Negative Space #2 and #3
Writer: Ryan K Lindsay
Artist: Owen Gieni
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Warning: Contains spoilers
Ryan K Lindsay continues his bold exploration of depression and emotional collapse in the second and third issues of Negative Space as the story shifts from a slow meditation on self-destruction to what appears to be an action-driven sci-fi adventure. Guy is drawn into a war between the Kindred Corp and a resistance group fighting to restore emotional equilibrium to the world.
Especially noteworthy is the fact that the main villains – the Kindred Corp and the Evorah – are portrayed as inhuman. The Kindred Corp is the embodiment of modern entrepreneurship with all its pitfalls and the Evorah are so other that it’s difficult to loathe them. Humanity needs to provide their misery to these beings or risk incurring their wrath. The Kindred Corp performs what some might consider to be a necessary function. This adds a layer of complexity to what could previously be dismissed as simple corporate greed.
But this still isn’t enough to excuse their actions. They are collaborators choosing to work with the enemy rather than oppose it, and the fact that they profit from their collaboration makes it all the more despicable. As does the outcome of their actions. Woody describes the fight against the villains as an attempt to restore “an emotional playing field our generation doesn’t even know exists.”
While we’re told that the Kindred Corp has manipulated humanity for generations, this seems particularly relevant to the last few decades. By externalizing the source of this apathy, depression, and cultural angst, the writer issues a social call to arms.
The chief purpose of truly great science fiction is to educate, and to do so subtly. The second issue of Negative Space excels at this. By framing the emotional malaise of modern life within an otherworldly context, the writer forces the reader to examine this malaise. In doing so, we have to ask ourselves some hard questions. In a real world context, there is no shadowy conglomerate behind our apathy, our depression, our inability to act. We are the ones responsible for the emotional state of the world and we, like Guy, must take steps to change it.
Owen Gieni has maintained the same impressive standard of quality in his art. Each page is rendered with a rare level of detail and care. The more visceral panels are startling in their intensity. While the characters’ expressions are well-drawn, he primarily uses panel layout and negative space to provoke emotion. Some of the most evocative panels are the ones showing the protagonists hanging in darkness or descending into it.
The writing, too, meshes well with the visuals. Guy’s internal monologue is deftly handled, adding nuances to action scenes. Nothing is as it seems on the surface. Ryan K Lindsay mostly uses the dialogue to deliver facts and move the plot along. But he phrases the necessary exposition in such a way that it’s layered with meaning.
“Where does this plan lead us?” asks Guy.
“Down, Guy. Like everything, it was always leading us down,” replies his companion.
The third issue draws us deeper into the underwater home of the Evorahs. In psychoanalysis and other fields, water has long been associated with the subconscious. This journey is a metaphor for Guy’s journey into the collective unconscious to face the demons who lurk there.
The main opponent in this issue isn’t the average Evorah or even the Kindred Corporation. It’s a behemoth that attempts to consume Guy. His consumption is a symbolic anti-birth. The vast being, designed to evoke a vagina, swallows him whole, attempting to keep him alive to feed off him. It’s an inversion of gestation where a mother nurtures the embryo. By recalling a beloved parental figure, Guy manages to escape the being and is symbolically reborn as someone charged with purpose.
The pacing in these issues differs vastly from the first issue. The switch from reflective contemplation to intense action is deliberately jarring – a clever creative choice that highlights the protagonist’s passivity. Guy, until his rebirth, remains a passive character. He reacts but doesn’t take the initiative. His emotional responses remain blunted until well into the third issue. Therefore it is necessary to have him propelled along by events. Since he is the character through whose eyes the reader experiences the story, we are swept along with him at breakneck speed. Experiencing the hectic pacing as a passenger makes us feel helpless in the same way that Guy feels helpless in the face of his depression.
When he becomes an active force, he not only takes the first step towards freeing the human race – he also frees the reader. Like Guy, we are reminded of our own agency, our freedom to take action and change the world. What we do with that freedom is up to us.