‘The Empty Man:’ Advance TPB Review

I want to believe.

Pathogens spread in ways that confused us as a species during the Industrial Revolution. People would get sick and die and have no cause other than the divine; "God has decided I'll be sick. It's a test."  It wasn't until the discovery of bacteria and viruses that we finally had earthly culprits, and since that time, the influence of faith healing has come down in popularity.  The Empty Man finds humanity at the brink of a new kind of disease, where our usual suspects appear totally innocent, as victims share no food, living space, or occupation.  There's nothing apparent tying the infected together, and two agents of the combined FBI and CDC have to track down an epidemic with no source.  People who see the established agencies with their collective thumbs up their noses turn to faith, support groups, or anyone who can tell them, "It will all be better soon."

Cullen Bunn has set up a look at a world faced with a large unpredictable threat, and one that kills in a horrific and very personal way.  This is the kind of fear that can annihilate a civilization, where people fear to gather and break off into their groups of relative (if false) safety. (An interesting thought: People react that same way to viral threats in this way often, fleeing the center of spread.  Doesn't it show instinctual herd awareness on the human population?  If everyone flees in smaller and smaller groups, eventually a group with no pathogen will move far enough beyond the spread to survive the epidemic.  Of course, for certain individuals, the odds will be against them, but the species carries on.  Just a musing that this book brought out.)  Bunn sets his version of Mulder and Scully on the trail, blindly following every lead, trying to work back to the source (precisely the opposite reaction I discussed above, with group goals outweighing individual ones).  The trails all lead cold. It's a problem far too large for individuals to handle, so they follow what they know and are able to keep enough awareness that when the pieces begin to fall into place, they can recognize it.  I like that though there are big discoveries and reveals, none ruin a second read through. Bunn is not relying on withholding incredibly important details to artificially increase tension, secrets that fundamentally change the story in their import (i.e., If only we had talked about cheeseburgers 140 pages ago, we would have found out that the monsters were lactose intolerant the whole time!).

Vanesa R. Del Rey brings a sick, dying world to a brutal and brooding life.  This is the kind of work that makes me think "ick" in a good way.  You can feel the disease on the page. (No, they didn't include a scratch-and-infect coating, and sorry, germophobes, for that thought.) The palette is washed out and dark, a wasting sensibility that drips in the gooey part of your mind.  Even with this backdrop, Del Rey manages to really turn your stomach in some moments that are underplayed in just the perfect way. The characters on the page are used to their horrors, and their nonchalance lets us think everything's cool until the gibbering thoughts run to the front of our consciousness and we realize just what it is we're seeing.  It's a psychologically induced reveal, and it's a helluva effective trick.  You will see some of these panels when you close your eyes - it's great.

Fans of horror and The X-Files' big story arcs will really enjoy the work all around in this volume, and the final page, of course, promises much more to come.


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