In a post-apocalyptic world where no one is safe, ex-soldier turned super-soldier for hire Corinne lives in the shadows of her mistakes and does what she can to escape the nightmares of her past. However, that all changes when the ghosts of her former comrades begin contacting her to warn her of a sinister plot to reanimate the dead; unfortunately for her, she is the only one who can stop it. By putting an end to this, Corinne will be forced to deal with her past and either make amends for what she’s done or risk damnation.
Eisner-nominated writer/artist Jason Shawn Alexander, known for his work on Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Batman (to name a few), dives headlong into his first creator-owned graphic novel with Empty Zone. In it, he tackles the dystopian sci-fi world that readers have seen time and time again, but finds a way to put his own spin on it in order to reinvent the genre. The themes and setting are by no means new, but Alexander’s style as a writer and an artist is so unique that it feels new; it is reminiscent of darker noir comics of decades past and reminiscent of films like A Scanner Darkly.
In an attempt to maintain a level of confusion for the reader that mirrors Corinne’s surroundings, Alexander keeps much of her past hidden, as well as how she fits in with the events unfolding in the story. However, Alexander’s desire to keep much of what is going on a secret is overdone and, rather than advancing the story, it makes it convoluted to the point where readers will likely lose interest. Not until a little past the halfway point, where we begin to know more about Corinne and her ties with the corpses, does it pick up—but is it too little too late? So little is known or given up in the plot that it makes the entire sequence of events more confusing instead of intriguing. Similarly, the lack of character development makes it difficult to care about Corinne or any of the other characters. Not once did I feel as if I understood Corinne and her struggles, which is a shame because her character had a lot of potential. More backstory or glimpses into the characters’ lives would have helped. The choppy narrative also affected the portrayal of two sex scenes, making them come off as gratuitous and out of place. Alexander’s writing really could have been tightened up to improve the flow of the story.
The true saving grace of Empty Zone is its art. Nearly all of the panels are so beautifully drawn that they could be ripped off the pages and framed. The attention to detail is remarkable and the use of mixed media brings the art to life. Alexander’s line work and vibrant use of color is specific to each panel, which fully embodies the emotion felt by each character and their connections to their surroundings. The art is so impactful that the Empty Zone could have even worked flawlessly without text—it would be as if the reader were watching a silent film. Before each chapter, there are paintings where Alexander notes the list of artistic media used (acrylic, ink, and spray paint), which work as a preview of what’s to come and demonstrate how well his choice of media fits in with the grungy, futuristic feel of the story. The art truly carries the graphic novel in a way the narrative can’t.
Empty Zone is best suited for mature audiences due to language, violence, nudity, and sex scenes; all of which are very graphic and important to consider before purchasing. While Empty Zone is nothing to write home about, the artwork alone is worth checking out.
Empty Zone, vol. 1: Conversations with the Dead
by Jason Shawn Alexander
Publisher Age Rating: Mature