Some of you might be waiting for Marvel to release the massive Empyre hardcover due out in January, but this week, comic book shops are starting to get the floppy trade paperback to keep trade waiters happy. The new collection features both #0 issues, the six-issue event series, as well as the epilogue Fallout and Aftermath one-shots. Clocking in at 208 pages, how does the Empyre TPB hold up?
This book has a good physical feel to it, with a strong spine and glossy finish on the front and back covers. It’s not too heavy, but it’s also slimmer than a complete collection. The paper is sturdy but thin. It feels like a solid copy for thumbing through and rereading, whereas the more complete collections on the way will be for your library. Adding value to the book are six pages of variant covers in the back of the book as well as six pages of sketches by series artist Valerio Schiti.
As far as Marvel events go, Empyre stands out thanks to its focus on a few key characters spread out across Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Hulkling is at the core of it all, further making it feel unique since he’s a character who has been underused as of late. It also thrusts readers into a plot that featured the Kree and Skrull teaming up after decades of the two fighting to the death in main Marvel continuity. It threw a few different plot ideas into the mix so as to make it feel important and cutting edge. And I haven’t even mentioned the wedding that shocked everyone four issues into the book.
As far as plotting, this book is quite good at keeping your attention where it needs to be with some well-timed misdirection. There are moments of shock and awe you won’t see coming. The main conceit in the book features heroes showing who they really are, and how no matter the background of a character, they are an Avenger.
Of course, this is a Fantastic Four meets Avengers event, and it does well to sprinkle FF characters amongst Avengers. There are multiple opportunities for heroes to rise up and show off that their real power is courage. It’s the kind of rousing heroic moments you rarely get in action and adventure storytelling, and you may even feel emotional reading it.
The art by Schiti and colors by Marte Gracia is fantastic — the story is seriously enhanced thanks to the visuals. There are impactful moments throughout the book as well as smaller visual ideas that work splendidly. You’ll get a crack out of an Iron Man emoji and fear from the characters when an army begins to rise with an impossible force. There are many epic war scenes with an impossible number of characters throughout the book with impressive attention to detail. For scenes like this, the art could easily look confusing or be hard to read, but Schiti keeps things measured and focused. From cover to cover, the art never falters and it looks as sharp as ever.
The number of effects Gracia uses is only rivaled by how many characters are drawn in this book. Form and depth are conveyed wonderfully throughout. A stunning scene takes place near the sun and the sun effects are so warm and realistic you’ll believe what you’re seeing. Event level books require event-level art, and Gracia delivers.
At its core, the book does have a strikingly similar plot to War of the Realms, which featured an angry villain coming to Earth to do terrible things. It also seems to have suffered a bit due to the pandemic, as the series had to shed a number of tie-in stories, most notably for Spider-Man and Thor, who are strangely absent in the main book. But at least on some level, that’s okay –so many events are overstuffed, but you can tell if the creators knew they’d lose those tie-in stories the book might have shifted a bit more.
Empyre is an epic space saga with the complexities of a novel, delivered in the vibrant glory of the comic book format. It also has deep roots in Marvel’s history that longtime readers will respect. Empyre lives up to Roy Thomas and Neal Adams’ Kree/Skrull War.
For those wondering, the Empyre omnibus out in January is a 1,088 page hardcover running you $125 and also containing every single tie-in to the event. That includes Fantastic Four, Captain America, X-Men, and more. If you’re a completist, I highly recommend you check out the exclusive AIPT column Empyre State of Mynd which featured seven installments interviewing creators as the event took place.
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