By Mark Millar, Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger and Ive Svorcina
In our last review of Empress we predicted that the main villain, the dreaded King Morax, was about to show up again, or at least it felt like it was time to show us what our heroes had been running away from so desperately. Here in issue #5, Millar and company delivered and then some. Needless to say, if you’re reading the series this far you know what the rest of us know, which is that this creative team is capable of some of the wildest storytelling combined with pitch-perfect pacing. Yeah, there are bad guys and then there are real bad guys and anyone of them would be worth escaping from, but the question now is how many places are there to escape to?
King Morax is the best kind antagonist. He’s seemingly all-powerful, lays waste with a mere command, and, maybe worst of all, he feels justified in his hunt for his wife and children. After all, a trusted member of his crew snatched them out from under his nose and it would seem he’s as apt at tracking them down as they are at staying on the move. With this newest installment to the series King Morax learns just how they’ve been advancing from place to place, although it’s unclear if such information is helpful to him or not. Could he possibly get ahead of them? Either way, Morax is not giving up and it would appear his family might soon be in his shadow once again. As readers, we get a sense that the closer you are to Morax the quicker you’ll die, if that’s his desire. It’s unnerving to say the least, more so if recapturing them meant the story would slow down even a little.
It’s unreal how much action Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) packs into each issue of Empress without sacrificing a single bit of drama. By the fifth issue we know these characters well enough to root for them. We know them well enough to understand how it would benefit young Adam to be trapped in a room full of junk…and we wait in glorious anticipation for those results! Millar knows how to introduce, set up, then keep us on the edge of our seat for what feels like a while — but is only the length of a single comic book issue — before we get the pay off. Any character that hasn’t been given a chance in the spotlight will get one, because there’s no end to the amount of imaginative turns this story will take. No end in sight anyway. It’s impressive on all fronts and Empress, somehow, manages to keep the ball rolling and rolling and rolling. Like a hand grenade traversing a long hallway floor that won’t explode until it comes to rest. One has to wonder if the art team was given some sort of notes with every scene as to how long the fuse burns before the bomb goes off. Because there’s never a dull moment, and the pieces between action sequences are still thrilling and fast paced.
Artists Stuart Immonen (Nextwave), Wade von Grawbadger (Secret Avengers) along with colorist Ive Svorcina (Secret Wars) continue to deliver one breathtaking panel after another. It’s ironic how the artwork holds our attention in a story that moves at a breakneck pace. Immonen masterfully zooms in and out, changing angle to create dramatic effects that let you know what it’s like to be falling through space in a ship that’s been thrown into a pit of lava. The colors only work to enhance those sensations by giving us a sense that, no matter how beautiful a landscape or creature may appear, no one in Empress is ever safe. This is science fiction at its best, folks. The elaborate effects and unrestricted use of color help to create a book that almost feels like it knows it’s a sci-fi comic. As if Empress itself realizes it’s a comic book with nothing left to unhinge, no doors left to explode through and no boundaries in the way of its creativity. Whereas some comics are clearly stories first with settings as an after thought, this book feels more like a foray into a genre primarily, with a story built specifically for constant magnificence.
So, again, where are the escapees headed and how many places are left for them to travel to? No matter the destination, would they even be safe once arrived? For one of the fastest paced stories out there, is it possible everything is going to come to a screeching halt? It just doesn’t seem believable that we’d ever get a “prison cell” issue where everyone is locked up for an entire issue. No one stops moving, nothing is stable and everything is explosive. Wow, what a book! If you’re not up to speed on Empress, go grab the back issues now. You’ll burn through those suckers and read ‘em again in a single sitting and you’ll never be bored. Mark Millar and cohorts are putting out a ton of quality books and Empress is high among them.