If you missed out on the controversy surrounding the events leading up to Secret Empire, then here’s a recap. It was revealed in Nick Spencer’s run of Captain America that Steve Rogers was a Hydra spy all along. I know what your thinking… so is he a clone? A doppelganger? Brain-washed? or maybe a evil alternate dimension version of Captain america? Well the big kicker is that its none of the above.
He is the real Captain America.
As you can imagine this caused quite a stir with Marvel fans. There was quite a backlash with many seeing this as a betrayal of the character and everything he stood for.
Following this, ‘Secret Empire’ the event that was supposed to conclude this story arc was on the receiving end of a lot of hatred before anyone even got to read. It’s a shame as I think it’s a very enjoyable read, blessed with some excellent character development and memorable moments. But at the same time, I understand why some fans would be put off by the controversy alone. Marvel has plenty of flawed superheroes, many who have had their moment of darkness, especially Tony Stark, Hank Pym and Carol Danvers. We always want to see our favorite heroes take on new challenges, but sometimes just seeing them take on more down to earth challenges such as Tony Stark’s drinking problem can be more interesting than whether he can defeat Whiplash.
However, while Tony Stark has a long history of being a flawed character, Captain America has remained an untainted icon. A character who always does the right thing, who sticks to his ideals, incorruptible and has been a symbol of selfless heroism outside and inside the Marvel universe for nearly 77 years. So to see him upholding the values and ideals of Hydra, really felt like a kick in the teeth for fans.
So where do I stand on this controversial move? Am I offended? Do I feel they’ve ruined this character?
Not at all! As a long time Marvel fan, I’ve seen Captain America die, be replaced twice, change into a 90 year old man and now this. Marvel can write themselves out of anything and this is not going to taint Captain America. They are the grand old masters of taking comics in weird and polarizing angles and then reverting back to square one in a year or two. This is one of things that make comics a fun medium. With classic series like Captain America that have been around since the 40’s, it has become much harder to shock and intrigue the readers after 70-80 years so I don’t blame them for being a bit daring to avoid things getting stale.
This wont taint the legacy of Captain America, Marvel will make sure of this. Remember when Thor was a Frog? Remember when Iron Man’s armour fell in love with him? Did they have a lasting impact? No. Did they taint the character? No, it was just comics being comics. This is not a situation like Hank Pym being abusive or Iron Man starting a war. This is just something done for temporary shocks and to get people talking.
So looking past the controversy, how does Secret Empire hold up? Was it a story worth telling?
A big yes.
It’s a story that works not only as a stand alone epic but as a solid conclusion to multiple previous events.
I should mention that I chose to wait until the story had fully concluded and was bound into a brick-sized trade paperback. I recommend reading Marvel events this way, as I can only imagine how sluggish and dragged out they must feel if read from issue to issue. Luckily, Secret Empire feels really well paced, even with such an intimidating length.
There has definitely been some pretty forgettable events in the past but Secret Empire stands tall with strong themes that feel more relevant today than ever. Themes like don’t buckle to fear, question things, fight fear head on, hope can be found in even the most dire of times and my personal favorite, family.
If you’ve been following Marvel for a while you will notice an ongoing theme of the Superhero universe feeling like a dysfunctional family that’s always at war over something. Since Civil War, the Superhero versus theme has been a guaranteed issue seller. There have been so many events focused on pitting superhero teams against themselves rather than villains (World War Hulk, Avengers vs X-men, Inhumans vs X-men, Civil War II.)
For some fans they feel Marvel has taken this too far and although Secret Empire may feel like just another one of these, it does attempt to address this trend and feels like a bookend to all these events. There are some well used references to Planet Hulk, Avengers Standoff, both Civil War I & II, the origins of Ultron and more. All of these references don’t feel like throwaways, they only strengthens what the story is trying to accomplish. As someone who has read all those titles, I came out of it feeling there was a lot of payoff to be found in this story.
With a story like this, we see our heroes at their most flawed and most beaten down. Every character has their moment in the sun. Characters like Iron Man, Black Widow, Hank Pym and the Punisher stand out and feel well explored and given many highlight moments. Marvel has always had a knack for making their characters relatable, down to earth, sometimes flawed but still likable (for the most part.)
Nick Spencer has done a wonderful job showing both sides of the war, and takes time to explore their sides and their perspective of events. Although I could never route for Hydra Captain America, I could at least understand their goals and drove them. Spencer made the right decision not to write Captain America as a mustache twirling villain, but as a man who is convinced he is making the world a better place, for everyone. He regrets every casualty along the way, and vows to bring them all back once his vision of Hydra Utopia is realized.
The art was well done and fit with the story, however, I still wish Marvel could have one artist commit to drawing this event. It didn’t hurt my experience as this is pretty common place in Marvel comics to switch artists in the same event, but I do feel having one artistic voice would be benefit their events.
Overall, I feel this was a great entry with a satisfying conclusion. I came out of it happy and not feeling that Captain America had been ruined. I think if you pick up the trade and go into it with a open mind, you will probably have a fun time.
Image belong to Marvel