Marvel's summer event reorients its heroes, villains, and readers in Empyre #2. After the novel, slightly shocking turn of the debut issue, which found the seemingly peaceful Cotati revealed as the real antagonists of the looming crossover, writers Al Ewing and Dan Slott find themselves having to restore order slightly to the narrative before heading forward.
Written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott
Art by Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 6 out of 10
This finds the issue in a fun but static reordering of the casts, moving the Avengers and Fantastic Four from probable enemies to a united front as they recuperate from the Cotati's plant-based offense. These reconnections, however, come at the cost of the event's speed and narrative momentum, as Ewing has to hold the plot in a sort of stasis as the rest of the cast catch up to what's happened.
That said, the holding pattern does nothing to take away from the dynamite visuals of Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia, both of whom shine up the exposition nicely. Though not quite as bombastic and instantly striking as the opener, Schiti and Gracia stretch their legs a bit here, gussying up some of the more baldly informational scenes with languishing, widescreen splash pages, even if they never quite make you forget they are largely just flashbacks to the Incoming! one-shot and set dressing for Carol's new role as Accuser of the Kree. Though still looking appropriately event-y, Empyre #2 loses a bit of luster as it regroups for its second act.
If you'll forgive the pun, the bloom is off the rose with the Cotati, and now the Avengers — and especially Tony Stark — have to face that. Though this issue picks up moments after the Celestial Messiah Quoi has set his sights on Earth, Al Ewing's script starts to drag right out of the gate, as the heroes regroup following the last issue's not-so-shocking twist. Unfortunately, it also halts the story's momentum in its tracks, as the heroes have to catch up to a status quo that we're already well aware of.
Faced with Quoi's heel turn, Ewing now starts to seed it in narrative. Literally. Flashing back to choice snippets of the Incoming! one-shot as Quoi monologues to the captured Avengers, Ewing starts to detail how the Cotati as we now know them came to be. Unfortunately, a lot of it is tied into a nothing crossover event from at least a year ago so it doesn't really pop in the way the issue wants it to.
It is also somewhat beaten to the punch by the 'Dawn of X' titles, as the Cotati "gates" seem pretty similar to Krakoan gateway plants, which significantly undercuts their coolness factor in this event.
The better — or at least more functional — version of this storyline is what's happening above with the Kree/Skrull Alliance fleet.
Faced with a Thing that is rapidly being taken over by Cotati plant-weapons, the Kree/Skrull Alliance, Fantastic Four, and assorted assembled Avengers led by Carol Danvers work to cure Ben and get to the bottom of what the hell is going on. The drive of Ben's struggle at least peps up the exposition here, and neatly sets Carol up to inherit the hammer of Ronan, giving the now fully established good guys a slight edge heading into the next issue. Again, it's all very expository and baldly positions the largish cast for next month's issue, but the added drive of Ben's plight and the cosmic connections Ewing makes gives these scenes a spark the sequences on the Blue Area of the Moon just don't have.
But at the very least, Empyre #2 still looks like a bonafide comics event thanks to Marte Gracia and Valerio Schiti. Attempting to inject a theatricality and energy into the exposition and team-building, Schiti and Gracia spread a lot of the scenes over showy panel layouts and expansive double page splashes.
Unfortunately, there are only so many ways they can jazz up one character talking at another group of characters, so even some of their showiest layouts fall flat. That said, the sequence of Carol taking in the energy of Hulkling's "magic space sword" and using it to expel the Cotati plantlife brings a fun, slightly trippy look to the event that I think could be very effective for future issues.
But even with the jolt of cosmic psychedelia, Empyre #2 loses pace in its sophomore installment. Though handsomely drawn and colored, the lack of the pep in Al Ewing's step leaves the event stumbling right off the starting line.
Empyre #2 goes on sale July 22.