Everyone has their favorite comic books and superheroes, but what sets Marvel Comics (and DC) apart from the rest of the industry is its events. Crossover events like Infinity War and Crisis on Infinite Earths changed the face of storytelling as we know it. Every few years Marvel has most of their heroes meet up for one giant universe ending event.
The most recent of these events is Empyre. Thanks to a change in Marvel’s policy on publishing comics on their website Marvel Unlimited, the complete collection of Empyre reading is available to all subscribers. The main Empyre series is 6 issues long, but if you count all the tie-in issues the Empyre Saga is 31 issues total. Here is a guide to what you can skip and what you need to read to get the most out of the event.
Reading Order and Marvel Unlimited
To get the full reading order from Road to Empyre: The Kree\Skrull War (2020) #1 all the way up to the final issue of Empyre (2020) #6, you can head over to Marvel Unlimited. There you’ll find a perfect reading order spanning 2019 to 2020. The Empyre collection consists of 8 different series counting the main one. From Kelly Thompson’s Captain Marvel to the X-Men event that had contributors from all four current X-Series books. Marvel Unlimited offers access to over 28,000 digital comics for only $9.99/month.
The Empyre Guide
Warning, there may be minor spoilers within the rest of this article. Read at your own risk.
Road to Empyre Prelude
Written by Robbie Thompson with art by Mattia De Iulis and Javier Rodriguez it gives the reader some background on the millennia-old war between the Kree and the Skrulls. The story is told through the lens of a Skrull family on earth as spies and their struggle against a Kree family set to do the same. Even veterans of the Marvel Mythos should read this issue as Thompson does a phenomenal job of making the reader care about a family they just met who are usually set up to be the ‘bad guys’.
Empyre Main Event
Empyre’s main series consists of 6 issues written by Al Ewing and Dan Slott with Valerio Schiti on penciling. The stage is set early on that the Kree and the Skrull Empires have set their differences aside in order to ally against a common threat. United under the leadership of Hulking (Young Avengers) the two empires form a single entity. Their mission is to extinguish the newly resurfaced Cotati Empire. The Cotati are a race of peaceful plant-people.
But as is standard with comics, not everything is as it seems. The event has everything you’d want in a crossover from Marvel Comics; every hero you can think of makes an appearance, there’s lies and deceit, there are deaths and betrayals, and a potential universe ending threat looming on the horizon.
There are four issues in the Avengers tie-ins for Empyre. The first one Empyre: Avengers (2020) is an absolute must-read as it sets up the main Avengers involvement in the conflict just before it begins. The Cotati themselves aren’t new to Marvel canon but are a bit obscure, luckily the book does a good job of catching new readers up on anything they need to know. Written by Al Ewing and with penciling done by Pepe Larraz, this book serves more as an Empyre #0 than an Avenger’s book.
The other three books in this series tie-ins, Empyre: Avengers (2020) #1-3 were a bit lacking. The focus of these three issues is to show how the war of Empyre is spanning earth and how the mightiest heroes are tackling it. It follows battles in New York, Mexico, the Savage Lands, and Wakanda. The biggest problem with this series is that it has so much happening, you don’t get much out of it besides great action sequences.
The Fantastic Four tie-in by Dan Slott is one of the stand-out series of the Empyre event and one I didn’t expect to love as much as I did. It starts out a bit slow, taking place in a space casino which was a small put-off at first. With a massive war looming over the earth I wanted to get back to the action as opposed to whatever the Fantastic Four was about to do.
But these books introduce us to two new and very important characters; Jo-Venn the Kree Chronicle of Blood and N’Kalla Skrull Requiem of Shapeless Souls. Two children chosen to be the living embodiment of the Kree and Skrull War. This series centers around the Richards family children, Franklin and Valeria, as they try to help and protect the children. They play a pivotal part in the conclusion to the series and as such are a must-read. There are also some great guest spots by Spider-Man and Wolverine.
Lords of Empyre
I consider the Lords of Empyre to be essential reading for this event as well. There are three entries in this series, one for Emperor Hulking, one for the Swordsman, and one for Celestial Messiah. Each of these stories is precursors that explain what led each of these central figures to take the path they have to and through Empyre. The Swordsman and the Celestial Messiah specifically are important for new readers to check out.
If you read only one of these three books, the Celestial Messiah is the big one. Without the context granted in this issue, the main antagonist felt a bit flat to me. The majority of the motivation and his rage is explained very well in this book written by Alex Paknadel.
The tie-in issues with the X-Men is an interesting one, it bears no real relevance to the main plot but it was probably the most fun out of all of the tie-ins. The story takes place in Genosha where Scarlet Witch tries to undo one of her past mistakes by reviving millions of mutants from the dead. It doesn’t quite work out and the island is filled with zombie mutants.
Genosha is also the perfect staging ground for the Cotati forces to invade Wakanda, so Empyre: X-Men (2020) #1-4 is literally Plants v Zombies with Magik and a few mutants stuck in the middle.
What makes this run so enjoyable is that each issue is written by a different author. It’s a ton of fun and Magik really gets to shine as she nearly goes off the deep end. Despite its non-stop action-packed pages, the final issue by Jonathan Hickman also manages to find a small, peaceful, and sweet note to end on. While it may not shape any of the final moments of Empyre, it’s absolutely worth the read.
This was my favorite tin-in series for the entire Empyre event. This arc had everything I feel a crossover tie-in should have. It was directly tied to the events of the main event book, it has lasting implications on the Captain Marvel story-line as well. But it’s written in a way that if you’re strictly reading Captain Marvel and not Empyre, you won’t be at a loss.
I highly suggest reading the Captain Marvel tie-ins of Captain Marvel (2019) #18-#21. Then, when you want to go back and read all the other Captain Marvels, you can thank me.
Sadly, the Captain America tie-ins are the ones you can forgo if you’re looking to read only what’s required to follow the main story. The fault in Empyre: Captain America (2020) #1-3 isn’t a fault of the issues themselves. Compared up to the insane events of the X-Men storyline on Genosha, Captain Marvel flying around Earth and through Space and Hulking becoming the Emperor of the Kree\Skrull Alliance, fighting aliens with guns and a shield seems like a step-down.
It’s a perfectly fine Captain America story, and the team of Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Ariel Olivetti capture him perfectly. But, in the end, it’s another story to help form the backdrop of the war and doesn’t take away or add to the major plot arcs of Empyre as a whole.
Want More? Check Out The Other Identity!
After you read the Empyre event, or if you’d like to hear more before you dedicate the time, check out our comics podcast, The Other Identity. Hosted by Robbie Landis and former Marvel Alumni, Ben Morse, this episode tackles all things Empyre. From the best tie-ins and heroes to what worked and what didn’t work, they break it all down.
Robbie and Ben release an episode of the Other Identity every Tuesday. With a focus on DC and Marvel comics and how they influence everyday pop culture, it’s for fans new and old alike. Make sure to subscribe below or wherever you get your podcasts!