[*Mild Spoilers Ahead!]
The world is assailed by a mysterious affliction called “The Empty Man Virus.” It is a psychological condition which somehow appears to be contagious. It causes its victims to go into an endless coma–if they are lucky. Otherwise, the results range from mass ritual suicide or a killing spree. Each afflicted claims to see a shadowy figure commonly called “the Empty Man.” Andrew is a father and husband just trying to survive this crisis when he one day discovers his wife drawing on the walls with blood from an unknown source.
The Empty Man #1 is the first issue of the latest ongoing horror series from writer Cullen Bunn. He has a deep streak of horror-writing in him, with Harrow County and Damned being among his longest-running, and two of my personal favorites–also his run on the 2011 Venom series, as well as his Magneto series, rank among my favorite comic book work of all time.
I’ve found his more recent horror comics, namely Bone Parish and Cold Spots, to be less than stellar. However, The Empty Man is a return to form for Bunn, giving the reader a strange and compelling setup, both apocalyptic in scale and personal in scope.
It’s a smart setup too; it gives the reader concepts that are easy enough to grasp as to be unnerving. Epidemics are a real thing which most people understand as a concept, and many of us know the potential damage mental illness can cause a person.
It seems to draw inspiration from George Romero’s The Crazies, which has a similar setup without some of the religious implications. Also, it is what The Happening seemed to want to be.
The main flaw visible in the first issue is how edgy the narration comes off at times. The speaker tries to make some grand evaluative statements about humanity and religion, and the manner in which these are put are a bit off-putting and seem somewhat juvenile. Thankfully, these don’t occur throughout the entire comic, and the story is too good to be weighed down by them.
Jesus Hervas’s artwork evokes the grim feelings needed for a story like Empty Man to work. Characters’ faces are often shadowed with accentuated wrinkles and scars. Rooms are detailed well with dark corners and doorways. It’s a dim world that seems sick in itself. Niko Guardia’s color art is made up of many blues and grays at times offset by violent orange and blood-red. It’s a perfectly-suited palette for both the art and narrative.
The Empty Man #1 is a promising new horror comic for the vaunted horror scribe, Cullen Bunn. It’s got a hell of a hook, and its world is strange, dangerous, and feels unsafe at all times. This one earns a recommendation for sure. Check it out.
The Empty Man #1 comes to us from writer Cullen Bunn, artist Jesus Hervas, color artist Niko Guardia, letterer Ed Dukeshire, cover artist Vanesa R. Del Rey, and variant cover artists Jesus Hervas and Ben Templesmith.
[*Mild Spoilers Ahead!]