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To produce a comic always requires a certain amount of hubris. Just to decide as an artist that you have produced something that the world will buy takes confidence. To create the entire art work on one’s own is very much a signal to the audience and industry at large that you are capable of not just handling one aspect of the work, but every individual aspect better than if you collaborated with a team. So when I heard that Jimmie Robinson wrote, drew, colored and lettered the first issue of The Empty I was curious if he had the talent to execute every aspect of the project. Unfortunately, I feel he came up a bit short.
The story of the strangely titled, The Empty concerns a world which has “moved on” to borrow a phrase from Stephen King. A root system which releases poison gas has grown all over a desert waste land, making the place almost uninhabitable for its residents. One day a strange woman shows up with a unique power and our bad-ass female protagonist teams up with a stranger to try to fix the root problem. If it sounds like I’m being a little vague it’s because I’m really not sure what would constitute a spoiler for such a short story, but we’ll get into that below.
If I were being generous in describing the writing style for The Empty I would describe it as archetypal. Unfortunately I’m not feeling that generous so I’ll be honest in that I find it cliched. Probably the biggest problem with this comic is that none of the characters feel like real, living people and the only conflict we see in this first issue features a villain ripped from something like Footloose. An angry town leader without a scrap of decency causes the comic to wander into children’s fables. Which might be a good thing except every character is one-dimensional and the plot is a whole lot of exposition with very little action. The comic starts off with a very quest-like goal but this first issue is really just exposition for that later goal. “Here is an awesome story…to come,” the comic seems to promise.
However if there is one thing in this comic that makes it worth your money it is the artwork. It’s lush, clean, and full of inventive characterization. Jimmie Robinson does some really interesting things with perspective, as well. Characters that have longer necks or arms give the book a pleasant feeling of the uncanny. By having familiar designs that are tweaked just enough, you do end up feeling like there could be anything around the corner. If the characterization and plot of this first issue fall flat, then its saving grace has to be the world as presented through the art style. I guarantee if you pick up a second issue it will be for this reason.
Overall I can’t say that I didn’t like “The Empty #1” and it’s not going to walk away without a recommendation. Probably the biggest reason that I’m being so hard on this issue is that it seems to be taking for granted that you’ll want to read the next issue for the story to actually start. In my mind first issues should be a vertical slice, a little story demonstrating everything the comic series has to offer. For $3.50 I don’t think its too much to ask for a story with a beginning, middle and end, or something close to it. Overall I would say that if the artist seems to expect you to buy the trade, then wait for the trade.
“The Empty #1” earns 6/10. Slight recommendation.