We all know how sci-fi can be used as an powerful allegory for modern life issues – from racism to consumerism and beyond. Paul Allor and Paul Tucker’s new book Hollow Heart, from Vault Comics is a fantastic example of this using the genre to tell a really interesting and unconventional love story which challenges what you think of both a sci-fi and a romance story.
Hollow Heart is a really thoughtful and emotionally rich story of an unconventional love between EL – a kind of robotic super villain – and Mateo, the mechanic sent to repair him. It’s labelled as an LGBT romance, but it feels like it doesn’t need to be labelled in that way to get attention. Allor brilliantly uses genre tropes and convention to set our expectations, but then subverts them while telling a really empathetic story. While it opens with EL attempting to escape his captives, it soon turns into a human drama as Mateo attempts to repair the damage and forge a relationship with the captor, showing him respect and pity for the first time.
It’s a compelling concept and takes the subversion of the super villain concept to a really smart new level. It plays with our perception of who EL is and why he is where he is, as we never truly find out. EL is cast as the villain, based on his appearance and the way other people treat him, but we don’t really know whey he is captured, or even where he is and how he is there. He ends up having a tragic element introduced to his story and his actions begin to have a really heart breaking context to them which changes how you think of him. But is this genuine or a falsehood?
With it being part of the current cultural zeitgeist, you can see plenty of parallels with the Vision and EL’s mix of humanity and logic. However the story it reminded us of most was The Shape OF Water, when it comes to an unconventional cross boundary romance.
Visually, Hollow Heart is a mixed bag. On one level it has that super slick Vault Comics presentation which we have come to love, with stunning covers (which include one from David Mack) and a really iconic and imposing design for EL. The mix of vibrant pinks and blues making for a really iconic character and are juxtaposed with the neutral locations and the warm tones of the human characters brilliantly.
By contrast Paul Tucker’s line work inside feels quite rough and un-finessed. It has a quite old fashioned feel to it, and feels like it lacks the polish and fine lines we are used to in modern books. It took us a while to overcome this initial impression, as the style actually works quite well. The old fashioned and vintage feel to it evokes memories of Bronze Age Marvel or 70s and 80s UK anthologies like Warrior or Action. We have clearly been spoiled by the finesse of modern indie comics, and while it may lack some of the showiness of it’s contemporaries, Tucker tells a really good story and manages to capture all of Allor’s emotional beats really well, delivering a strong and unfussy story.
Hollow Heart is one of those books which, while it might not instantly grab you, does something which really stays with you over a long period. You find yourself thinking about the how’s and why’s of the characters and wondering what will happen next. Which is the sign of a great book. We’re fascinated to see how it will develop in future issues and we hope this is a book which continues to build its audience and it’s readership. It definitely has the potential to become a really thought-provoking comic which pushes boundaries and challenges your preconceptions about what a comic like this should be.