The End of ‘Empyre’: The Creators Bring the Comic Event to a Cosmic Close
Hear from Al Ewing, Dan Slott, and Valerio Schiti on how they told the story of Marvel’s latest event!
After a summer of twists, turns, and super-space plants, the Marvel comics event EMPYRE has reached its conclusion. The ages-old battle between the Kree, Skrulls, and Cotati finally reached an apex, with the Avengers and Fantastic Four caught in the middle to save the Earth from becoming collateral damage.
We talked with the creators of EMPYRE, Al Ewing, Dan Slott, and Valerio Schiti, about what has occurred during EMPYRE and what it means for the future of the Marvel Universe.
Throughout his career as Iron Man, Tony Stark has shouldered the responsibility when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to when saving the universe. In EMPYRE #4, readers saw the toll it took on him. We wondered if Tony is self-aware of his consistent “shoulder-baring.”
“[Are] any of us? [Are] you?” asked Ewing. “I'd argue that these journeys Tony goes on, these cycles of pride and the fall, are about achieving self-awareness. Tony builds these shells of arrogance around himself, and eventually, they have to crack. At his core is a man trying to atone, but I'd say the question of ‘when is that enough’ is one of the great questions of the 21st century.
“In the journey towards being your best self, is there a point at which you can rest, and if you believe there is, are you just heading for another fall? Tony's one of my favorite characters, in some ways, because he's the most human. He's mortal and fallible and hard to get along with, but that makes his victories, those times when he conquers his demons and pulls the rabbit from the hat, very meaningful. Maybe if Tony can make it, so can we.”
Throughout EMPYRE, Tony was working with Reed Richards AKA Mr. Fantastic during this stressful point, but we were able to see one of the things they were working on: a new suit of armor for Mr. Fantastic. Schiti talked about his thought process in designing one of the more innovative additions to the armory.
“I had to become an expert about Iron Man’s armors in the last few years, because of that crazy idea that Dan Slott had when we did TONY STARK: IRON MAN together. Tony’s the hero, the armor can change – and it has changed a lot of times,” Schiti said. “So now I know exactly how to think when it comes to designing new armor. I’m like Tony himself – Iron Man armor has to be simple and functional, lots of gadgets and weapons but just one clear, main purpose. Of course, Reed Richards’ armor had to be partly elastic because he was supposed to be able to stretch inside that thing. Unstable molecule technology is the Fantastic Four’s prerogative, so Tony’s answer to that problem is armor with elastic bandages. Just a few parts of the suit are proper armor. The main thing in the new design are the strong, reinforced bandages that become longer when needed. The visual inspiration is safety belts – I imagine that poor Reed is not just wearing the armor, the suit is wrapped around him!”
Slott teased that the “Fantasi-armor” won’t be an “EMPYRE-only” suit. “So... Mr. Fantastic has a suit of Iron Man armor now...? Hmm. I wonder if we'll see that again in the pages of FANTASTIC FOUR? Hmmm...”
With a story containing so much action, you’d think it would be hard to fit in some intimate moments. However, Ewing and Slott are some of the best in the game. EMPYRE #4 and #5 revealed and told the story of Hulkling and Wiccan’s wedding. While not as extravagant as the classic Reed and Sue Storm affair, it was still a moment fans had looked forward to for a long time.
“If you want a big wedding reception with all the friends and relations,” Ewing said, “I'd encourage you to check out EMPYRE: AVENGERS AFTERMATH, which is a very big celebration with oodles of guest-stars, moments between old friends, and even a little drama, as well as telling us the true story of how R'Klll survived her brush with Galactus.”
Ewing continued: “In terms of the wedding we've seen, I believe it was Joe Quesada who suggested having them already be married when the story starts and making that a revelation, and the idea strongly appealed for a number of reasons. To begin with, I liked the idea of a cliffhanger that was nice. Often, we try to get people to read the next issue by making them afraid for the characters, by leaving them in a terrible situation, or suggesting some awful thing on the horizon. We'd already played with the emotions of Hulkling fans by making him look like a bad guy at the end of INCOMING. This was an opportunity to do something nice for them, to give the fans something they'd wanted for a very long time, and center that relationship at the heart of the event.
"And secondly, as you say, it makes for a very intimate moment. I have a habit – I don't know if it's a good one – of attempting to fit vast events and stories into very small windows of time, and this was one of them, but I thought something was endearing about these two essentially eloping, just deciding to do it. No, it's not a big celebration with every hero on the cover – that's coming, we get to have our cake and eat it – but it's their moment, with as many of their closest friends as they could corral, and there's something a lot more personal about that. They're not doing it for the cameras; it's a spur-of-the-moment impulse to do something they've both wanted for a long time. Unplanned, improvisational, but at the same time just setting the seal on what they both already knew, which makes it kind of magical. I had a good time writing it, anyway.”
“Al killed on that whole sequence,” said Slott. “For me, it's one of the top three scenes in all of EMPYRE. And Valerio and Marte [Gracia] beautifully brought it all to life. And I can't wait to see everyone's reaction to what Al's doing in the AFTERMATH issue. It's one for the ages!”
Speaking of Hulkling and Wiccan, the end of EMPYRE #5 revealed that the Hulkling sitting on the throne was an imposter, and readers saw a subtle transformation from a monarch to a monster over a series of panels.
“That’s one of my favorite moments in EMPYRE, and I am very happy you noticed that sequence,” said Schiti when talking about the scene’s inspiration. “I have a lot of references, and sometimes it is hard for me to trace the source of my inspiration. But it’s different for those pages, I remember what inspired me: it’s Go Nagai’s Devilman. It must be clear that it’s not Teddy talking, so I needed something scary and aggressive, something really off character. I always thought that Devilman is one of the scariest, wildest characters in comics and manga, so It seemed only natural to me to use that as a reference.”
We also asked Schiti which character throughout EMPYRE did he form a connection with, and it was Hulkling’s new spouse.
“There are a lot of characters that I liked to draw, but at one point, I think that my favorite one became Wiccan. He’s a great character, very fun to draw, mostly because I like his look very much. He’s the perfect result of the combined design of two great artists that I love: Jim Cheung and Jamie McKelvie. I really hope that they’ll like my tribute to their work.”
It also looks like another Hulk has experienced “death,” as the Cotati took over the body of Jennifer Walters AKA She-Hulk. Ewing is no stranger to this concept and talked about evolving it with Jennifer.
“The plan from the start was to make use of Jen's status as a Hulk and the work I've been doing in [IMMORTAL HULK]. It certainly wasn't a matter of crapping on Jen for the sake of it. I do slightly resent the idea that sometimes pops up that if you put a character through hard times, that means you hate them. It's generally the reverse, that as writers, we save the juiciest and the toughest beats for the characters we want to show off a little,” he said. “And that's certainly the case with the upcoming IMMORTAL SHE-HULK book, where we get into Jen's character and past in a way that's hopefully interesting for her fans, for those who've enjoyed EMPYRE, and for those who are enjoying the IMMORTAL HULK book. They all come together.”
The Cotati-possessed She-Hulk revealed its proper form in a fight with the Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm AKA Thing, who stood up to the creature in a standout moment in EMPYRE #5. His drive wasn’t for a loved one or a fellow hero, but for two strangers in the Kree and Skrull children.
Ewing explained: “Well, I don't see that moment as exemplifying something about all heroes. If anything, that reading weakens what's happening here. If it was Captain America standing there, or Thor, they might say something about fighting for all the people of Earth, but they wouldn't get a gold star for that, because it's the basic job of being a Super Hero.
“It's more the inverse of that. Ben is surprised himself that these kids are on his mind, but there's something about their plight that's very personal to him and to who he is. So, it's not using Ben to say something about some larger ideal, it's using this particular moment to say something about Ben.”
EMPYRE has reached its finale as well as these series of interviews with its creators. For the third time, we asked them if they could describe EMPYRE #6 in one emotion, what would it be?
Ewing: “All emotions. The gamut. The full rainbow.”
Slott: “Is ‘popcorn’ an emotion? Because, and I mean this in the best way possible, EMPYRE #6 brings all the summer blockbuster feelings that you've been missing, and puts it all lovingly on the page. And it doesn't stop there! Both EMPYRE: AVENGERS AFTERMATH and EMPYRE: FANTASTIC FOUR FALLOUT have some of the biggest Marvel Universe moments ever to hit comics! Big things happen in these books! HUGE! Keep reading!”
Schiti: “Overall, there are a lot of emotional moments in EMPYRE, but this final chapter is not just the ending of an event. It’s more like a new beginning, so I hope that we will leave you with a sense of excitement for the future.”
You can pick up all six issues of EMPYRE, written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott with art by Valerio Schiti, at your favorite local comic book shop or digitally today! Be sure to ask your local comic book shop about their current business policies to observe social distancing or other services they may offer, including holding or creating pull lists, curbside pick-ups, special deliveries and other options to accommodate. Find and support your local comic book shop at http://comicshoplocator.com or by visiting http://marvel.com/lovecomicshops.
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