This week, Marvel Comics released their X-Men tie-in to their big Empyre event with Empyre: X-Men #1. X-writers Jonathan Hickman and Tini Howard are joined by artist Matteo Buffagni, color artist Nolan Woodard, and letterer VC’s Clayton Cowles. As the Avengers and Fantastic Four find themselves preoccupied with the Kree-Skrull armada led by Hulking and its attack on the Cotati people in Empyre #1, this issue reveals some of the fallout from that issue, as well as begins to address Krakoa’s relationship with “the Pretender,” the Scarlet Witch.
Hickman and Howard focus on the Scarlet Witch at the beginning of this issue, showing that she regrets being responsible for the decimation of the mutant population and now seeks to make up for and redeem those actions. When she tries to magically resuscitate the dead mutants of Genosha a month prior to the present, she accidentally unleashes a horde of 14 million zombie mutants. Wanda’s fate remains unknown (although she is alive in Strange Academy, so I’m sure she’s fine). In the present day, the Cotati prepare to invade Wakanda, using Genosha as a staging ground, where they come into contact with the mutant zombies. Meanwhile, Warren Worthington arrives with a team of X-Men to investigate problems with the Krakoan gateway on Genosha.
The X-titles continue to surprise me with how they mash-up their characters and address the various plot threads that have been laid down since House of X #1. Warren’s characterization here is great, and it’s cool to see him taking center stage in an X-book, even as he struggles with the new realities of Krakoan life. This is particularly evident when he is putting together a team to take to Krakoa and is made quite aware that this isn’t like the good old days in the X-Mansion when he has a heated exchange with Magneto about assembling the team of his choice. He also has a conversation with Xavier that may portend future conflicts of interest.
Hickman and Howard also use this opportunity to bring Scarlet Witch directly into the X-titles. Krakoan feelings about “the Pretender” have foreshadowed a future conflict with the Scarlet Witch for some time. It’s an interesting decision to use the Empyre tie-in to do this. I thought for sure the X-Men tie-in would focus on the Summers’ home on the moon (where the Cotati conflict began). Zombies were an interesting direction to take for this.
Also, Hordeculture shows up at the end! Remember them? No? See X-Men #3.
Buffagni does a great job in this issue, and I can’t praise him enough for the ways that he is able to capture the subtlety of emotions on the Scarlet Witch’s face as she grieves her past sins and realizes her mistakes in trying to correct them.
That first image, when she has a quiet moment to herself on Genosha, captures Wanda’s complex feelings of grief, while in the following images, her expression moves seamlessly from surprise to terror. These last moments, juxtaposed with Cowles lettering, shift the tone from one of quiet contemplation and self-pity on Wanda’s part, to one of horror, as the words of the zombies are set against Wanda’s final cry and the close up of her eye.
Woodard’s colors are very good at capturing the various settings. For instance, on Genosha, when the zombie horde attacks the Cotati, the colors are a bit muted and there are a lot of grays, browns, and brownish-reds.
Woodard’s colors definitely capture the violent, bloody, undead look of a zombie attack (albeit in a PG-13 way). He also creates a very cool juxtaposition between this scene and the following scene with his use of color.
This juxtaposition, however, isn’t only one of color palette. The last thing one of the zombies tells the Cotati in the previous scene is that some of the mutants were vegetarians, indicating that while the Cotati are plant-based entities, at least some of the zombies will have a taste for their plant flesh. This is a clever quip by the whole team, not only the writers, but even the lettering adds to this minor gag with the “crunch” sound effect.
The lettering in this issue helps to capture most of the voices in a unique way, although while the zombies are given a unique voice, it would’ve been interesting if the Cotati had their own unique lettering to indicate their alien nature.
I do appreciate the lettering that Cowles gives to Scarlet Witch’s incantation.
It almost reminds me of Apocalypse’s new mutant name, or even the Krakoan dialect in general (with the dots).
As far as a tie-in goes, the storytelling choices in this issue are interesting. While the villain of Empyre is present, that event seems to serve merely as a pretext for Hickman, Howard, and co. to continue to explore plot threads from the X-title mega-story. In that sense, these mini-series (this one and the X-Men/FF series) do seem to be can’t-miss pieces of Hickman’s tale, paying off or addressing plot points he has laid down elsewhere.
What did you think of Empyre: X-Men #1? Tell us in the comments below!