Saturday, 7 February 2015

Empire Review (Mark Waid, Barry Kitson)


The idea to Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s Empire is sound: what if a Doctor Doom-type beat the superheroes and established an empire that was slowly taking over the world. What would that empire look like? What would the story of villainy triumphant be like? There’s certainly merit to the idea because a lot of it is new ground - except Waid doesn’t realise any of it in this very tedious comic. 

Probably the biggest problem is the lack of a compelling main narrative. There are a few attempts at plotting here and there but most fizzle out quickly and none have any real bearing on the lead character, Golgoth. Because there are no superheroes to fight the supervillain, Waid focuses on Golgoth’s inner circle of crazies and their petty squabbles amongst themselves which is as riveting as it sounds. 

One of them, the chief assassin Xanna, wants more of this amazing drug Golgoth feeds them to keep them in line, so she goes looking for how it’s made - and stumbles across a big secret. Another of his lieutenants, Lucullan, looks to be secretly working with the pathetic resistance, supplying them with weapons. And Some Guy is boning Golgoth’s daughter, Delfi - hope papa doesn’t find out! 

Where do those subplots go? Nowhere. But you gotta have something to fill up those eight issues, no matter how dull and pointless they are! 

Maybe this is a character study of a supervillain? Nope! He’s a little less megalomaniacal in one flashback but otherwise he’s one-dimensional at the end as he is at the beginning. Plus he’s overpowered to the point where no-one can touch him. Great, he’s unstoppable - now I’m really on the edge of my seat! 

I don’t think of Mark Waid as a stupid writer but he does write extremely simplistically here. I mean, the drug Golgoth uses to control his inner circle is called Eucharist and it’s administered in a church like environment - geddit? That image is hammered home even more once you find out what Eucharist is. How about Golgoth for a villain’s name - can we be more obvious? 

The superhero is called Endymion and… well, that’s a spoiler but look up Keat’s Endymion and compare that to the superhero here. Any similarities?! There’s a communications guy whose role is shamelessly ripped out of Nineteen Eighty-Four, “amending” the news so that the Empire comes off as positive every time. Oh, and in one panel his daughter is reading Machiavelli’s The Prince - think she’s got something to do with the “twist” ending? 

I really didn’t like the world Waid dreamt up in Empire because it’s so flat! In this dreary world, crazy evil guys behead people and then play basketball with their heads - they’re EVIL! They take over other countries and kill kids - they’re EVIL! The leader goes around killing anyone on a whim - he’s EVIL! 

I kept thinking: so, what’s the point? Is Waid trying to say something as banal as absolute power corrupts absolutely or something even less insightful such as once evil supervillain wins, they continue doing evil supervillain stuff ad nauseam? Am I supposed to be enjoying this/fascinated with what I’m reading? Everything about this comic is so uninteresting! 

Barry Kitson’s art isn’t bad but I had some problems with his character designs. Three of his female characters and two of his male characters looked identical. I was wondering, what’s the ambassador of Greenland doing in Golgoth’s daughter’s bed only to discover he was a completely separate character halfway through the book! Granted two of the female characters are related, but still, is it so hard to get characters who look different? 

I’ll give Waid this: he’s consistent. The ending is so bleakly miserable, like the rest of the book, it’s ballsy how nihilistic his vision is for Empire, and he commits to it totally. But, frankly, so what? Was the whole point just to have a superhero-type comic where the supervillain wins all the time from start to finish? At least we know why this doesn’t happen every often: it’s incredibly boring to read! 

I’d been looking forward to reading Empire for a while now and I have enjoyed some of Waid’s comics, but this one was disappointing. It’s lacking in imagination, the writing, from the pitiful story to the paper thin characters, was very weak, and the premise proves to be a mistake, at least in Waid’s hands, who does nothing to expand upon it in any meaningful way. 

This Empire was less Strikes Back and more Phantom Menace!

Empire

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