One line in this concluding issue of Empyre leaps out at me, and it belongs to Teddy Altman, The Hulkling:
"Leadership is not cruelty. Committing atrocities against your own people does not show strength.”
That is such a fantastic line, reflecting not only on the dire situation facing The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, the Skrulls, the Kree, and all life on Earth, but on things happening even now in our own real world. That is a line to equal some of the most inspiring moments in Star Trek. But for how we get to that line… Well, buckle your seat belts, True Believers. This is going to be one wild ride.
You have nine minutes to save the entire Solar System from being immolated by the explosion of the Sun in a preemptive strike by the Skrulls and Kree against the Cotati and their all-consuming Death Blossom that has taken root in Wakanda’s Vibranium-enriched soil; that blossom which will make Quoi, the Celestial Messiah, omnipotent and capable of launching a holocaust of plant life against all animal intelligence. What do you do?
Answer: You put the most brilliant man on Earth in an Iron Man armor tricked out for the leader of The Fantastic Four and send him to deal with the Cotati, while you put the designer of said armor on the problem of the exploding Sun. And the clock is ticking.
On Earth, in a scene simultaneously being played out in Fantastic Four #23, the Priests of Pama have completed an Omni-Wave Projector and are thus using it and the memories of the captured Skrull and Kree children, N’Kalla and Jo-Venn, on their respective species the way Dr. Doom once used his Emotion Charger on almost every villain from the first five years of Marvel Comics (Fantastic Four Annual, 1965). Faster than you can say “Day of the Dove” (that’s a Star Trek reference, and some of you had better get it), every Skrull everywhere is turning on every Kree. One person who is both Skrull and Kree is insulated from the Omni-Wave because of the inhibitor mask that was put on him when he was captured and thrown in the brig of the Kree/Skrull Alliance flagship: The Hulking, who is still capable of reason and has the idea that perhaps The Human Torch and Captain Marvel together can halt the induced supernova building up in the Sun. The Wiccan teleports himself, The Torch, C.M., and a pocket of atmosphere into a solar orbit, where they will attempt to do the impossible. And the time continues running down.
Meanwhile, in Wakanda, The Invisible Woman and Mantis are still having no luck helping The Thing in his battle with what used to be She-Hulk and is now a rampaging Cotati monster. Sue tells Mantis to use her empathic powers to block out her pain and fatigue and enable her to ramp up her powers enough to turn things around for Ben. Mantis does it, and Sue, with a supreme act of will, subdues She-Hulk! Back in New York, Sue’s kids, Franklin and Valeria, are appealing to empathy in a different way. They are using the bond that has formed between the N’Kalla and Jo-Venn to make the Skrull and Kree children overcome their years of conditioned hatred and make their own destiny, short-circuit the Omni-Wave, and bring a halt to the Kree/Skrull War! At the same time, The Thing reaches out to She-Hulk as a member of the extended Fantastic Four family to make her reject what the Cotati have done to her. This has the effect of freeing She-Hulk and changing her back to herself. Unfortunately she’s back to being the female version of her cousin’s infantile self instead of the sleekly muscled, sexy, witty She-Hulk who joined The FF, but I guess we can’t have everything.
Back on the Flagship, the effect of what Franklin and Valeria did takes hold as Super-Skrull and Captain Glory stop fighting and The Hulkling has them teleported to space to help The Torch, Captain Marvel, and The Wiccan. That leaves the young Emperor to face the pretender to his throne—and, back in Wakanda, leaves The Black Panther, who has gotten better since being stabbed by The Swordsman last issue (martial-arts disciplines and a Vibranium suit will do that for you) to face The Swordsman and Sequoia once again. But if Sequoia thinks his Death Blossom will make him a match for The Panther, he can think again: for The Panther has the leader of Earth’s greatest heroes on his side. Enter Mr. Fantastic, whose Stark-designed unstable-molecule Fantastic Four armor broadcasts sounds on a frequency that dampens Sequoia’s powers—and sets him up for The Avengers, The Invisible Woman, and The Thing to move in, led by Captain America, who orders Sequoia to stand down or get pruned like an overgrown willow!
Tony Stark, not even bothering to become Iron Man, uses the dead Celestial of the Avengers Mountain and the unstable molecules of Mr. Fantastic’s uniform to project nanotechnology into the Sun that will inhibit the induced buildup of heavy elements in the core that will make our star explode. This and the combined heat and energy-control powers of The Torch, Captain Marvel, Super-Skrull, and Captain Glory, halt the reaction and stabilize the Sun once more, saving our Solar System! Whew!
And back in space, The Hulkling finds himself battling his own grandmother, the former Empress of what used to be the Skrull Empire before Galactus devoured the home planet (Fantastic Four #257). R’klll, furious at Teddy for his “weakness” in stopping the destruction of Earth, knocks the inhibitor mask off him—which is a bad move on her part, as instead of striking back, Teddy lashes out and puts the mask on her, depriving her of her shape-changing powers and ending her evil! (And giving us the brilliant line with which we started.)
Sequoia refuses to accept defeat. He may not possess the power of the Death Blossom with Reed Richards broadcasting at it and half The Fantastic Four and a whole slew of Avengers backing him up, but he still has absolute power over terrestrial plant life. However, there’s one player we haven’t heard from yet, and he is the heaviest hitter of them all. Mighty Thor has been communing with his mother, Jord or Gaea, who happens to be the very living spirit of the Earth itself, and the God of Thunder is not letting this madness go one step further. Invoking his mother, Thor revokes Sequoia’s power. And when The Swordsman thinks they can still use the Death Blossom to turn it around for themselves, The Black Panther steps in, battling The Swordsman with The Hulkling’s star sword. Cornered, The Swordsman shows his true colors, and I don’t mean green. He grabs Sequoia, his own son, and threatens to reduce him to yard mulch unless the heroes submit. (Captain America is aghast!) The Panther is unimpressed, and remember, T’Challa is so fast that he can leap into The Invisible Woman’s force field before she can seal it. (Fantastic Four #52.) Before The Swordsman knows what’s hit him, The Panther has run him through and impaled him against the Death Blossom, destroying him and it, and finally saving Earth!
Mantis faces her son, Sequoia, in hopes that he has repented of his hatred against animal intelligence, but the Celestial Messiah continues to rail against us and especially our super-heroes. The attack of the Cotati may be over (they’re surrendering all over the world), but the master of the Cotati, now a prisoner, still corrupted by his father’s human hatred, lives on and may someday threaten us again.
For now, though, the day has been won. The combined power of The Fantastic Four and The Avengers has saved us all, and The Hulkling reigns over the united Skrulls and Kree with his husband, The Wiccan, at his side. After hundreds of millennia of the Kree/Skrull war, can this actually be the Kree/Skrull armistice? Reed Richards calls this the beginning of “a new age of space,” in which our heroes must shepherd humanity through new cosmic challenges. (And we can take heart in knowing that Reed and The Fantastic Four have our collective back, and The Avengers have theirs!)
And that, my friends, is how it’s done!
Wow! What an issue! What a read and what a battle! The conclusion of Empyre reminds us that even in this corporate-driven, “event”-dominated, franchise-oriented era of Marvel publishing, Marvel Comics can still be great. The action and suspense never let up in this grand finale. Al Ewing and Dan Slott have taken an intricate, epic-scale story, laden with plot and character details, and pulled the whole thing together to a satisfying finish.
There are so many good notes that the script hits on. One cool thing is that it is Tony Stark—not Iron Man, but the man within—laden with self-recrimination at the way he opened up Earth to the invasion of the Cotati at the beginning of the saga, who facilitates the outcome, equips Reed with the means to shut down the Death Blossom, and enables the other heroes to stop the runaway reaction in the Sun. Tony has always been a unique mix of genius, power, and vulnerability, going back to the days when he needed his armor to keep his heart beating. In this conclusion of Empyre he shows his ability to be greater than his shortcomings and weaknesses and save the day, and that is what Marvel super-heroes are all about.
And can we talk about Thor? In this finale, for the second time the God of Thunder shows us the meaning of power, and he does it by using the half of his heritage that Marvel stories seldom touch on. Back at the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s, the whole long Thor storyline tying in The Eternals with the rest of Marvel mythology (The Mighty Thor #275-301) answered a number of questions about Thor’s backstory and the stories of Lee and Kirby, among them the identity of Thor’s mother. Frigga is Odin’s wife, but Thor is the issue of a liaison between Odin and Jord (whom the Greeks called Gaea), a.k.a. “Mother Earth” herself! This is the reason for Thor’s deep affinity for, and protectiveness of, terrestrial mortals: we are all Thor’s family. Every living human is essentially Thor’s little brother or sister. Our big brother, who stands ready to fight off every bully who messes with mankind, is the son of the living Earth and the very Godhead of Asgard. And make no mistake, when the power to smack down any foe and smack him down hard is called for, look no further than the Norseman with the hammer to get the job done. We forget far too much and far too often that Thor was a “badass” long before the term was ever coined. Power, thy name is Thor! So be it!
The other great thing in this story is the showdown between the Cotati-reanimated Swordsman and The Black Panther. Not just not just excellent action, it’s terrific characterization. The Panther calls out The Swordsman for the self-loathing that poisoned his human life and his tenure as an Avenger and has corrupted his son, who was meant to be a Messiah to the universe but has become a monster instead.
Swordsman: “We can end it here, Panther. You’ve won; I stand revealed even to myself! I am Jacques Duquesne, the filthy human, in all his glory!”
Panther: “Strange. Now all I can see is the plant. The poison vine that smothers the good oak and destroys it. You see, I knew Jacques Duquesne. He was human… So human it killed him! … But when he died, he died an Avenger! And everything you will never be!”
That is just a great confrontation, and the perfect way to write finis to the menace of the corrupted Cotati. Outstanding work.
Empyre, in the six issues of the central miniseries, may be the best “event” that Marvel has ever done. It’s storytelling that entertains on every level, like the most memorable stories of Marvel history. The company loves to pull off a company-wide, all-embracing “event” at least once every year, spilling out into all the comics of the main line and taking over storylines in progress in all the other comics, and not necessarily for the good. Frankly they should all be as good as this one. It’s nice to know they still have it in ‘em.
What more needs to be said here, with a story that is a winner in every way? The art of Valerio Schiti and Marte Gracia delivers the goods. The Fantastic Four, mighty Thor, The Black Panther, Tony Stark, and everyone all bring their best game. The conclusion of Empyre is Marvel storytelling in its most satisfying style.
Empyre #6: Earth, the Victory Garden!
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Art - 9.5/109.5/10
Color - 9.5/109.5/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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