Hollow Heart, written by Paul Allor and drawn and colored by Paul Tucker, has thus far been an exploration of justice and power perceived through a pathological lens. In this issue, El — a machine/human hybrid made up of various body parts — attempts to escape with the help of his sympathetic maintenance-worker, Matteo.
This chapter also puts greater focus on one of the lab’s security guards, Donnie — a character that serves as the antithesis to Matteo. Where Matteo goes to great lengths to control his emotions, Donnie has a complete lack of control. Matteo has actively tried to free El; Donnie has always sought to keep them imprisoned. Both Donnie and Matteo have relatively little power in the institution where they work. Their personal stake in the lab goes as far as a steady income to live on. Hollow Heart #3 goes some way in asking why one individual has gone way, and the other another way. More than this, it asks the simple but loaded question of: why do people do what they do?
This is somewhat of an oversimplification of the issue’s themes on my part. To put it more astutely, Hollow Heart #3 examines the subjectivity behind its characters’ actions. This is a continuation of the overriding themes of the series. Issues #1 and #2 go a long way in exploring the ways in which El’s body is innately medicalized and institutionalized, and how it is transcendently tied to the space they are imprisoned in. Issue #3 extends this narrative of subjectivity and the lived experience. It factors in the notion of justice, and what that looks like to El. In doing this, it implicates Matteo and Donnie, challenging their positionality and culpability.
Importantly, Allor’s writing remains unequivocally in favor of El’s plight towards freedom. The plot never favors any character in a position of power over El in its exploration of intent and selfhood. Between issues #1 and #2, El went from feeling desperate resignation to active anger. In this chapter, El gets to cut loose a little. There is unequivocal justice in El’s violence towards the building that prisoned them and their captors. Tucker depicts El beating Donnie, surrounded by flames and dripping in their own molten metal. Out of context, it may seem like El is the antagonist. Yet coupled with the narrative, we know that El is righteous in their anger.
Yet even in the face of all this destruction, it is clear that El will never fully escape the prison. As they escape in Matteo’s van, the institution lingers as part of El. Allor and Tucker use Hollow Heart’s and El’s narrative — as well as the allegorical stories that pop up through the issues — to look towards the formative nature of trauma. How it permeates into one’s relation of both themselves and the external world, and how it unveils the blurred line between the two. Much like El’s creation, trauma can fragment the self, transform it, and reassemble it. At times, it can fling a person between the past and present, leaving them out of joint.
Hollow Heart #3 goes further to implicate other characters in the trauma of the lab. This is where Donnie is once more relevant. Without untangling him from his culpability in El’s treatment, this issue explores why Donnie continues to work a dangerous job for a violent and evil organization. It is revealed that he lives an unfulfilled life, where his struggle to control his emotions undermines relationships. Any attempt to leave is undercut by circumstance. The issue gives no answer to why Donnie works this job. Is it a form of self-sabotage? A way to live out power in a world where he has none? We do not necessarily know. However, the conclusion of this issue suggests that the lab sees Donnie’s emotions as a utility. Where El has escaped, Donnie has possibly fallen further into the lab’s control.
Allor and Tucker are on their way to writing a triumph of a series with Hollow Heart. Issue #3 is a deeply layered, intelligent study of subjectivity, justice, and trauma. Between the art and the writing, every detail feels intentional. Much like the installments before it, Hollow Heart #3 is an outstanding single-issue — one that will inevitably become part of something bigger.
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