Written by Steven T. Seagle
Art by Mark Dos Santos
Published by Image Comics
In his Eisner winning graphic novel It’s a Bird, Steven T Seagle wrote about how he had trouble coming up with a Superman story that meant something to him while also coming to terms with his father’s Huntington’s Disease. Imperial #1 has a similar theme of “coming to terms”, but places it squarely in the superhero genre. In the opening pages, not the sharpest knife in the drawer Mark McDonnell finds out that his dead father was the superhero Imperial that he read about in comic books. But Seagle eschews the overseriousness of recent superhero origin stories and retellings (*cough* Man of Steel) and mines the genre for humor starting with Imperial having ashes coming off his costume when Mark accidentally dumps some on himself. Mark isn’t a particularly intelligent character, but he is extremely likable because of his sense of humor, love for comics and pop culture, and most of all, he cares for his fiancee Katie. Along with the slapstick and dialogue humor, the focus on interpersonal relationships is what makes Imperial #1 a great read as Mark would rather get married and settle down with the love of his life than go on adventures with someone who talks like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Thor.
Mark Dos Santos’ art really sells the relationship between Mark and Katie and helps them come out of the first issue as fully formed characters. They are always close to each other in the panels, and their facial expressions show the repartee they have with each other along with Seagle’s dialogue. Dos Santos also has a real knack for facial expressions and shows Mark’s reactions to a superhero from his childhood who also happens to be his father with little changes in his eye and mouth position. The reaction panels are great punchlines to Seagle’s jokes. The comedy is also a good mix of lowbrow and highbrow with bathroom jokes getting followed up by a clever parody of the language that Silver Age superheroes used. But Seagle doesn’t poke fun at superheroes themselves and plays Imperial pretty straight as a character even if his dialogue is outrageously anachronistic.
Imperial #1 does have a few problems. Dos Santos’ figure work and story is clear, but his backgrounds are sometimes sparse and generic even in the opening scene set in the Colorado wilderness. Katie also brings up that Mark had some problems with his dad, but they aren’t elaborated on in this issue. But, for the most part, Imperial #1 is a charming superhero origin story with an unlikely hero that isn’t completely clueless because he has read the adventures of the hero he is becoming in a comic. This is a nice nod to the Pre-Crisis origin of Barry Allen’s The Flash, who had read about the previous Flash, Jay Garrick, in comics when he was a kid. Steven T. Seagle and Mark Dos Santos create a character who has to “come to terms” with his heroic legacy even if he doesn’t have room for saving the world and adventures in life. However, the comic never gets too dark and serious, and the lighthearted tone along with the relatable characters make Imperial #1 a nice addition to the superhero genre.