It has been a long while since the AIPT column Empyre State of Mynd kicked off what was going to be a summer column series based on the Marvel summer event. Due to the pandemic, the event was put on hold, with the first issue’s release date moving from April 15th to July 15th. Fear not, as Marvel officially kicks things off after their Incoming! #1 issue teased the event last year, as Empyre: Avengers #0 gets the ball rolling today. The issue has a heavy focus on Tony Stark, but also reveals the changes to the Moon that will matter quite a bit as the war rages in the main event series.
This book opens with Tony Stark waking from a bad dream. I had to go back and read Road to Empyre to remember the deep backstory this book is drawing on, and I recommend you do the same. Tony’s dream revolves around the Kree fighting a plant race called the Cotati to show they were superior to the Skrulls. It’s a mysterious sort of dream that may confuse some if they are just dropping in, but it certainly sets up the fact that the Kree have a sketchy past. That’s important since the Kree and Skrulls are teaming up for this event.
The Avengers soon are exploring a distress signal on the blue side of the Moon and fighting a giant that looks familiar but is entirely new. Al Ewing does a good job keeping us inside Tony’s head at opportune times to remind us he’s having the weirdest sense of deja vu, destiny, or some kind of fate going on around him. He’s a man of science and wants to reject the feelings, but they are there. This issue also does a good job reminding us what the Avengers stand for and at times stand against, cementing the fact that their part in this upcoming war makes sense. One might have argued they’d stand aside, but how can they given the characters seeking help in this issue? I highly recommend reading up on this character, too, to get a sense of what is going on.
There is a rub, though, and it does make this book feel a tad tricky to get into. It involves deep Avengers lore and history to understand or at least be reminded of at a glance to understand the weight of this story. The Swordsman shows up in this issue and we get a decent reminder of who he is, but the complexity is such that you might be rereading things to understand it. The Avengers have a storied and complex past and it appears Ewing and company are diving right in to add to it by weaving their story with past characters and ideas.
The art is by Pepe Larraz who is, as we know from HOX and POX, one of the best in the business. The use of blur and lighting helps amp up action scenes, Swordsman has an awesome double page layout creating an eye-popping 3D effect, and props must go to the impressive environments rich with plant life. Color artist Marte Gracia and Larraz go together like peanut butter and jelly and you can see it in the richness of color in the plants on the Moon or the subtle lighting effects on Iron Man’s costume. It all comes together in a rich, vivid way.
As you might guess from all the links I’ve dropped above, this book will challenge you to remember key elements in previous recent issues, now decades-old Avengers history, and piecing it all together. The pandemic didn’t help, but I also think even if this came out a week or two after Road to Empyre, folks would still be scratching their heads. I think the desired effect was to show off the rich tapestry of Avengers history, but it doesn’t quite come together without extra effort from the reader. If you do put in that effort, however, I think you’ll be rewarded with how strongly this book ties into older stories. Part of the problem is how this issue tells rather than showing the important past bits. Swordsman gets a brief flashback, but for the most part it’s characters reminding us in captions what is important.
When you put this book down, you’ll either love it for its callbacks and rich visuals, or be put off by how it’s more of a primer on the deeper story than any actual events occurring right now. As a #0 issue, it’s made to set up and prepare us for the main event, and because of that, this is a good issue that may just make you dip back into the long boxes to read up on Swordsman, the Celestial Messiah, and more. Marvel Comics may have Spider-Man and the X-Men, but Ewing and company are reminding us the Avengers are as impressive and complex as the rest of them. Dig into Empyre: Avengers knowing you’re getting prepared for a new addition to the impressive history.