Man oh man what a dark vision this story is. It takes as its starting point a “what if” that every comics fan has wondered at one time or another: what if a villain actually did conquer the Earth? What then?
Such a world is a very ugly place. A world where the villain conquers the earth is one where war is a daily constant, where security is paramount, where the government is always watching you, and torture is an accepted fact of life. It’s a world where drug-addicted governmental ministers stand at the beck and call of the villain Golgoth, where even these super-powered lieutenants live in fear of the man in the gold body armor who holds their fates in his hydraulic fists. It’s a world where Golgoth is a man to be feared, and for good reason. He’s a man who’s willing to sacrifice anything to achieve his goals.
Who better than Mark Waid to explore this idea? Waid, who’s written nearly every major comics character from Superman to Archie to Wolverine, brings unique insights into comic book villainy to this book. He uses an interesting trick in Empire – by focusing mainly on Golgoth’s assistants rather than Golgoth himself, Waid intensifies the horror of Golgoth. By showing that the petty palace intrigues are mere flecks in Golgoth’s world, Waid shows the massive power and intelligence of the man. In the second half of the book, then, when things focus more closely on Golgoth, his shocking actions make much more sense to us.
Still, I felt frustrated in the end by all that Waid left out. He intentionally never shows us the face behind the mask, even making a veiled allusion to that fact in the story. Just as we never see Golgoth’s face, so do we never really learn much about him as a person. We never know what drives him to this insane, obsessive rise to power. By not knowing that, we really see him as nothing more than a sadistic megalomaniac. I’m sure that was Waid’s point in great part. At the same time it detracts from Empire as a whole that Golgoth is barely above being a cipher.
Barry Kitson’s art is wonderful in this book. Bright and fresh, with clean lines and excellent use of stock poses, Kitson is the perfect artist for this type of comic book. He’s a terrific super-hero artist, so using him in a comic devoted to a super-villain is a good choice.
This is a very well-done comic, but not necessarily entertaining. It’s appropriately violent for a comic with this subject matter, and it’s quite well-written and drawn. But after reading this “what if”, by the end I found myself almost regretting I had asked the question. After spending time with Golgoth and his hordes, I felt very glad the good guys always win.