In Marvel Comics’ Empyre #1 (on sale July 14,) writer Dan Slott kicks off the highly anticipated story he and Al Ewing first teased in Incoming! The opening chapter is light on stunning twists, but it’s still a successful introduction. Slott and Ewing focus on strong characterization and craft an intricate ethical dilemma that’s sure to have heroes and readers alike second-guessing themselves.
Story: Al Ewing & Dan Slott
Script: Al Ewing
Artist: Valerio Schiti
Color artist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Most events boil down to a relatively simple conflict. No matter how complicated the stories may seem, they’re typically centered on the battle of good vs. evil. That’s not the case this time. Initially, Slott and Ewing sets up a basic situation; the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes plan to protect the innocent Cotati population from a newly united Kree/Skrull armada. Based on the heroes’ history with these empires, they jump to the conclusion that the Kree and Skrull are in the wrong. But it’s quickly evident that The Avengers are entangled in a complex web of galactic politics. The writers and artist Valerio Schiti strongly foreshadow this blurred morality. When Tony Stark greets Quoi, the celestial messiah of the Cotati, the mysterious dignitary seems remarkably shady.
Schiti zooms in on Quoi’s face to show a smirk that’s a borderline sneer. His eyes don’t have pupils, but his facial expression still subtly conveys an evil grin. Quoi’s words are equally suspicious. “When this day is done…there will be a place reserved for you here, in our garden, forever.” Letterer VC’s Joe Caramagna uses bold text to add even more unsettling emphasis to the end of the sentence. Altogether, Quoi comes off as a supervillain in disguise, and Slott and Ewing build suspense throughout the issue by muddying the ethical waters in this conflict.
As comic book fans, we’ve been spoiled by events. Time and again, DC and Marvel launch yet another major event and promise the story will produce drastic changes. The failure to fulfill this promise has left many fans feeling justifiably jaded. Now, events often rely on shocking reveals and/or twists in the opening issue to hook the reader. Again, Slott and Ewing buck the trend and rely on good old-fashioned storytelling. The suspenseful narrative still takes some turns, but none of them are completely unpredictable or game-changing. Instead, this story is built on the strength of the interactions between the characters we know and love.
One of the most compelling moments comes in the issue’s opening scene when Reed Richard asks his son to fly home in an escape hatch. Franklin argues with him because the teenage hero eagerly wants to make a difference in the looming conflict. With Franklin’s power set fading away, he’s been waiting for a chance to use them one last time in an emphatic burst. As soon as he sees the Kree/Skrull armada honing in on Earth, Franklin sees his opportunity.
“I’ve been waiting for something just like this,” Franklin yells. “A Kree/Skrull war fleet is getting ready to crush the Earth, Dad. Let me help!” Here, Schiti gives Franklin a life-like facial expression, in which his desperation can be seen in his pleading eyes. In response, Reed says, “This is how you help.” Color artist Marte Gracia uses a heavenly golden background while he tries to persuade his son, and the lighting makes Reed look angelic. The emotional weight of the moment begins the story on the right track, and the subsequent mystery only elevates the reader’s investment in Empyre right off the bat.
What’d you think of Empyre #1? Check out your local comic shop to see if you can get it there, or consider buying it online.