You may have heard of a series called Saga. It’s a sci-fi adventure series about a family (by blood and adoption) torn apart and reunited over the course of interstellar war and personal issues. There are frequent gorgeous moments that fill the page with personality and color and the story frequently balances tender confessions with badass action.

Empress has Saga’s number, and with volume one of Empress out in hardcover, they’re going to tussle on readers’ shelves.

The “empress” in question is Queen Emporia, and her husband the King is a stone-cold despot. Emporia, with the help of her bodyguard, takes her kids and flies into space in search of safety. (The orange spacesuit on the back cover is much more indicative of Emporia’s general look then her behorned appearance on the cover.) Her daughter has faith in religion and her parents, while her son is a machinist. The bodyguard is a jack of all trades who enlists a friend gifted with technokinesis and a sentient teleportation robot to assist in their escape and safety. Between all of these talents, and a few surprise reveals, the cast gets into and out of a scrape with every issue. Millar relies on cliffhangers and “Didn’t you know?” type revelations that may seem telegraphed, but are no less satisfying by the end of the book. Everything set up in the first half results in a payoff later on. The book ends on a giant teaser for the next volume’s plot.

Mark Millar’s story keeps things moving in the most entertaining way and provides ample opportunity for the artists to shine, but the star of this show is the art team. Penciler Stuart Immonen, inker Wade von Grawbadger, colorist Ive Svorcina, and letterer/designer Peter Doherty deliver consistent quality in each issue. There are no weak pages! It’s the darnedest thing. Immonen and Grawbadger’s line work is clean, detailed, and clearly laid out on each page. Empress is an immensely readable comic, whether characters are chased by massive creatures, piloting various spacecraft, or walking through densely populated cities. Svorcina’s colors tend toward strong contrasts, begging the eyes to drink in wide blue skies, neon-lit cityscapes, fiery explosions, several warm and cool character designs, and glowing futuristic devices and lasers. This probably sounds a little breathless, but it’s honest. Flipping back through the book is just as much a visual pleasure as the first read-through. While this review is based on the hardcover edition of Empress, I want to read this again on a tablet, too.

Characters get beaten, shot, and blown up from one set piece to another, but it’s never gory. Think Star Wars levels of violence. This sci-fi romp is guided by its beautiful environments and character-defining moments that keep the core cast alive to hop from one frying pan to another, from spaceship encounters to being chased by a mutant cat across a sheet of ice. Dialogue includes some swearing, but there’s nothing that would restrict this to an adults-only collection. Readers teenaged and older will probably get a kick out of this, and should include it in their stack of Saga, Black Science, and Battle Angel Alita comics.

Empress 1
by Mark Millar
Art by Stuart Immonen
ISBN: 9781302902063
Icon, 2017
Publisher Age Rating: T+

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

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