Any Empire


Created by Nate Powell.

A vivid examination of war and violence, and their trickle-down effects on middle America. A group of small-town kids find themselves bound together by geography, boredom, and a string of mysterious turtle mutilations. Years later, with Army tanks rolling through the streets of their hometown, these young adults are forced to confront painful questions of privilege, duty, betrayal, and courage.

Named one of the best graphic novels of the year by BooklistThe AV ClubComic Book ResourcesComplex, and Graphic Novel Reporter, Any Empire recalls aimless summers of Nancy Drew and GI Joe, treehouses and army surplus stores… but when fantasy starts to bleed into reality, whose mission will be accomplished?

It is the late 1980s in Wormwood, Alabama, and young Lee and Purdy are fighting separate wars in the fields behind their houses. Lee has an army of G.I. Joes at his command, ready to jump out of airplanes and evade falling bombs just to save a woman in peril. Hiding in trenches dug in the backyard, he dons his father’s helmet and barks orders with the confidence of a general, owning the duty to keep his men alive.

Purdy, on the other hand, has a much smaller army. He leads a pair of twins through the trees and grass, demanding they follow his orders but is only ignored and belittled for his efforts. They mutiny completely when he refuses to kill an enemy as an example — a turtle held captive as a P.O.W. in a cardboard box, waiting for the baseball bat that will take his life. Without any troops to command, Purdy turns up at Lee’s front door, demanding a follower to boss around. Lee, friendless, eagerly complies.

Meanwhile, Sarah does detective work on the case of the cracked turtle shell. She discovers the wounded turtle in her backyard, clearly the victim of assault with a blunt instrument. She has her money on two prime suspects: the twins, who are often seen skulking around in the trees with baseball bats hoisted on their shoulders. But despite her best investigative work, she needs the help of a not-so-anonymous tip from Lee in order to bring justice forth.

The three kids grow up and grow apart by circumstance. Sarah no longer fights for the justice of wounded turtles. Now she fights for the underprivileged community, seeking to help those who are less fortunate. Lee doesn’t do much of anything; he lays around, gets drunk, and sometimes manages to apply for work. Purdy does what he was always meant to do and enlists in the army, but finds himself back home when he loses an arm and leg stepping on a landmine.

Reality and imagination blur together as the characters come to terms with their unhappy, unspectacular lives. Sarah and Lee fall into ‘hook up’ culture, attracted to each other by the romanticized memories of their childhood and the sheer boredom of small town America. While Purdy, assigned to a training mission with his new prosthetic limbs and accompanied by the twins, drives a tank right into their hometown, directly to Lee and Sarah’s door.

Will Purdy’s disillusionment destroy them all, or will Lee and Sarah be able to convince him that peace is an option?

Any Empire paints a story reminiscent of anyone’s childhood on a canvas of our violence-obsessed culture – diving deep inside the once innocent minds and the resulting heart scars of middle American youth who have grown up surrounded by the images and fetishization of war and violence. Nate Powell’s exploration of the war-culture that began in the ‘80s charts the lives of three children as they grow up and into a broken world whose demands are more violent than the human spirit can bear. In the end, it’s a story that asks if the individual can ever overcome their environment or is their only option to surrender to it.