Genosha, once the graveyard for 16 million mutants, is now crawling with life! Well, alien and zombie life (half-life?), that is. Suddenly swarmed, the X-Men have called in a small army of psychics to stave both invasions. Can they succeed? Read on with Dani Kinney and Kayleigh Hearn to find out!
Empyre: X-Men #3
Vita Ayala (writer), Ed Brisson (writer), Andra Broccardo (artist), VC’s Clayton Cowles (letterer), Tom Muller (design), Zeb Wells (writer), Nolan Woodard (colorist)
August 12, 2020
We’ve reached the penultimate issue of Empyre: X-Men, which brings us more mutants, more aliens, more zombies, and now, more psychics. This issue features the new creative team of Vita Ayala, Zeb Wells, Ed Brisson, and Andrea Broccardo. Folks, what did we think of this issue?
Dani Kinney: It continues to feel like work to enjoy the Empyre issues. This is true for me both in a narrative sense and in visual sense. Visually, with horde/zombie media, there’s a really delicate balance that artists in any medium need to sustain, to keep the overwhelming threat of the zombie from becoming visually chaotic. I don’t know that this issue maintains that balance, and the art often dips a little far into feeling disruptively chaotic in a visual sense, or it feels like the threat of the zombie just isn’t there. This transforms otherwise gorgeous art into visual story that is hard to track, and I felt myself consistently needing to reorient to another yellowy-orange horizon with same-ish earth tones consuming the surroundings. This did have the effect of really creating a sense of visual relief for me the reader to match the narrative relief of the story, when Nightcrawler BAMFS in, and finds a way to make a super-soaker feel daring and exciting! Overall the story feels good, but I don’t find myself totally captivated.
Kayleigh Hearn: Empyre: X-Men #3 reminds me of that meme of the unfinished horse drawing, you know, where the first half of the horse’s body is detailed and lifelike, but it becomes more rushed and sketchy ’til it’s a crude stick figure of a horse? It’s not a bad comic, and all of the creators have done good work, but I don’t think the pass-the-baton method of writing this miniseries worked to all their strengths. The aspects I found most interesting in issue #1, like the X-Corp worldbuilding and Scarlet Witch’s search for redemption, are absent here and the zombie mayhem is a bit overpowering. This is also a shame because unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic delaying Children of the Atom, this is technically Vita Ayala’s debut in a Dawn of X title.
This issue features some fresh faces, including psychics like the Cuckoos and Quentin Quire, and even Nightcrawler with a super-soaker. Did anyone stand out for you amid the mayhem?
Dani: I think this issue takes the prize for the most interesting element of the organic-technological elements of Krakoa. Seeing Krakoa craft organic Wooden Exo-Suits for the combatants feels like something straight out of a D&D session. And that’s delightful. Krakoa is the best Cleric. This was a small, understated part of the issues, but seeing Krakoa able to interface with the mutant fighters in this way really was endearing, and provided yet another slice of exciting world building that I look forward to seeing more of in the future. I will say, I’ve now come to expect that any issue featuring Quentin will provide me the satisfaction of watching him get his ass handed to him, so I was a little grumpy that he made it out of this one.
Kayleigh: Last time, Cori predicted that surely Quentin would bite it, but sadly he makes it through the issue in one piece. (We’ll always have X-Force!) Broccardo does a great job drawing the Krakoan Exo-Suits, which makes me wonder when we’ll see someone (Cypher?) wearing Krakoa like a giant wooden Gundam. And I love Kurt with the super-soaker. “It’s BAMF or nothin’!”
Speaking of un-fresh faces, though, this issue really emphasizes the body horror element of a zombie story, with poor Multiple Man having to use his own dupes’ severed limbs as projectiles at one point. Do we have any zombie fans here?
Dani: There was definitely a period in my life where I consumed a lot of zombie media. And to this day the sub-genre still holds a special place in my heart. As I mentioned earlier, the art doesn’t entirely deliver on constructing a real threat with the zombies. The scenes are all there, panels of overwhelmed mutants surrounded by swarms of zombies, but so much of the framing in those panels doesn’t work. For me, the best chance a visual medium has to convey the sort of impending doom that a horde of zombies should create, is to build space from the POV of the protagonists. To place the “camera” in low angles or eye-line angles. Panels here felt either too open and spacious, or overly cluttered because the space just stacked in a very shallow way. That said, the idea to use Madrox was a master stroke. Here is a character whose powers are almost a foil to the horde, because Madrox himself could become a horde. His mutation presents certain opportunities to subvert the genre, and those are my favorite moments. Because Madrox, in making dupes, could also be added to ranks of the zombie horde, and also provide amazing gags like Madrox chucking his own head at the horde as a distraction.
Kayleigh: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite movies, though the glut of zombie fiction over the last several years has poisoned zombies for me. Marvel Zombies in particular was an ugly bit of nihilism wrapped up in red and blue spandex. Empyre: X-Men doesn’t stoop to that level, though the mutant zombies here also keep their powers and personalities–the X-Men are even able to make a deal with Explodey Boy, sort of, that ends up being slightly traumatic to Madrox. In a weird way that keeps us invested in the Genosha zombies as characters; their rotting half-life here is a dark mirror of the Resurrection Protocols on Krakoa, the failure of the Pretender versus the victory of mutantkind. (Sorry, Wanda.)
Magik transforms into the Zombie Queen of New Genosha! This seems bad, right?
Dani: Both the name and the costume bring my mind to find parallels with the Goblin Queen. I assume that’s intentional, and I personally feel like this might be a set up for something to come to bear in X of Swords down the line. Either way, as somebody who hasn’t reread Inferno in about 10 years, I can’t be sure of what other connections this series has so far to that event, but it feels like a non-trivial connection. It certainly isn’t going to make the X-Men’s job any easier if Magik turns heel, especially with the staff that Wanda had constructed.
Kayleigh: This is where the comic lost me. Woman gets a power surge, turns evil, suddenly she’s drawn like a buxom Chaos! Comics character. It’s a very predictable beat in a story that’s been full of fun surprises until now. Part of the joy in writing a round robin story is turning the screw a little more than your predecessor and upping the ante–aliens! Zombies! Old Ladies! Evil Magik!–but I’m not loving this. I would rather spend time with malformed brain that is the Cotatinaught, a living doomsday weapon that looks like one of the Metaluna Mutants from This Island Earth mated with a Mars Attacks! alien. “GLOR GLOR GLOR GLOR!” — you said it, buddy.
Next issue is the grand finale! Will the Cotati take seed on Genosha? Will Explodey Boy eat more brains? And hey, what happened to Scarlet Witch?
Dani: “What happened to Scarlet Witch?” is a question I’ve been asking since issue #1. It’s also staining my enjoyment of the first 3 issues because I’m fearful that she was brought in during the first act solely to catalyze a zombie story. I’m somebody who has complex feelings about that character, and if this series is only including her to get the ball rolling on the narrative level, I’ll be a little disappointed. Given everything that Wanda worked through in her solo-series, for her to only return as a catalyst for conflict, will feel like a missed opportunity. I do feel strongly that since her mention as “The Pretender” and X-Men #7’s boogeyman scene with Exodus, I have hopes that Hickman’s sprinkling in some seed for a more intentional Scarlet Witch/X-Men story to develop.
Kayleigh: Whither wandered the wondrous Wanda? I also hope her appearance in this series is a hint at something bigger (bigger than 16 million mutant zombies?) with the X-Men further down the line. Though this issue left me tired, I’m excited to see Jonathan Hickman take the baton and run the final lap for Empyre: X-Men #4.