Empyre: Avengers #0
Written by Al Ewing
Art by Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
"They grew a garden. A garden on the moon."
Ghosts from the Avengers' past set up their next grand event in Empyre: Avengers #0. Written by Immortal Hulk and Guardians of the Galaxy writer Al Ewing and rendered by the standouts of House/Powers of X art team Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia, this zero issue is straight-up gorgeous, both narratively and visually.
Thanks to Immortus, Tony Stark is being haunted by visions of the past. And in certain ways, it's almost a religious experience — both in terms of the harrowing visions featuring the brutal opening salvo of the Kree/Skrull War, but also a new spark of reverence that threatens to overcome the Armored Avenger. Tony's visions are only confirmed when an S.O.S sounds from the Blue Area of the Moon, calling the Avengers to an unexpected paradise — one grown by the alien Cotati, their Celestial Messiah, and a new vegetable-bodied Swordsman, bringing to fruition the prophecy laid out by Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart’s Celestial Madonna Saga of the '70s. Yet as the Avengers discover, not all aliens come in peace, as the Kree and Skrull Empires have united under a surprising figurehead to burn down the garden — with some particularly shocking allies ready to wage war.
Though largely set-up, writer Al Ewing wrings a great deal of mood and emotion from his lofty Tony Stark narrated script. Bringing that sweeping lyricism that makes Immortal Hulk and his Guardians so effective, Ewing walks readers through the stakes and history of the incoming event, grounding even the loftiest of cosmic ideas through Stark’s wry but increasingly heartfelt narration. Pair this poetic feeling with the sumptuous and lushly colored artwork of Larraz and Gracia, and Empyre: Avengers #0 kicks this event off in grand fashion.
For those readers not completely familiar with the Celestial Madonna Saga, Al Ewing has you covered — but instead of a Wikipedia-style info-dump of continuity just to set up the story, Ewing cannily filters the background information through Tony Stark, Thor, and the other senior Avengers, as they fill in new recruits like Ghost Rider. They were there, after all, fighting in the trenches of the Kree/Skrull War and witnessing the Celestial Madonna’s coming to Earth — and because Ewing doesn’t shy away from that, the results are a heady mixture of realism and self-aware comic book silliness that you rarely see in big events.
That said, given its numbering as a zero issue, you might not be surprised that the story is a bit decompressed. Centered largely on the Avengers and the new state of the Blue Area of the Moon under the holy light of the Celestial Messiah, we don’t get a true sense of the other side of the war until the final twist pages. But Al Ewing still makes a meal of the table-setting, tracking the action through Tony Stark’s “come to Cosmic Jesus” arc, which he then uses to scaffold a rousing “Avengers Assemble” moment to send us into the next issue. The openings of events aren't often this moody — and rarely this steeped in weird '70s era continuity — so in that regard, Ewing has definitely delivered something uniquely evocative compared to other larger-scale events.
But the teasers for Empyre have only are nothing compared to the interior art we find here from Pepe Larraz and Marte Gracia. Displaying the same knack for lush settings and freaky science-fiction architecture that made their Dawn of X work so striking, Larraz and Gracia kick this event off with consistently stunning layouts and pages.
With their opening sequence of the Kree/Skrull War, Larraz and Gracia's vistas look like the opening moments of 2001, the leafy green bodies of the Cotati and the vibrant blue of the Kree give the scene a visceral unreality that just smacks of classic Marvel. From there the pair move into some slickly emotive superhero artwork as Tony and the Avengers assemble and investigate, moving deeper into the strange, richly rendered lunar jungle only to find a strange Kree/Skrull Sentry hybrid, launching the issue into a protracted and tightly blocked fight scene. Event comics like this are usually either big or well-rendered, but rarely both at the same time. But under the pens of Larraz and Gracia, Empyre: Avengers #0 is that rare combination of big, splashy, and clearly blocked.
With a foot in Marvel’s past but portrayed with modernly cinematic art, Empyre is already off to a pretty good start. Opening with the continuity-laced poetry of Ewing and the intense artwork of Larraz and Gracia, Empyre: Avengers #0 is an overture well worth sitting through.