Book Review: Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulkling ★★★1/2

Marvel Comics has finally kicked off its much delayed summer “crossover event”, the intergalactic epic titled Empyre, and at the core is Teddy Altman, the gay superhero named Hulkling.

Empyre puts Earth in the center of a battle between the recently reconciled Kree/Skrull Alliance (the waring races in the Captain Marvel movie) and the Cotati, who unfortunately happen to be trying to take over the Earth right now – pitting Marvel’s super-humans against an alien invasion while trying to stop the big space fleet from putting Earth in the firing line. Sitting on the throne of the Kree/Skrull Alliance is the shapeshifting Kree/Skrull hybrid, Emperor Dorrek VIII – aka Hulking.

Two issues in (or six depending on how you count it – Marvel and their prologues and side-issues, etc.) and Hulking has mostly been dealing with the political and military aspects of his role as Emperor, keeping his personal life on the side. But now, thanks to writers Chip Zdarsky and Anthony Oliveira, and art team Manuel Garcia, Cam Smith and Triona Farrell, Teddy gets the personal spotlight with the Emperor Hulking one-shot.

Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulking

And it’s about damn time, as one-half of Marvel Comics’ longest queer relationship the lack of references to his fiancé (fellow superhero Wiccan aka Billy Kaplan), was beginning to seem pointed. In Emperor Hulking we get the backstory behind Teddy’s ascendancy to the throne (it’s been a long time coming) and how he and Wiccan are getting along. 

Long distance relationships can be hard, as Teddy and Billy know, and while Teddy has friends in New York (like Billy’s brother Tommy aka Speed and David aka Prodigy of the X-Men) he’s still finding it tough. But when he finds out that he’s the key to ending a war that raged for generations, Teddy heads into space to become Emperor Dorrek – making his long-distance relationship even longer.

Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulking

Zdarsky has been knocking it out of the park with his Marvel Comics work, proving he can blend the big superhero punches with equally impressive personal dramatics (his current run on Daredevil is excellent, as is Sex Criminals, his independent collaboration with Matt Fraction). Here we finally get a “queer eye” on the big intergalactic story. Zdarsky and Oliveira blend jokes into the drama that keep the book light and fun making the emotional beats later in the story hit even harder – it’s a personal point-of-view lacking in the main Empyre series which has been a bit punches-by-numbers so far.

Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulking

Empyre will take over most of Marvel’s publishing slate for the next three months, spilling out into most of their titles as well as the main core mini-series (currently looking like 50+ issues of story), and with a queer character at its center there is a real chance for Marvel to show its commitment to representation. But, if the ‘gay stuff’ has been shuffled into the comic-book-closet in this single issue, then it will be a sad sign of cowardice from comics biggest publisher.

UPDATE *minor spoilers*: Fears averted – “gay stuff” everywhere! After referencing their marriage in issue 4, the penultimate issue of the core Empyre miniseries gives us the full story of Hulking & Wiccan’s marriage, including a cameo from the character’s co-creators Allan Heinberg and Jimmy Cheung. Marvel promise more to come in another issue, Empyre: Avengers Aftermath #1.

By Chad Armstrong

Marvel Comics’ Lords of Empyre: Emperor Hulking is out now at your local comic book retailer or digital comics app.

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