Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #162: A Shell of Meat and Metal

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #162 by Drew Barth

A Shell of Meat and Metal

Close to a year ago I looked at the first issue of Paul Allor and Paul Tucker’s Hollow Heart and how it worked with isolation and humanity. Since then, the series has concluded its six-issue run and the depths Allor and Tucker go beyond their first issue is heart shattering. As a series, it has branched off from the first inklings of isolation to fully dive into what things like loneliness and the physical bodies we inhabit mean out in the world.

At its center, Hollow Heart revolves around El and Mateo. The former, El, is portions of a man—heart, brain, some other organs and bones—packed into a giant metal suit. The latter, Mateo, is his new mechanic and shows El the first bit of humanity since being reborn in his metal shell. Mateo also creates a plan to get El out of the facility that he has been trying to escape from for years now. But Mateo’s plan is similar to the original plan El was living in—limited freedoms and mobility due to being tethered to his location and being a giant cyborg with an emaciated human skull perched on top. It’s here, though, that El learns two things: more about his own humanity and what deception really means as Mateo has not been entirely truthful about getting El away from his original facility. 

Hollow Heart asks us: what is a body? What is autonomy? El was brought back from the brink of death, but for what purpose? Just to suffer? El has what we could call a body, albeit one that is recognizable as an 80s action figure more than anything. But he needs constant repairs and updates and maintenance to the point where any thought of escape would eventually mean his death. But that also seems to be what he wants—to go beyond the tether in the facility he has been attempting to escape from results in a slow, degrading death. Shouldn’t this be his choice, though? At one point, El was a person, but much of that humanity has been stripped away and even Mateo, the one person who continually shows him affection and love, still does not let him make any real choices about himself. El  is forced into a present he never wanted with a past that doesn’t seem to exist. If there is a future for him, it seems like it only circles back to the facility and wanting to die.

Allor and Tucker create horror that sinks much deeper into our stomachs than the promise of spooky robots. The sheer existential dread of being trapped how El is and the ways in which his life is pulled away from him piece by piece only reinforces that deep-seated terror. In the end, El is only able to recede into a fantasy, cut off completely from the rest of the world, while his body hangs in the same facility he had always hoped to escape.

Get excited. Get trapped.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

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