Evil Empire 1
Written by Max Bemis
Illustrated by Ransom Getty
One of the things that the Star Wars prequels got right (I know, I know, those are fighting words) was the idea that the good and benevolent Republic wasn't taken over by the Empire, it gradually became the Empire. How does something like that happen in the "real world"? Could it happen to America now?
Evil Empire 1 is the first issue in a miniseries written by "Say Anything"* lead singer Max Bemis and illustrated by Ransom Getty, which sets out to answer these questions. It's an ambitious series with an intriguing premise and a clear point of view, but not without a few issues as well.
The story begins with a scene that takes place twenty-five years from now. We see enough to understand that the world has radically transformed; what appears to be law enforcement now walks around menacingly with black and red armbands and partial facemasks. Getty's visual storytelling is very effective here, as it's easy to understand both the fear and resignation on the face of the "Good Samaritan" for whom things don't end well. This is a very strong hook to start off the series; if this is "Point B" you'll want to know how society got from "Point A" (the present day) to Point B (with fascist-looking brownshirts wandering the streets, clearly evocative of Nazi Germany). So the reader already knows this story won't have a happy ending.
Bemis then jumps back in time to the present day where we see Reese Underwood, famous rock star/anarchist/radical (someone along the lines of M.I.A.) performing in a club, and we have a few pages of her singing a politically and socially charged song.** She returns to her dressing room after the show and is watching television where a typical family conservative vs Clintonesqe liberal is set up. As Underwood is watching the commercial, Sam Duggins (the liberal) himself shows up at her dressing room to introduce himself to Underwood, doing nothing to impress her. When. Laramy's (the conservative's) wife Courtney is murdered, Duggins and Underwood's lives intersect, and the series ends at that service, on a very dramatic note that sets up further issues.
This is an intriguing premise and this first issue is strong enough to make a reader curious about what happens next. The character's personalities are strongly portrayed. Underwood clearly takes her politics and her role as a radical seriously, and you can feel only a slight bit of self-mockery here (by Bemis) as she is a successful and rich rock star singing about radically upending the social order. Duggins is an interesting character as well, as he's young and full of energy and idealism, and mostly likable and humble. Getty's art really helps one get a sense for these characters, as the facial acting and body language feel genuine. Bemis (as a songwriter) has a definite way with words and this book conveys a distinct point of view and the political agenda and feel of the book are refreshing and welcome. However, this is a fairly wordy book, and the characters sometimes lapse into a "speechifying" mode of discussion that feels not quite how people really talk to one another.
That aside, this is a solid debut issue which gives you a number of reasons (with some genuine WTF moments) to come back and enjoy the dark descent into fascism.
* The band, not the classic 1989 movie. God, that was a good movie.
** It will be interesting to see whether Bemis records a version of this song.