Allies betrayed! A hero corrupted! America conquered by an age-old enemy! Secret Empire was Marvel’s latest in a series of never-ending event comics, a promise of a comic that would forever alter the Marvel Universe. Sounds good, right? I mean, Captain America going rogue, killing the Red Skull and assuming control of the true HYDRA who are totally not Nazis sounds like a riveting setup.
You look at Captain America, the symbol of the Marvel Universe: Incorruptible,u nflinching and unwavering in his belief of the American dream. A man out of time placed in impossible situations and somehow always overcoming and seeing such a character turned to the dark side of fascism and authoritarian philosophies and the result is an effective kick to the gut.
It’s a twist that has resonated especially well with the current political climate and the rise not just of more extremist ideologies, but of the progress that hate has had on the world. Here was a chance to create a story that was a reflection of the times when a national superpower elected the closest analogue to an actual comic book supervillain to the highest office in the land.
Secret Empire had potential. It failed.
I don’t envy writer Nick Spencer, whose previous work has been rock-solid and exciting stuff that has been far more relevant. But Secret Empire? This felt like a neutered event, one that the higher powers of Marvel had a heavy hand in as they gave away plot details on a weekly basis and wound up spoiling the ending of their biggest event comic This was a series where you could see hasty edits to the plot and damage control resulted in an absurd amount of coincidental events unfolding as heroes finally squared off for the final showdown against a Cosmic Cube-powered Captain America.
Without breaking a sweat, Steve Rogers effortlessly wipes the remaining Avengers, Champions and X-Men out of reality. The day is won, all resistance has been crushed and only Captain America remains. Until the final spoilt plot twist arrives, in the form of the ultimate Hail Mary: The good version of Captain America.
Even here, when Secret Empire had a chance to offer a chance to reflect on what it means to overcome the worst aspects of yourself when the two Captains clashed, it dropped the ball. Steve McNiven’s art may have been as cinematic and polished as ever, but even he can’t save Secret Empire from itself: An event comic where the status quo is restored thanks to ludicrous plot twists as the best aspects of Captain America finally triumph over the bad thanks to a heady plot that combines Ant-Man, Sam Wilson, Kobik’s pocket reality and the Microverse into one bloated resolution.
Here’s the real stinger: Nothing has really changed. America conveniently moves on from the recent horrors of shoving Inhumans into internment camps, Las Vegas being wiped off the face of the map and the populace following a fascist doctrine, as everyone gets a happy ending. Sunshine and hope, as Marvel prepares for its next event which repeats the cycle that it finds itself stuck in lately.
At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel hypes up Dark Reign 2: Electro Boogaloo in 2018.
Maybe what’s most disappointing about Secret Empire, is that despite its fantastic premise and build-up, it was just another Tuesday in the Marvel Universe. Unlike previous events that actually had ramifications like Secret Invasion’s Dark Reign or Civil War’s superhuman registration act that remained relevant for years after the final issue shipped, Secret Empire limped to the finish line as the fuel from its controversy ran out early on.
Last Updated: August 31, 2017