Picture, if you will, a world not unlike our own. A world where a deadly virus ravages the land and seems to cause the violent death of everyone it infects. The world is in panic. Join me as we take a look at the all too real horrors that Cullen Bunn and Vanesa Del Rey have unleashed in “The Empty Man”.
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Vanesa R. Del Rey
WHY WE LOVE IT:There’s nothing scarier than horror that hits home—a tale of terror only one or two steps removed from our reality. THE EMPTY MAN is a dystopic version of the world we know, where a terrifying disease has taken on almost deific connotations.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: Cullen Bunn (THE SIXTH GUN, VENOM) and Vanesa R. Del Rey (HIT) are two of the most exciting talents in the industry, and perfectly in sync on this haunting new crime procedural.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: It’s been one year since the first reported case of the Empty Man disease, and no drug has been able to slow its progress. The cause is unknown, and the symptoms include fits of rage, hideous hallucinations, suicidal dementia, followed by death, or a near lifeless, “empty” state of catatonia. As murder cults rise nationwide, the FBI and CDC enter a joint investigation of the Empty Man, hoping to piece together clues to stop the cult and uncover a cure.
Perhaps it’s just me, but there seems to have been a resurgence in horror comics of late. The more that publishers outside of Marvel and DC continue to push the boundaries of their content, the more it seems creators are willing to take a chance in how graphic they can make their stories. That brings us to “The Empty Man” #1 by Cullen Bunn and Vanesa Del Rey and BOOM! Studios which shows that you don’t have to be at Image to produce an excellent, boundary shifting horror comic.
To bring you all up to speed: the Empty Man virus has been plaguing the world and has been causing some trouble as those infected tend to end their lives in psychotic violence. This first issue follows two agents from the FBI/CDC as they try to investigate the cause of the virus, and all the while Bunn and Del Rey explore the dark depths of how horrific this idea can go.
The key to “The Empty Man” and its horror is the care the creators have put into real world setting of the story. This isn’t the kind of horror that throws you into the deep end of the supernatural from the first page. The atmosphere is on a slow burn as we are introduced to a very ordinary setting only to realise the darkness lurking within. This is put to effective use through Cullen Bunn’s writing, but the thing that brings it together is the artwork by Vanesa Del Rey.
Del Rey’s art seems very inspired by noir stylings, with loose yet rough pencils that give an edge to the world, creating a sense of unease even before the horror starts. This builds throughout the issue as Bunn’s writing lets Del Rey loose to give glimpse after glimpse and tease after tease into the violence the disease causes. If you haven’t guessed yet, this book might not be for those of the faint of heart and that’s mostly because when Vanesa Del Rey wants to show just what the Empty Man virus does, she does not hold back. This culminates in one hell of a hook in the last page that throws open the gates and gives a glimpse of how weird things are going to get as the series continues.
While this is the first issue and it was of course going to focus on setting up the world and the people in it, Cullen Bunn does a great job of creating intrigue in the world. Take, for example, the opening scene that takes place in a makeshift church as the preacher talks about healing and we get a glimpse at the mysterious symbol of the church. Bunn’s writing introduces this element that both introduces the reader to the state of the world post-Empty Man virus, but also makes them wonder at who exactly the preacher is and how the church came about. Bunn expertly leaves just enough unanswered questions in the world-building to make the world seem intriguing and to keep you coming back for more.Continued below
As you may have guessed, I enjoyed “The Empty Man” a great deal. It’s an inventive horror story that makes great use of world-building writing and rough, noir-ish artwork to give a look at world just close enough to ours that it is truly terrifying. While Bunn doesn’t really get to stretch his writing muscles, this being the first issue and all, Vanesa Del Rey more than makes up for it as she shows herself to be an artist that can masterfully create tone and atmosphere. If Del Rey wasn’t on the radar before this, this should be the series that puts her in high demand. Bunn and Del Rey have created an issue that dares you to face the horrors within and then hooks you and pulls you back for ore.
Final Verdict: 8.6 – A very strong start to an original horror tale.