Empyre #1 Review: Isn't Tony Stark Supposed to Be a Genius?

Empyre #1
5/10
Empyre #1, which kicks off Marvel's new event, is a beautifully drawn disagreement between two geniuses -- Reed Richards and Tony Stark -- that struggles to make either seem worthy of that descriptor.

Marvel has embarked on a new event with Empyre #1, which is advertised as a crossover between Avengers and Fantastic Four. What drew this reviewer to the title, though, was the prominence of Hulkling, as there is never enough content to fill the Young Avengers-sized hole in the comics industry. While the tie-ins are many, concept is simple: Hulkling, as a Kree/Skrull hybrid, has united the two warring species after what seemed like an endless conflict. Under his leadership, the Kree and Skrull armies head to Earth's moon to make an enemy species known as the Cotati surrender. The Fantastic Four run into the Kree/Skrull army and converse with them, attempting to make sense of what Hulkling is doing.

Meanwhile, the Avengers take a trip to the moon where they hang out with the Cotati… right as Hulkling demands their surrender. Reed wants everyone to calm down and discuss what's going on, and Tony immediately cracks into "defend the peaceful Cotati" mode. This conflict is the backbone of the issue, as Marvel loves a good "superheroes disagree" story. But does it work?

Empyre #1 cover. Credit: Marvel Comics.
Empyre #1 cover. Credit: Marvel Comics.

Al Ewing scripts the big event from a plot by himself and Dan Slott. The plot itself is engaging, with years of conflict brewing underneath the surface and, even though Marvel has done it a lot before, brilliant and powerful superheroes finding themselves at odds feels like a natural source of interesting chaos. Dip back all you want, Marvel. However, the issue is that these events hinge, not on big ideas, but on character. The idea is the window dressing: Civil War used the Registration Act to highlight fundamental differences between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark; Secret Invasion used a Skrull infiltration to highlight the impact of a fractured Marvel universe; Seige and Avengers vs. X-Men showed the impact of taking your stand and doubling down on ideas, even as situations changed — and so on, and so on. Empyre #1 puts Reed Richards in a situation where he, through a device that records his thoughts, is shown to think a lot and do next to no problem-solving. Even worse, Tony Stark leads the Avengers into battle to protect an alien race that was very obviously threatening him. Tony greets the creepy Quoi, member of the Cotati, who smiles wickedly and says, "When this day is done… there will be a place reserved for you here, in our garden. Forever." How the man who looks at the future like an open book can listen to this, and more, and not see a threat is confusing. Tony is instantly shown that he's in the wrong when, while trying to prevent Hulkling's attack on the moon, the Cotati thank the Avengers for allowing them time to complete the flowering, which allows them to drastically increase their power and attack everyone. It's a distinct moment that happens to fast, making Empyre #1, unfortunately, seem oddly paced, out-of-character, and tiring.

The art team of Valerio Schiti, Marte Gracia, and VC's Joe Caramagna pull off the Asgardian effort of saving this event. They've created a beautiful sci-fi spectacle that makes this rushed set-up fit in with more narratively sound events of the past. There's one moment, in particular, involving Hulkling, his sword, and Mjolnir that is a standout, iconic panel that would have made an even better splash page.

All is not lost, because I've read Ewing write compelling characters in his work before, with Loki: Agent of Asgard as a major standout. However, with Empyre #1, the personalities, voices, and especially wits of the characters are lost in the scope of it all.

About Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.