Secret Empire #1 (of 9) (Marvel Comics)
To say that Marvel’s Secret Empire has been controversial would be the understatement of the year. Fans have been voicing their displeasure over the “Hydra Cap” storyline for a year now, so much so that Marvel had to issue a special press release that asked them to hold judgment until they read the new event to completion (and that SPOILER ALERT Captain America will be back to normal by the time it’s over). Now the storyline that Nick Spencer has been building to since last year’s Steve Rogers Captain America is here. With Cap’s “true allegiance” now in the open, the battle begins for the soul of Marvel’s greatest hero. But removed from all the hype and headlines, how does Secret Empire stack up as the latest in the long line of Marvel events?
Well, it’s definitely something. Look, we all know that Cap will be back to normal by the time this thing wraps up, but that doesn’t mean it’s not really weird reading the events of Secret Empire play out. It’s very hard to read this opening issue and not think of current events, and Spencer goes to great lengths to reference certain things multiple times, almost to the point where you want to throw the book down and say “alright already, I GET IT!” I’m usually able to separate art from reality really well, but even here I had trouble with the sheer amount of references to the real world in this issue. In fact, there are so many references that I wonder how it will cause this event to age years from now.
With Hydra now in control of America, and Steve Rogers in charge of the new Hydra Council, the Marvel Universe is very different from the one we’ve known for years. With Hydra forces everywhere, and many of the Marvel heroes either trapped in space or in the Void Dimension in New York City, it falls on a small band of heroes lead by Black Widow and Hawkeye to rebel against the new world order and bring Steve Rogers back to his senses.
While this is the first issue of Secret Empire, Nick Spencer throws so much at you that you wouldn’t be confused if you thought you missed something before this issue. In order to completely understand the back-story here, you’d need to not only read Secret Empire #0 , but also Spencer’s Steve Rogers: Captain America run as well, which strikes as being completely against the idea of these big Marvel events being easily accessible for new readers. If this issue was so dependent on reading Secret Empire’s zero issue, then why not make it the number one issue, and then have this be issue two?
Of course, that wouldn’t really matter anyways, since I’ve been following Steve Rogers and read Secret Empire #0 and even then had some trouble connecting point A to point B, especially when it comes to certain members of Steve Rogers’ “Avengers” (why exactly is Thor Odinson on this team with Taskmaster, Superior Octopus, and Black Ant?). At the same time though, there’s moments where Spencer spends too much time explaining events and plot points that don’t really need them. The hook of this series is that Cap has been a secret Hydra agent for years. We don’t need multiple scenes reminding us of this.
Marvel is going to have a different artist handle each issue of Secret Empire in hopes of it keeping a semi-regular schedule, and our first artist up is Steve McNiven. I’m a giant fan of the Old Man Logan and Civil War artist, but I’ll be honest, there are pages here that don’t even look like they are drawn by him. The issue starts off great, with the exact kinds of epic panels and pages you’d expect from McNiven. But half way through the book the quality of the art drops so suddenly that I had to check the credits on the title page to make sure that there wasn’t a fill in artist somewhere in the book. With such a huge name on this first issue, it’s a shame that the art drops so quickly.
Marvel’s known for taking a mirror to the “real world” around us, but this time the glare from that mirror may be too much for some. Maybe in a different time Secret Empire could’ve been the next big Marvel event, but right now it’s mired in too much controversy and real world events to be enjoyable. Here’s hoping Captain America, and Marvel, find their way by the time this event wraps.