In 2014, Cullen Bunn and Vanesa R. Del Rey introduced their horror series The Empty Man to horror and thriller lovers alike. Now, Cullen is back with a second installment in the series that focuses on one family and the pandemic that is now affecting their family and attracting the attention of a faction of groups, none of which anyone is sure they can trust. Get ready for some gore, scares, and ideas so disturbing they might just remind readers of what is currently happening in our modern day political and societal atmosphere.

The Kerry’s are a regular family, living their lives, going to school and to work, until one day Melissa, mother to teenager daughter Vicki and wife to husband Andrew, starts experiencing changes that look very familiar to what both Vicki and Andrew are seeing on the news. There are definite indications that something is taking over Melissa, her psyche, and her life. As the family watches with horror, they see the self-mutilation and irrational thoughts and actions that Melissa is exhibiting, but how can they desert her in her time of need? How can they turn her over to the government, or worse, the shadow groups that have developed to “cure” the afflicted by any means necessary, not knowing if they will ever see her again? When a strange group, the so-called Whisper Oracles, shows up at their door knowing that Melissa is infected, Andrew is skeptical and turns them away. But then Vicki is approached at school by two people who say they want to help her mother—but everything isn’t always what it seems. Maybe these two outsiders can help keep the Kerry family together and, hopefully, cure whatever it is that is affecting Melissa and what intends to infect their entire nation and world—The Empty Man.

The story Bunn and Del Rey tell is compelling and terrifying in such a way that readers can immediately relate what is happening in the story—albeit it make believe—to what is happening in our political and social discourse in the world today. “The Empty Man Made Me Do It” is always left scrawled in blood, paint, or who knows what on places where something horrific has happened in his name. More and more residents are infected and start to die because of this untreatable and unknowable disease. How can society fight back against something they don’t know, see, or understand? What they are soon to find out is that The Empty Man is real, and the terror he brings with him will infect everyone unless he can be stopped… but, how?

The illustrations are beautifully rendered in dark and sepia tones, portraying a world that is bleak and dark. Everything is drawn with a dream-like soft and flowing quality that furthers the feeling that readers are in some sort of dream-like state themselves, wondering what is real and what is The Empty Man’s influence. Darkness and bleakness permeate the terrifying and hallucinatory type of illustrations, which fits the story perfectly. Panels are laid out traditionally, with lettering often spanning across pages to further the terror that permeates through families, walls, towns, and Earth.

The Empty Man: Recurrence is a great book for older teen and adult horror and thriller readers due to the amount of violence, gore, and blood that is integral to the story. This book, while part of a series, is also a perfect standalone book for those who haven’t read the original series from 2014. A perfect read for a dark and spooky winter night with all the lights off save for the slight glow illuminating the engrossing and terror-inducing pages.

The Empty Man: Recurrence
By Cullen Bunn
Art by Jesús Hervás, Niko Guardia
ISBN: 9781684153565
Boom! Studios, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 15+

  • Traci

    | She/Her

    Traci has been a graphic novel selector and collections coordinator for kids and teens in libraries in Arizona and Oregon since 2005. She served as the chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, and served as a member of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens blogging team. She previously coordinated the Oregon Young Adult Network’s Graphic Rave list, OYAN’s yearly list of the best graphic reads for teens. Traci is a member of ALA, YALSA, and GNCRT. And, she achieved her greatest dream ever by serving as a judge for the 2019 Eisner Awards.

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