dukeshire gives the caption boxes their own appearance, different from the T.V. reports later in the comic.
Dukeshire also uses the speech balloons to indicate the physical state of the characters, most notably Agent Owen. He is in a serious condition and when he is rushed to the hospital his speech balloons are uneven with long, zigzagged tails. His speech within the balloons is smaller than everybody else’s and the combination of all of these things remind the reader of Owen’s current state. If you took the images away and left the speech balloons, you would still know that the character speaking was physically injured in some way.
The creators working on The Empty Man #5 are coming together to build a narrative that is picking up speed and heading towards a confrontation. Bunn’s script is all inclusive, welcoming new readers and expediting the plot at the same time. The art work has the same effect as the script, starting slowly then building throughout the issue, picking up the pace to keep the reader engaged.
This issue of this modern horror comic deals with the dangers of media manipulation and misunderstanding. It also deals with the fear of what is inside, that element of ourselves that we bury at all costs. At some point we can no longer keep it buried and then, what do we do?
The Empty Man is an astutely entertaining comic. Like Stephen King’s best horror stories, this twisted tale is about people and how they react to situations beyond their control. And it has just reached the point in the narrative where everyone is about to break.