Best Shots review: Empyre #1 "good and splashy fun"

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Empyre #1
Written by Al Ewing
Story by Dan Slott and Al Ewing
Art by Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

"What have we done?"

The opening salvo of the Second Kree/Skrull War takes a dramatic left turn in Empyre #1. Divided neatly between narrators Tony Stark and Reed Richards, writer Al Ewing takes us through a fairly standard but enjoyable first battle. But once the battle looks to be won, as the Avengers disable the combined might of the Kree and Skrull Empires marshalled against the seemingly peaceful Coati, Ewing gives us a swerve — namely, revealing the Celestial Messiah isn't a being of peace, but one of revenge. And he just used Earth's Mightiest Heroes to help him carry out his plan.

While the move kind of makes the Avengers, especially Tony Stark, look pretty gullible, the issue leaves the event with interesting room to grow, flipping the script on the normal "bad guy/good guy" dichotomy of event comics. Artists Valerio Schitit and Marte Gracia also kick off this event with grand fashion, rendering the script in splashy, highly cinematic page layouts and action sequences, honed sharply by the shining colors of Gracia. Occupying a slightly more ambitious and thematically interesting space not usually explored in event comics, Empyre #1 is an unexpectedly fun opener to this summer event.

Picking up moments after this series' twin "zero" issues, writer Al Ewing wastes little time getting to the action. Picked up by Hulkling's Kree/Skrull fleet, the Fantastic Four is brought into the fold of the event, hoping to find a way to explain why the former Young Avenger is now the God-Emperor of two once-mortal enemies. Tony Stark, however, has far more clarity of purpose. Faced with "something simple," Tony and the rest of the Avengers prepare for the fight ahead, finishing preparations right as the fleet arrives above the Blue Area of the Moon.

Though the narration somewhat gets in the way of enjoying the sumptuous layouts of Schiti and Gracia, Ewing displays a real knack for the voices of the FF and Tony. He first starts with some fun banter between Ben and Johnny then quietly moves into a more reserved, loving tone with Reed, especially when he is talking about Sue, which provides the issue with a few heartwarming moments between the super-couple. Iron Man's narration, as a contrast, is very much in line with the more cocksure and bombastic thought process Tony enjoys, even with his new "religious" fervor. 

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

What follows is a battle that could be the finale of a smaller-scale event. Resolving to be the figurehead the Kree and Skrulls need, Hulkling orders his forces attack the Avengers and FF, in an effort to clear them from the board and scour the Blue Area's garden. This entire sequence finds Schiti and Gracia completely unchained, leaning into the expansive scope of a massive space battle, but still peppering the battle with focused moments. The major standout here is Tony and Thor's "team-up" attack, which finds Molinjir delivering a data virus into the Kree/Skrull systems to disable them without loss of life. It is a truly thrilling sequence and one deftly mapped out by the art team, tracking the hammer as it cuts through space and smaller skirmishes amid the fleets of ships.

But the real "fireworks" happen when the heroes win — or do they? As the day is won, Al Ewing plays a very interesting card, revealing that the Celestial Messiah was only biding time for "The Flowering." Deploying Swamp Thing-like powers alongside Poison Ivy-like death and destruction, the Avengers are faced with a hard truth — they just helped a hostile alien race gain a foothold in the universe, and now their sights are set on Earth. As I said, the turn does make the Avengers look a bit like chumps, especially Tony who has now spent two issues trying to make his friends understand his new turn. But even with that, I feel like this event has an interesting place to get to now beyond "space empires go to war." Time will tell if Ewing and Slott bring that idea to fruition, but as an opening, it's one hell of a twist.

With both sides of this interstellar conflict upended, Empyre #1 starts off on a strong foot. We will have to wait and see if the event keeps those steady legs, but for now Empyre #1 is good and splashy fun.

Freelance writer

Justin Partridge is a freelance journalist who can be found at GamesRadar+ and Newsarama writing reviews about the best comic books out there. He's also known to put his encyclopedic knowledge of the industry to work by exploring some of the biggest events in comic book history.