This is what many Empyre readers have been waiting for. Introduced in Young Avengers during the excellent Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung run, Hulkling has become a fan-favorite character. Now, he has taken the role of a warlord in Marvel's current mega-event comic Empyre, a choice that seems a far cry from his depiction in the first Young Avengers comics, as well as the landmark run on the title by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. With Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulk #1, we will finally find out what brought Hulkling to this decision.
First up, Chip Zdarsky is on scripting duties with co-writer Anthony Oliveira. Chip's writing is consistently funny and heartfelt, two components that are majorly lacking in the main Empyre book, so seeing the credit alone gave the sense that Hulkling was in good hands. The comic's introductory caption describing Hulkling as "strong, soft good nice boy" sealed the deal: Zdarsky and Oliveira get Hulkling, and that is a solid place to start. The comic succeeds in getting its lead to the place where we met him in Empyre #1, but the one thing it could do with is streamlining. There are a lot of action scenes that feel inserted to make this feel like a Marvel comic rather than a slice-of-life sci-fi romance, and that's understandable. However, the story could've done with one less fight scene and one more conversation between Hulkling and his fiancé Wiccan. All in all, though, it takes the concept of Emperor Hulkling and gives it grounded, emotional, human roots.
The art is, overall, good. It's not as stunning as the main art in Empyre or as interesting as the more painterly touch in the Avengers tie-in. Still, the Hulkling art team of Manuel Garcia, Cam Smith, Triona Farrell, and letterer VC's Travis Lanham create a sleek book with bright action and moody shading. The characters' faces could have used a bit more detail, as this is primarily a romance book that gets hijacked by some alien action, but still: very good.
Overall, Lords of Empyre: Hulkling greatly improves on what Empyre started by examining Hulkling as a character and pulling motivation from within him, rather than plopping him in a situation and building his reaction around the situation. It would be interesting to see a Young Avengers by this creative team because while this is a one-off event tie-in, it evokes nostalgia for the days when Hulkling and Wiccan's adventures would release monthly.