Empire: Betrayal is the first trade paperback in the Empire monthly series. Initially published as a four part arc in 2002-2003, it was collected in a trade paperback later that year. It is one of the few trade paperbacks in the Empire line to tell only one story.
Empire: Betrayal is an examination of the relationship between Vader and Palpatine set against the backdrop of treason and plotting by some of their most important and notable subordinates. Despite a strong premise and excellent cameo by Boba Fett, in addition to enjoyable performances by Vader and Palpatine, Betrayal falls short of being a good comic due to a horrible narrative structure, mediocre art, and a rushed, incomplete story.
The plot concerns a handful of generals and other people of power and their quest to remove the Sith from the top of the Imperial hierarchy. This means going toe to toe with Vader and Palpatine, something they have planned carefully for and believe they can accomplish. There are roughly five people central to the conspiracy, and it doesn't take long before they all start plotting against one another to assume power after the overthrow. The plot is extremely fast moving and jumps between the conspirators relatively equally, in addition to plenty of scenes featuring Vader and a handful of appearances by the Emperor. This leads to one of the biggest failings of the book as it tries to cram a ton of story into about 120 pages. It does this by rapidly cutting back and forth between each of the characters, sometimes as many as four times on a single page. The style doesn't lend itself well to this particular type of story and we are left with a plot that doesn't develop organically. Many of the scenes initially have a vague or indiscernible purpose only revealed after a scene later in the story. Wordless scenes thrust upon the reader without context serve only to confuse and in the end bring little to the plot. There was plenty of potential here, but perhaps the arc deserved six issues instead of four, as it has been compounded to the point of irrelevance, outside of the parts dealing only with Vader or Palpatine.
The biggest shame of this is that we are given a band of conspirators that could be at least halfway interesting, but are rendered completely bland due to the sheer lack of face time. Trachta, the cybernetic ringleader featured on the cover, has the most potential as a line early on establishes that he has had a cordial relationship with Palpatine for many decades. This raises some interesting questions, none of which are answered at any point in the story. Where did things go wrong between the two? What exactly was their relationship? What role did Trachta play in the Old Republic? We aren't told any of this stuff, and in the end Trachta is little more than a cool looking, but ultimately empty, villain. The rest of the traitors are even more vague, and substantially less visually appealing, so the result is that the entire party of antagonists feel like nothing more than a flimsy opposition for Vader and Palpatine to annihilate.
Luckily Vader and Palpatine manage to redeem the comic through the sheer number of visually impressive scenes the duo take part in. Each gets to display an impressive amount of physical power, while Palpatine shows off his traditional level of cunning in handily disarming the conspirator's plot. Vader has a great scene in which he fights off an army of mercenaries with the help of Boba Fett (an event that perhaps sets up their later relationship) and the temptation offered to him by a rogue dark Jedi begging to be his apprentice presents the most important characterization in the entire story. The only element of either character I disliked was Vader in the context of the time period Betrayal allegedly takes place in- just months before A New Hope. Vader's struggles with his past and challenging relationship with the Emperor seem out of place this deep in the timeline. Other than that, the two salvage the entire literary element of this comic.
|Pretty much the only visually interesting character introduced in Betrayal.|
The artwork does little to improve the comic, although there are some extremely impressive action panels. Considering how bland and forgettable the conspirators are, it hardly comes as a surprise that outside the two most visually striking, Trachta and Gauer, the rest of the group is extremely hard to distinguish between. All are male, white, and human with no defining facial characteristics or imaginative clothing. The faces themselves are often highly stylized, making use of the pencil heavy style prominent throughout the book to convey expressions of extreme anguish and confusion, though the art is at a loss when it comes to showing any other kind of emotion. Additionally, the stormtroopers and Boba Fett have strangely square shaped helmets that don't look anything like what we see in the movies.
|One of my favorite Palpatine moments EVER culminates in this impressive display.|
The art does manage to capture some things really well though. Action scenes are great and the Emperor showcases his power in a most impressive display that makes his force use in Return of the Jedi look paltry by comparison. Vader is portrayed a bit weirdly, functioning more like a nimble assassin than the hulking brute from the films, but it is enjoyable enough to overlook. There is a nice mix of aliens and interesting visuals in background sequences too, it is just a shame that none of the variety and diversity seen in the background was applied to the characters that made up the antagonizing organization.
Empire: Betrayal has some promising ideas, but shoehorning them all into four issues takes quite a bit of the punch from the central one and robs us of potentially intriguing characters. Don't buy it for the art either, as it is decidedly average and fails to bring to life many of the new characters we are introduced to here. Fans of Vader and Palpatine, and especially their dynamic as master-apprentice will find something to enjoy here, but the average reader will want to stay away from this mess.