Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 108: <i>Empire</i> #3

Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks (more or less), with each week devoted to a single writer. This QUASI-week: Mark Waid. Today's page is from Empire #3, which was published by DC and is cover dated November 2003. Enjoy!

Empire was an Image book that Waid brought over to DC to finish a few years after he started it. It's a story about what happens after a super-villain takes over the world. Here's a hint: things still don't go well.

So these two dudes (one of them, we learn in panel 3, is named Tumbril, while the other is named Lohkyn) are strolling around a futuristic-looking place and they spot Delfi, the girl reading the book in panel 1. With Tumbril's opening joke, Waid gives us some indication about what kind of guy he is, and then when he goes on to talk about marrying Delfi, it's confirmed. He does give us some good information about the situation - Delfi is the daughter of the villain who took over the world (his name is Golgoth, by the way), she's underage (although what is considered "underage" isn't specified), Lohkyn thinks she's dangerous, and her mother was gorgeous too. That's not bad for one page. Lohkyn also tells us that the empire has destroyed quite a lot of the earth, or at least the parts "where a lassie that age might be c'nsidered legal," which gives us an indication of Golgoth's ruthlessness. If that didn't confirm it, the fact that Tumbril and Lohkyn move from the sleek, rarefied area in panel 1 and quickly reach the torture chambers lets us know that this is, in fact, quite a brutal regime. Plus, a new reader might not know this, but Lohkyn is already having sex with Delfi, so his dialogue is dripping with irony.

Barry Kitson drew this (with James Pascoe on inks), and he was a good choice, as he's a fine superhero artist and this is basically a superhero comic that happens to feature mostly bad guys. Delfi is the subject of conversation on the page, so Kitson has to show her prominently in the first panel because she doesn't get any lines to establish her character. The dialogue and the gaze of the two men aim us at Delfi and then on to the second panel, which is nice. Kitson knows that men with shaved heads often look more sinister than those with hair (why is that?), so Tumbril, the main torturer, is bald, while Lohkyn, the nominal hero of the comic, has a nice, hip haircut. Tumbril also has those weird tattoos, and we know that bad guys in comics have weird tattoos! The third panel is a nice one - the skeletons in the front add to the horror, but the writing on the right one shows that even torturers have a sense of humor. Kitson doesn't need to show up close what's going on in the chamber at the back, because the little he does show us gives us a good sense of the terrible stuff going on. The man on the right holding in the vomit is a nice touch, as is the headless body in the foreground of panel 4, because it's not readily obvious what's going on and it's only when we stop and examine the panel do we see those things. Tumbril is getting some kind of metal arm, which he'll use brutally on the next page, attached to his own. Kitson does a nice job in the final panel of showing that Tumbril, for all his bluster, can be frightened, as the mention of Delfi's mother freaks him right out. It's a good place to end the page, too, because we want to know why he's so freaked out!

Despite the fact that this page simply shows two men walking, Waid and Kitson make sure there's a lot going on. Waid does a good job giving some character traits to the the two men, while Kitson adds nice details that bring this world to life. Someone (-thing?) called Bad@$$ colored this comic, and Mr./Ms. Bad@$$ uses the base blues and yellows nicely - we are led subtly to think that Delfi's blue goes with Tumbril's blue, when in fact it's much easier to match Delfi's blue with Lohkyn's yellow. It's a nice hint about Delfi and Lohkyn's situation.

Waid always proves that he knows how to introduce a comic book, even as some of the tricks he might have used - thought balloons, for instance - fell out of fashion. Of course, when he's paired with an artist as good as Kitson, it certainly helps!

Next: Waid goes back to indie comics and back to detective comics. What could it be? I do know it's not in the archives, but lots of other stuff is there!

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