Secret Empire 1

Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing Secret Empire 1, originally released May 3rd, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Patrick: Skipping ahead into the radically altered future has become one of the hallmarks of modern Marvel event stories. Both Secret Wars and Age of Ultron rushed ahead to the moment after the unthinkable had already occurred, resting in a status quo that practically begged to be undone. Secret Empire, in its #1 issue, adopts this same tactic, catapulting over an untold stretch of time and insisting on a terrifying new normal. The difference between this story and events like Secret Wars and Age of Ultron, is that Secret Empire is based in the entirely credible rise of fascism in the United States. There is real world precedent for the world over which Captain Hydra rules, and even if it is exaggerated for the medium, and the long road to this moment is paved with recognizable warning signs. But writer Nick Spencer is no longer concerned with establishing the mechanical reality of Steve Roger’s brave new world, instead turning to the emotional reality of its occupants, dialing in on how it feels to be truly helpless and hopeless. And how it feels to resist. 

I think one of the most impressive feats this issue accomplishes is in reconciling Steve’s kindness with his immeasurable cruelty. Like, no matter what, Steve Rogers is going to be polite, respectful, and outwardly heroic, even while pursuing a misguided ideology. The first time we see Cap, he’s confronting a shit-talkin’ demon-dinosaur-monster. Artist Steve McNiven plays up the size disparity between Steve and the beast, quietly asserting the expected dynamic between Captain America and a city-threatening monster.

In those first three panels, he’s basically David standing up to Goliath. Or at least, that’s how McNiven draws it before we get a taste of The New Steve Rogers. Check out how that fourth panel pulls in close, letting Steve’s face take up as much space as the monster’s did in the previous panel. That’s when shit gets sinister. We stay close to Steve for the next three panels as he proves his ruthless Hydra bonafides. It’s an extremely talky way of intimidating the monster, so much so that McNiven’s camera needs to drift away from Steve to make way for all that dialogue.

It is, after all, the words that have gotten scary. The issue starts off with a Jason McAllister going to school in this new Hydra-embracing world. The classroom curriculum has changed to fit the narrative that Spencer suggested back in the zero issue — history as we knew it was a light told by the Allies with access to a Cosmic Cube. They are calling it “The Great Illusion,” which is a fantastic bit of writing on Spencer’s part. We’ve moved beyond people turning a blind eye to uncomfortable truths and into a world where people actively believe a lie — a lie that is taught in school.

And that lie breeds distrust (and fear!) of people who are different. Case in point: Jason’s brother Brian has superpowers. Of course, since this is Nick Spencer we’re talking about, Brian’s powers are demonstrated by Brian barfing up a shiny new Captain America lunchbox, despite the fact that he was muttering “Captain… Fascist…” to himself earlier that morning. McNiven wants us to see how fucking gross this is.

His jaw unhinges, his knees buckle, and a lunchbox explodes out of him covered in… I don’t even know what to call that stuff. That’s what it would be to tell a Captain America story that doesn’t acknowledge the current state of the world — regurgitating sickly shiny nostalgia. It’s painful. Unnatural.

Which is what necessitates this kind of of-the-moment story. Our heroes are in a state of disorganization, but what we can tell is that they are held together by the youngest superheroes. Riri Williams, Miles Morales, Amadeus Cho, Viv Vision — they are the hope for the Resistance. Yeah, they’re shepherded by some old stalwarts of the Marvel Universe, like Hawkeye, Black Widow and the cyber ghost of Tony Stark, but the actual engine for change comes from the young. Even the kid they pick up is precisely that — a kid. Maybe it’s trite to base this event around “children are the future” but, it’s nice to see a positive message buried in here somewhere.

Actually, that’s a good question to pose to you Michael: did you find this issue to be too crushing? Cap’s dinner with Sharon Carter was about as bleak and heartbreaking a depiction of Steve Rogers as I’m comfortable reading. That’s where he shows his true colors as a legit maniac — calmly forcing a woman to dine with him, and telling her that she’s the one who has the wrong idea. He’s crafting his own warped reality where he’s still the good guy and his actions — like having Rick Jones executed — are resultant from everyone else’s mistakes.

And, quiet follow-up question — Cosmic Cube. Does it make you nervous that Spencer brought up the potential reset button in the first issue? I sorta hate the idea that there’s a quick-fix machine out there, potentially turning this whole story into a nukeable what-if world.

Michael: I gotta say that I really, really dug how bleak Secret Empire 1 was. I loved coming into the strange and frightening new world of Hydra’s America, with its skull & tentacles flag waving proud as the new American nightmare.

Nick Spencer is going all out with the allegory to the current political climate we are living in that is as equally bleak and frightening.

That dinner scene between Sharon and Steve was a classic villain moment: the captor and the captive. How many times have we seen this moment in storytelling? Sharon is the captive heroine, telling her evil captor that he’s crazy and she’ll never love him, while Steve acts like everything is aw shucks normal. Spencer might as well have had Steve say “Soon enough you’ll see things my way.”

As for the Cosmic Cube of it all, that is indeed problematic. Steve reunites with his evil faux-mother Elisa/Madame Hydra and she reemphasizes the importance of getting ahold of the Cosmic Cube. The squabbles of the Hydra Council mean next to nothing to her; she just wants Steve to rewrite reality. Spencer writes some very particular words for Elisa that are hard to ignore:

“Who lives, who dies – is a distraction.” That line right there could mean a handful of things. In the scheme of Patrick’s “quick machine fix” concerns it means that any death that occurs in the course of Secret Empire means next to nothing because reality might soon be rewritten. This is especially poignant because Elisa’s speech comes mere pages before Rick Jones getting gunned down by the Hydra firing squad.

The other potential reading of this line could be that we as readers shouldn’t focus too much on the people that die in Secret Empire because there is something else, far more important on the horizon. It makes me think of The Prestige — or magic tricks in general — because while we’re placing so much emphasis on something like Rick Jones’ death, Spencer is concocting something entirely different.

I also find it odd that Elisa and Cap’s plan is to take control with their Secret Empire but also to alter history with the Cosmic Cube. If it’s so important to “set history right” then why didn’t they just make a play for the Cube from the get-go? It seems like they went to a lot of trouble to establish their empire, only to rewrite reality the way they see fit. I suppose it’s an example of their lust for power: they’ve already won but they want to win it all.

I love that Nick Spencer has an unabashed liberal stance that he wears on his sleeve — he gets into political Twitter fights on the reg. Secret Empire 1 depicts the nightmare where the bad guys take over that doesn’t seem all that different from the world we live in now. To boil it down: Hydra is establishment Republicans and The Resistance are certain Democrats who refuse to roll over. Donald Trump won the election — something that many of us struggle to fathom every day — in part because of hate and fear but also because of ineffectiveness on behalf of the Democrats.

As Patrick already noted, Black Widow and Hawkeye are the resident veteran heroes while the younger set of Champions are the true hope for tomorrow. While they’re not precisely stand-ins for Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, it’s clear that Black Widow and Hawkeye’s plan of laying low until they think of something better is not gonna work. The Old Guard of both resistances are not going to be the ones that save us — we need new blood and new ideas.

Spencer widens the gap between generations here by making Hawkeye overly judgmental and suspicious of their new ally Rayshaun. Hawkeye and Black Widow are quick to label Rayshaun as a spy, whereas the Champions accept their internet friend with open arms. Widow and Hawkeye’s assumption also shows a lack of faith in their younger teammates. The Champions vetted Rayshaun and even went so far as to report him to Hydra to prove he was the real deal. One of my favorite visual distinctions of the old heroes vs. the young is Steve McNiven’s drawing of Amadeus Cho Hulk flicking off the Hydra dreadnaught squad — such youthful vigor.

Let’s face it: the Hydra Council might as well be Trump’s cabinet: a den of vipers, with one actually named Viper. They are pushing for more and more extreme measures by their empire, which Steve is against. While Steve is the most sympathetic guy in the room we can’t forget that he is also the bad guy. He’s got that same heroic attitude that Patrick mentioned but yes, he’s the goddamn villain of this book. Do you have any friends who voted for our current president and turned a blind eye to his litany of misdeeds? It’s like that.

I’m curious as to the motivations of Cap’s current Avengers. It’s likely that heroes like Scarlet Witch, Thor and even Deadpool are under the control of Dr. Faustus but we also have Taskmaster and Black Ant — willing participants in Cap’s Hydra scheme. I’d be interested to find out The Avengers’ motivations, if any.

Drew and I talked recently about “Ghost Tony Stark.” While I feel like the whole thing is a cheat (why not just have the real deal?) I realize that it’s not the most important issue on the table. I guess I just would like there to be some minor defining characteristics for this AI to distinguish itself from the real Tony Stark.

In short, real-world politics are dismal and I love that Secret Empire is here to (slightly) embellish and highlight that fact.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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10 comments on “Secret Empire 1

  1. Ah I forgot about the Inhumans! In the world of Secret Empire, the Inhumans have inexplicably become the societal scapegoats. Hydra squads arrest them on sight like ICE agents do with illegal immigrants.

    And the mutants are just trying to stay of the whole damn thing altogether.

  2. Wow, this was an issue to talk about. So much to discuss, that I’m actually writing this comment early and haven’t read your piece before posting this. Last time, I played the bad guy on an issue I liked, to signal the warning signs. But this time, I want to explore everything.

    First and most importantly, this is interesting. So interesting, it is one of the most justifiable events ever done. A book to discuss, in a hundred different ways. It has value, because of that. Whatever worries I had about the 0 issue, of this falling into the same traps as every other event, is wrong. It is one of the most interesting superhero comics I’ve ever read. So going to go through it section by section.

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    Alternative Facts of Life: This first section is a great example of what is the greatest strength of this whole event. A real, clear threat. The setup is immediate. Spencer still needs time to set up the smaller nuances, but the big, bad threat was clear. Compare this to, say, Axis. Axis had the reversal of hero’s moralities, but took a long time for that to even become a meaningful problem. Here, the threat is obvious.

    And it works, for so many reasons. The biggest reason is just how clear a threat it is. The weakness of superhero comics’ ‘World Outside Your Window’ premise is that it carries the risk of hurting the stakes. How do you reasonably create a threat and preserve the idea of it being the ‘World Outside Your Window’. Things can’t change too much, otherwise it isn’t our world. You can have an alien invasion, as long as they don’t do anything. No wonder civil wars are so popular. If you can’t affect the world, affect the character relationships

    Spencer, however, throws away the idea of the ‘World Outside Your Window’. This isn’t our world. It looks like it, initially. But it is instead a perverse mockery. From the very first panel, we have the ‘Daniel Whitehall Elementary and Middle School’, complete with the famous sports team ‘the Krakens’. But that is just the beginning, as with every panel, what begins as a normal story about a little isolated kid at school struggling with a bully gets more and more perverse. Hail Hydra, rewritten history, book burnings, propaganda posters, the Three Guidelines, the panel of the camera spying on proceedings. And the initial story seed, under this perverse status quo, instead has the bully snitch to the corrupt authorities, leading to the SS breaking down his brother’s door. The only problem with this sequence, is I think it would be stronger if the scene wasn’t about a white men – they are never the target of fascist regimes. The Inhuman metaphor would be much stronger if it wasn’t a white person. Middle Eastern would work perfectly (as much as the metaphor can be perfect, despite the always problematic nature of mutants/inhumans as a metaphor for minorities).

    Still, the important thing is how Spencer so quickly creates a situation worth an event. Instantly, we have a threat that needs to be defeated. Not because of this vague idea that they will do. We know exactly what the bad guys do, and exactly why they must be stopped. Sensationally clear stakes.

    This is something worth fighting against

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    In Space, No One Can Hear You Narrate: The idea behind those two pages of Carol is strong. But struggles with two conflicting aims.

    The first, a diary exploring the very flaws that led to the rise of HYDRA. A powerful speech about how the bad guys exploited their division. How their lack of vigilance led them to be manipulated, not noticing the dangers until it was too late. A powerful confession in today’s America, that made the exact same mistake (as I write this, it has just been announced that the latest iteration of the AHCA has passed the House, destroying healthcare in America)

    The second is a show of isolation. A distress call sent to the stars, sent to everyone who can listen. Yet no one answers. Carol is alone, not even sharing a panel with her fellow trapped heroes. And a panic of a new wave of the invasion. This is the horror of what Steve Rogers has done.

    The problem is, making them one and the same is wrong. A diary, by definition, is personal. No one else is supposed to read it. While an open distress call is supposed to be heard by everyone. Quite simply, this is the wrong place for Carol to discuss the mistakes they made that led to this situation. Feels unnatural. The fix is easy, just separate the diary and the distress call and interweave them. Have Carol both sending out a distress call and confessing into a video diary. But it is an unfortunate piece of unreality, which weakens what would have been a truly strong moment. That final moment is great, but would have been fantastic with a more natural speech.

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    Rogue Ones: With the basics of the setup, Spencer can quickly get into using that. And instantly, we get to see a fresh, new approach to superheroes. As a resistance, the rules change. Fights become more interesting, because the framework is completely different. Spencer has made comparisons to Star Wars, and you can see it. Small band of rebels against an almost infinite fascist war machine. You can easily make comparisons to the escape from the Death Star or Cloud City, combined with a little of the spycraft that characters like Cassian Andor dealt with.

    The spycraft is what truly makes it come together. Not only do the characters have to run, they have to make compromises that don’t rest well. The Champions snitched on Rayshun, to make sure he isn’t a mole. New complexities have been added that weren’t there before. The act of being a superhero is now much more complicated than it ever was before. A new, more complex iteration to what is ultimately a ‘skirmish with the bad guy’ scene. They’ve lost the upper hand, they’ve lost the legal superiority. Lost every advantage they have, and now fight as underdogs. That is a powerful narrative.

    In fact, the power of this change in narrative is better than just a more interesting status quo (though it is). It addresses every single critique about the inherent fascist nature of superheroes, by changing them into rebels fighting against the exact sort of thing that makes superheroes so problematic. The heroism of Amadeus’ actions are even purer than ever. And contrasted with Steve Rogers’ more traditional superhero narrative of the Avengers beating up a monster until it is defeated, rendered in a chilling light.

    By mixing superheroes with Star Wars, Spencer has crafted an event that even on the most surface level, is better than ever. Strong, all powerful bad guy, a ragtag band of heroes as a resistance, the basic act of ‘generic skirmish’ is more interesting than ever.

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    Mussolini’s Train is Running Late: Triumph of the Will, despite its horrific roots, was a valuable step in the advancement of film. Despite being Nazi Propaganda, it was packed with new, innovative storytelling techniques still used today. It was a triumph of filmmaking. Except that’s a lie. The belief that Triumph of the Will was an important evolution in film is itself propaganda. Part of a propaganda campaign designed to prove the superiority of Nazi art. The only reason we think that Triumph of the Will is an important part of filmmaking is because of Nazi Propaganda. In reality, every supposedly innovative idea Triumph of the Will had was something already created.

    This idea is important. Fascists want you to think that their administrations are competent. In reality, they weren’t. Hitler sabotaged the war effort in a desperate attempt to keep the Holocaust going. North Korea’s parade of missiles is likely full of fakes. Mussolini’s trains didn’t run on time.

    Spencer tries to explore this, but this is where things get a little dicey. He begins this section with propaganda, but not enough is done to show that it is propaganda. McNiven’s art in the second and fifth panel do a fantastic job of peeling back the façade slightly. The second panel is hardly heroic, and the fifth is obvious coercion. The most effective is probably the third, with the suspicious mind controller standing there. But that makes the methods murky, not prove the failures of the regime. Murky methods leading to successful results is exactly why so much effort as been placed in selling the idea of a functional Italian train network. Especially as we have no reason to disbelieve the initial news report that the Avengers were successful. Of course, I shouldn’t expect Spencer to use the page of propaganda to show the reality – if he did, he would fail to show propaganda. But the fact that the meeting afterwards fails to disabuse us of that notion is poor.

    I think the use of real world conspiracies is poorly chosen. Having HYDRA do exactly what conspiracy theorists think is actually happening is irresponsible storytelling. I can see those same people using this as justification for their ideology. See, the government with their chemtrails are like HYDRA!

    And honestly, this would have been the perfect place to dismiss the propaganda. Imagine if, immediately after the propaganda, we opened up with Arnim Zola talking about how ‘net job creation is still falling as we transition…’

    What works is showing the divisions in the HYDRA Council. Already, villains, most notably Zola, are undermining and manipulating Steve Rogers. In this, Spencer shows the dysfunction in the HYDRA state. Very effective in showing one of the key flaws of a fascist government. But it is also not the only flaw in a fascist state.

    For all the strengths of this scene, looking at the difficulty of governing, the brutality that authoritarian rule requires, the threats within the party itself, it is missing something when people can come out of this thinking that it works. That the HYDRA State just needs to stop the Resistance. In fact, it feeds into fascist ideology – fascism is built around the idea of a villain that is not so secretly ruining everything and requires the full force of the HYDRA State. It should be made clear that the failures of the HYDRA State aren’t because of the Resistance, but because of HYDRA itself.

    Because the idea that fascism is effective is itself propaganda.

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    Yet Another YA Dystopia Story: Hunger Games famously started a large movement of rebellion in YA books, though of course, this is a long standing tradition – Star Wars is a Coming of Age story, remember. And you can see a lot of this rooted in Secret Empire, as another example of just how different the fundamental parts are, that makes this book so refreshing.

    But Spencer seems to struggle a bit with exploring the teenage rebellion aspects. It is a key part of this sort of story, where the kids make real decisions for themselves for the first time, and in doing so, self-actualise (and, in the metaphor of YA Dystopia novels, this self-actualisation is characterised by overthrowing the evil government). Now, successful teenage rebellion requires a careful balance. Ultimately, it has to be successful, but you also want to balance it with mistakes.

    At its best, the adults are clever, but slaves to their conservatism. The teens make mistakes, but their ultimate success comes from their wish to take risks. This leads to the drama, as the teens must learn from their parent figures while breaking their conservative strategies. This dynamic is shown in Secret Empire by Clint and Natasha’s problems with the Champions actions, even as they deliver the lynchpin of their ultimate success.

    The problem is that to fuel Clint’s frustrations, Spencer has the Champions act like idiots. There are plenty of reasons to have Dad get upset. The Champions nearly got killed. The Champions drew attention to the Rebellion’s activities in Nevada. The Champions didn’t properly vet Rayshaun. Nadia’s quirks make her annoying in high stress situations. And that’s just counting the stuff that actually happened. But Spencer places a lot of stuff that hurts.

    The biggest, of course, is that they forgot the supply run. We can talk about teenagers skewed priorities, but teens are smart enough to understand the importance of supply runs in a rebellion. Having them just forget is frustrating writing, especially when there are so many better options. Maybe there was no supply run, and the Champions lied about it so they could find Rayshaun. Maybe they were forced to make a choice, and chose to prioritise Rayshaun.

    These same problems are reflected in Riri and Viv’s actions as Clint yells at them. Even if we ignore the fact that Riri is possibly the Champion least likely viral (she generally finds herself disconnected to that sort of world, to the point of not even thinking about the media’s response to Ironheart until it is too late), the correct response to Clint throwing the phone in her face is sheepish guilt or righteous anger, not counting the views. Ultimately, it needs to acknowledge that she is being told off, and respond to that. And Viv needs to find a less stupid way to announce how they met Shaun. Ignoring, again, that that sort of line is inconsistent with either King’s work with Viv or Waid’s horrific bastardisation of the same, a teen being told off wants to sound smart, even if what they are sounding isn’t smart (or at least give the line to someone with socialisation problems who would make that mistake. I’d suggest Nadia, who has that exact socialisation problem, except she also has the spycraft expertise to suggest a better answer).

    Clint and Natasha as the parents of the Champions is a fantastic construct. It fuels the drama and gives this comic the depth. It lets this section have a story, instead of just plot. It is important to understand the importance of that, as this conflict is what gives a scene that could easily just be table setting an engrossing, dramatic element which reflects the strengths of Secret Empire – that it create a very new, highly functional framework to tell a story with Marvel’s characters. And it really is highly functional, which is possibly the most important praise I can give. And to be able to give this praise is among the highest praise I can give an event

    And yet, Spencer struggles with one of the biggest difficulties of an event. Doing that drama with characters who, because of the sheer scope an event requires, only get two lines, can be hard. There is always the ability to take the easy option, rely on cliché. Like teens care about going viral. But it weakens the final product, compared to looking at the characters and work out exactly what their response would be. Because if you do that, you can do a hell of a lot with one line

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    Cause Baby, Now We’ve Got Bad Blood: A strong event, despite having a scope that stretches across the Marvel Universe and involves every character you can imagine, needs a strong centre. Secret Wars had Reed v Doom. Civil War II had Tony v Carol. A centre that can be built around, that provides the depth and specificity to a story who, due to its size, cannot afford to give depth to its entire cast. Interestingly, for Secret Empire, it is Steve Rogers v Steve Rogers.

    On the one hand, there is the ideals that Steve Rogers has always strived for. On the other hand, there is the current Steve Rogers, an empty shell whose beliefs are actually hollow. Steve Rogers is going to come face to face with those values, and learn just how lacking his authoritarian values are.

    Soon, the position of ‘Steve Rogers’ values’ will be represented by the Resistance, but here, it is through Steve’s prisoners. Of those that Steve cares about the most, even as he is now a very different person. It creates a delicate balance. Spencer wants to show the shallowness of fascism, by having Steve visibly shaken by his encounters from Sharon and Rick. Steve knows that there is a goodness in them, which is what attracted him to them in the first place. And it is important to note that the bare minimum has been changed to transform Steve from the pure hero into the horrible villain. So even this Steve knows that Sharon and Rick are good. He just can’t reconcile the fact that they are good people, yet can’t agree with him.

    This is going to be a delicate balance, made even more delicate by the confusion over what Kobik did. Why is the transformed Steve so different to what you’d expect a little girl raised on Red Skull’s propaganda to create? But the most important thing is to not cheat what has happened.

    I’ve seen many people suggest that Steve Rogers should be able to essentially shrug off what Kobik did. That his inherent goodness means that any attempt to rewrite reality to make him fascist would collapse as simply because those values are too innate. That no matter what, Steve Rogers would remain good. This is a terrible idea, and not just because it isn’t dramatic. It turns Steve Rogers from an inspiration to an impossibility. Gives him a goodness beyond human ability. Which is a problem, because Steve is supposed to be our best selves.

    Which is the big risk with focusing too much on Sharon and Rick’s effect on him. A little discomfort is good, but whatever Steve’s arc in this event, it must take into account that reality has changed, and nothing that the only realistic thing is for anything that whatever arc Steve goes through, it has to be rooted in what has happened since that day in Pleasant Hill.

    And it must take into account that, even if only the bare minimum was changed to turn Steve into what he is now, the changes necessary to make him authoritarian have to be large. Fascism is not the ideology of the good, and there has to be a commitment to that fact. This Steve Rogers is not a good person. He is a horrible villain, and must be treated that way.

    In all honesty, my approach to his arc would be to constantly measure himself up to his past. Steve shouldn’t discover that being an authoritarian doesn’t suit him. He should discover that despite everything ‘finally being the way it should be’, he is less effective in achieving his goals. That the Steve Rogers that believed in justice and democracy achieved the goals they shared better than the Steve who believes in the power of fascism. That is the key.

    Sharon Carter and Rick constantly discuss how Steve fails to measure up to what he used to be, and they hate the current version of him. Let this be the start of his fall. The knowledge that he used to be better

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    Ghost in the Shell: I really, really wish Tony was being written differently. In the pages of Invincible Iron Man, he is a ghost. Always secondary to Riri, there in spirit, not in actual presence. It is an important part of making Civil War II’s events mean something. Tony fundamentally loses something, despite the AI. Here, Tony might as well still be there. He has hands to build things. He even somehow managed to find a way to retreat to the bottle, which is pretty impressive for a character who physically can’t drink (if he can code himself to feel like he’s drunk, why couldn’t he code himself in any other way?).

    And part of the problem is the lack of imagination. For example, wouldn’t that scene be more interesting if Tony need Scott’s help? That he needed someone with hands? Tony incorporeality and his personality create a conflict. What are people willing to put up with, because Tony is too important and needs someone with hands? It feels emptier than it should,

    This is a recurring issue in this section. Tony lists a bunch of disastrous missions, with causalities. Yet they seem inconsequential. The Resistance’s primary feature is that it is made up of superheroes, but naturally no superhero died. It would have been better have people captured instead of killed, and use that to take some superheroes out of play (or build up to an interesting moment when the Day of Reckoning comes).

    And then there is Natasha. Spencer made a joke about using the fact that he was writing an event to further his ships, and that kind of is the problem with Natasha and Clint’s relationship. Using a timeskip to rejig character relationships is a tried and true method, but Spencer hasn’t done enough here to show why that matters, at least for Natasha. For Clint, it is a sign that he, paradoxically, is at his best. The Walking Mess, when things truly gets bad, sorts himself and everyone out, managing to run a Resistance, have a committed relationship etc. But Natasha lacks that same sort of exploration. She’s just there, basically Clint’s cheerleader. Never any sign of what this means for her, and that is disappointing for one of Marvel’s highest profile female characters. Have the ship, if that’s what you want. The event that Secret Empire reminds me the most of is Annihilation, and it is interesting to compare Clint/Natasha to the timeskip friendship of Richard Rider and Peter Quill. We understand both characters instantly, despite Peter not even being part of the build up to the main Annihilation miniseries. But put some effort to show what it means to both sides. Even if that means waiting a little bit to reveal it, when you give both sides the time required to show why it matters. Because that’s when things really work.

    I would love it if Natasha didn’t feel so empty this issue

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    The State of Disunion Speech: It was always going to come down to the Cosmic Cube. From the very beginning, my prediction on how this story would end is Bucky and Sam making a case to Kobik on why Steve was better before. And having Steve’s quest be for the cube is great. Because ultimately, what the Cube represents is certainty. With the Cube, you can truly make the world in your image. It is the ultimate act of ego, to build the world around what you think is right.

    There is something fitting that Steve Rogers, as his Council stabs him in the back and the Resistance grows out of his control, makes his quest a quest of self-delusion. A quest to hide the failings of his administration through cosmic magic. Because ultimately, this ending isn’t Steve at his strongest, but at his weakest.

    True strength wouldn’t need such ostentatious shows of force. Wouldn’t need to execute Rick Jones, or send a fleet after the Resistance. If Steve was the leader he thought he was, if things were as functional as his horrid philosophy believes, he wouldn’t be in this situation. Things would work.

    Instead, things are collapsing. But that isn’t a good thing. The end of issue 1 is just as much a defeat for the Resistance (is that Pepper flying into battle at the end there? And who’s the guy behind Riri?). Ultimately, when things implode, everyone suffers. There is a reason that the final page is Las Vegas is burning. The comparison to Trump is obvious. The fact that Trump’s administration is incompetent doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous. The fact that Trump has failed to even nominate people for hundreds of important federal positions, leaving the executive branch empty, is a huge problem.

    For all of Elisa’s statements about pride, things are spinning out of control. It is going to be messy. It is going to be ugly. No one is going to leave clean. Because this is what happens when evil wins. It ruins everything, even the bad guys. The true horror isn’t what happens when evil wins, it is what happens after. Just as the narration states.

    Even proud Elisa is preaching the Cosmic Cube solution

  3. Wow.

    My take was, “A disposable ‘What if Captain America worked for Hydra and took over America’ piece of schlock.

    I know every superhero story on some level is a what if story, but I just don’t particularly care for this. We know it all gets undone and the trip there just isn’t that interesting to me. I’d say I’ll wait for the trade, but I waited for Inhumans vs X-Men and it was so overpriced I just passed.

    This story combined with the “Let’s redo the ’80s!” theme of X-Men and Jean Grey have slowed my Marvel purchases down.

    • I believe Spencer said that the story wasn’t going to end with the Cosmic Cube reversing everything. That at the end of this story, the outcome will be that there was a period where America was ruled by HYDRA. It will get ‘undone’, in the way that every superhero story ends with the heores winning, but sounds like it will be meaningful in a way that many similar alternate universe/dark future events. It doesn’t sound like an Age of Ultron, where it basically didn’t matter, or Secret Wars, where the Battleworld stuff and the 8 month time skip meant that ultimately, Secret Wars itself had a minor effect on the Marvel Universe. Secret Empire seems like it will matter more, because everything won’t just be reversed by Cosmic Cube so that it never happened in the first place. Though who knows what Marvel Legacy will be (I am really, really cynical about it).

      Though yeah, it all comes down to if you like the journey. Seeing superheroes as rebels was such a fresh, new take that I really liked it. But if it isn’t for you, it isn’t for you.

  4. I thought the resistance is called the Underground and not The Resistance haha Guess Star Wars is getting into our minds more than it should

  5. Also the criticism to fascism doesn’t need to confine to Trump comparisons. Conservatism and neofascism are on the rise everywhere, not just on the USA. Take it from me who’s not American, I live in Brazil and things here are more horrible each day it passes

    • Yeah. It is important to know just how global the problem is. Even France has to acknowledge that 30% of voters voted for Le Penn. And they are the guys that defeated neo fascism. I just hope none of that starts to appear in my country’s elections, as we are relatively sane at the moment.

  6. I feel I should post something in response to your piece, instead of just a weekend’s worth of thinking up the funniest references for each section of Secret Empire (damn, they were fun to come up with. I loved Alternative Facts of Life, and Ghost in the Shell ended up being the perfect thematic encapsulation of every point I wanted to make about the characters in the Resistance)

    I think there is a big difference between Age of Ultron/Secret Wars and Secret Empire. I mentioned in my piece the popularity of Civil Wars because of the limits of the ‘World Outside Your Window’ rule, and I think Age of Ultron/Secret Wars fit into a similar space. THey are specifically alternate worlds, whether dystopian futures, or Doom’s mad dream before everything is back to normal. I think the important thing here is that this isn’t the future, nor an alternate dimension It creates something totally unique. THe only thing comparable is Annihilation (0 issue shows the first day, followed by a time skip that shows the present of the Marvel Universe as ruled by a fascist dictatorship/trapped in an intergalactic war). But Annihilation used Cosmic Marvel to keep its distance from the rest of the Marvel Universe. It was full of then-obscure characters like Richard Rider, Peter Quill and Drax.
    This really makes Secret Empre special, the present nature of the story. Something so massive, actually happening to the real Marvel Universe. Really builds that idea that this is a surprisingly credible outcome for our real world as well (Trump just fired the only man making a credible investigation into his ties with Russia!)

    Also, I really love the discussion of just how gross the Inhuman’s power was. One thing that jumped out to me was how mundane and how frustrating the power was. Arrested for creating a lunchbox. Not shooting lasers from his eyes. Reminiscent of Morrison’s X-Men, where he had mutants whose powers were ‘looked like a chicken’. Not a threat, but targets anyway.
    But to take that further, and to discuss that scene as a critique on the idea of writing Captain America without taking into account our modern context is a truly amazing take. That is genius, Patrick.

    And the Cosmic Cube discussion being in the same section as Rick Jones’ death is certainly interesting. I really hope Rick Jones doesn’t come back to life at the end. I think it would be a perfectly haunting legacy of this comic to keep him dead. To have the horrors of fascism something that lingers and festers even after defeat, instead of tightly wrapped up with everything just like it was. But that is why the Cosmic Cube is going to be the wild card of this story. Success or failure as a story could all come down to how Spencer uses the Cosmic Cube.

    And the Avengers question is probably connected to the FCBD issue, as the good guys in the Avengers are all connected to the weirdness that occurred there. Scarlet Witch’s powers went wild and the Vision broke, probably explaining their new allegiance. And Odinson’s presence is probably connected to how Jane lost her hammer as Steve was able to pick it up.
    Also, the FCBD issue was really bad. It just felt unnecessary. Didn’t feel like a story that needed to be told. Seemed so pointless, existing only because that is what you do for FCBD. Never a big fan of connecting events to FCBD for just this reason

    • Oh, and something else I wanted to talk about, but couldn’t in my essay because the structural restraints I had placed on myself limited it, the art is amazing. McNiven consistently finds interesting ways to depict realism. There is a real subtlety to just how good the art is. Frequently innovative and imaginatively drawn, despite the limitations that come from restraining yourself to a strong commitment to realism.

      A masterclass of how an artist can consistently show off with spectacular panels, without looking like you are showing off. In fact, the subtlety of the spectacular art makes me wonder about how often we praise art choices because they are noticeable, not because they are good

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