And we’re back! The Marvel Rundown is officially back to covering new releases from the House of Ideas, and we’re celebrating our return with a look at the debut issue of Marvel‘s first big event of 2020: Empyre! The Avengers and the Fantastic Four are about to come head-to-head during an alien invasion of Earth, and one with its roots in one of the oldest conflicts in the Marvel Universe — how does this first issue do at setting the stage for the rest of the event?

We’ve got a review of that issue, plus a Rapid Rundown of this week’s other noteworthy releases, all ahead in the latest installment of The Marvel Rundown!

Empyre #1
Empyre #1

Empyre #1

Plotted by Al Ewing & Dan Slott
Scripted by Al Ewing
Art by Valerio Schiti
Color Art by Marte Gracia
Lettered by VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover by Jim Cheung & Frank Martin
Reviewed by Joe Grunenwald

It’s finally here. Exactly three months after its originally scheduled on-sale date, Empyre #1 has arrived, and Marvel’s first big event of 2020 has begun. The story finds the Avengers and the Fantastic Four on a collision course as a united Kree/Skrull empire approaches Earth, and this first issue wastes no time bringing the two teams together in exciting fashion.

Writers Al Ewing and Dan Slott have teamed for this event, and their collaboration is off to a great start. Having just one writer handle the scripting (in this case Ewing) certainly helps to make the reading experience a smooth one. Ewing utilizes dueling narrators in Tony Stark and Reed Richards to present both sides of the conflict, and with so many characters to work with — six members of the FF (when you factor in the kids), eight members of the Avengers, plus Hulkling, plus a handful of key named & notable Kree, Skrulls, and Cotati — things could easily have gotten confused or rushed. And make no mistake: there is absolutely a lot going on in this comic, but all of it is easy to follow, and most characters get an opportunity to shine without it feeling overstuffed or disjointed.

Of course, most of the credit for the reading experience has to go to the team providing the issue’s visuals. Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia do spectacular work throughout the issue. The scope of this thing is absolutely massive, and even with so much happening in the depths of outer space Schiti and Gracia manage to ground all of the action in a physical space, placing characters and events in easily-understandable relation to each other without sacrificing the dynamism of the action. Their combined storytelling ability is superb, from the aforementioned action to the smaller character moments and visual foreshadowing for things to come. They absolutely adhere to the oft-discussed Marvel house style, but the skill and level of craft are so high here that it didn’t even bother me. This book is a feast to look at.

Empyre #1
From Empyre #1

As far as events go, I have to admit I was pretty skeptical going into this one. The Kree/Skrull conflict has never particularly interested me, and we literally just had an ‘Earth is invaded by outside forces’ event last year in the excellent War of the Realms. The way this first issue of Empyre set things up, though, I’m very interested to see where it goes. There’s already a lot of complicated character dynamics at play – between the Avengers and the FF, between Hulkling and the other heroes of Earth, within the combined Kree/Skrull empire – and surely those will just get dicier as the story plays out. And the twist at the end revealing the true threat of the series was genuinely pleasantly surprising, and gave me confidence that this creative team has more tricks up their sleeve.

If there’s one weakness to Empyre #1, it’s that it’s not truly the first issue of the event. Sure, it’s the first to feature both the Avengers and the FF, but I know I would’ve been completely lost had I not read the two zero issue preludes featuring the respective teams. Those both provide important scene-setting for the two teams going into this new issue. If you want to know what the Avengers are doing on the moon, or what the Fantastic Four are doing out in space with a pair of Kree and Skrull kids aboard their ship, you’ll probably want to check those two issues out first (it also helps that they’re both pretty entertaining reads, particularly the Avengers-centric one).

Final Verdict: Strong Browse. Overall this is a great start to the Empyre event, from a creative team that’s clearly bringing their A game. It may be a bit inaccessible for people who haven’t read the prelude titles, but there’s still a lot to like here even without that context if you’re willing to sit back and enjoy the ride.

From Empyre #1

Rapid Rundown!

  • Captain Marvel #17
    • After a few longer storylines, writer Kelly Thompson is joined by guest artists Francesco Manna and Carlos Lopez for a wonderful done-in-one story about a Carol Danvers-hosted game night that takes an unexpected turn. This is a perfect book to pick up if you’re interested in getting to know Captain Marvel and her supporting crew, or if you’re just looking for a light, fun read. I’m also a fan of interaction between Wolverine and Kamala Khan, so this issue was basically made for me. —JG
  • Fantastic Four #21
    • The first Empyre tie-in spins directly out of the events of Empyre #1, taking the Richards children down to earth and adding a few new wrinkles to the impending invasion. Slott seamlessly fits this issue in with the main event series, and artists Paco MedinaSean IzaakseMarcio Menyz, and Erick Arciniega do a fine job with the crazy creatures and shadowy figures introduced here. Plus more Wolverine, so it’s like it’s the ’90s again, but that’s not bad in this case. Ultimately as tie-ins go this one doesn’t feel essential to the event, but it’s still an enjoyable read, with an ending that’s genuinely shocking. —JG
  • Giant-Size X-Men: Magneto #1
    • The latest entry in the series of Jonathan Hickman-penned X-Men one-shots finds Magneto procuring an island from the king of Atlantis. Hickman’s script is occasionally sparse, letting the visuals from artist Ramón Pérez (taking over for originally-announced artist Ben Oliver) do the heavy lifting, and Perez is up for the task. Still, it’s largely an issue of set-up for things to come, so in the end it’s kind of slight, but still an enjoyable enough read. It also makes me want to read more of Hickman’s Namor, so fingers crossed for that. —JG

Next week, the Empyre event continues, and the Fantastic Four conclude their meeting with the X-Men!