Writer: Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna
Pencils: Jonathan Luna
Colours: Jonathan Luna
Letterer: Jonathan Luna
Cover: Jonathan Luna
Publisher: Image Comics
Ahead of the October release of Eternal Empire Issue #5, we review the first four instalments in the new epic fantasy series, created by Jonathan Luna (Alex + Ada, The Sword) and Sarah Vaughn (Alex + Ada, Ruined) in association with Image Comics. Here’s what the latter had to say before the launch of the debut issue:
The Eternal Empress has waged war against the countries of Saia for over one hundred years and now her sights are set on the last country standing. Within the brutal Empire’s workforce, a young woman receives strange visions that give her the courage to escape her fate…or run straight toward it.
The first issue opens with a prologue, a scatter of panels which alludes to the war raging in Saia. Set 141 years before the main story, the interaction between the chanting women of Karabon and their Daraka (a dragon-like beast) hints at later significance, with great attention paid to the three suns overhead and their overall alignment.
Issue #1 & 2 ultimately tell the same story, albeit from different perspectives. Tair and Rion – two slave workers caught up in the Empress’s war machine, both escape the clutches of the Crimson Guards and join up together, with both receiving visions which guide them to a forest in Amdor. Together they are capable of wielding a deadly fire, though it takes them a frightful encounter with the Empire’s soldiers to master it. Having narrowly escaped with their lives, the pair of fugitives decide their only hope for survival will be to make a dash for the country of Nifaal – the last western country yet to fall to the Empress and her armies.
The team of Luna and Vaughn, who achieved critical acclaim with Alex + Ada, do offer something new with this epic fantasy series. Primarily, it’s in the creation of a world which does not seem to adhere to the standard Medieval Europe setting; much of the comic’s worldbuilding actually has an “Avatar: Legend of Aang” type Eastern flavour, a feature which is refreshingly distinct. Although only four issues old, the writers do not shy away from exploring this world through the eyes of the reader, giving us panel after panel of grand Middle Earth-esque landscape shots. In terms of characterisation, our heroes are fleshed out with backstories which would befit Kathniss Everdeen or her District 12 compatriots, with more than one scene blurring the line between epic fantasy and post-apocalyptic fiction. What keeps this comic unique however, is its insistence on true-to-life colour schemes, artwork and pencilwork.
As the series progresses to issues #3 & 4, and Tair and Rion are forced to use their newfound powers against the Empire’s bullies again, it becomes clear the comic will struggle to bring the quest-like nature of epic fantasy to bear in such short space. Luna and Vaughn have given us a wide world to explore, but have yet to fill it with the cultures, flora and fauna necessary for good fantasy. The dialogue here also begins to tend to exposition, while large chunks of the world disappear under the feet of the main characters who are propelled to where the plot needs them. Issue #4 plugs many of these holes by sacrificing a few pages to show us just how brutal the Empire has become, and these images give the story added weight.
Overall, while the Empress has only one country left in her path, it would appear “Eternal Empire” at large has many more battles to fight before it can claim to a crown in the fantasy genre.