Hollow Heart #1 is an intriguing slow-burn debut issue dealing with isolation and the hearts of the three main characters including the tragic EL. It’s a sympathetic look at the loneliness that exists in each of them and a skillfully sincere balancing act that refuses to mire itself in melodrama.
EL used to be human. Now he’s a jumble of organs in a bio-suit. EL is also in tremendous pain and has been for a very long time. Hope arrives in the form of Mateo, a mechanic brought in to work on EL’s suit. Mateo sees EL in a way no one else ever has. And what’s more: Mateo offers EL an escape. Hollow Heart reunites Tet creators Paul Allor and Paul Tucker for a queer monster love story about the choices we make between giving our loved ones what they want and giving them what we think they need.
Much like its title, Hollow Heart #1 beats with a metronomic consistency and an airy sense of detachment which is appropriate for its running theme of isolation. The main question though, is whose heart is it?
Writer Paul Allor and artist Paul Tucker have set the stage with two main narratives happening simultaneously: the first revolving around the main character EL and the other a floating narrative telling metaphorical stories that reflect the stories that unfold.
EL is a human who, for reasons yet explained, is housed in a giant metal exo-suit. What’s left of EL’s head is seen through a clear dome lit in a purple/pink hue, kind of like Skeletor in a blue-chrome Juggernaut suit. The issue starts with EL attempting to escape the facility he is being kept in.
EL is stopped and injured by the stoic-on-the-outside Donnie and helped and healed by the sympathetic mechanic Mateo. It’s hinted that Donnie and Mateo share a romantic past together, but it’s only alluded to briefly. Regardless, both are polar opposites of each other, reflecting the story being narrated about a young boy who pleads to his emotional father and appeals to his logical mother for a bigger bowl for his goldfish.
All three characters, Donnie, Mateo and EL (aka mom, dad and the goldfish), are permeated by a deep loneliness. Donnie deals with it by isolating himself further and refusing connection, Mateo delves into one-night stands with other men and EL just wants to run away knowing that accomplishing that could end his life.
What sounds melodramatic is anything but and treated with a delicate touch by Allor who also does the lettering for the issue. There’s a neat trick that he does with shapes in the narration boxes, mainly right triangles and rectangles, that informs the flow of the words. It might also hint at who’s actually doing the narrating. We shall see.
Paul Tucker’s rich, bold-lined art reminds me a lot of Ken Steacy’s vintage work in Star Reach in the late 1970s (“The Sacred and the Profane”) and Marvel Fanfare in the 1980s. It strikes the right tone for the feel of the book. He uses a lot of contrasting colors — blues and pinks — that underscore the feel of the issue. But it’s the reaction work that Tucker achieves with EL that’s the real accomplishment.
All three of these characters feel like trains passing in the night just missing each other by a matter of minutes. It takes a certain focus to really take everything in since the changing over-narratives seem to be following a different tempo than the stories happening throughout the issue. This is a title that demands and rewards attention.
It can sometimes be tough to figure out the tone of a book by its first issue but I believe that the titular heart at the core of Hollow Heart #1 isn’t necessarily hollow, but opaque. A dense, tragic one represented in the second story narrated in the book: a story about a mortally injured hiker tragically calling for help without realizing the woman he’s screaming to is deaf. It’s that sense of fate and futility that echoes a hollow reverberation much like the beating heart ensconced in EL’s massive metal breastplate: one that beats for no one and someone simultaneously.
Also, major props on the variant cover paying homage to ROM #1. Bravo. There’s also an incentive cover by David Mack (with a deluxe foil edition to match) and a variant cover by Jen Hickman.
Hollow Heart #1 released on Feb.17 by Vault Comics; written and lettered by Paul Allor; art, colors and covers by Paul Tucker; variant covers by David Mack and Jen Hickman.