More graphic novels! Like the last batch, both Mark Waid’s Empire and Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, vol. 2 are explicitly superhero books; but they’re superhero books with a political twist.
The political side of Empire is fairly obvious — the premise is that a super-villain has, for once, succeeded in his goal. He’s taken over the world and rules as dictator. So... now what? Despite the super-powerful premise, the actual meat of the story is largely personal. Waid isn’t concerned about the effects that super-villainous domination has on the world; he’s concerned about the effects it has on the super-villain and the people around him. While it’s definitely not a modern classic, Empire is an enjoyable, above-average read due to the well-drawn, complex characters.
The Ultimates is closer to a conventional superhero book. On one level, this is an Ultimate universe reboot of the Avengers — it’s the story of a super-group featuring Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, the Wasp, and Giant Man. But, like all the Ultimate books, it’s been dehokified. This isn’t just a band of do-gooders who decided to join together in the purity of their hearts, it’s a media-savvy team put together largely for PR purposes by an intelligence arm of the U.S. government. And while Captain America is still noble and pure of heart, as befits an idealized World War II hero, the rest of the crew is a bit less so. Bruce Banner obviously has some issues, Giant Man’s a wife-beater, Iron Man’s more than a bit feckless, Thor’s a hippie (and his purported divine status is considered by the other characters to be an eccentricity), and so on. This could have played out as nasty and cynical, but (one really horrible France-bashing line of Captain America’s aside) it doesn’t. I don’t know how well the book’s narrative will be sustained over a longer run, but so far, it’s right up there with Ultimate Spider-Man in the top echelon of superhero comics.