Empty Zone, Vol.1: Conversations with the Dead
Dystopia done right
By Mikee Riggs
Empty Zone: Vol.1: Conversations with the Dead
Jason Shawn Alexander
paperback, 136 pages
Even in the deepest of pits sometimes you can see a glimmer of light. In most dystopian futures, that glimmer of light is the hope that keeps people going. In Empty Zone that light doesn't even seem to register with Corinne's eyes. In fact Corinne, the story's female protagonist, seems more obsessed with the tunnel then finding a light at its end.
Empty Zone takes place somewhere next to the 22nd century mark. The world is in disarray, and Corinne is trying to survive the passing days and having trouble sleeping. She finds herself reunited with some ghosts from her past who send her headlong into a story of atonement and amends. Corinne has debts to settle and the question the book leaves readers asking is: Can she make it out alive?
Tonally, Empty Zone seems to take some inspiration from sci-fi classics. There are definite design nods to Jamie Hewllett's Tank Girl as well as a color tone very reminiscent of independent comics of the late '80s and early '90s. In addition to that, the story has a tone of desolation and nihilism very similar to the Keanu Reeves film Johnny Mnemonic. While the Reeves film may not strike a chord with most, it has a very similar storyline to Empty Zone. Corinne, like Johnny, is an information courier, she stores information in her biotech enhancements. In the first arc of the book, Corinne is even brought to maximum compacity like Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic. Corinne is left to deal with ghosts from her past as well as her possible lack of a future. She is shown that her actions have consequences, and those consequences are much bigger than she ever thought.
Written and drawn by Jason Shawn Alexander, Empty Zone is a labor of love. Alexander had previously printed Empty Zone with Sirius but never in such a concise manner like this. Alexander returns to the ideas he had when he was 19, but with much more gravitas and experience. His work with Ed Brubaker on Gotham Central helped to hone his style, while his work with Mike Mignola on Abe Sapien helped to establish a darker tone to his work and coloring. With all of that knowledge in tow, Empty Zone has all the components of a potent final product. The story is layered but not dense, which is assisted by the very natural dialogue. The plot is occasionally quite predictable, but it still manages to be entertaining. Artistically, Alexander brings all of his strengths to the table and integrates them well. He keeps the book gritty and makes sure that he takes a minimalist approach to the panel work in order to make his designwork pop. It is hard to lose sight of the beauty Alexander puts in his work, with such an amazing sense of color and design married to compelling panel work and pacing.
Empty Zone is a sci-fi story with real stakes and a haunting, dead-end-road type of feel—something that is welcome in a world of comics trying to copy the style of the '90s and often only getting the elements that were problematic right. Empty Zone reminds readers of the things that were done well in that era. Its title is fitting—but the book will leave you far from empty.
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