On this week’s Pull List, where we review first issues of new comic titles, we’re reading Image Comics’ The Empty, a scorched-earth, post-apocalyptic scenario in which man is forced to the brink of survival thanks to mysterious, toxin-spouting roots.
While I’m waiting on the post-apocalyptica deconstructionist comic of my dreams, we have a glut of comics like The Empty to read, all of them gleefully putting a match to the world just to watch the unique ways in which mankind will flounder in the ashes. But there’s very little that’s actually unique about the approach that The Empty takes–in fact, much of the comic feels like a checklist of the genre.
The new Image title imagines a dust-ridden world choked to death by venom-spouting veins that make survival, be it hunting, gathering, or farming, nearly impossible. Our heroine Tanoor is forced to range far from the influence of these veins, but finding pure hunting game is become increasingly scarce for her village, where the inhabitants are covered equally in rags and untreated sores, and sport unnaturally long arms as mutations from the roots’ influence. However, a long-necked stranger washes up on their shores, one from a green world with no recollection of these poisonous roots, and with intriguing gifts that could change the village’s fate.
Basically, my gripes with The Empty can be summed up just in the first page: we’re looking at an idyllic non-human civilization, complete with white towers and trees integrated into the infrastructure, where all the denizens wear pseudo-medieval jerkins and dresses in white and orange. It looks like every Edenic, rural planet that the U.S.S Enterprise ever encountered in space, where far-flung civilizations look suspiciously like a mix of feudal Europe, 19th century utopian communities, and badly researched LARP campaigns. At the page’s bottom panel, a luncheon party makes the uneventful decision to kill someone, with the helpful graphic metaphor of a strawberry being crushed.
I think the big central problem connecting the stilted dialogue, uninspired designs, and unoriginal plot, is this overwhelming sense of arbitrariness. Both the Edenic folk and the wasteland humans sport mutations that have little to do with anything aside from giving them an awkwardly alien look: one has long arms, the other has long necks. In fact, a lot of the storytelling decisions, when they’re not unoriginal, seem like they were made ‘just because,’ from Tanoor’s look (she wears only bandages, stitches, and fights with arm-length blades that look like the ruined wings of an airplane costume) to the badly-expository dialogue, to the movement of the barebones plot. The village goes very quickly from being all for Tanoor’s decisions, to being a lynch-ready mob backing the moronic village elder. Too much feels like it’s in there either because the creator thought it looked cool last night, or because that’s the way the story usually goes.
As for the check-list I mentioned earlier: hard-nosed survivalist protagonist? Check. Delusional parties trying to play the survival game too conservatively? Check. Deranged village elder? Check. Ah, there’s an idyllic gardening society involved? Gimme a second to pull out that itinerary: mishmash of pastoral tropes? Check…