This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 4, 2015.
History’s greatest heroes and monsters are often defined by similar traits: charisma, force of will, and an undeterrable belief that they are doing the right thing. The difference between good and evil, between King’s followers in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the members of Jonestown, are perfectly obvious to outsiders (especially after decades have passed). Yet to those following either man, there was never much doubt that they were doing the right thing.Imperium #1 by Joshua Dysart and Doug Braithwaite takes a hard look at what it is like to truly believe you’re changing the world for the better, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The story follows the disgraced Toyo Harada as he attempts to change the world using a team of similarly superpowered psiots. Harada has discarded his previous strategy of acting in secret in order to enact his ideas through violent revolution. Imperium #1 is not presented from the perspective of Harada though. It is narrated by Darpan, a young follower raised up from terrible conditions by Harada himself.
Dysart’s choice of narrator has a significant impact on the ability to relate to Harada and his followers. The opening sequence of Imperium #1 presents the ideal that the group is striving for. Set in the distant future, Earth has been transformed into a planet where everyone has equal opportunities and no one must go hungry. Braithwaite brings futuristic landscapes, space stations, and the many boons granted by psiots to life. This future is a utopia.
It is also a lie, a vision bestowed by Harada. In the same way that men like Charles Manson and David Koresh used their voices, he applies his mental powers to convince his followers to do terrible things. The opening sequence itself is not even presented as a vision, but an inevitable outcome, making the revelation that it is the work of Harada’s powers feel like a personal betrayal to the reader.
It’s an incredibly effective choice, one that provides readers the joy and conviction of this cult mentality. When you first open Imperium #1, you want every caption and panel to be the truth because it shows a truly happy ending for all of humanity. That is not the case though. Dysart heightens the experience of a cult through the use of superhero tropes, keeping the emotional experience intact, but adding powers and hyper violence at the end.
Braithwaite is forced to transition quickly between the idealistic vision of the future and the combat of the present midway through the comic. The leisurely exploration of utopian earth makes way for a much more compressed story filled with many new characters. There is not much time to introduce those working with Harada, and the script only provides much of a personality to a golden robot, the most distinctive of his allies. However, Braithwaite does his best to visually distinguish the entire team so as to not confuse who is doing what.
He sometimes relies too much on close ups leaving the geography between pages unclear. It’s not a consistent problem, but in the generic Middle Eastern city in which the battle occurs it can be problematic to tell how everything fits together. The momentum of the battle is always clear though and leads to a climax that clearly reveals the flaws in both Harada and his purported idealism.
Dysart and Braithwaite are exploring fascinating ideas in Imperium #1, applying the superhero genre to one of the most difficult to understand phenomena in modern society. In Harada’s vision they make readers want to believe before revealing the monstrous truth beneath his lies. Imperium #1 is another accessible, interesting, and unique entry point into the ever expanding Valiant universe.