This X-Men article contains spoilers.
Event tie-in comics aren’t supposed to be this good.
Empyre: X-Men has been highly anticipated since its announcement. This tie-in to Marvel’s big Empyre event was slotted as the first big foray into the rest of the Marvel Universe for the Krakoans post-House of X/Powers of X, but the COVID-related shutdown pushed the book back. Throughout the long wait, readers have been eager to see how the mutants would play with the rest of the world, but I think most were expecting a fun little throwaway series.
What we’re getting instead is something extremely consequential to the bigger story that the X-team is telling. The series shows a great deal of storytelling promise heading into X of Swords, the first big crossover of the Dawn of X era.
The Pretender Wanda Maximoff has atoned! Or at least, she tried to atone for her crimes against mutantdom – “No More Mutants” at the end of House of M depowered nearly a million mutants around the world, leading to death, depression, and suffering on a massive scale. And even though it was revealed that she wasn’t in complete control of her own faculties when she took that drastic action (in Avengers: Children’s Crusade – long story short, Doom did it), the mutants haven’t let go. And neither has she – it’s revealed in the opening pages of Empyre: X-Men #1 that her quest for redemption has led her to Genosha, the site of the other mutant genocide, perpetrated by Cassandra Nova and her Sentinels back in New X-Men #115. There, she uses her magical powers to resurrect the 16 million killed in Sentinel fire all those years ago.
Empyre takes place a few months after that spell is cast. The Genoshan Krakoa gate (the plant teleportal grown from a Krakoan flower that the mutants use to travel the world) is down, so Magik, Angel, M, and Multiple Man teleport to Genosha to investigate. They find the Cotati, the telepathic plants at war with the unified Kree/Skrull empire, on the island, setting up a staging area for an assault on Wakanda. They also find 16 million undead mutants attacking the Cotati. Turns out that resurrection spell wasn’t the best idea. And then Hordeculture – the ecoterrorist Golden Girls introduced early in Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Yu’s X-Men as Krakoan antagonists – show up to add another wrinkle to the conflict.
Usually major plot beats to ongoing stories are saved for the main series. Tie-in miniseries are almost always small side tales meant to fill in the world of the main book and are often a chance to give new creators a boost in profile or a chance to get some reps in on a lower impact book. That’s clearly not the case here. The Wanda angle has been bubbling since House of X #4, which feature the first data page to really editorialize about the subject material, attacking the Scarlet Witch as a “pretender.” To pay it off so quickly and so unambiguously showed deep planning from the X-Team and comfort with their readers. It’s really refreshing.
The second issue showed that Empyre: X-Men would also be unusual in its creation: so far, it’s a highly entertaining jam comic. The first issue was written by Hickman and Tini Howard, writer of the best DoX book, Excalibur. The second is penned by Gerry Duggan (Marauders) and Ben Percy (X-Force and Wolverine). The third issue is split between Ed Brisson (New Mutants), Vita Ayala (the upcoming Children of the Atom), and Zeb Wells (Hellions).
Comics with multiple creators tend to suffer from too many cooks. Books try and do too many things, and the shifts between voices and styles are rarely handled well. Empyre: X-Men so far stands out in that regard. Through two issues, the voices remain distinct, but the transitions are smooth, the tone consistent, and the plotting seamless. And that level of coordination and collaborative synergy bode really well for X of Swords, the 22-part crossover that winds through every X-Men comic being published for the last quarter of the year. If the X-team can keep this up through that crossover, it’s certain to become a classic.
Empyre: X-Men #3 is out on Aug. 12. Issue #4 will conclude the miniseries on Aug. 19.