The originality and efficient structure of “The Empty” #1 lays a strong foundation for the series ahead, but its unpolished, stilted elements still bog the issue down. Fans of Jimmie Robinson will be excited to see his new work and his socio-politically relevant universe, but the story isn’t as sharp or strongly characterized as needed. “The Empty” #1 is not a particularly strong debut, but it has the elements for a strong series.
In the once-city of Yaankam, the remaining inhabitants struggle to survive in a landscape that’s gradually being poisoned by strange, spreading “roots.” The animals, the soil and the water are all susceptible, which makes hunter Tanoor’s job particularly difficult. Robinson’s idea of a planet that finally gives up under the stress of supporting human(oid) life feels close to our own reality, particularly when all the leaders either distract from or misunderstand the issue.
That said, “The Empty” is far from simple allegory. Robinson structures the issue to build suspense, opening with a plot to kill the as-yet-unseen Lila and then delaying the reveal for many pages. Jumps like this can sometimes stall a story, but Robinson moves from a murder plot to fast-paced hunt, so the reader’s interest never wanes.
Unfortunately, none of the characters really jump off the page. On one level, they’re quite believable. The basic reasons for their conflicts — from Elder Blan’s power grasping to the mutual frustration between Tanoor and the citizens she cannot adequately feed — feel real and grounded in concrete motivations. However, the way that the characters express these conflicts is often quite stilted. It’s possible that lines like “This is not the game of a child,” or “Your lack of respect will be the blade to your throat” are meant to read woodenly, imbuing this world with strangeness, but the awkwardness doesn’t come off as intentional. Part of this is the result of inconsistency. Some of the lines are naturalistic — “When people know things they get curious” or “Leave Fenx out of this” — but others are gracelessly formal like the above. The tone needs better consistency.
Artistically, Robinson’s design for this world is intriguing. Rather than looking wholly alien, the characters are only slightly distorted from homo sapiens. Lila’s people have huge eyes and elongated necks; Tanoor’s people have disproportionately long arms. As a concept, I like it; it mirrors the real-life differences that develop between different mammal species. However, at first glance, it looks amateurish, like a teenager’s bad drawing. The eye definitely needs a few pages to adjust.
Some of the design elements also don’t make a whole lot of sense, particularly Tanoor’s hunting getup. (She has armor over her nose bridge, but only wears bandages on the rest of her body? It’s little wonder she is covered in cuts.)
The undeniable highlight of the issue is Robinson’s eye for action, though. Both Tanoor’s hunt in the first few pages and her flight with Lila in the last few are exhilarating. The variation in scale, the framing and the choice of moments are all so smart and effortless.
Robinson’s approach to lettering is another excellent design element. Instead of placing the dialogue in traditional word bubbles, he writes it directly on the landscape, hitching it to the character with a single straight line. Occasionally, a character will have too much to say, and the words will get out of Robinson’s control, but I love the effect. The text looks like poison or dirt hanging in the air, an apt look for a polluted world.
“The Empty” #1 is a decent start, but it needs characters to fuel its concepts. I’m curious to see what Robinson has to say; he just needs to say it in better language.