Am I alone in my feeling that the market for bleak futuristic tales is a bit oversaturated? This may not necessarily be a bad thing, as it forces fans to hold each new contribution to this well-traversed subgenre to an increasingly higher standard. But when Jason Shawn Alexander’s Empty Zone series debuted this summer, I was both excited (another dystopian sci-fi adventure!) and wary (another dystopian sci-fi adventure?). The foggy descriptions and glowing reviews I’d read sounded as if Alexander’s series revisited ground already covered by Inception and Philip K. Dick stories. Ultimately, the challenging and deliberately-paced storyline and vividly gritty illustrations of its inaugural issue won me over. The enigmatic Corinne and the blurred lines of her reality, attempting to reconcile past and present in a modernized urban jungle, seem a fertile enough landscape to cultivate and retain interest in a new series.
That said, one would hope that by the third issue the storytelling becomes a bit more accommodating, and begins answering existing questions rather than raising even more. The story picks up with Corinne, a bit worse for wear (if that’s even possible) following a physical altercation with a zombie-cyborg-type- thing, en route to the House of Choi to replace her mangled mechanical prosthesis. Upon her arrival we are introduced to the brothers Choi, a quirky pair who come off like the goofy twin love children of Marvel’s Collector and J.F. Sebastian (in fact, this series calls Blade Runner to mind to the point where I looked for a Tyrell Corporation logo on the cover of the first issue). A few flashback/dreamlike-state panels later, she’s out the door and straight into another fight scene, followed by a pretty gratuitous sex scene with a shocking finish. By the issue’s end I was pretty befuddled—“That’s IT?”—as readers seem no closer to uncovering any secrets or answering any of the questions raised in the previous installments, and have new ones to boot.
And as the type of reader who needs at least a hint or two at the truth to stay invested, this would be so frustrating to me, were it not for Alexander’s incredible artwork in every issue. The dream-state panels may seem a bit disjointed story-wise, but they are eye candy nonetheless. The attention to detail is so keen that I couldn’t help but stare at every single panel. Strategically-placed shadows lend a film- noir effect, while broad brush strokes and graffiti-esque splatter effects both play to the dark urban setting and provide a stunning contrast to the sleek, clinical aesthetic one might expect from a dystopian-future story. Sherard Jackson’s creative letter design is on point with its occasional lapse into Corinne’s red-typed subconscious.
Late, great pioneering skater Jay Adams once said that style is everything. While Alexander’s story may not be the most unique take, the flawless execution of its highly stylized visuals certainly compensates. Come for the story—which I hope will reveal a little more and stop being so secretive in forthcoming issues—but stay for the gorgeous art.