Secret Empire #1 Review
Writer: Nick Spencer
Art Team: Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, & Matthew Wilson
Release Date: May 3, 2017
Cover Price: $4.99
Captain Hydra Begins
Well the event Secret Empire has begun and set the Internet and Twitter off, which in all fairness doesn’t take very much nowadays. You don’t have to travel very far to find a ‘Rant or Rave’ article, on any comic book related publication, which will either vilify or support the latest cog in the Marvel event machine. I’ve personally just tried coming into these reviews ignoring all that social justice nonsense in an attempt to tell you whether or not I think what’s on the pages of this comic book series is simply worth the price of admission being charged. So what exactly is the take from someone who’s not a ‘political guy’ and doesn’t have a dog in the fight? Why don’t you jump in and find out.
The Story has apparently moved forward in time either several days, weeks, or even possibly a month or more as events to issue #1 kick off in Greensboro. The opening pages check in on what seems to be a normal everyday Dad dropping his child off at school. It’s here Americas fate is slowly revealed, due to fallout from events of last issues Hydra takeover spearheaded by Captain America. We get glimpses of schools now being run with Hydra influenced teachings, Inhuman rights violations run amok due to Hydra sponsored activities, all culminating with, our Dad from the beginning of the story, throwing up a lunchbox just as Hydra secret police arrive to arrest him as a ‘non-registered’ Inhuman. If this guys an Inhuman that the worst power ever!!!
Next we check in on Captain Marvel still stuck in space behind the Earth’s defense shield, sending out a message, in what looks to be a last ditch effort to get to anyone listening capable of doing something to help her and the others stranded. How long have they been stuck up here fighting Chitari is unclear but they're running outta juice and juiceboxes fast!
After our credits page, we move on to Las Vegas, as we check in on a character who I was convinced was Miles Morales for the first several pages he’s featured. Anyway, the young boy runs through an ally away from a Hydra police force before being saved by the Champions (made up of Totally Awesome Hulk, Falcon, Wasp, and Ultimate Spider-Man). The group rescues the young Miles look alike, while fending off even more Hydra, this time Sentinel-like robot reinforcements, ultimately escaping their reach to safety.
From there we move to our first glimpses of this new version of Captain America in this issue, confronting a Monster Unleashed-esque villain, storming through Denver. Captain Hydra tells him to return from the “hole (he) came from” or die where he stands. The towering monster simply laughs at the Captain’s request quickly suffering the consequences its forewarned about at the hands of the new Hydra sponsored Avengers team featuring Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Deadpool, Taskmaster, and a few others. There isn’t much explanation, at this moment anyway, for who or why the heroes were picked, or choose to join Captain America in the first place, which to me is bothersome, especially establishing sides in yet another Civil War type situation.
Then the politics kick in and the story slows to a crawl for the remaining page count as we get a lot of talking, along with a glimpse of how the Hydra sponsored America operates, with what is a cabinet of advisers to Captain America. We see its not all unicorns and rainbows for team Hydra with the story jumping around a lot at this point, with Captain American trying at times to re-establish certain ties with old friends, like Sharon Carter and Rick Flag. His purpose for these meetings seems to be an attempt to convince his old friends his decisions are better for them in the long run, something he even looks like he has trouble believing at points, despite the actions he's taken and will take in the future.
The book also focuses heavily on a ‘Resistance’ force of heroes run by Hawkeye, Black Widow, and a drunk version of the Tony Stark A.I., yes you read that correctly, accompanied by the Champions and the rescued kid from the books beginning. Some blanks are filled in on attempts heroes have made to gain some ground back in this fight against Hydra all which have yielded large causalities and mission failures. The heroes new mystery guest claims to have information to possibly turn the tide of battle, which most everyone ignores for story convenience for one reason or another, I guess for the purposes of really making our heroes come off as defeated, clinging to very little hope moving forward. However its a thread left hanging for now.
The story begins its conclusion as Captain America starts to make some long put off decisions, really bringing an iron fist down on any possible remaining hope our heroes held on too. Orders for Rick Flag to be put to death are enacted, along with a full out Hydra sponsored attack on Las Vegas, the home of the Resistance, and few remaining hopes seemingly left in the country as our issue comes to a close.
Overall I have very mixed feelings on this comic book event so far because while I do appreciate the risk that Marvel as a company has taken in publishing a story so controversial to so many I find the way it’s being told, especially here in the early going, results in a lack of the heavy emotional impact its striving so hard for. This whole cosmic cube nonsense hasn't been handled well in this series, its barely addressed, and all new readers know is it 'changes' things thus far, so we just sit back waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm just reading a ‘What If’ waiting to arrive to at its conclusion but it will take 8 more issues to do so instead of the old fashioned one and done format. On top of that since Marvel has come out pleading for customer patience, and since spoiled the ending, while also announcing a NEW relaunch in Marvel: Legacy this fall, I'm struggling with a reasons to care and again there are still eight more issues to go, with endless tie-ins, obviously meant to beat this dead horse for all its worth.
The story, admittedly in its very early stages, but just comes off feeling empty, which is a shame after a nice #0 issue. Nick Spencer instead of showing the reader how Captain America and Hydra have ruthlessly and systematically taken over the country takes us forward in time, to an established dictatorship rule, complete with Hydra sponsored internment camps, school and news propaganda, with the everyday citizens and a bunch of heroes just being OK with it all because the story demands it, never because I feel the moment has been earned through Hydra’s sheers impressive force, ideas, and technology. It all comes of feeling like smoke and mirrors, like a unneeded repeat of Secret Wars, before the universe is returned to 'normal' again in several month’s time.
Yes, I get how we got here, Hydra and Cap tricked groups of heroes, tainting the water supply in the process to brainwash the populace, but to me this doesn’t equal control of the entire 50 states with little to no push back. The water supply idea is especially troubling because this story beat only rears its ugly head in a throwaway line of dialogue, or when its convenient for Spencer, because there are still regular people and heroes featured, who apparently aren’t drinking the water, they’re just not affected like ‘everyone’ else seems to be. Your just supposed to accept being told states like Texas are unitedly rolling over to Hydra because of water ... not for fear of consequences, not because Cap and Hydra have all their guns, not because their scared to do anything, but because Hydra says they’ve been defeated because the story demands it. You have to do better than that for reasoning because that isn’t a very intimidating threat. This was an idea that may have worked in Batman Begins, for one city, but was also quickly remedied by one hero. I don’t buy it would turn a nation uniformly, no questions asked, except when the story demands it doesnt.
It’s also never made clear why some important characters just go along with this whole shit show (Deadpool, Thor, and the Scarlet Witch for example) and others don’t (Hawkeye, Champions, the Miles Morales look alike) which is just a HUGE weakness front and center to the stories buy-ability. Are they drinking the bad water too or just that loyal to Cap?? Deadpool has a healing factor and Thor is a god, why are they rolling with the bad dudes, I still don’t know two issues and $10 into this.
The art, which features some Marvel heavyweights including Steve McNiven, is just not up to par for an event of this stature. The books paneling and character designs come off very plain looking while the colors look completely washed out making the book look like an emo driven Indy title and not something worthy of $4.99 several times per month. Compared to work McNiven has done on event titles in the past, like Death of Wolverine for example, this is a HUGE step down in my eyes. Look at this previous example above for that title and compare to the Secret Empire work, whats better?
Bits and Pieces:
There are things I like here but where the zero issue played a clever game of moving chess pieces around the game board for the reader to see, Secret Empire #1 stalls that momentum, and just wants you to believe things happened, like America has given up under Hydra control, moves forward united, all simply because of a leap forward in time. The total control of the entire 50 states never feels as all-encompassing, or as threatening, as Nick Spencer wants you to believe it is, as the writer instead relies on word play and politics to distract readers’ attention here in the early going. Hopefully we get more of that chess game between the heroes and Hydra forces moving forward for control of the country because that’s where my interest lies. Seeing Hydra and the Resistance squabble over how to do business, among themselves, isn’t something that will entice me to cough up $4.99 for very much longer especially when the art isn’t living up to the price of admission either.