Image’s new comic series Eternal Empire arrived in its second issue this week, created by the team who brought us Alex + Ada, Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, and also featuring a male and female character, counterparts in a fantasy world that feels both sci-fi and mythological at the same time.
The first issue of Eternal Empire introduced our main female character, the enslaved and difficult life she lives as a worker, and her strange visionary pull to escape her constrained life. The overarching plot that affects these characters’ lives is that the “Eternal Empress” has waged war against the countries of Saia for over 100 years and she’s aiming for the last country still outside her power at the time of the comic series’ opening.
This new issue introduces our main male character, stuck working for the Empire, his horrific and laborious existence in a culture that reminds us of pyramid-building in ancient Egypt, and his own pull toward fleeing, taking risks that seem driven by a peculiar destiny too.
The cover for issue #2 interlocks with issue #1, suggesting this is a two-part introduction to the world of Eternal Empire and that when this issue concludes we are somewhat prepared for the roll-out of a resistance attempt by these enslaved or soon-to-be enslaved peoples.
Luna and Vaughn use a very decompressed style in their storytelling on this series so far that gives the reader room to breath and investigate the detail in the panels, giving us more of a sense of texture in the world of the comic. We also are given the opportunity to “hear” the thoughts of our main characters to help fill us in on their internal reactions, whether their brewing resistance to their lack of agency in their lives, or to their sudden, vision-based flashes that seem to be drawing them to take strange, almost impossible journeys that will lead them to each other.
Because this comic evokes a big world, with at least a hundred years of relevant history, it’s helpful that the creators try to situate us firmly within the lives of two main characters. We can then see the conditions they live in through their own eyes and become more firmly invested in seeing what actions they are prepared to take.
It’s also appealing to me as a reader that neither character is presented as some kind of astonishingly heroic or powerful figure. They both come from enslaved classes, and their reaction and ire to their suffering seems familiar, human, and not necessarily over-the-top. While these two characters are clearly “special” and chosen in some way to change the fate of their world, they aren’t gods-in-the-machine who seem preternaturally invincible. They get struck, beaten, roll around in the sand, and aren’t above fighting dirty to survive.
These are characters we can follow and root for, not feel we have to worship. The uncanny power that they do seem to have, discovered in the first issue, is the “warmth” and “heat” that builds until they seem to control a form of electricity or fire. Refreshingly, they have no idea how to control it, and they are as likely to destroy each other as an enemy they might have in mind.
Eternal Empire is a beautifully illustrated comic with an interesting atmosphere and well-paced storytelling that introduces you to a potentially large sweep of social upheaval on an alien world that’s still building up. The first and second issues situate you well with these characters, show you their potential, but also realistically suggest the scope of what they are bound to be fighting against. Eternal Empire looks to get even more interesting from here on out.
Eternal Empire #2 arrived in shops this week, on Wednesday, June 7th, 2017.