Independently Well Done highlights completed and/or noteworthy story-arcs published by indie and small press creators.
Written By: Mark Millar
Art By: Stuart immonen
Published: April – November 2016, by Icon
Now, normally today would be a New Comic Book Day post. I did go buy new comics, and I have read quite a few of them already. However, today marks a special day because one of my favorite books this year closed out its first arc, and because of how great it was I’m choosing to write only about this series today. I’m not saying nothing good came out today, in fact, Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire’s book hit shelves today, and it’s amazing. There’s not even a small chance I won’t also be writing about that as well, but for today, I’ve chosen to focus on the first arc of an amazing series. Empress, by Mark Millar and Stuart Immonen has to be one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read, and if oyu read this blog at all you know I read a metric crap-ton of sci-fi books.
What makes Empress standout from the piles of other sci-fi books that I read. Well, quite a few things, but mainly it’s just the story being told. I’ve written about books like Joyride, and Replica, and Tokyo Ghost, all of which are amazing books, but the story being told in Empress just struck me in all the right ways.
A quick synopsis of Empress, for those who haven’t read any of it, is that we are following Queen Emporia as she flees the clutches of her galactic dictator, a-hole of a husband, Morax. Alongside of the queen are her three children, Adam, Aine, and Puck, then her bodyguard Dane Havelock. Eventually, I think it was issue two, their joined by Dane’s old friend Tor, and this group traverses the galaxy attempting to find refuge from dictator mc’buttface. At the end of issue one, we learn that the queen wasn’t always a queen, in fact it appears as though she might have been an escort in some club the dictator visits. The two hit it off and she becomes queen. Then, we also learn that her goal, possibly the only real way she can get herself and her children to safety is through her sister, somehow.
While that’s the most basic of synopsis, what’s left out is the incredible action, brilliant storytelling, and dazzling art. Everything about this book is stellar, nothing was skimped or washed over, and the final product was nothing short of amazing.
For this post I’m going to start with the art because, damn, Immonen can draw. Every page is expertly put together to tell the most clear, visually appealing, dynamic story. The characters are ridiculously expressive. The pacing of each scene is well done. When the story slows, as it should, the paneling grows allowing the reader to feel the relaxed nature of the situation. It’s like we get to join in with the characters as they catch their breath. Then, suddenly, everything shifts, conflict arises and we are whisked through action sequences wherein our eyes are darting from panel to panel, driving us quickly through the sequences, just as the characters are experiencing them. When things look inescapable, there’s a visual sense of enclosure, and in those moments of freedom we can feel the vast openness.
Honestly, this was one of the strongest books I’ve read this year wherein the art was so inline with the story. Immonen just nails each issue without fail, and his character design is absolutely wonderful. We’re in space, with planets full of wild creatures, yet each time we’re given glimpses into new places, the people and creatures therein look as though they belong to that area. From landscapes of jungles, to ice tundras, then back around to mega-cities with towering structures Immonen build the world of Empress beautifully.
Now, there’s not a chance I’m not going to flip out over how well Millar crafts this story. I’ve said this on our show The Meltdown, if Millar wrote down his grocery shopping list, and published it, I would buy it. That’s how good of a writer I believe him to be. Maybe I’m a super fanboy, but who cares, this guy can write and tell a story like nobody’s business.
In Empress, there are a handful of things I want to point out that Millar did so well, that I think they deserve attention. The first of which was building mystery into our main characters early on. From issue one, we’re only given a small glimpse into Morax, Emporia, and Havelock. The children are there, but they’re almost background characters. They don’t come into play as main, foundational characters until the next few issues.
With that said, what the children do provide is motivation for the queen. You can connect with her almost immediately because Morax’s douchebagness is established quickly, and we get a sense of just how horrible this buttface is. Because of that, and the addition of innocent children being subjected to this jackwad of a father, we can immediately connect with the queen and her desire to escape with her children. Then, we’re given the intro of Havelock, and because he’s helping the queen and her children, we now have a strong heroic figure to connect with. All of this ties together in issue one, and seriously sets up for a powerful second issue because we’ve already drawn connections with the main cast.
The other thing Millar does superbly is introducing an aspect of the story subtly, then slowly, over the course of the series, reminds readers of that subtle aspect, all leading to a massive reveal at the end. Now I know that’s super vague, but what I’m talking about is a mysterious event that takes place in issue one, that gets talked about slightly over the course of the series, but it leads to this moment in issue seven where I literally blurted out a cheer. There’s such a surprise ending that Millar sets up at the beginning, and it deliver such an impact at the end, that it really just wrapped the series up beautifully.
As always I won’t do spoilers, but if you’re not reading this book I don’t know what to tell you. It’s absolutely wonderful, and one of the best comics, not just sci-fi, I’ve read this year. Millar and Immonen have created a space adventure story that delivers in ever possible way, and left me completely tickled in my happy places.