Jonathan Luna (Story, Art, Lettering) and Sarah Vaughn (Story, Script)
November 22, 2017
Saia isn’t a nice place. That’s mostly courtesy of the Eternal Empress and her quest to conquer every last country on the continent. Tair (in Essla) and Rion (in Qaara) live similarly depressing lives under the thumbs of the Empress’s Crimson Swords. They’re forced to work in support of her war and have nothing for themselves until a vision of the three suns aligning convinces them both that they must break free. As Tair and Rion flee, they are drawn together by something and discover that there’s far more to both of them than meets the eye.
The problem with Eternal Empire is that its most intriguing parts are in the first and the last few pages of the trade. Your attention can’t help but be caught when a book starts with a woman reaching out and asking a dragon-like creature to join with her and create something new especially when it happens with a bunch of chanting in the background. And when it ends with … well, that would be telling, but it’s something equally captivating that leaves readers going, “Whaaaaat?” Unfortunately, the other hundred or so pages of the book don’t quite match that promise.
Tair and Rion are different from their fellow workers and it’s not just in terms of their looks. They both have some sort of fire magic within them that’s initially brought out by their proximity to each other. Combined with the winged, hybrid Empress, this should offer the potential for an exciting new fantasy comic but instead, the story just feels expected and a bit bland. The trade collects the first five issues and so far, it hasn’t offered up enough surprises to keep me wanting more. (The sixth issue will be released in January.) There’s also nothing particularly distinguishing about the protagonists as people aside from their differences of opinion regarding prayer. Both the good-hearted Crimson Sword and the Eternal Empress stand out far more and feel like more fully realized characters.
Luna keeps both his linework and coloring clean and simple which helps the fire magic truly sparkle on the page (pun absolutely intended). The fire swords are a delightful marriage between a lightsaber and a flaming rapier. The art style is a nice fit for Image, something that shouldn’t be surprise given the creative team’s previous work on Alex + Ada for the same publishing brand. It might not be quite as eye catching as some of the other books out there but the thought and care put into the pages are obvious to see. That applies to the entire comic actually. While it may not be exciting, it is most definitely a labor of love.
A few assorted thoughts:
- The amount of thought put into the suns’ changing configurations is awesome
- The people of this world take mating between species far more calmly than expected
- I would love to know more about the Empress’s early days
While slow isn’t synonymous with bad, Eternal Empiremoves far too glacially for its own good in its first five issues. Although there’s a spark of an interesting world within the pages, Vaughn and Luna just don’t deliver an exciting and different enough story to hold readers’ interests and to convince them to invest.