For all that he has ever known, Mark McDonnell has had an overwhelmingly average life. Although he’s been a little down on his luck lately, considering his recently deceased father and some trouble with his boss, his fiancee Katie keeps him afloat — until, that is, the powerful Imperial shows up and turns his life upside down. Steven T. Seagle and Mark Dos Santos’ “Imperial” #1 taps into all the traditional superhero comic tropes for some hit-or-miss moments of fun, but ultimately doesn’t separate itself from this tradition in a bold or innovative new way.
From the outset, Seagle makes it abundantly clear that Mark McDonnell is just your average Joe by writing both narration boxes and dialogue in a universal American accent. Since this dialect doesn’t quite locate the protagonist or serve any function other than to remind the reader of how ordinary the character is, the convention comes across as needless at best and frustrating at worst. Outside of his interaction with Imperial, Mark simply doesn’t demand the reader’s attention with his tendency to drift through the story. In his consistently average existence, the character panders to the white nerd boy stereotype and borders into the realm of wish fulfillment. His fiancee Katie, too, reads like a cookie cutter dream girl with her fawning attentions, tendency to “say things… like guys say,” and her ability to misunderstand but love his hobbies. Likewise, Seagle makes his best attempts at comedy with frat boy humor, including one character mooning another and multiple references to Mark pissing himself. Not all jokes are a total bust, of course, but a lot of them fall under the “unmemorable” category.
Although the story fails to make itself stand out from a plethora of similar stories, Dos Santos does provide the book with a nice, clean look. Brad Simpson contributes to Dos Santos’ clean style with bright, even colors that create a light, fun atmosphere. Dos Santos’ creations act as a love letter to comics culture, especially in the appearance of Imperial. Imperial stands much taller than Mark, with graying temples, the classic unitard and cape, and a strong cleft chin; however, where Imperial’s design borrows from a lot of other established characters, he looks and feels like his own unique product as opposed to some recycled cliche. Similarly, Mark’s room during the packing scene is a treat, with dozens of Easter eggs in the background. Regardless, Dos Santos keeps an impressively steady continuity despite a hefty amount of setting pieces. However, Dos Santos does occasionally fall into repetition with facial expressions — especially wide eyes and a slightly parted lips — that constantly recur, particularly with Mark. That aside, Dos Santos makes a strong show in this first issue.
Like its protagonist, “Imperial” #1 is painfully mediocre. Although the issue has some solid artwork, Seagle and Dos Santos reiterate an old story without any pizzazz.