Empyre #1 Review

by Charles Martin on July 15, 2020

Empyre #1 Review
Writers: Al Ewing & Dan Slott
Scripter: Al Ewing
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Joe Caramagna
Publisher: Marvel Comics

Remember last week, when I singled out the fact that Franklin and Valeria didn't get sidelined in Empyre: Fantastic Four #0 as one of that comic's greatest strengths? Well, guess what?

The Richards children get sidelined like a ☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠☠er first thing in Empyre #1. And Franklin even makes a shatteringly good point about this alien invasion being exactly the kind of thing he's been saving his reality-warping powers for.

Valeria doesn't grouse about being banished, but I think it's telling that her superpower -- brilliant intellect -- is the thing that's in tragically short supply in the rest of the issue.

Some people like their Big Dumb Comics Events™ as big and dumb as possible. If you're one of them, then wow, does Marvel have a treat for you! This is big on Big and even bigger on Dumb.

Empyre #1 fills in the last missing piece of set-up for the imminent conflict. The Fantastic Four stumble into the Kree/Skrull fleet headed for Earth and decide to tag along because they're cautiously optimistic about a truce between those two empires.

So we've got two groups of heroes bee-lining toward conflict. If only they could talk to each other before fighting! Well, they do. Do they ever. There's a lot of debate before the space-war kicks off.

Yet for all the hundreds of words exchanged, nobody on Hulkling's side manages to justify their assault. I studied this carefully, trying to figure out how many words they'd need to avert this cosmic misunderstanding brawl.

It's six. Six words could have stopped the whole thing cold. But they don't get said. That's a Big Dumb Event™ for ya!

If you shut down your brain and just enjoy the fireworks, Empyre #1 has a lot to show you. Valerio Schiti showcases some impressive character and spaceship designs and makes at least one core plot twist genuinely spectacular (Minimal spoiler: It's proof that Ghost Rider has a place in a cosmic event). 

Marte Gracia helps out with a vivid palette perfectly suited to a space adventure. Space may be dark, but Mr. Gracia uses carefully-chosen blues, purples, greens, and reds to create a colourful stage for the also-intensely-coloured action.

But the focus on awesome characters in awesome poses sometimes becomes a drawback. Some important moments are nearly lost in the close-up shuffle. And when Mr. Schiti does pull back to do panoramic panels, the results can be underwhelming.

Let me soften that criticism a bit by noting that one of the factors impeding the art is that the reader's attention gets hijacked by some excellent prose. Mr. Ewing crafts an adroit duelling narrative by sharing the real-time journals of Reed Richards and Tony Stark. It's an attractive dance -- but it's an entirely different show from the one carried out in the art, leading to a few cross-eyed moments.

The authors conspire on some nice smaller plot points. They use Cotati magic to un-Savage the She-Hulk and restore her to eloquence. It's a move I'm all in favour of, and it will probably become pivotal in future issues.

(But it also has the classic smell of a Bullpen ☠☠☠☠ing match, a nose thoroughly thumbed at Jason Aaron's Savage-ification of the character.)

Empyre #1 kicks off with some solid storytelling work lavished on plot developments that rest on a foundation of profound stupidity. There's exciting action, but it's a hard comic to read if you don't like seeing smart characters do stupid things. There's still room for inventive, exciting developments in this event -- but cleverness is in short supply in this first issue.

Our Score:


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Charles Martin's picture
"Seed of the Empyrean," huh? Bold move, reminding me of a better-in-every-respect comic ("Empyrean" is a theme word for the Samaritan in Astro City).