In this week's Empyre #4, numerous secrets are revealed – including weddings, deaths, a secret science project, and the possibility that several key characters are not actually who they appear to be.
Spoilers ahead for Empyre #4.
If you've been following the saga of Marvel's current summer event that pits the combined Kree/Skrull empire against the Cotati, you know the plant-based Cotati are on a mission to wipe out what they call "animal life" throughout the universe – starting with Earth where they're trying to gain a foothold in Wakanda, whose Vibranium-rich soil would allow them to overrun the entire galaxy with plantlife.
As Empyre #4 opens, Carol Danvers, the Kree Accuser, and Kl'rt, the Super Skrull, argue over how to handle the crisis, Emperor Dorrek VIII/Hulkling arrives and announces he'll prepare to destroy Earth's sun and raze the galaxy to stop the Cotati before he allows them to take Wakanda. Carol, horrified, objects as does Johnny Storm – she even uses her Universal Weapon to scan the Emperor's DNA, verifying he's Teddy Altman/Hulkling/Dorrek VIII. Carol and Johnny are transported away as the Emperor relieves Carol of her duty as an Accuser.
Back on Earth, Black Panther debates what to do about the invading Cotati, considering a scorched earth defense that would inhibit the Cotati, but decimate Wakanda. Reed Richards and Tony Stark discuss (or more accurately argue) over how to handle Hulkling's threat to blow up the sun, and it's revealed that he's building a blue suit of armor with the Fantastic Four logo on the chest.
As Earth's forces rally in Wakanda and debate their next move, Mantis visits Quoi on the Blue Area of the Moon to entreat her son to end his campaign against non-plant life, accompanied by Sue Storm, Ben Grimm, and She-Hulk. Quoi refuses to capitulate to his mother's request that he end his war, saying he's not the villain. She-Hulk shockingly agrees with him – and suddenly unleashes a massive Gamma blast on everyone around her, sending them scattering across the scene.
Sue Storm collects herself, having used her force fields to protect as many people as she could, and confronts She-Hulk – who reveals she's not She-Hulk at all, but a mind-controlling Cotati plant who has killed She-Hulk and taken over her body, similar to the fate of the Swordsman whose corpse bonded with a Cotati clone.
This means She-Hulk is dead – though we can likely expect that to come home to roost in the post-Empyre Immortal She-Hulk #1, which ties into Empyre co-writer Al Ewing's Immortal Hulk which has shown that Gamma mutates like Hulk and She-Hulk always return to life when killed, even under the most extreme circumstances.
The Cotati She-Hulk hybrid smashes Ben Grimm, defeating the heroes, as Quoi exits the area.
Back on Earth, Captain Marvel and Johnny Storm discuss Hulkling's plan to destroy the sun with Wiccan – who reads Carol's mind, and assesses that the Hulkling who gave the order is not the Hulkling he knows, judging from his body language and more.
Carol questions whether that's possible, given the Universal Weapon's DNA scan – but she apparently doesn't remember that back in Secret Invasion, the Skrulls learned to mask their DNA to fully hide their alien identities. And, given that we've already seen She-Hulk replaced by a Cotati, with Quoi explaining that the switch was hidden because She-Hulk already has green skin, it's not impossible that the green-skinned Hulkling could be a Cotati too.
"I know Teddy Altman better than anyone on this Earth – or off it," Wiccan affirms. "And that guy up there… That's not the man I married."
And with that, Empyre #4 ends on a flashback shot of what was apparently Hulkling and Wiccan's secret wedding – something that was teased in 2019's Marvel Comics #1000. This shows that while She-Hulk and not Wiccan was the Avenger to betray Earth's heroes that was mentioned in the issue's solicitation, Billy Kaplan has been sharing a secret of his own with the Emperor.
Empyre #5 is due out August 12.