Inside Look: Empty Chamber

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In anticipation of the Comflix episodes  based directly on the pages of Empty Chamber, A. David Lewis gives you the director’s cut on the two-issue Silent Devil series.

The solicitation for the issues reads:

Boston is quiet, the University is deserted, and Matt, alone for the winter, is a nobody. But he quickly becomes the government's most wanted, a beautiful mercenary's top priority, and a renegade general's prime target when the knowledge he possesses might thwart American genocide.

And thousands of feet above the ground on a military airship, a surprise double-cross threatens to ruin Agent Sam Maddox's mission: to safeguard a citizen codebreaker with information to thwart American genocide!

From the award-winning creators of MORTAL COILS and THE LONE AND LEVEL SANDS comes fully loaded action-espionage adventure!

Empty Chamber was fashioned around two simple ideas. First, I was growing sick of all the generic international terrorist (read “Arab” or “Muslim”) stories that were pouring out of every media in the wake of September 11th: television, movies, and, yes, comics.

The narrative landscape was becoming positively xenophobic, so, with Jason Copland, I aimed at telling a tale with America threatened by America itself. However, in the wake of writing my Mortal Coils series and Lone and Level Sands graphic novel with mpMann, I wanted to change the tone of my comics; unlike my other “egghead” works, I wanted Empty Chamber to be about action. Sure, we wanted it to be smart, and we wanted it to be responsible, but, most of all, we wanted it to be cool.

So, Jason and I had two issues, sixty-six pages, to do just that: Show an America at war with itself, crank up the action, and unload our Empty Chamber.



Click to enlarge I wanted a very specific image from Jason in the first panel to set the tone of both the story and the early framing sequence: Two bicycles, blurring by us and melting into a background of black.

The panel says speed, it says confusion, and it says journey. The blurring continues as the reader moves from panel to panel – this is to denote that we’re in a flashback or delusion, revealed on page 3 – but it immediately becomes clear that the bikes belong to these young boys: One of them will be our main character and the other will be the reason for the former being the main character.

Incidentally, in the third word balloon, “ultra-violent” is not a typo. Letterer Kel Nuttall delivered exactly what the script said. The idea here is that, age appropriately, Matt is talking like a know-it-all, even as he goofs on the actual terminology.


Click to enlargeCompanion University, of course, is a fake Boston-area school. Being a native and an alum, though, I still wanted to capture a place that could exist along the Charles River. When I wrote Empty Chamber, however, I was working and completing my M.A. at Georgetown University, so some of the library is influenced by that institution along the Potomac River, instead.

Based on page 15, itself a steal from The Dark Knight Returns, Companion is located approximately where M.I.T. would be, though I imagine it being more akin to either Boston University or Georgetown’s Jesuit brethren, Boston College. (Incidentally, I went to Brandeis University for undergrad, and an exclusive Empty Chamber prologue story appeared in their alumni magazine last year.)

Lastly, I would like to mention that Aamer is the only name I could find that comes alphabetically before Aaron. This is rather significant to me personally, at least.


Click to enlargeThis is one of those great effects that only comics can pull off. First of all, we get the extra tension of firing gun muzzle a page turn just before this – too few creators take advantage of this natural, vital break in comics, I feel. Frankly, I try to utilize it whenever I can.

And, better yet, Jason pulls off a wonderful trick of the eye in the first panel by keeping the reader in suspense: With blood spattered on him, is our main character Matt dead? The moment holds as long as the reader likes, and, only then, does he or she move to the next panel to register Matt’s eye movement. Panel three shows us his savior (and potential franchise player), Samantha “Mad Sam” Maddox.


Click to enlargeI love how much we get from Boston in Empty Chamber. Here, Jason captures the strange ambience of the Fenway Gardens at night perfectly, along with its proximity to the resident living in Back Bay. The Gardens do have something of a reputation as a cruising zone, but the goal here was to complicate Matt’s character a little bit. He’s not homophobic – nor am I – but he is plainly rattled. Sam throws his comment back at him by invoking his Pakistani name, perhaps reminding him of the discrimination he sometimes faces, too.

Incidentally, no fewer than three pages later do we find out that one of our protagonists is gay himself. It’s not a plot point nor meant as some kind of cheap bid for social relevance. I just wanted to mix up readers’ expectations.


Click to enlargeThis was the hardest page of issue #1 to script. Jason managed to do a lot with a little: He captures the subtle moves of our “villain,” General Fleischer, at his desk even as the action of the scene unfolds in miniature on his screens.

Likewise, Fleischer’s second-in-command, the woman known only as Atalanta, was a late addition to Empty Chamber’s plot; Maddox needed both an alternate, someone with whom she had history. So, I worked out that story for myself, but I had to allude to as much of it as possible here without getting distracted from using this page to close issue #1.

Two details I love, though: First, in the final panel, it’s important to note that Fleischer’s screen in the final panel says, “Projected Fatalities: 0%.” It’s something I really wanted readers to see, because, frankly, if Fleischer isn’t killing anyone, then why is he such a huge threat? Second, as the series’ supposed protagonist, Fleischer delivers his only line in Act I here, the final line of the issue.



Click to enlargeTherefore, with Fleischer finally revealed by the end of issue #1, it’s only logical to open issue #2 centered on him and on his driving focus, his late mother. I was thrilled to get the words “I am not a violent man” in his mouth, because I didn’t want him to be another bloodthirsty renegade general.

He’s a man of passion, and he seems to inspire respect from even a loose cannon like Atalanta: Fleischer could be the protagonist of a comic book series if circumstances were at all different. I think this is the hallmark of the best villains, personally.

Kudos to both Kel and Jason for pulling off the difficult effect I wanted from the final panel. I had been planning to use this effect for a long time, and it was perfect here: Project the characters’ motives right on them.


Click to enlargeThis page caps off a joke I have running all through the first issue to this point. The third member of Matt’s group, Kelly Alexander, is named after Bill Cosby’s character Alexander Kelly on I Spy. Except Matt’s Kelly also goes by the codename of Agent Carpenter, and he sent two messages to his commander in issue #1: “Still in big trouble. Following Egg & Gracie to restaurant before Lo Pan” and “MacReady’s Ready.” All of these are little tributes to filmmaker John Carpenter, with whom Kelly is apparently obsessed. I got a kick out of it, myself.

Separately, the plot thickens twofold here. Sam gets itchy, sensing something’s not right. And Matt poses an important question for the final scenes of the series: “What’s a Daedelus?”


Click to enlargeIn your traditional action film, unless a final coup de grace moment (think Harrison Ford’s “Get off my plane” in Airforce One), the bad guys get many of the best lines. And it’s no different for Empty Chamber.

Again, Fleischer’s group could have been portrayed as the sympathetic rebellion, the Rebel Alliance fighting against the bureaucratic U.S. government. His speech, too, doesn’t connote any evil or malice. He’s passionate and he’s moral; he’s just misguided, and so, too, are his followers.

But he does get the best line, the epigraph that opened issue #1 – the words of JFK just two months before his assassination: “We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world – or to make it the last.”

Empty Chamber is a two-issue mini-series by A. David Lewis and Jason Copland, with grayscaling by Jennifer Rodgers and lettering by Kel Nuttall. Both issues are available for order through Diamond Comic Distributors as FEB073713 and FEB073714 or through Silent Devil’s online retail store at http://www.silentdevil.com/store. 

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