Empress #1 (Icon/Marvel)

Empress_1_CoverFor his latest superstar team-up, Mark Millar has joined forces with All Star X-Men/Star Wars artist Stuart Immonen to bring you the action sci-fi space opera Empress – a book which will inevitably be described as ‘Saga meets Star Wars’. But will this be another upper class Millar tale or is it just a lowly commoner?

Empress_1_CoverPublisher: Icon/Marvel Comics
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger,
Price: TBC

Our rating: [star rating=”5″]

For this high octane action-packed sci-fi adventure, superscribe Mark Millar has gone back to Marvel to release it via their creator-owned Icon comics imprint (the original home to Kick Ass) and in many ways he has also gone back to his classic Marvel roots of Ultimates or Fantastic Four. After the Americana bonhomie of Huck and the pulp stylings of Starlight, this is possibly the most mainstream, and least ‘Mark Millar-y’ book in years and it’s a real revelation.

The story revolves around Queen Emporia who is looking to escape from her tyrannical husband Morax which she does with the assistance of her loyal (and handsome) bodyguard Dane. With bickering children in tow, the escape is a blistering all-action set piece which spans much of the first issue and zooms along at a break neck pace that literally sees them gatecrash an interstellar transporter in order to escape!

On first impressions the idea of a misfit family on the run feels very like a certain Brian K Vaughan book that is very popular right now, while the handsome bodyguard might as well be called Han, and there is an element of the Storm/Richards clan in the family dynamic, but that all adds up to make for a really interesting collection of different ideas rather than a mismatch of other tired cliches.

Millar’s writing as always, is ultra-lean to the point of being threadbare, allowing the action to dictate the events rather than exposition. In many ways, Millar’s writing is a bit like jazz, it’s what’s between the notes that is as important as the notes themselves and while much of that character development is shouted between explosions you get a definite sense of how the characters will evolve once they have made their initial escape and they look set to be a resourceful, albeit bickery bunch .

Critics will no doubt point to his female lead relying on male help to escape as being a huge negative, however, this is far from the case as Emporia is really the one driving the events forward, while Dane is her willing servant instead of the other way around. Amongst the action, there is plenty to suggest she is going to be much more than just another damsel, as she balances regal responsibility, maternal love and personal self-preservation in her quest to escape Morax and his dinosaur death matches (another epic highlight from this first issue!).

When it comes to adding melody to the beats of Millar’s story, he is blessed with an artist of the caliber of Stuart Immonen (and regular inker Wade von Grawbadger) to help bring his story to life. Immonen has never been a slouch in the art department, but clearly the years of working on Marvel’s top titles have sharpened his pencils and he is on truly interstellar form with Empress. Everything from the character design to the spaceships to the knowing glances are absolute perfection, and he instils a sense of pace and action in every panel that just sizzles with excitement. His figure work is classic in it’s execution and immaculate in it’s detail, but it is the subtlest of cartoony edge, especially on the faces, which gives the book it’s depth and range. It makes you want to turn the page to find out what happens next, which is both amazing as there is another awe-inspiring image page after page, but also sacrilege, because every panel is truly breath-taking and his motley crew of space misfits, rampaging dinos and epic alien landscapes deserve some proper appreciation. (But that’s what repeat readings are for!)

If ever you need proof that Mark Millar’s work is about more than hyper-violence and extreme language, then Empress is that book. Despite being none of those cliches, it is somehow quintessentially Millar-esque in every way and sees him and Immonen on career best form, creating a book that is truly out of this world!