In Review: Empress #1

A fast paced first issue of a science fiction saga set in Earth's distant past. Recommended.

The covers: Six covers for you to steal away from the hands of the king. The Main cover is by Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger with color by Dave McCraig. Front and center is the gorgeous Queen Emporia. To her right is faithful Dane with a pistol ready, and to her left is the overpowering profile of her husband, King Morax. In the background a futuristic city can be see sprouting from a prehistoric jungle, complete with three winged dinosaurs flying by. High above sits a moon that seems to be forming. Beautiful work by Immonen and von Grawbadger with terrific colors by McCraig; the use of yellows and oranges for all save the Queen makes her stand out spectacularly. The Main Cover Pencil Variant is the same image as the Main cover, only without the colors. This is equally good, though I really miss McCraig’s contributions. The next Variant is by Immonen and McCraig, this time employing digital colors, showing the title character holding a massive gun that’s recently been fired. There is a circular computer graphic behind her to fill the empty white background, and it’s just enough to give this cover an extra kick. This is one Queen who’s not going to give up easily! Scottie Young does the next Variant cover, this one with a Li’l Empress with a whole lot of hair lovingly squeezing a dinosaur doll. The background on this piece is a blue-green starfield. It’s a cute variant. Next up is Steve McNiven’s Variant, featuring colors by Ive Scorvina. This is an actual scene early in the book: Emporia has been shot and is being held in the arms of shocked daughter Aine, while Dane blasts away at those who’s done Her Majesty harm. Exciting cover with Dane getting the focus. Good colors by Scorvina making those blasts come to life. The final Variant is by Sean Gordon Murphy with colors by Marte Gracia. This is like looking at a movie poster: Dane is again the focus, though he looks much older in this image; the queen is at the bottom happily holding her youngest, while her two older children look frightened at something coming their way; the king is in profile looking menacing; and their escape ship zips in front of all, pursued by other ships. This is really good. Overall grades: Main A, Variant Pencil A-, Variant Immonen A+, Variant Young A-, Variant McNiven A, and Variant Murphy A 

The story: You won’t believe how fast this book goes once things get started. Mark Millar’s story opens with a one page introduction to this new world, er…ah, old world. This series is set 65 million years in Earth’s past, with a civilization that has been lost to time. By setting the series in this time period, Millar gets to combine futuristic technology with dinosaurs and their surroundings. In an enclosed amphitheater, the King has three men brought before him on charges. Their crime is minuscule, but their punishment is severe in the extreme. This scene establishes the savagery of King Morax and introduces Queen Emporia and her guard Dane. The two have a plan and it involves leaving the King. The pair are not lovers, there’s nothing that suggests that type of relationship, only the fierce dedication of Dane to his queen. The pair can’t leave on their own: the queen wants to take her three children with her. Naturally, one doesn’t want to go; this is setting up trouble for future issues. How the five escape and where they go to is pretty exciting stuff. The way in which Dane is able to get their ship to leave the system was a new one in my book, and I’ve read a lot of science fiction: big extra credit points for Dane for thinking that up! The escape was very exciting and I found myself upset that this story was only 24 pages long; I was so drawn into the action. This issue is setting up the Queen on the run, and there’s certainly a lot of that. I’m very interested to see what Morax will do and how Dane will help Emporia and her children. Overall grade: A+ 

The art: I picked this book up because I saw Stuart Immonen’s name on the cover. I’ve been a huge fan of his since I first saw his work on Legion of the Super-Heroes, so I had to see how he was illustrating this book. With the second page this book was officially sold. Inking Immonen’s pencils is Wade von Grawbadger, and I couldn’t imagine them looking better. The first page is a nice tease of a prehistoric Earth that has a futuristic city sitting smack dab in the middle of it. The next page shows an announcer demanding that all those in attendance rise for the king. Morax is a gigantic man, wearing a suit of armor that makes him look as if he could take out Darkseid. The three prisoners before him couldn’t harm a middle schooler, and they rightfully cower before their ruler. Every scene involving Morax makes him look an invincible tyrant, and when he shows any emotion, such as a slight smile, it’s disturbing. The partial double-paged spread of 6 and 7 is terrific, and I’m hoping that more opportunities will arise in the series for the artists to create similar creatures. The headdress on Emporia is amazing. It’s big on the cover, but seeing it in close up on 7 makes it massive: it has a very Savage Sword feel to it. This ancient feeling to the book disappears on Page 8 as a change of clothes and a choice of vehicles shows the technological side of this civilization. Immonen and von Grawbadger have captured a very Flash Gordon flare for the pages that follow, with my favorite being Page 13. I’m a huge fan of science fiction, so I have to see what else this pair of illustrators is going to create in future issues. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Ive Svorcina’s colors bring a lot of the mood to life in this book. The first page has all the hot oranges and yellows one would expect of a swampy dinosaur realm. The next few pages use several different shades of blue, which is the color often used to show technology. Morax is covered in classical grey steel for his armor, yet his skin is a deep pink, giving him an instantly alien quality. The work done with colors for the creature on 6 and 7 is beautiful. The reds used in the second panel on those same pages are effectively disturbing. The coloring of characters’ skin is impressive, beginning with the last two panels on 7. The colors used on 13 reminded me of the iconic work of Moebius. There are several explosions in this book and Svoricina makes each extremely realistic with the combination of yellows, reds, and whites used. This book is beautiful because of the colors. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Narration, dialogue, and scene settings (the same font), and yells are Peter Doherty’s creations for this book. I wish the fonts had been different for the first three elements, as they are different forms of communication to the reader, but they are set apart from each by the colors of the balloons and boxes they inhabit. There are no sounds in this book and I found myself searching for some noises. It’s not Doherty’s decision to insert the sounds, but I think the book would have sounded like an epic if they had existed. Overall grade: A-

The final line: A fast paced first issue of a science fiction saga set in Earth’s distant past. Get in on the ground floor while you can. This is gonna be good. Recommended. Overall grade: A

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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