Writer: Steven T. Seagle
Artist: Marco Dos Santos
Publisher: Image Comics
“Imperial #1” doesn’t necessarily try a whole lot of new tricks, but it does blend familiar comic book elements to the point that the new Image series is imaginative, compelling, and, most importantly, fun. The concept so far is simple; our everyman protagonist is disposing of his father’s ashes on a mountain when suddenly the world’s greatest superhero, Imperial, drops from the sky and indicates that it’s time for Mark to join him. We’ve seen this song and dance before. Mark, a simple hick from the sticks, doubts his sanity rather than embrace the absurdly-powered being invading his life. All of this occurs while Mark and his fiance plan their wedding, stacking up all the stresses of impending adulthood against the possibility of actually becoming Superman.
This is reasonably standard fare. So what is it that sets Imperial apart? In the first issue, characterization is the true stand out. Mark is an extraordinarily ordinary individual. He’s not even the misunderstood outcast and rebel awaiting his higher power in the vein of Harry Potter or Hal Jordan. He’s just a simple kind of man. When Imperial first swoops in on him, Marks wets himself then rambles all kinds of blather at Imperial: “You scared the piss outta me man. You literally scared the pee out of me.” This simplicity is lovable, as is his affection for his fiance. He loves his partner because she “talks like a dude” and although it’s only one issue in, their relationship has the feeling of one built to last.
And then there’s Imperial. The all-white-everything Superman brings to mind Mark Grayson’s Viltrumite father in Robert Kirkman’s Invincible. He’s an effortlessly majestic presence, leaving little doubt that he’s a wholesome do-gooder with enough power to conquer the world if he so desired. The best aspect of Imperial, though, is the pitch-perfect hero speak that he uses. Every line is a regally constructed ode to King James, the type of two-dollar words Mark would say come from a man who “talks funny.”
Throughout its first issue, Imperial utilizes a few other techniques and thematic elements that elevate the plot. One of the most memorable is the use of comics within comics. I’m a sucker for this trick, probably first falling in love with the device during Alan Moore’s and Alan Davis’s Miracleman (Marvelman, whatever). As it turns out, Imperial is both real-world hero and comic book character. Mark is revealed to be a comic book fan (classic one-of-us move) and has several issues of Imperial which we view in the mid-section of this book.
The solicits for Imperial label it a “superhero comedy,” which is a bit misleading. This isn’t laugh-out-loud funny material ala Sex Criminals. That said, it’s an incredibly fun and pleasant book to read. There’s a lot of strong characterization for a first issue, the plot is easy to follow, and the book is taking a look at how comics can come between you and marriage. OK, I may be inserting my issues into the thematic resonance there, but Imperial is good, fun comic book entertainment worth a shot.
“Imperial #1” earns 8.0 / 10