Story: Al Ewing & Dan Slott
Script: Al Ewing
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Color artist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Some events tend to focus on the story that’s unfolding on the page, the literal battle between heroes and the latest threat they face. Marvel Comics’ Empyre #5 (on sale August 12th) bucks that trend, as writer Al Ewing explores the costs of loyalty, a theme that has been a consistent through line during the series. In this latest issue, Ewing explores differing consequences of power for two of the most influential leaders in the Marvel Universe right now: Quoi, Black Panther and Emperor Hulkling.
Through Ewing’s script, we see how these three figures respond to the challenges caused by the Cotati invasion of Earth. First, Quoi now embodies the saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Last issue, he rejected Mantis’ emotional pleas for her son to end the violence because the Swordsman convinced him that listening to his mother would be a sign of weakness. The Swordsman continues to mentor his son, the Cotati’s Celestial Messiah, and the consequences could be deadly. Here, we see that Quoi has become almost as wicked and power-hungry as his father.
”I will become a god, a god of the trees,” Quoi declares. “My divine wrath will be all-consuming…and none shall stand against it.” Here, Artist Valerio Schiti shows Quoi staring off into the distance during this villainous monologue, and shows the supposed savior with arrogant pride written all over his face. And why wouldn’t he? The death blossom, an appropriately blood-red seed, has been planted in Wakanda’s Great Mound; victory for the Cotati has all but been assured. Quoi has every reason to be proud.
Speaking of Wakanda, its ruler tries to overcome “impossible odds,” at least according to Shuri. Unlike Avengers: Endgame, where the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes face Thanos’ minions, the Cotati army can constantly regrow troops. Black Panther battles a never-ending swarm of invaders, and of course his fighting spirit is admirable. But ironically, his persistent battle for survival turns the tides of this war in the wrong direction.
While T’Challa seeks to win the day so he and his countrymen may live, the Cotati lackeys sacrifice themselves because they can defeat Black Panther even in death. The invaders aim to overwhelm T’Challa in the sap from their corpses, and the resulting image is horrifying. Schiti shows the Cotati horde drowning T’Challa, who is covered with their vines and their claw-like roots. Schiti zooms in on Black Panther, whose face is split between sheer fear and determination to defend his country. This complex emotion is conveyed by his bulging eyes, which color artist Marte Gracia fittingly fills with a green that’s the same shade as the Cotati’s expansive garden.
The lackeys tie T’Challa down, and once he’s neutralized, the Cotati successfully plant a death blossom in Wakanda’s Great Mound. In other words, the bad guys just got what they wanted. T’Challa has the perfect response, as he borrows from Dr. Strange’s iconic line from Avengers: Infinity War — “We’re in the endgame now.” By all appearances, the heros have lost this battle. But, hopefully, they haven’t lost the war yet.
With Empyre #5, this event remains unspectacular, though the stakes on the page couldn’t be higher. The fate of the universe is at stake, but Slott and Ewing don’t present a flashy story. Instead, Ewing’s script relies on good old-fashioned storytelling, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Events don’t have to blow you away with every issue, as long as the entire product offers the reader a compelling, satisfying narrative. As a result, Slott and Ewing might be revolutionizing event stories, and the comic book industry, before our very eyes.
What’d you think of Empyre #5? Where do you hope to see the series go from here?
Check out your local comic shop to see if you can pick this issue up there, or consider buying it online.