Empyre #1 Review: Prepare For The Trees [MAJOR SPOILERS]
Marvel has become over the years the House of Events, more than the House of Ideas that it once claimed to be. There are usually at least four to five Event Crossovers (series that are significant "event storylines" that are separate from regular ongoings and serve as the "backbone" of the story, which then has tie-in crossovers such as other series or crossovers with regular monthlies). Still, this year it looks like we'll only have two such events. An Event Crossover tries to entice readers by being "an event," something that will really change the characters or the world around them. The increase in Event Crossovers to increase sales is typical because fans want stories that "matter" and Event Crossovers promise that, even when they don't deliver. When going into an Event Crossover, the main things to hope to be left with as a reader are, something happened, characters act in ways that make sense for the story, and the art is enjoyable to look at. It isn't the highest bar to get over. Yet, some Event Crossovers exceed those expectations, many don't, and how much enjoyment a reader gets from a reading experience like this varies reader to reader.
Now, three weeks ago, Empyre Avengers #0 was launched, providing a summary of many of the past events related to Empyre as an Event Crossover, setting the stage for the event, and giving some very pretty artwork to look at. The Empyre event continued last week into Empyre Fantastic Four #0 with a cute little brief setup for the whole event. Remember, Empyre is billed as an Avengers / Fantastic Four Event Crossover, so we've gotten the Avengers part of the prologue for this event, and gotten the Fantastic Four part, so finally we get to Empyre #1 after months of waiting.
Major massive spoilers ahead, you have been warned!
So, What is Empyre #1 About?
Last time, way back at the very end of 2019, Incoming #1 was published teasing a lot of "incoming" plots for the whole Marvel Universe. Mainly an Al Ewing book, Incoming #1 showed us the Kree and Skrull were uniting under the original Kree Captain Marvel's son with a Skrull princess, the superhero Hulkling. What he was uniting these two age-old enemies to do, though, was the question, and why it was something near or on Earth was the big plot point. In Empyre Avengers #0, we found the Cotati, a sentient plant race with long historical ties to the Kree / Skrull War, were trying to set up on the Blue Area of the Moon and gaining the Avengers' help they were able to jump-start their settlement process. However, the Kree / Skrull fleet was on its way to stop the Cotati. Empyre Fantastic Four #0 reminded us the Kree / Skrull War was over, and the FF ended up with a Kree child and a Skrull child in their custody. Thus does Empyre #1 begin.
So the FF Met a War Fleet On the Way Home…
As mentioned in the review for Empyre Fantastic Four #0, and as can be seen in previews out of the first five pages of Empyre #1, everything you need to know on the Fantastic Four end for this crossover is summed up quickly as the FF come across the large Kree / Skrull fleet. What is presented is a quick-paced explanation, setup, and then execution of getting the FF quickly into the story, with some fun continuity touches (such as how the Super Skrull's powers work in relation to the Fantastic Four) that gives the issue a good fast start. As the Thing says in the first few pages, "Hold on tight, folks!" as we are given a "slalom through a high-speed alien army!"
As the Avengers Talk With Plants On the Moon
So after getting the FF part, we get the Avengers part, picking up right where Empyre Avengers #0 left off, literally. (One hopes that when collected, if the prologue issues are included, Marvel will put Empyre Fantastic Four #0 first and then Empyre Avengers #0 right before Empyre #1 because that's how it feels and should really be read.) There is, of course, a recap here, more foreshadowing, and the introduction of the concept of Earth Superheroes with hammers, besides Thor. A concept identified with the Kree, and shown mostly with Ronan The Accuser and his Cosmi-Rod warhammer, She-Hulk is gifted a very similar looking weapon letting her control the rage that has defined her character since Civil War II, leaving Thor concerned. (Or maybe jealous her hammer is bigger than his?)
As expected, though, as the FF and the Kree / Skrull fleet approach Earth, the Avengers and the Cotati prepare to fight, and the FF try to negotiate a more peaceful approach. The book continues the theme of Iron Man as the POV for the Avengers from Empyre Avengers #0, and Mr. Fantastic now becomes the POV for the FF side, as both sides will not give an inch and a battle begins … and ends quickly.
Drawing Battles in Space
Given the task of starting this crossover and delivering each issue, Valerio Schiti joins Empyre, after House of X and Powers of X pencilers Pere Larraz and R.B. Silvia gave us the two prologue issues and does a good job. A lot is going on in this issue, and with a massive space battle, a "Ghost Quinjet," thirteen unlucky superheroes (including Swordsman, Hulkling, Avengers, and Fantastic Four), Schiti does a solid job making things clear and easy to follow. After drawing the Brian Michael Bendis character-heavy Guardians of the Galaxy, and Slott's also dense Tony Stark: Iron Man, Schiti doesn't get to slow down with this series. His character expressions are also good, expressive, and above all, everyone is clearly drawn the way they should be. Plus, new designs like Black Panther's space armor, Warhammer She-Hulk, the Ghost Quinjet, and lesser-used characters like Captain Glory and Tanalth, all look great. Don't expect super detailed backgrounds, though, and really to get this book done on time, not sure even George Perez could do super detail. Overall though, Schiti does a solid job on the book, and if he keeps up this level consistently throughout the whole series, that will be a big win for this series in terms of Event Crossover quality. Plus, the expected amount of variant covers for this issue are actually all very well done. They deserve some praise, from the Ed McGuiness Party Variant to InHyuk Lee's Second Print, to the Mike Mignola Hidden Gem, some nice and actually relevant variant cover artwork here.
Al Ewing & Dan Slott Give A Fast Great Beginning With Empyre #1
It is hard to call this issue the beginning after two prologue issues, but nevertheless, a reader can pick up this issue and start the crossover without really missing anything. That is an excellent testament to the quality of story Ewing and Slott created, and the quality of scripting Ewing does. Most of the credit for the quality of the writing has to go to Ewing (and the issue feels very much like a natural extension from Empyre Avengers #0). First, there is continuity all over that is done fast, and well. Thor mentions Iron Man's "backup copies of himself" alluding to the current Iron Man run, how the Super Skrull's powers work, Ghost Rider and now the "Ghost Quinjet" for the Avengers to use. The Cotati's past with the Kree and how the Avengers have helped the Cotati, the Fantastic Four being long time enemies of the Skrulls, even a Fastball Special with no X-Men, there is a lot hinted at and explained without being clunky. Things happen, and happen at a good speed, though whether long term changes will come from these "events" who knows? All characters act as they should, and as they have currently in their books. (Can't say where in relation to what is going on in Captain America, Thor, or Iron Man 2020, Empyre takes place but nothing is contradicted here.)
However, there is one part of foreshadowing that started in Empyre Avengers #0, which continues throughout Empyre #1, all the way until the big surprise, that was subtle, well handled by Ewing, and pays off well, Iron Man's firm belief in the Cotati. Starting with his initial dreams of the Cotati's origins in Empyre Avengers #0, Iron Man was quick to believe in the Cotati and their leader Sequoia, and his belief stays firm even when Sequoia seems to be hiding or holding things back. Thor expresses some doubt, as does Captain America and Captain Marvel, plus the plant controlled sentry in Empyre Avengers #0. Still, Iron Man is so firm in his belief, as someone who wants something tangible that he can believe in, that he pushes the Avengers guns blazing into the fight with the Kree / Skrull fleet. None of this rings untrue, from everything past stories have shown the Kree and the Skrulls are not to be trusted or worked with. The Kree / Skrull War, Operation: Galactic Storm, Maximum Security, Secret Invasion, the Kree and the Skrulls have no reason to like Earth, and Earth has no reason to like them. So the Cotati use that to enact their long wanted vengeance on both, using the Avengers as a weapon, especially Iron Man, to eliminate the Kree / Skrull fleet. Beware the trees indeed.
The handling of this twist of the knife is very well done by Ewing and Slott, and gives Empyre #1 some real clout as a single issue, making all the promotion of the Kree and the Skrulls being the enemy a complete red herring. It also doesn't come out of left field, the foreshadowing is there, but it doesn't smack anyone in the face with it, and beyond foreshadowing there is symbolism. When the Avengers begin the battle, then the Cotati truly begin to destroy the Kree / Skrull fleet, Sequoia takes on the clear armor of a tribal leader, seeking to crush the invaders, utilizing clear historical symbolism. (Plus, it even looks like there are little Groots among the Cotati, so this issue will have very clear crossover potential with many books and concepts, like the X-Men. In fact, I almost expected X-Force #10 from last week to tie-in. Reading that issue and this issue … there is a lot of similarities.)
Empyre #1, Buy it, Read it, Enjoy it
As the beginning of an Event Crossover, this issue should be judged for good characterization, which it has, enjoyable artwork, also present, and that something actually happened. All of this is here, and there is a lot of all of it. In addition, the foreshadowing, the payoff of actual storytelling, character development, tie-in potential, great cliffhanger, there is so much here that one hopes issue #2 does not drop the ball. This is an excellent start to an Event Crossover, and as a single issue is fantastic, as the continuation of an Event from Empyre Avengers #0 works even better. Pick this issue up, and let's hope Empyre keeps this level of quality going.
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