Kill All Angels Fights Cosmic Horror With Heart

For two volumes, Robert Brockway’s Vicious Circuit trilogy (The Unnoticeables, The Empty Ones) has existed as a screamed answer to cosmic horror. It’s a series where the “chosen ones” are created by the same universal threat they’re trying to destroy, and the overwhelming odds are in favor of the monsters. It’s also one in which the characters’ humanity and tenacity defies the genre’s overriding sense of doom. In Kill All Angels, Brockway brings the themes of humanity and defiance against a dark universe to the fore, while maintaining the narrative stakes and terrifying villains that make the series so exhilarating in the first place, bringing the trilogy to a thundering close as explosive as any of its standout set-pieces.

In the wake of The Empty Ones, barely functional punk Carey, monster-slayer extraordinaire Kaitlyn, and their friend Jackie are on the road, having stopped another “church” dedicated to the screaming balls of light everyone calls angels, and the hollowed out “Empty Ones.” All three are ready to head back to California and relative normalcy, but a brief rest stop for beer ends with Kaitlyn suddenly popping behind the fabric of reality and learning there might be a way to cleanse the universe of angels once and for all.

Armed with this new knowledge and aided by a rogue emotional Empty One named Zang, the trio sets out one last time to battle the forces of evil and maybe save the universe for good. But a ruthless Empty One named Jia has plans of her own, and the heroes will have to fight through her armies (and stare down Kaitlyn’s rapidly diminishing humanity) if they hope to finally kill all angels.

In most cosmic horror, being human is a weakness. Humans are small and insignificant, a tiny shard of light against the vast, dark bulk of the universe.  Invaribly, the gods are big and hostile, and the humans lose. Even in the universe of Kill All Angels, this is kind of true—the cycle that fuels Carey’s self-loathing and the Angels’ breeding process assumes that’s the case—but to Brockway, it doesn’t have to be. Holding on to humanity is the key factor in fighting the angels. This universe is bleak and terrifying, loaded with monsters and space whales and aliens who want to “solve” people, but humanity’s place is to act as a counterbalance, to be the antibodies to terror. The horrors are no less titanic, but the focus on humanity as part of the cosmic structure rather than running counter to it gives the heroes a tremendous amount of much-needed hope.

After three books, the menace of the angels still holds up, too. Kaitlyn’s new abilities allow her near godlike control over causality and the skill to slaughter angel-created abominations by the truckload, but it’s clear they might be costing her the human parts of herself. There are also hints, via flashback, that Kaitlyn’s powers might also be part of the overarching cycle of destruction. The Empty Ones are still terrifyingly ruthless and intelligent, adapting quickly to every tactic used against them. And while the heroes have a rogue Empty One helping them out, he’s balanced out by the equally ruthless and vaguely human Jia, who adds some utterly terrifying tactics to the mix.

When the dust finally settles, Brockway’s roller-coaster of a trilogy (which includes, we must note, a fight scene on an actual roller coaster) ends on a note that feels well-earned, if bittersweet—all the humanity and hope and threat serving as a reminder that the fight is always worth it.

The Empty Ones is available now.

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