After last week’s cliffhanger, many, including myself, were clamoring for the preview to Empyre #5 to get some idea of what we might learn about Wiccan and Hulkling’s wedding. With a chance to check out the book, I can say with great relief that the subplot of their marriage is a smashing success. The preview does in fact give away a lot of that part of the book, but there’s so much more entertainment to be had.
This will be a largely spoiler-free review, and will look at whether a wartime event can raise stakes while maintaining a cohesive and understandable story.
After the opening, the all-out war takes center stage as we check back in with Thing getting his butt beat by She-Hulk, and Black Panther continuing to hold the line against the Cotati. This issue serves as a direct continuation of the last issue, but builds on the dangers and stakes very well.
It’s quite clear at this point the weekly scheduling format is helping this event. There are also far fewer tie-in books to muddle the main event and it’s very easy to follow along.
It also helps that the event has taken place over a few hours at most, further making it easier to track how characters are thinking and feeling. All in all, this event has been paced well and been fueled by great twists and plot developments. Not once have I thought, “wait, who is that” or “wait, where are we,” which is common in big comic book events.
It’s also not wasting any time. Dan Slott, Al Ewing, and Valerio Schiti are keeping their foot to the pedal, starting with a catastrophic attack from the Cotati on the Skrull/Kree ships and moving things along nicely. There are asides and scenes that slow things down, but for the most part, where the action is most important, there is a line that doesn’t stop. It also stuffs in three heroic moments, multiple plot developments that up the stakes, and plenty of heroic bits of dialogue to get you cheering. It’s economical and well worth the price of admission due to all these elements.
Above all, this issue will finally give the Cotati a striking and scary moment. I won’t spoil it, but something is said that clearly conveys why a plant-based people are a scary enemy. That said, it’s hard to hate the Cotati or their leaders. From the start, it wasn’t clear what exactly they wanted to do — it took a couple of issues to get there, and even in this fifth issue, the enemy is more cultish in their approach than pure evil. That makes their motivations more misguided, and possibly capable of changing their minds than a traditional enemy that must be stopped at all costs.
If anything, the characters surrounding Hulkling are more evil and menacing. That may very well be the point, but up until this issue we’ve been led to believe the Cotati is the main threat — and they certainly are in the tie-in books. That complexity is muddying the waters a bit and making it hard to know who to root against. Splitting “bad guys” between those around Hulkling and the Cotati leaders confuses who we should be hating and rooting against. Adding to this is the fact that most Cotati are mindless drones being slapped away in the war scenes.
The art by Schiti is great, with the opening scene in the preview showing the love between Hulkling and Wiccan quite well. This issue holds back on splash pages, but does an impressive job with double-page layouts — some of which criss-cross in cool ways to help convey the chaos of battle. Schiti continues to stick little details into pages that you might miss on first read-throughs. There’s a feeling of rising in one, with lines slashing up on the left page, and then falling or failing of the hero in the scene on the right side as the panels slash down. It’s a neat effect.
Colors by Marte Gracia continue to shine a light on how a space battle has come to Earth. Pinkish reds and purples splash across the sky in one scene on Earth, and in another scene greens in the sky help convey the Cotati plant-creatures are gaining power. There’s a keen attention to skin tone in this book, too. Pink cheeks in the opening scene, for instance, help bring a sense of mood to the character that would be missed without the good use of color.
Empyre #5 is a great continuation of the story. Empyre has got it all: Love, high stakes, and densely rich heroic moments.