Lords of Empyre is a strange trade paperback. It consists of the three eponymously titled tie-ins to the main Empyre event in Lords of Empyre: Hulkling, Lords of Empyre: Swordsman and Lords of Empyre: Celestial Messiah. It also includes the Empyre tie-in from the delightful series Savage Avengers, where Conan the Barbarian fights some evil plants. That tie-in has nothing at all to do with the other three issues, and seems to be included solely because, well, a trade that only has three issues is significantly too short to sell, even for Marvel.
(Though, for the record, they could have included any of the issues of Young Avengers or the Celestial Madonna Saga that the Lords of Empyre issues do extensively reference, but hey. I don’t work for Marvel. What do I know?)
That one issue of Empyre: Savage Avengers is just fine. It’s a solid, 7/10 comic book, that is tossed into this trade for no good reason. Consider it a freebie if you like. But the core of the book – that actual thematic meat – is the three Lords of Empyre issues.
The first, Hulkling, is written by Chip Zdarsky and Anthony Oliveira, and drawn by Manuel Garcia. It is an absolute delight. Unsurprisingly, it follows Hulkling as he is drafted into the role of the new emperor of the Kree/Skrull Alliance, and how he manages to hold onto his heart and his empathy in that unforgiving role. It also includes the words “I want that twink obliterated!” so, hey, pretty funny. Not that you’d expect anything less from Chip Zdarsky, but it masterfully balances that humor with a pretty heartfelt take on a man trying to hold onto who he is, and to the person he loves, while taking on a position of immense power. Despite the humor, it feels operatic and Shakespearian.
Celestial Messiah is written by Alex Paknadel (the writer of the absolutely fantastic comic Giga, out now) and drawn by Alex Lins. Celestial Messiah follows Sequoia, the son of Mantis and a Cotati tree creature, now leading the latter species in its universal quest to extinguish all ‘meat’ life. But what it’s really about is radicalization. It’s about the young, naïve child being tricked into believing that his mother is really out to get him, that the cult in which he lives is the only home he can have, and that there is nowhere else. It’s tragic, and emotional.
Finally, the last of the three Lords of Empyre issues is Swordsman. It’s about the Swordsman, or rather, the colony of Cotati plants living in his body and pretending to be him. Written again by Paknadel, with art by Thomas Nachlik, Swordsman approaches the same themes, but from the other side. It’s about the sort of person who would convince a naïve young boy into becoming a genocidal alien tree dictator, and what would make him that way. It also has an absolutely beautiful cover by Rod Reis.
However, ultimately, it’s worth noting that this trade costs eighteen dollars. Buying the three good issues individually would cost just twelve dollars. Go and do that, instead. Don’t buy the whole thing.
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