Monday, January 21, 2008

Empty Zone: Conversations with the Dead #1

Empty Zone: Conversations with the Dead #1, 2002, Sirius Entertainment
by Jason Alexander
assistant editor: Keith Davidsen
EIC: Mark Bellis

Blogger's note: Entry for Sunday, January 20, 2008.

And now, for an entirely different look at the future.

In Empty Zone: Conversations with the Dead #1, Corinne, a special agent with a robotic arm, suffers from erratic dreaming and paranoia, losing significant amounts of time and chasing people that may or may not be there. A brief meeting with her boss, Johnny 8, begins to develop this miniseries’ plot involving real estate mogul Anton Filibaugh, but this issue’s driving force is Corinne’s enduring dreamy condition, which leads her to an alley, a trigger-happy doorman, and an underground compound of cybernetic soldiers. The doorman, who suffers a decent beating after shooting Corinne in her robotic arm (“Be thankful it was in the arm that’s cracklin’ and poppin’,” he teased), calls it “Frankenstein bionic, betraying its truly gruesome context. Of course, this issue’s ending has Corinne turning to behold the source of a dangerous, looming shadow -- a typical and always provocative cliffhanger that propels interest and evokes sympathy for the hero’s safety.

I knew that my series of “number one issue” reviews would uncover the perpetual miniseries phenomenon. Yes, in recent years, creative teams have forsaken the ongoing series format in favor of episodic miniseries under the same general title or story. For example, according to Alexander’s back page notes, Conversations with the Dead is the third Empty Zone volume, following the first miniseries, a few one-shots, and Empty Zone: The Hopeless Beginnings, which was volume two. The nagging question is, why do creators opt for this format, rather than the standard, traditional ongoing series? Some creators (Erik Larsen comes to mind) seem to revel in the breadth of their work and strive to achieve a record-breaking issue count; if the other Empty Zone minis offered five issues each, Conversations would put Alexander well into the teens. Why start over at number one just for the sake of a new story?

Ah, you see, I think I’ve answered my own question. While a high issue count is an incredible feat in today’s world of always-rotating creative teams, I’m sure readers interested in Savage Dragon are intimidated by the implied weight of continuity that comes with a number like 135. The question is, “Do I really need to know over a hundred issues’ worth of material to enjoy just this one?” Of course, fans of Larsen’s work know that he wouldn’t want to alienate new readers like that, but the introspective inquiry is certainly valid. Even seemingly timeless characters like the Fantastic Four, heck, especially those archetypical characters, are intimidating to approach considering their decades’ worth of history, hence gimmicks like the “ten-cent issue” or “issue #0.” Remember Superman’s yearly triangle issue numbers? Ironically, these feeble attempts usually end up bringing more baggage than they dispose! No wonder epic-based titles like Empty Zone simply leapfrog from miniseries to miniseries; the continuity is there, but the pretense of a triple digit makes the story that much more approachable.

I mean, I picked up Conversations with the Dead #1, and I figured it wasn’t the real Empty Zone #1. When I flipped through the issue and saw Jason Alexander’s art, I really couldn’t resist. I’ve treasured his one-shot Tower (written by Sean McKeever) for a few years now and have been eager to discover more of his work, so Empty Zone actually conversely filled that void. His balance between finely detailed, thin lines and bold, dark splotches of ink create an instantly gothic mood, and in this case, a morbidly shadowed future. Further, more so than his story, I really got into his back page description of the Empty Zone universe, a futuristic timeless that makes 1984 look like Sesame Street. Indeed, Empty Zone is actually talk radio slang for M-T Zone, short for militant/technocratic zone, a phrase used to describe the umbrella an one-world, computer-based system of authority. Originally established as a global effort to stop hackers and on-line criminals, but upgraded after a worldwide war ignited over the zone’s control of more civil rights and laws, the “Eyemax” isn’t a very big leap of one’s imagination, considering the need for on-line regulation, if you believe everything Chris Hansen tells you (and I do). Couldn’t you imagine those old, established, technologically out-of-touch bigwigs around the world simply saying, “Let’s just cram it all together and fix all the problems at once?” I don’t think that Big Brother will result from a smoky underground conspiracy, but rather the lazy, ignorant attempts of government not quite knowing what they’re doing, and inadvertently opening Pandora ’s Box.

In other words, the only real empty zone will be the one in those officials’ heads when they give something like Eyemax the green light. Only we’d actually call it “iMax,” because we all know who’s going to make it.

Enough sociopolitical commentary, alright? We’re supposed to be talking about comics here! Although, considering the context of America’s politics right now, one could very easily understand the perpetual miniseries conundrum. After all, every four years our government officially reverts to a new “number one,” as well. Subplots continue from previous series, but the direction or focus is essentially episodic. Perhaps Jason Alexander’s morbid future is already here . . .

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