Secret Empire 3

Alternating Currents: Secret Empire 3, Drew and Patrick

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Secret Empire 3, originally released May 31st, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Drew: That Secret Empire is about big ideas goes without saying. As with any tentpole summer event, it promises to change the Marvel universe as we know it (at least temporarily), but the bigger story is the way the event (and the stories leading to it) have reflected the real-world political climate, often in uncanny — and uncomfortable — ways. But issue 3 reveals that, underneath it all, writer Nick Spencer may have been building to an even bigger (albeit, perhaps less controversial) question about the very nature of the superhero genre in the present day: does it still have room for moral absolutes?

That question stepped to center stage in the previous issue, as Clint and Natasha debated exactly how far they were willing to go, but takes on a familiar character as Nat continues that debate with the Champions.

Childish things

To my eye, this looks exactly like the debate around Superman killing Zod in Man of Steel. On the one hand are those who want morally gray superheroes to reflect the “real world,” willing to do what is necessary, up to and including killing people; on the other who want their superheroes to rise above the “real world,” trading in moral absolutes in hopes of inspiring a better world. I’m trying my hardest to make those sound equal, but artist Andrea Sorrentino makes it clear that Nat’s case is pretty thin, literally slicing her panels into slivers that can only capture a fraction of her face. She’s almost dogmatically narrow in what should happen, but she’s trying her hardest to make herself look wizened and pragmatic. Heck, she even dismisses the ideals of the Champions as “childish things.”

And it seems the world agrees with her. The realities of Hydra rule have forced virtually everyone into bleak moral grey areas. As usual, Maria Hill is embodying moral compromise — she unselfconsciously chides Nat for training kids even as she’s providing the intel Nat needs to send those kids on their mission. Heck, even Steve, who once balked at ordering the strike on Las Vegas, now doesn’t think twice about ordering the destruction of the “oldest temple in Atlantis.” But there’s nobody more morally gray than Frank Castle, who shows up at the end of the issue with his own “hail Hydra” moment.

Punisher

But seeing Captain America aligned with the Punisher just feels wrong, right? These two characters are usually positioned at opposite ends of the morality spectrum, with Steve holding himself to a strict ideology, while Frank is happy to get into the muck with his enemies. Seeing these two fighting for the same cause only emphasizes how far Steve has fallen — it’s not just that he serves a twisted morality; he’s compromised too far to be anyone’s moral leader.

Which brings me to the other Steve Rogers running around this narrative. It’s still not clear if he’s even in this universe, but it does seem clear that this is our Steve Rogers, as flashbacks reveal key moments of his life without any sign of Hydra. I suppose that could simply be a lie of omission Spencer has set up to yank the rug out from under us yet again, but I’m inclined to see that Steve as the Steve — the steadfast idealist and de facto moral compass for the Marvel Universe.

In that way, Secret Empire becomes less about pitting fascism against democracy and more about pitting moral ambiguity against the kind of pure idealism we could only ever get from characters like Captain America. I’ve spilled plenty of digital ink over the past year or so, discussing how Steve represents the soul of America — one that continues to be threatened by a virulent brand of hate-filled nationalism — but maybe that’s underselling the value of Captain America as a symbol. He’s not necessarily descriptive or even prescriptive; he could simply represent an unattainable ideal, too pure for this world, but valuable as a goal, nonetheless.

Whew, Patrick, these are some heady conclusions to draw from the third issue of a ten-part series. I’m sure I’m wrong about a lot of this, but I can’t help but be surprised that this event is ultimately less interested in the morality of HydraCap as it is in that of his enemies. Does that steer the subject back towards meta-commentaries on comics for you, too, or do the parallels still feel strictly political?

Patrick: That’s a fascinating question Drew. It’s been a long time since I sat with the following true thought: Nick Spencer did not know that Donald Trump would be elected when he pitched, sold, and set this story in motion. The last six months have made Secret Empire hyper relevant, and while I’m never ever ever going to let go of that relevance (because, as Michael said last week, “it makes me feel sane”), this issue does a lot of work to remind us that we’re reading a story about space men, aliens, two-bit villains and Atlantis. Oh and the ultimate Marvel WTF: Hank Pym.

Way back in 2013, we were new to the Marvel Universe and writing about the Brian Michael Bendis / Bryan Hitch disaster-porn epic Age of Ultron, when the final page of issue 3 revealed The Vision, barely alive and hardwired into Ultron’s central computer. If you look back at our discussion of the issue, its funny how basically none of us know who he is or why that’s significant. Drew mentions it in the piece itself and Shelby, Spencer (at that time commenting as Pivitor) and myself all kinda shrug, adding “but I’m sure he’s a big deal.” For obvious reasons, I’m getting flashes back to that conversation with the information that Tony and Co. are heading for what appears to be some kind of Hank Pym / Ultron hybrid thing. Sorrentino draws everything around this character with the jarring juxtaposition of cold mechanical things and soft warm textures. Take the introduction to Pym’s lair, which shows a warm hearth, complete with wallpaper and framed photographs, flanked by towers of disused machines:

Both Spencer and Sorrentino are being cagey about what form Pym is in right here, hiding his face until our final panel with him (and even then masking it in shadow and metaphor). Letterer Travis Lanham gives Pym’s speech balloons that jagged lightning bolt tail — which is something we see him use for both A.I. Tony Stark and Ironheart — suggesting some kind of electrical quality to his voice. In the examples of Riri and Tony, their balloons also have special coloring associated with them: Riri’s is yellow background with red letters and red outline, Tony’s is the same but the background is white. So Pym’s dialogue has that electric tail, but keeps the analog color-scheme. One more intriguing detail in the lettering — everything Pym says is italicized. Anyone wanna guess who that’s borrowed from? Viv — a link to the Vision family.

So, yeah, I think it’s totally fair to say that Spencer is making moves back toward commenting on superheroes and the world they live in. Pym may be an enormous player in this universe, but there’s essentially no real world analogue for the kind of resource/threat that he could represent. For as powerful as it is to be addressing our common anxiety about the rise of Trump in America, we have to remember that we’re dealing with superheroes. Right?

Necessarily, I think the answer is both no and yes. At first I was going to pull this scene of Peter and Rocket (and Groot!) asking for help from the Council of Alien Bad Guys as evidence that Spencer is pivoting away from the realism of situation. But the more I look at it, the less sure I am. The Evil Aliens respond as you think they would — fuck Earth, why should they care about Earth? — but I absolutely love the way they want to Hail Hydra but can’t quite think of the name of the organization in the moment.

Someone unexpected saying “Hail Hydra” is a bombshell for us because we have all of these very specific points of reference. Hell, this whole thing started with Cap uttering the phrase to freak us all out, and this very issue ends with the Punisher reveal Drew featured above. It’s a phrase with fucking meaning but these guys have no concept of that. I mean, one of these monsters is the Brood Queen — you think she hasn’t seen worse than Rogers?

But perhaps there’s a real world parallel I’m not quite seeing here. I’m sure we could make all kind of assertions as to who this group of aliens could represent on the global political stage. If nothing else, the feeling of appealing to some kind of higher moral authority and realizing there isn’t one certainly rings true.

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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6 comments on “Secret Empire 3

  1. The Space Station plot with the Ultimates and the Guardians is really bothering me. They have Ms. America with them, the woman who can generate portals to other dimensions on a whim. Even if you say that the Planetary Shield prevents America from opening a portal on Earth, she could still easily open a portal to another inhabitable world or another Earth to get her allies off of their dying space station and away from the endless Chitauri swarms.

    I mean, I know they all want to get past the shield and back to Earth in order to stop Steve, but I think a strategic retreat is in order. I’m honestly not sure whether Spencer is unaware of America’s abilities or is simply ignoring them, but it especially bothered me in the Ultimates tie-in, where America was portaling around the multiverse to find Galactus, but her teammates were still bemoaning being stuck.

    It’s a minor complaint that doesn’t touch at all on the themes of this event, but it bothers me nonetheless

      • Hell, the Guardians of the Galaxy have the Milano. That’s what I kept thinking. Literally everything can be solved by the fact that you have a squad of morally ambiguous heroes with a spaceship and an expertise in heists. Need a new oxygen scrubber for the space stations? Some MREs to feed the heroes? Some new defences or weapons? Keep Drax, who has some degree of cosmic power, Rocket for his strategic genius and maybe Gamora, and send Peter and Groot off to steal what they need so they can keep going.

        Maybe the Blue Area of the Moon lacks the supplies needed to be their temporary home (who knows what the Alpha Flight station has that is essential). Maybe Using America to portal away would be problematic, considering the need to be there when the Shield falls (remember, even when the Shield falls, there will still be Chitauri attacking that need to be destroyed). But if we assume all of that, that still doesn’t explain why Peter can’t steal everything needed. There are a million things the heroes could do other than stay where they are, which is the problem with this section. Unlike Darkforce New York, there are a million logical choices to make here

  2. If I recall correctly the last time we saw Pym was in a Avengers Graphic novel call Rage Of Ultron. I think it was written by Remender. The book ends with Pym merged with Ultron. Some kind of cyborg. I’d say that’s why he looks like that.

    • Yeah, Rage of Ultron was the book that established this status quo for Ultron. And then Uncanny Avengers, by Duggan, built on it and explained exactly what Rage of Ultron established. They merged, and then Ultron managed to ‘kill’ Hank, controlling him like a meat puppet. Though there are signs that things are more complex. The personalities have merged, but mostly Ultron

  3. The Two Americas Problem: Captain America is, fundamentally, a good man. Even in the middle of hell, he still trying to help people in need. There was no doubt that he was going to do everything he could to save that innocent woman. The problem with Captain America at the moment is that while he is doing everything he can to help others, he is unable to help in the big systemic ways that are necessary. He can’t bring down the Secret Empire. Why? Because he’s lost. The ideals he represents. The fundamental hope that he provides. Currently powerless, because despite being true to his character, he is lost.

    What else is Sam Wilson to do?

    Now, why am I recapping the events of the latest issue of Sam Wilson, in the section dedicated to the first two pages of Secret Empire 3? Because that first paragraph is the perfect recap of our mysterious Steve Rogers stuff as well. There are superficial differences. Sam Wilson is running the Underground, while Steve Rogers is in a mysterious place that may not be real. But should we be worried that both Captain Americas are going through the exact same arc? That after three issues (and another issue of Sam Wilson), there is no distinct difference between Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson’s stories? I asked last issue if anyone saw a meaningful difference between Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers’ appearances so far, and I’m worried there is no answer to this. This stuff with Steve Rogers could end up being the great weakness of Secret Empire. Maybe we only needed Sam Wilson.

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    Space Oddity: Sorrentino’s art is perfect for the espionage story of the majority of Secret Empire, as well as the noir inspired horror of the Darkforce New York. Sorrentino’s art is perfect for building dark tones, but a key part of his style is he trades clarity for tone. A key part of Sorrentino’s art is that characters can be engulfed in shadows to the degree that you can only understand them through context. In fact, sometimes his sequences are incomprehensible. But that doesn’t matter, because the art is so good at conveying tone that you don’t need to know what is happening, just feel it. It is a very abstract approach to comic book art, essentially giving us just the mood and the dialogue bubbles, but it really works.

    However, it doesn’t work for pulp science fiction. There are moments that do work. Peter’s face having a Hala star overlap it while he’s talking to Carol is genius. But as a scene, Sorrentino shows his weak points. This is not the right genre for Sorentino. A key element of Space Opera is the need to be clear. You need to be able to tell the difference between things, as it is a genre where visual diversity is important. Being able to tell the difference between figures is important. Because the scale is so large, you have to. You need to know if you are looking at Darth Vader or a Stormtrooper.

    And that’s where the panel fails. Space Opera puts a lot of effort into their designs to make aliens distinct, so you can tell the difference between a wookiee, a twi’lek and a rodian at first glance. Under Sorrentino’s pen, it takes effort to work out who some of these guys are. The heavy uses of green on the Kree is a terrible idea on a race whose obvious visual indicator is their blue skin. And who is that at the very back? Is he supposed to be Spartoi? That leads to the other problem. The art confuses our understanding of who these characters are. The guy at the back who looks like a Spartoi, looks like J’Son, a king. While the Shi’ar looks very familiar to Empress Liliana. We are looking at what I assume are supposed to be diplomats, and the art is instantly reminding me of rulers of the planets. Hell, I’m being reminded of previous rulers, which just makes things even worse.

    And then we have Carol fighting the Chitauri, which uses the sort of layout I would love from any other artist. But Sorrentino is not the right sort of artist for this section. I love Sorrentino’s art, but this shows his limits in an event book. Such a heroic layout is not right for a writer that whose strengths lie in the brutal. Since this book seems so interested in using particular artists for particular parts (an approach I love), maybe Sorrentino should have remained as only doing the core, espionage stuff and special artists should have been chosen for the Darkforce and Space Opera sections?

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    There are Neither Beginnings nor Endings to the Turning of The Wheel of Time: This issue was very low on actual story. New Steve basically reiterates last issue’s cliffhanger. So does Sam’s. And their stories are repeats of each other. Evil Steve makes a meaningless attack. Something of so little consequence that it lined up perfectly with Umberto Eco’s famous essay Ur-Fascism. The Champions train. This issue is just wheel spinning. And nothing I think is clearer than Natasha’s meeting with Maria Hill.

    While it is a great chance to have a conversation about the Overton Window, that feels like it would be better placed in the Champion’s scene and from Natasha’s mouth – the woman advocating assassination and shown last issue to be the Dark is not the woman who should be lectured to about the Overton Window. In fact, Spencer’s need to throw in factoids about the Overton Window and insurgency’s relationship to crime make Natasha feel incompetent in her area of expertise.

    But the real problem is that the purpose of this scene, just like every other scene this issue, is incidental work. While some incidental work is necessary for a story, we don’t need an issue full of it. Things like training, or walking through the woods aren’t story. The real story isn’t ‘How did Natasha get the intelligence?’ It is how the intelligence is used. It would be quite reasonable to jump to the important part. To the heroes, all in place, about to make their attack on Steve Rogers.

    Otherwise, there isn’t a story. This issue lacks a story, any sense of structure like beginnings or endings. The story just continues, spinning its wheels.

    _____________________________________________________________________

    Deadly Class: Batman has killed in comics. I saw a video discussing Batman V Superman, specifically answering with certainty that Batman did kill in the movie. The point was important, that however you discussed the movie, you had to accept that the actual text. And what the movie showed were many cases of Batman clearly being responsible for deaths. And the same is true for the comics. I just have to find the right comic. It honestly won’t be hard, just look at every issue where there is an alien invasion, and there will be an irresponsible explosion somewhere (and this is ignoring Final Crisis). And this is from the character with the strongest no killing rule there is. Superman is the same. Once again, strong no killing rule. Once again, find an alien invasion comic

    And here’s the thing. With Batman and Superman, these characters don’t kill for a very important reason. Because they are supposed to represent the best of us. Batman is the ultimate example of who we can be if we push ourselves to our limits. Superman is an ideal for us to always strive towards. That’s why they don’t kill. Because the point is that they always try and find the best possible solution.

    But with the Comics Code gone, this strict no killing rule is an artefact that doesn’t belong on most superheroes. This isn’t to say that heroes should go around killing everyone. What makes them heroes is their efforts not to. But unless your hero is specifically about holding yourself to the highest standards, like Batman, or specifically about always finding the best possible solution, like Superman, the no kill rule is kind of silly. Even Batman and Superman can’t hold these standards, and it is important for them. Quite simply, it is quite reasonable to be in a situation where the only good option is to kill. That’s why we allow police the use of lethal force. That isn’t to say that the police’s use of lethal force should be indiscriminate, I will be the first to stand up against police brutality and overreach. But there are also circumstances where the police are right to kill. Writers like Brubaker and Ellis specifically introduced this approach to comics. Ellis’ Iron Man killed in Extremis, specifically because there was no other reasonable option. Brubaker had the moral centre of the Marvel Universe, Steve Rogers, kill terrorists. He wasn’t trying to, but it was treated as a reasonable way to take a bad guy out quickly in a time sensitive, high stakes situation. And the movies have made this even clearer. People like Stane, or Killian, or legions of HYDRA soldiers have been killed in the MCU. And not treated as a problem. Why would it?

    This is not to say superhero stories should be uncritical about killing. There is a reason I love Gamora’s line in GOTG vol 2 where, when persuading Peter to spend time with his father, she says, so sweetly, ‘and if he’s evil, we’ll kill him’. The line is so disturbing that we laugh, and it gets us disturbed at how easily the Guardians resort to violence (and contrasts well with the Guardians true secret weapon, the ability to emphasize with villains. The Guardians choosing empathy over the egotistical approach of Gamora’s ‘if we don’t like him, we’ll kill him’ is how they actually convert the surviving villains of the previous movie into fellow heroes). But we can be critical without going so simplistic as the Champions position here, which is ludicrous. Their opinions don’t make sense.

    Here’s the thing. Every Champion likely killed someone in the FCBD issue of Secret Empire. When you go to war against an army of HYDRA soldiers, you don’t have the ability to be able to be careful. You can’t carefully select your repulsed beams. But ignoring that, the Champions positions mostly feel wrong. I will admit Riri’s stance makes sense, she is new and has internalized that yet. Joaquin would be ignorantly self-righteous, heart in the right place, no pragmatism. And I can completely buy that Nadia wouldn’t make the kill shot in that situation. Any other situation, she would be able to do that the most easily, even if she’ll hate herself for it. But having fully committed herself to a scientific solution, she’d get too invested in realizing that vision. But she would completely understand what Natasha was saying afterwards. As Uprising showed, Nadia had personal experience with the same training Natasha had. She understands killing, even if she hates it. And what about Amadeus Cho, member of the Illuminati when Time Ran Out? Viv Vision, whose first days were a crash course in complex morality, where she has to grapple with what her mother and father did. Miles, who fought wars in the Ultimate Universe. I think someone there would be ready to make choices to kill.

    Which is to say, Natasha is going about the training all wrong, and it makes Spencer’s exploration of morality weak. Natasha should be training them on premeditated assassination. That is the ultimate aim, isn’t it? Something like that is a line that even Nadia would reasonably be hesitant to cross. But what we have here is the Champions holding standards we don’t even hold Captain America to.

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    DAAAAAAAAANGER ZONE: Siddhant Adlakha described Spencer’s Captain America run as Archeresque, for its use of transitions. Though to be fair, Archer is hardly the first thing to cut between scenes like that. I remember it being a key creative choice in Locke and Key, for example.

    Still, it is important to note that the way that Spencer cuts between scenes is important. Any competent writer should spend a lot of time thinking about how a scene shifts from one to the other, doing things like cutting on an image. The thing that Spencer does, like the writers of Archer and Joe Hill, is make these transitions really, really obvious. Every transition is a match cut, made to be as obvious as possible. Why? Because it can create unique tools that you can’t do without being so obvious. For example, Archer plays this for comedy, with jokes made out of the fact that the next scene begins with the perfect line to follow up the next scene. But it can be used for dramatic effect as well.

    For example, when Sam Wilson says ‘No’, he is saying it, in the diegesis of the text, to the Underground’s wish for him to smuggle them out of America. But if you look at the line before it, Sam Wilson is saying no to Natasha’s belief that the only way to survive is to ‘put away childish things’ and kill.

    Let’s think of the effect of this. This is a story about the Marvel Universe’s darkest hour, and Natasha is the vector in which we see the way that such an hour can degrade us. She is the corrupted one, going into a horrible place. In a story about the importance of hope, she is without hope. And she uses her authority over the Champions to express her dark philosophy. The philosophy of giving up everything. And the moment after she expresses this, we have Captain Fucking America himself say this. A powerful response, and a powerful example of the effectiveness of Spencer’s approach to Match Cuts.

    _____________________________________________________________________

    Action for Action’s Sake: It is so fitting that Steve Rogers gets called away from a science fair. A Science Fair is the symbol of the greatest thing our society can produce. A celebration of our ability to innovate and solve impossible problems. This particular science fair may be creating horrific instruments of bigotry, but even so, in its own racist, deluded way, it is trying to fix the world.

    Now, part of me would love to explore why HYDRA America’s test scores are up. Has the academic rules changed to produce figures that look better? Are we getting the sort of cheating by teachers that Freakonomics describe? But the most important fact is that during what should be an important moment of the best of society, Steve Rogers is called away for meaningless violence.

    This is straight from the fascist playbook, with Umberto Eco talking about the importance of ‘Action for Action’s Sake’. He destroys Atlantis’ holy site, because he can. Because that is ultimately what Fascism runs on. It doesn’t build a better world, or improve the lives of the populace, no matter what Steve says to Sharon. It exists to act. And action usually means violence. Choose an enemy, attack without meaning or strategy, talking to journalists about chocolate cake. That’s the cycle.

    _____________________________________________________________________

    Rise of the Machine: Secret Empire has a single premise, which everything is rooted in. The entire world is built on the idea of “What if HYDRA conquered America?” Elements like New Tien, for example, are newly introduced elements of the Marvel Universe, that spring out of Steve Rogers’ master plan.

    So what is up with Ultron? Ultron last featured in Uncanny Avengers, where Duggan worked closely with Spencer as part of the overarching build up for Secret Empire (primarily with the Red Skull). You can see the ways that Uncanny Avengers have set up Ultron, using Duggan’s take of what happened at the end of Rage of Ultron. Hank Pym fused himself to Ultron, before Ultron killed him, using his body as a meat puppet. There is a hint that Ultron may have hacked the Vision (which may explain some of the Vision related mysteries of this book), but he was last seen hiding in a neutrino, after the Avengers tried to throw him in the sun. Which is to say, it has been in a very different context to where he is now.

    Which is worrying. This issue is the weakest, for its wheelspinning and its greater focus on the thematically redundant Steve Rogers. But the strength is its focus. The fact that everything is rooted in the themes of the power of fascism etc. Ultron seems to be rooted in the greater Secret Empire build up, in that he was part of Uncanny Avengers. But he doesn’t feel rooted to the themes and ideas that make Secret Empire work. What is his purpose? How does he build on the themes of the event? The last issue revealed, and this issue confirmed, that the remaining shards are in Wakanda and Atlantis. Which is to say, in the hands of foreign powers who historically have a close relationship to America/the Superhero Community. Seeing how the relationship of these nations have changed with America is a valuable addition to Secret Empire’s themes. But what the hell does Ultron add? How is he part of the greater story about Steve Rogers?

    There could be something said about how the new HYDRA’s nationalistic agenda has left troubled regions without adequate protection, like how the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria have been theorised to be because Assad believed that with Trump, he had free reign to use chemical weapons again. But currently, we really haven’t been given the chance to look at what Ultron means. Why wasn’t this covered in Steve Rogers, an interview question of why Rogers didn’t intervene to stop Ultron is the Savage Land (I assume that’s where Ultron is). This is the sort of stuff that threatens to ruin the great strength of Secret Empire. The tight thematics

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    Where the Fair Folk Lie: Where do we think Steve Rogers is? Is he even in reality, or something more dreamlike? The art certainly suggests he’s outside reality, as does the lack of any confirmation of location. In fact, there is a feeling of something deceptive about the world. The beauty of the location is at contrasts of the darkness of what the world is. Ignoring the Secret Empire stuff happening elsewhere, this beautiful world is dangerous. The art is certainly different to the style Reis used for the zero issue. He certainly wants to produce a different effect. Reis’ use of light seems to exist only to fight back the dark, and it is clear that this is a place that bad things can happen. Steve’s mother figure actually dies.

    I’m wondering if this is inside the Cosmic Cube/Kobik’s mind. That may be the one thing that redeems the Steve Rogers plotline. That he is the doubt in the centre of the lie. Kobik changed the world to be ‘better’, but this Steve, this fundamentally good person, is the proof that Kobik is wrong. She can never deny it, even if it goes against everything she was taught. And that will be forever stuck in her mind, providing the weakness in Kobik’s actions that will unravel the Secret Empire. That, quite simply, Kobik can’t say that the new world is better.

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    The Empire Strikes: Trying to find a hero who would willingly join HYDRA is hard. There is a reason that the Vison, Wanda and Odinson all have hints of joining in suspicious circumstances in the FCBD issue. But the Punisher is the most boring choice. Spencer wants to surprise us with the reveal of someone we don’t expect hunting Natasha for HYDRA. But Frank Castle is a bad choice. Would he join HYDRA? Yeah, it makes sense. But Castle is a character defined by his opposition to the superhero community. He isn’t a hero, and often the antagonist for characters like Matt Murdock to fight. Even in his own book, he is treated like a villain, even if he’s a villain fighting something worse.

    It hurts the effect of the conclusion. The shock doesn’t properly land, because we aren’t invested in Castle in the right way. If the cliffhanger was, for example, Odinson’s first appearance, that would be a shock. Combines the sense of the stakes being raised with the horror that THAT hero is HYDRA.

    It feels like a common theme of this issue is Spencer letting iconography overtake character. Reducing characters and ideas to their most simple version, then building the drama out of testing that iconography against his ideas. But when you strip away the character, it weakens things. Frank Castle is a Marvel ‘Hero’, but as a character, he works in a very different way. It links to my comments about the Two Americas, or the no killing. Easy stuff to justify if you look at superheroes on their most simple level. But look into things a little deeper, and the strong dramatic choices he is making don’t hold up. Only small choices need to be made, but they add up.

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