When we left off, the Fantastic Four were returning from the cosmic casino of the Profiteer having “won” N’Kalla and Jo-Venn, the Skrull and Kree children who are the living embodiment of the hostility between their two species and were being used as gladiators with beings from across space battling on the outcome of their battles. As they headed home, Earth’s greatest heroes found themselves staring down a combined armada of the Skrulls and the Kree, who have somehow found common cause and become allies. In a scene repeated in Fantastic Four #21, Mr. Fantastic and The Invisible Woman have Franklin and Valeria take the Skrull and Kree children around the armada to Earth. Meanwhile, the FF head onward to find characters that they recognize commanding the alien flagship. Leading both species in their assault on Earth is none other than The Hulkling of the Young Avengers, who is himself half Skrull and half Kree! And who should be flanking him but one of The FF’s oldest adversaries, Super Skrull!
Meanwhile, the Avengers are in that area of Earth’s Moon with the artificial atmosphere, in the Cotati garden/jungle that as a matter of history shouldn’t be there. A reading of Avengers #133 reminds us that the Skrulls, in determining whether they should bestow their technological favors on the Kree or the Cotati, brought the Kree to our Moon and the Cotati to a distant planetoid elsewhere in space. This glaring historical inaccuracy is one of the most conspicuous examples of bad writing I’ve seen in a Marvel comic book in many a year. Nevertheless, there they are, inaccuracy and all, greeted by Sequoia or “Quoi,” the product of the union of the Cotati intelligence with humanity through the reanimated body of The Swordsman. Quoi has endowed She-Hulk with a hammer-like weapon/device that reminds us of Ronan the Accuser’s Universal Weapon. It has restored She-Hulk’s intelligence and somehow given her a less ponderous and not quite so Hulk-like figure. This is just in time for the arrival of the alien armada.
As you might expect, both the FF and the Avengers are startled to find a Young Avenger leading both of these species that have been so hostile to Earth. Hulkling reveals that he called a cease-fire between the Skrulls and the Kree by his symbolic, King Arthur-like possession of a unifying sword. Backed by the former leaders of both species, Hulkling is coming to demand the surrender of the Cotati, who the Skrulls and the Kree have named “a threat to the well-being of this galaxy.” Captain America and Iron Man both call out Hulkling for allowing the Skrulls and Kree to use and manipulate him in a war of aggression—but Mr. Fantastic suspects there’s more going on. And the Avengers should listen to the leader of the Fantastic Four, because as we soon see, Reed is right! While the FF try to talk Hulkling out of it, The Avengers go on the attack, and it is ironically Hulkling who calls “Clobberin’ Time!”
A full scale battle breaks out, in which Iron Man has Thor throw Mjolnir through the shields of the alien flagship, where it is somehow blocked by Hulkling’s sword. But attached to the Hammer Supreme is a gadget that Shellhead has rigged up to overload the engines of all the Skrull and Kree vessels, stranding them in space, powerless. And what follows is the reason the Avengers should have let the Fantastic Four sort this out: for immediately the alien armada is shut down, Quoi makes his move. This is exactly what the so-called “Celestial Messiah” wanted to happen. At once he invokes “the Flowering.” And exactly what is “the Flowering,” you ask? It is the uprising of the Cotati, in which spores all over the “Green Area” of the Moon and throughout all the alien ships begin to sprout in monstrous, predatory plant-forms. As the Cotati attack, Sequoia calls a beginning to an intergalactic war between plant life and animal life, in which he will thus claim Earth as a beachhead!
The cliffhanger of this issue takes me back to the Marvel super-hero Civil War of 2006. This is another event in which people listened to and followed Iron Man, including Mr. Fantastic himself. And what happened? Reed and Iron Man headed up a team that actually created a cyborg clone of Thor which was used as a weapon of mass destruction and murdered longtime hero Goliath IV (Dr. Bill Foster). From there, the whole thing became a worse and worse disaster of heroes battling heroes that ended with the assassination of Captain America (who of course came back later, but still…) And what do we take from all this?
When Marvel heroes unite against a common threat, and The Fantastic Four are present, the FF need to be the ones leading things. Just as it was a mistake in the Civil War to have Mr. Fantastic allow Iron Man to lead him around by the nose, it was a mistake for the Avengers not to take their cues from the leader of the Fantastic Four. When you have the smartest guy with powers and a costume on your side, he’s the one you listen to. When Reed Richards has doubts—and he had big ones about the whole situation with The Hulkling—you let him sort out the situation, then you do what he says. There’s a reason other super-heroes in trouble go running to the Fantastic Four. That reason is Reed. Now look at the mess we’re in.
Aside from the tactical blunder, it’s a good start to Marvel’s latest all-embracing “event” that will take up the contents of the entire main super-hero line from now until the fall. The art by Valerio Schiti is good. He does a commendable job with all the characters, including the latest in what seems to be an endless series of redesigns of Thor (none of which, including this one, has ever been as good as the Jack Kirby original) and the somewhat less bulky She-Hulk (who was still much better as she was in her sleeker but still muscular build). Alas, it’s probably too much to hope that the attacking Cotati will somehow devour Reed’s beard and return him to his smooth-faced classic look. For what it is, it’s at least a nice-looking comic book.
The whole thing with the Cotati is a startling reversal of expectations. I can remember reading Steve Englehart’s original Avengers stories about Mantis being “the Celestial Madonna” who would bear a child who would be the most powerful being in the universe. The implication of those yarns seemed to be that Mantis’s child would be a cosmic force for good, an agent of positive change in the cosmos. This story of Empyre gives a whole new meaning to Sequoia’s destiny, changing him from being a “Messiah” to being the “Ultron” or “Thanos” of the plant kingdom—a cosmic menace in the Avengers style. There’s probably not enough weed killer in the world to get Earth out of this one! I’ve heard of “reaping what you sow,” but this is ridiculous!
All things considered, this is a pretty rousing start to the Empyre epic. I remember seeing stories of the Kree home planet as a place completely covered with technology, where nothing grows except machinery—the legacy of their ancient hatred and prejudice against the Cotati. Well, their botanical bigotry has come back to bite both them and the Skrulls this time, and it will be up to The Fantastic Four and The Avengers—whom both sides have long hated—to get them out of it. And it serves them right.
Empyre #1: We Have Met the Enemy…
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 8/108/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 8.5/108.5/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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