In Review: Empress #5

You should run like the galaxy is after you to get a copy of this book. Recommended.

The covers: Another trio of covers to find before King Morax finds you. The Main cover is by Stuart Immonen and Wade von Grawbadger, with colors by Ive Svorcina. Royal daughter Aine looks to be a force to be reckoned with as she uses a metal staff and her feet to make mincemeat of the slavers who have captured her and her two brothers. The action on this is great with the heroine in the center in a terrific pose and her opponents flying above, below, and behind her as she takes them down. Her face has an unnerving look of calm as she dispatches each man. I love the face on the antagonist at the bottom that’s kicked backwards — very much in the Jack Kirby mold. The one arm that’s in the foreground that’s primarily in shadows is a neat way to show another villain, though he’s been hammered off the page. The colors are also strong, with the logo standing out the most in red on the white background, and the pale colors of the bad guy at the bottom allowing the reader to focus on Aine. This is a winner in every way. The Main Cover Pencil Variant showcases Immonen’s work without von Grawbadger or Svorcina’s talents. I’m a tremendous fan of Immonen and I’m always interested to see an artist’s work in its original state, so this is another winner for me. It was the final cover, the Variant cover, by Immonen with digital paints by Dave McCaig that I purchased. It’s impossible to resist a cover featuring a strong illustration of a villain and this has King Morax holding two gigantic swords, walking forward. He’s on a deep red background which highlights his charcoal armor. He looks absolutely fierce as he makes his way to the reader. If I were the Empress, I would be afraid. This is a “Must Own.” Overall grades: All A+

The story: The slaver ship that contains the empress’s children is making a beeline to the location where they’ll be sold. The man guarding the three taunts the children through their gated hatch, “You know why kids make the best slaves? Because they’re obedient. Adults are always angry and plotting against their owners, but it’s never too long before kids just accept things.” As he drones on, Aine holds Puck while Adam goes through all the metallic trash within their cell. “Is there anything we can use?” she asks. He stops in his rummaging to flash a smile, “Definitely.” Meanwhile, on Aramis, the king’s guards tell him they’ve learned from the locals that Tor Blinder, an associate of “the former” Captain Havelock, believe the mercenary has joined with the runaways, and that he’s in possession of teleporter. This causes the King to grimace and look skyward. “Which means they could be anywhere.” The guards ask what’s to be done with the witnesses who saw the group pass through. Morax turns away and commands indifferently, “Execute them. People need to know what happens if they let them get away.” Children are in danger, while their father executes masses of citizens that fail to catch them. Mark Millar certainly knows how to start a story with lots of tension, but can he maintain it? Oh yes, he can! But first he leaves both of these story lines to focus on the Empress, Dane, and Tor who were last seen surrounded by an overwhelming mass of primitive people. The trio have hidden in their ship, but their vessel is being carted to a volcano where they’ll be sacrificed so that the women of the village can become more fertile. I love conflicts between the present and the primitive and this book certainly has that in spades. The tension builds wonderfully on 7 – 9, leading to a terrific sets of reveals on 10. The action in the second panel on 12 is great, and the one line of text that follows it in the third panel from the Empress will elicit a smile from every reader. Pages 16 – 20 don’t require much text, but Millar had to plot it out for the artists and it’s a wow sequence that would the envy of any action novel or film. And in fine Millar fashion, once the reader the heroes have escaped, something turns the story one hundred and eighty degrees, with the book ending in the ultimate cliffhanger. This has got to be my favorite installment of the story, so far. And I have to give a special note to the greatest hope spoken and its follow-up on 8. That’s got to be my favorite lines in a book from this year. Overall grade: A+

The art: This also has to be my favorite illustrated issue so far. This isn’t to say that penciller Stuart Immonen and inker Wade von Grawbadger haven’t been super on previous issues, but this time the story took them into areas that are more to my liking. The first is the slave ship that the kids are on. The slaver that’s teasing the children on the first page is about as scummy as a character could look without becoming a cliche. The exterior of the cell, shown in the second panel on the first page, is gorgeous and would be a budget buster if were filmed. The interior of the cell looks as is if the trash compactor from the Death Star had all the liquid taken from it, leaving a cornucopia of useful trash for Adam to use. The smile he flashes his sister at the bottom of Page 2 is delightfully mischievous, giving a promise to the reader that he’s going to make something spectacular. The close up of Morax on top of 3 is from an angle that has the king looking down upon the reader, which is how all who are subservient to him — which is everyone — should view him. The follow up panel is a large setting that shows the environment and his ship: it’s a perfect setting for this space fantasy. Page 7 contains a panel that would be perfectly at home at an Indiana Jones comic book (Hey, Marvel–get the hint!). The religious leader of the primitive people looks amazing in every panel he’s in; in fact, if Aine didn’t get such a huge action sequence, this unnamed man would have been my favorite character of the book with the sensational expressions he has. There are two pages that inject themselves between the heroes’ exploits, 14 and 15. One is an exterior shot that is gorgeous and the other shows the interior of the location. Granted, the second location is more of suggestion than a fully realized setting, but I could roll with it, given what the rest of the book has, and that’s action. When Aine goes into fighting mode it is brutal and beautiful. Bad guys go flying in every direction from the severity of her attacks. The positioning of the characters are great. And this is no clean fight, things are flying everywhere, and it’s that attention to detail with the insertion of debris and detritus that make the fight seem real. This is amazing work. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Coloring greatly enhances the many environments and denizens of this saga. Ive Svorcina also does a great job in using colors to enhance the tone of the story. The first page, which focuses exclusively on the slaver, is very dark, creating a feeling of hopelessness. This is intensified on the second page which shows the children in their even darker cell. The crimson skin of King Morax suggests his blood rage which is shown on Page 4. The interiors that begin to be shown on 7 are aflame in orange and yellow, giving life to the volcano. The bright skin of the religious leader shows that his lust for blood is almost as great as Morax’s. The blues of the exterior and interior of the location shown on 14 and 15 shows how technology is the major component of this setting. Bright colors come into play when Aine goes into action, heightening the action, allowing the reader to feel the intensity of the moment. Svorcina is aces. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Dialogue, scene settings, and computer dialogue (the same font), yells, and sounds are created by Peter Doherty. Separate fonts should be used for the first three texts Doherty used for this book, as they are different forms of communication. The shape of the dialogue balloons identifies for the reader that he or she is reading different elements, but the fonts should also have been unique. I also would have preferred more sounds in this book, but that’s Millar’s decision, not Doherty’s. Their inclusion would have brought the story more energy. Overall grade: B+

The final line: You should run like the galaxy is after you to get a copy of this book. The story is high adventure, the setting science fiction, the dialogue sensational, and the visuals stunning. One of the best series of 2016. Recommended. Overall grade: A

To order a physical or digital copy of this book go to http://marvel.com/comics/issue/59342/empress_2016_5

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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