While the main Empyre book has been a tough read, to say the least, some of the tie-in one-shots and series have taken the event's concept and improved upon it. Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulk #1 gave some much-needed context and youthful energy to Hulkling's depiction in the event, while Empyre: X-Men #1 leaned into the ridiculousness of the concept to incredible effect. Now, Steve Rogers hits the ground for Empyre: Captain America #1, which is the beginning of a full tie-in miniseries. How does this off-shoot fare against the narratively suffocating vegetative villains known as the Cotati?
Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson teams Captain America up with a team of American soldiers fighting against the Cotati invasion, quickening narrowing the messy, sprawling, global focus of Empyre. Grounding Cap's story with a battle on the ground, a simple mission, obstacles that make sense, and a small cast of characters that we quickly get to know and care about makes this miniseries, in just one issue, everything that the main title isn't. Steve Rogers is his iconic, empathetic, respectful self, and he cares about every soldier here… and because Johnson takes the time to invest in his supporting cast, so do we. That chance, the chance to invest and care about the actual stakes of the story, is often lost in the plot-driven hype of events like this, so it stands out from the crowed when a writer takes the care to build an emotionally resonant story in the midst of the sci-fi action. Phillip Kennedy Johnson is… and please, remember this… a writer to watch.
The Captain America art team of artist Ariel Olivetti, colorist Rachel Rosenberg, and letterer VC's Ariana Maher ride the same line as the teams of the other tie-ins, creating a nice balance between the superhero action and the weirdness of the sci-fi horror. It looks, under their guidance, a lot like what a Swamp Thing-centric event would, with the grass and vines and leafy creatures appearing truly scary in some scenes. The art hasn't been a weak point in any of these Empyre stories, and that continues here.
Empyre: Captain America may be linked to a poorly-conceived event, but it succeeds beautifully as a story in and of itself.