Empyre: X-Men #1 Review: Zombies vs. Plants vs. Old Ladies

Empyre: X-Men #1
Tini Howard and Jonathan Hickman make Empyre: X-Men work by treating it like its own story rather than a Marvel event tie-in.

X-Men during the Jonathan Hickman era has been a delight to read, as it employs a high concept take on the X-Men and uses it to explore character. It's interesting, then, to see this character-driven run meet with Empyre, which has struggled with characterization and motivation, losing sight on the Avengers' personalities and intelligence in all of the significant action. How will these two series, seemingly worlds apart in the approaches they take to the Marvel universe and storytelling in general, collide in Empyre: X-Men #1?

Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard's Empyre: X-Men #1 cover. Credit: Marvel Comics.
Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard's Empyre: X-Men #1 cover. Credit: Marvel Comics.

Tini Howard co-writes Empyre: X-Men #1 with Jonathan Hickman, bringing that same creative energy to this event tie-in as they brought to X-Men FCBD. Now, it would've been difficult to predict that this duo of writers would turn X-Men FCBD into a Tarot-card reading for the entire X-Men franchise and its readers, but the two did just that. Here, they turn an alien invasion into a story they bill as "(Mutant) Zombies vs. (Alien) Plants vs. (Old) Ladies." It's a gloriously weird take that feels not like an offshoot of Empyre, but instead an issue of X-Men. Instead of seeking to enrich the event, Empyre: X-Men does so organically by finding an in through character. An emotional decision made by the Scarlet Witch sets the stage for the events of this issue, making the tale engaging from the start. It feels every bit the opposite of the event itself, with consistent characters that make decisions that make sense according to their history in the Marvel Universe. Scarlet Witch is especially haunted by choices from years ago that shape her to this day, and watching that trauma play out in what could've easily just been a fun side story is fascinating. X-Men feels, from its one-shots to it's spinoffs to event tie-ins like this, like a labor of love.

The artwork by Matteo Buffagni and Nolan Woodard is solid and exactly what readers have come to expect in these Hickman-led X-Men books. Superhero art that leans in to the Marvel house style with a slight touch of horror. It's that creeping darkness that gives it a unique feel, along with VC's Clayton Cowels letters and Tom Muller's design work that gives these books a consistent feel.

Empyre: X-Men is just like the rest of the mutant titles with Tini Howard and Jonathan Hickman writing: a triumph of character and invention.

About Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.