REVIEW: “The Empty Man #2” There Be Monsters Here

Writer: Cullen Bunn

Artist: Vanesa R. Del Rey

Publisher: BOOM! Studios

I wrote a rave review of “The Empty Man #1” from Cullen Bunn, Vanesa R. Del Rey, and Boom Studios, but I glossed over one hugely key component: the ending of that first issue went off the rails. There was one twist and turn I was dreading as a storytelling device and suddenly at the end of issue #1 there it was. Amidst all the wonderful horror and mystery of the Empty Man virus there was suddenly this cop-out staring us in the face of an otherwise immensely intriguing series. The remainder of this review of “The Empty Man #2” addresses it head on (and more importantly how The Empty Man overcomes it) so if you haven’t read the series yet, spoilers ahead!

REVIEW: “The Empty Man #2” There Be Monsters Here
Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Vanesa R. Del Rey Publisher: BOOM! Studios

The Empty Man’s appeal lies both in its ghastly horror and in the inexplicable nature of the Empty Man virus literally turning people’s lives inside out. Issue #2 does a wonderful job showcasing more instances of the virus and the deadly impact it has on an individual’s life. Seemingly, those inflicted with the Empty Man are prone to dramatically awful forms of suicide—a lady buries her head in a cat’s litter box; another woman jumps off the same roof twice!—or outbursts of violence. Every one of them begins muttering the crazed ramblings of demonic possession. Nobody knows exactly what the disease is or where it comes from, although in a skilled bit of writing, Cullen Bunn has led each issue with brief glimpses into the early days of The Empty Man.

In this way, The Empty Man has much of the same promise as the never-ending mystery of LOST, or more topically, Damon Lindelof’s new HBO series, The Leftovers. The end of issue #1 loudly declared, though, that rather than focus on the human suffering and coping of a series like The Leftovers, The Empty Man was going to take full advantage of the comic book medium and offer an explanation right off the bat: actual demons, live and in color.

Admittedly, when I first saw an actual in-your-face monster appear at the end of “The Empty Man #1,” I was extremely disappointed. Following the trail of The Empty Man through the eyes of our unlikely buddy cop team held enough merit on its own to offer a satisfying series. In addition, serving up a demon in an interrogation room screams that the case has already been solved! While I know many fans can’t stand the circuitous mystery of LOST, I personally love the chase almost regardless of the payoff. A well-constructed mystery is a thrill; a demon at the end of the tunnel is an oddly quick resolution.

Given all that, and given that our police duo spends a good chunk of “The Empty Man #2” straight up fighting the demon in the interrogation room, I’m kind of amazed how much I still like this series. Cullen Bunn and (especially) Vanesa R. Del Rey have won me over with a charming, fully realized world full of mysterious illness and supernatural possession. The Empty Man is not the book I thought it would be based on the first 22 pages, but two issues in I find myself determined to see where this creative team is going to take the story.

I have to give Bunn and Del Rey credit, too, for pulling the trick that could only really work in a comic book. If The Leftovers suddenly introduced demons into the narrative, it would be a huge left-turn for the show and might feel extremely hokey. As Game of Thrones fans can attest, even with the HBO budget and impressive special effects credentials, the best moments of the TV series are human to human interactions. The dragons and the ice-walkers adorn the expensive visual pallet; they aren’t why I come back to the show every week and want to talk about it with everyone. Within comics, though, it’s simply more palatable to throw in a supernatural twist. It’s potentially a very smart use of the form, getting the best of the horror and supernatural worlds.

Verdict:

Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey got me over my fear of the supernatural with “The Empty Man #2.” I wasn’t sure about this comic’s direction but now feel confident that BOOM! Studios has a genuine star on their hands in The Empty Man.

“The Empty Man #2” earns 7.8 / 10