“the empty man made me do it”
Let’s face it, evangelical churches are pretty creepy. The speaking in tongues, the incantations done in deafening unison, the almost chummy way in which preachers relate their direct conversations with God… it’s all a bit much.
The most unsettling of these commonplace elements, however, has to be the whole “faith healing” thing. I’m not sure which is worse – the preacher claiming to be able to heal anyone that submits themselves to the palm of his hand and the will of the God with whom he says he is in close relations or the blind faith the flock exhibits in going to him in lieu of seeking actual medical help.
In The Empty Man, the disturbing new original series from BOOM! Studios created and written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Vanesa R. Del Rey, this sub-sect of Christian fanaticism is explored with chilling effect.
The story opens five years ago in Mountain Home, Arkansas in a gas station repurposed as a church. Reverend Abram Markoff is presiding over a packed house. As he stands in front of them, all common-looking folks (except for the fact that all but one of the women in the church are wearing black veils over their heads), he speaks of the humble setting in which they are gathered.
Their corporeal place of worship may be imperfect, he explains, but the condition of their real church – the true place in which they worship – is determined by the size and quality of their faith.
It’s a nice message, and it’s easy to see why people would gather to listen to this man, however another reason arises soon afterwards.
“Now, are there those among us today who need healing?” he asks.
Here we go…
After the service, Reverend Markoff is approached by the unveiled woman. She bears scars on her face. He assumes she has come to him after the service for a private healing, perhaps, but she takes out a picture of what looks like her as a child and of a boy, possibly her brother.
Flash forward to present day. A woman in Atlanta returns home from the grocery store. She walks past a television and wouldn’t you know it – it looks like Reverend Markoff’s made it to the big time. Coincidentally, he’s recalling his unassuming beginnings five years ago, back at that gas station, but as the woman proceeds to track down her husband, who failed to answer her call for assistance with the groceries when she walked in, a sense of foreboding takes over.
She climbs the stairs, and what she finds in the shower sets the tone for one of the most intriguing supernatural mysteries I’ve been privy to in recent memory.
It’s a mystery about “The Empty Man,” a phenomenon moving about the globe that neither the Center for Disease Control nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation have any explanation for. It’s a disease with no known means of transmission and no symptoms until it drives its hosts to homicidal or suicidal mutilation.
Three things, however, are certain: it’s very real, it’s very contagious and, somehow, Markoff appears to be at the center of it.
The majority of the narrative is told from the perspective of FBI Special Agents Jensen and Langford, both of whom have been working the case for some time. There is no Scully and Mulder dynamic to their working relationship; they both believe and, despite their greatest efforts, they are both quite terrified.
Like comedy, horror is not an easy genre to pull off. There are so many moving parts, so many subjective triggers the artist must know how and when to pull, that getting everything to operate harmoniously enough that the work is effective is an incredible feat.
That taken into account, The Empty Man shows a great deal of promise. The horror-mystery format – archetypal since its inception under Poe’s pen – is a tried-and-true delivery method for this sort of story, but to say adhering to this template makes it any easier for them does their work a disservice.
It takes a lot to stand out from a full wall of great weekly work, and they’ve managed to do it with this one. BOOM! Studios may be looking at a possible hit here. Keep your eyes peeled.
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