Secret Empire 10: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Patrick Ehlers 

Secret Empire 10

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Mark Twain

Drew: This may seem like an odd quote to kick off a discussion about a comic featuring superpowered heroes battling over bits of a cube that can rewrite reality, but I think it’s safe to say Secret Empire has really never been about superpowers or cosmic cubes. Those are the trappings of a big summer event series, sure, but the story was actually about how seemingly good people can be corrupted by toxic ideologies. That’s immediately recognizable as Steve Roger’s arc through Steve Rogers: Captain America and Secret Empire, but it’s also an arc that has been running in the background of Hydra’s America throughout this series, one that is far more unsettling than seeing Steve hail Hydra ever could be.

The resolution hinges largely on Bucky’s confidence that Kobik won’t be a fan of what Steve has done — he’s sure that, when fully assembled, Kobik will chose to undo the work of her Hydra-Cap creation, pulling the real Steve out of the limbo she had placed him in. Of course, it wouldn’t be the finale of a big summer event series if there wasn’t a fistfight to be had, and artist Steve McNiven gamely obliges, evoking his own iconic work on Civil War.

Civil Warp

It’s a sequence that ticks all of the summer blockbuster boxes, even if the “good triumphs over evil” conclusion is all the more foregone for that blockbusteriness.

But it’s far from a happy ending. Kobik repairs the history she altered to make Hydra-Steve, but leaves his destructive handiwork, such that his victims (including Black Widow and most of Las Vegas) are still dead. Spencer offers this by way of explanation:

Kobik restores history

It’s a bitter pill, but there’s no other way — magicking all of those people back to life would have robbed their deaths of any meaning. All of which supports what Spencer and his collaborators have been saying from the start: this story will not be wiped away, and it will have lasting consequences.

For me, the most devastating of those consequences comes in the epilogue, as we see the brothers McAllister return to the neighborhood that was so quick to vilify them.

The McAllisters return home (alone)

The scars of Hydra’s America aren’t just physical — the hatefulness of the American psyche has been laid bare, making it clear that Inhumans (or whatever other group has been deemed sub-human today) are not welcome. Sure, their neighbors return to help clean up the house, but that reads less like a sign of the inherent goodness of the American people as it does a sign of their fickleness (or false kindness). Maybe the shame of this particular chapter of history will prevent it from repeating in the immediate future, but the fact that Inhumans were persecuted at all speaks to how short that shame really lasts. The memory of Japanese internment didn’t prevent Inhuman internment, so it’s hard to feel like there’s a lesson to be gleaned from Inhuman internment that isn’t “humans are shit.”

But maybe that’s just where I’m at right now. It’s impossible for any reading of Secret Empire to not be colored at least a little by its uncanny resemblances to the political landscape it was released into. So I might be more sensitive to themes of legacies of oppression and the banality of evil than fairly serve this issue, but man, it’s hard for me to read that epilogue as anything other than depressing. Whether the neighbors helping out the McAllisters thought better of their hatefulness, or were sympathetic all along, none of them bothered to do anything to help until it was a popular (and safe) decision to make.

Which I guess brings me back to that Mark Twain quote. America giving into its more fascist tendencies feels strange, but might actually be less strange as the result of a magical cube tampering with history. Instead, the truth is that we don’t need a magical cube to turn on our neighbors — to lock them in prison indefinitely for the crime of us being irrationally afraid of them. Spencer may have needed a cosmic cube to make that eventuality feel possible, but now that he’s here, there doesn’t even feel like a fictional way to erase the damage.

Geez, Patrick, that’s a dark place to take a discussion of a huge summer blockbuster series, but I’ll be damned if I can read it any other way. I suppose the resistance always stood for what was right, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to stand by your convictions when you can punch your opposition through a wall. More importantly, the average Inhuman doesn’t have a superhero as a neighbor, so has to worry more about the public that was so quick to sell them out. I don’t know if there’s a way to make Inhumans feel safe in America again, but I suspect it will take more than a few coats of house paint.

Patrick: Yeah, man — I feel that. What’s more is that the epilogue is a narrow check-in on the characters effected by Hydra taking over the country. Inhumans were interred, but Mutants were driven out of the country, Natasha Romanoff and Phil Coulson died, Las Vegas was all but destroyed. And while the Hydra-hailing Captain America that made it all possible was blinked out of existence, the same cannot be said of the everyday citizens that either actively or tacitly let it happen. That final slugfest between Captains America: Steve Rogers clearly states one of the values of this series — you never stop fighting for what is right.

“You stand and you fight.” We’re at a point in American history where we are genuinely asking what it means to fight. You pose the question to two super-serumed-up super soldiers and the answer always going to be punching each other in the face, but I’m not so sure that’s what the narrative of Secret Empire is actually espousing. Notice how this “Stand and Fight” page breaks its nine-panel layout for a surprisingly human, grounded moment. That’s a mother watching the fight on TV, scowling at the world she sees unfolding on the screen and holding her son to her chest. She’s not rushing to the streets to join the melee. It’s worth nothing that the only violence in this issue is one Captain America fighting another.

In fact, it seems like — more than anything — Secret Empire prescribes unity. The only way to empower Kobik to make a choice about which version of Steve Rogers she wants is to complete her. This requires an almost unfathomable sacrifice on Sam Wilson’s part, his very own “Hail Hydra” moment.

It’s a trick, of course. I’ll confess that the Ant-Man and Winter Soldier part of this plan doesn’t totally make sense to me. They assume Kobik and the to-this-point-unknown Steve Rogers inside the fully assembled Cosmic Cube will need a hand to pull them out into reality? Also, it’s weird to assume that being teeny-tiny grants them access to the pocket universe inside the cube. All of those logical questions aside, the point is that Kobik needs to be made whole, and that requires the ultimate humbling of Sam Wilson. Look at him — he’s not standing and fighting at all.

What Sam is doing is allowing Kobik to make the decision for herself. Prior the the events of Fairy Tale Steve discovering her in an abandoned school, Kobik feels utterly helpless, resigned to hide from an enemy that she has determined is too strong. She is the overwhelmed American zeitgeist, threatened on all sides by ideologues and fascists. Steve — and mind you, this is the fantasy, idyllic version of Steve Rogers — convinces her that the only way to stop fascists is to fight them. It is a muddled message, half way between peace and war,  and perhaps that’s why the ending of this series feels less hopeful than we might want.

I guess if there’s another part of this resolution that makes me feel bad about the current state of affairs is that this ending relies on a Captain America that is just as strong as he is differential. He forcibly takes back both the vibranium shield and Mjolnir, but has the extreme grace to return them both to their rightful owners.

I’m so trained at this point to look for real world analogues in Secret Empire and I am at a loss to name the force in our world that simultaneously has Steve’s power and his humility. He is the embodiment of everything that is good in Captain America, itself an embodiment of American moral exceptionalism. I don’t know if there’s any concrete person or thing that we can point to and say “ah, yes, there is the paragon of paragons we need to save us.”

In that way, Captain America ends up being an aspirational character — representing values we can all strive to embody in our daily lives. I’d gotten so used to the idea that Captain America under Nick Spencer’s pen was only capable of immaculately capturing what is wrong with our country. That’s still there: the invocation of Civil War art, and the use of the world “scars” to describe the damage to the country obviously calls America’s numerous original sins to mind (native genocide, slavery). But if being awful is part of the American identity, so too is finding a path forward. Come together. Stand and fight. The truth — impossible though it may seem — is that resisting a fascistic insurrection is equal parts coming together and fighting.

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6 comments on “Secret Empire 10: Discussion

  1. Man, there’s so much to unpack from this issue, but the one thing I’m bummed neither of us mentioned is how the world needed to be actively misled to confuse “strength” with “worthiness” for that Mjolnir scene. That’s one hell of a political commentary that cuts right to the heart of what’s wrong with Fascist ideology (you know, beyond the fact that it is historically always tied to genocide). For all of the sturm and drung different political factions have made about the symbology of this series, it actually makes some remarkably nuanced political points.

  2. Oof

    Writing a proper comment on this will take some time, as it is going to have to be big. But before I dissect the comic, there is something I feel I should express first.

    Secret Empire was so often so good. In fact, it was frequently great. It was powerful. It was meanigful.

    It deserved a better finale than this piece of crap. It deserved a finale that was powerful, that was meaningful. It did not deserve something so flat and empty, only going through the motions. Hell, saying that I am going to dissect the comic is inaccurate. The comic is so lifeless, that it essentially came dead on arrival. Autopsy is a better phrase

    There were some (only some) good parts. Drew pointed out the hammer scene, for example. But it felt like Spencer was just too tired. That he’d just given up…

    The fact that this is the ending just makes me sad. It should have been better. Every other issue deserved better…

  3. When I first read Secret Empire 1, it was a comic I found so interesting, I pushed myself with my comment, reaching into structure and form because I had so, so much to say I needed to use every trick I could to try and communicate the totality of what I wanted to discuss. It wasn’t entirely positive, but the fact I felt the need to do that showed my love of the issue. The first issue of the Vision is, I think, the only other time a comic has inspired me to the degree that I needed to push myself to that degree (there was one other time I made a point to push myself in my use of form and structure because of the wish to push myself to this degree, and it was the linked comments for DC Rebirth and Captain America, Steve Rogers 1. But that wasn’t about inspiration, as it was the release of a comic so singularly awful that I needed every tool in the box to adequately communicate its problems. And even then, I was too nice on DC Rebirth). The goal of the structure I used for my Secret Empire comments, for many issues until time constraints meant I had to go for something simpler, was to express the complexity of the product both by creating a range of separate, unique discussions and to use pop culture titles to express a breadth of ideas to suggest a comic that is expansive to the point of touching on all elements of society. The fact that I referenced Alien, Star Wars, Mussolini, Taylor Swift and American Political Events, among other things, were to suggest expanse. I’m kind of happy I stopped it before I reached this issue, because it would literally be impossible to use that tool to critique this issue. The tool required a book that had some meaning to grapple with.

    Secret Empire begun as what looked to be a fantastic event, but this issue was so lifeless. It really feels like Spencer gave up, or that he never had a real story to tell in the first place. Which is a shame, as literally every other issue of the event did not feel like that. It coasts by entirely on the goodwill generated by the previous nine issues, but is dead on arrival. It is a horrible issue, but a particularly awful type of horrible. There is no obvious flaw, no glaring mistake that draws attention to itself. Instead, the very DNA of this issue is just poor. It is the worst kind of mediocrity. I mean, with your average issue of DC Rebirth, you can at least start a discussion on how DC is constantly destroys their characters values in the quest for toxic nostalgia and white supremacy. But here, you have a book that superficially looks… alright, and is awful specifically for that reason. It exists, struggling to reach basic competence without failing enough to be interesting. You look at things like the narration’s attempts to discuss theme, or how the final panel calls back the stolen lunchbox, except with Sam WIlson as the Cap instead of Steve. And it looks like a successful narrative. Except for the fact that it doesn’t work, falls flat. Only superficially resembles the thing it is supposed to be. If any art can truly be called meritless, it is an issue like this. No redeeming feature, and problems buried so deep into the DNA that it doesn’t even serve as a lesson or an interesting experiment. It just fails. Honestly, I read this issue and had to check that Spencer wrote it, and that Mark Waid hadn’t started his run on Captain America early.
    It is so… disappointing. Secret Empire wasn’t supposed to end like this. This was a divisive story, that caused passionate argument from both sides. The comic was supposed to either end beautifully, or fail miserably. It wasn’t supposed to push out something this
    But that’s why it is more important to discuss it. Because the nature of this sort of horribleness is invisible. Lacking any tangible details to cling on to, any obvious signs of problems means we don’t notice it. Don’t properly discuss it and instead create a market where such comics get pushed out because no one actually communicate the problem and therefore can’t properly catch it. Because quite simply, if we replaced every comic like this with something like DC Rebirth, the comics market would be in a better place. And DC Rebirth is irredeemable, hateful garbage about white supremacy and the importance of bad writing.

    In the interests of fairness, let’s mention the small smatterings of ‘good’ stuff. Things that in a better book, would have worked wonderfully. Unfortunately, they don’t work in this issue except in the context of the greater Secret Empire. Iron Captain HYDRA’s helmet is perfect, changing the Iron Man design to create a faceless, and more importantly unempathetic, villainy. And honestly, the fact that Captain HYDRA survived is a great idea, as it provides someone who could become a rich villain in Steve’s Rogue’s Gallery (and maybe solve HYDRA’s biggest problem by giving them a consistent leader instead of letting them be the confused mooks of whoever has taken control of them today). The fact that Captain HYDRA could only lift Mjolnir because it said ‘strongest’ is great. The Stand and Fight scene is the sort of use of form that would work so well in a better comic. And the graffittied house was effective. All of these scenes only work because we have nine issues of actually good Secret Empire stuff to build it all up, but they had potential.

    But they are rendered meanignless in an issue that has so, so much wrong. Before we even get to the plot, we have to discuss the form. The flashbacks are used terribly, clunkily interrupting the narrative. Instead of feeling like a satisfying payoff or a motivated story beat. It is purely the worst type of expository. The use is clunky and kills momentum. The fact that it is built on the biggest plot and character issues makes things even worse.
    Whoever lettered the panel where Steve hands Sam back the shield did an atrocious job on a key moment. The placement of the bubble, especially combined with the whites of Sam’s costume, make it very unclear and I know I’m not the only one to get confused and think it was Sam (as if the character issues with Sam needed to be made worse).
    The final two page spread of all the heroes works more as a publicity shot than as a piece of storytelling. I know Marvel want both, but they so hideously failed the former. I honestly think Nova has been traced. The fact that he, Miles and Nadia, especially, are in the most generic publicity shot image imaginable just kills the power the scene is supposed to have. But they are merely the worst. Others are either standing there like they are modelling for an ad (Carol, Peter,) or merely gormless with no idea what they are supposed to be doing (Kamala). Only Sam Wilson and Jane Foster look like they are doing anything fitting. What should be a moment of exhausted celebration or something like that is completely disconnected from the narrative.
    And Brian and Jason hug each other, with the chainlink fence in the foreground, which is base incompetence. What is the point of highlighting the fence, considering the characters are supposed to be free. Why use the fence to make them look like they are behind bars, when the whole point is that the inhumans are finally free.

    The constant incorrect use of form really helps make a bad plot worse. The plot just feels like it is going through the motions. The fight at the start, before Captain HYDRA rewrites reality, just feels obligatory. It feels like it goes out of the way to not do anything interesting. To make it something worth actually reading.
    And the panel to explain Generations is horrifically forced, the sort of forced marketing exercise that was the last thing that garbage like this needed. Especially as its attempt to explain Generations just leaves more questions (why not Nova, or Viv Vision, or Nadia, or…)
    And Captain HYDRA’s reality rewrite makes no sense. Somehow, it rewrites the world so that the Fantastic Four, Spiderman, the Avengers etc are all HYDRA now, except they also show Sam, Bucky and Scott unaffected. Why? How does Captain HYDRA rewrite reality, and yet still have to fight those three. I’d argue that it was because they were all touching the cosmic cube shard, except Scott and Bucky most explicitly weren’t. They had to jump from far away.
    But the biggest problem is the way Spencer abuses the logic rules he has built. They aren’t necessarily wrong, but Spencer feels like he has decided to cheat to get the result he wants, fuzzing the rules that he has created to create the desired result. It makes sense, but feels cheap, inelegant and unsatisfying. If having a mostly complete cube let’s Captain HYDRA rewrite reality, you’ve kind of killed the idea of a complete cube having any value. I mean, you can see how ti makes sense, but it is much less satisfying to have the villain’s plot be ‘once I get 90% of the pieces, I WILL BE UNSTOPPABLE!’. Especially when you don’t play it as a subversion. If it was a Watchmen style ‘I did it 35 minutes ago’, it would work. Draw attention to the foolishness of assuming that you need every part of a cosmic artefact, and create a major twist. The heroes think they have won, and then the villain goes ‘each shard is a battery of cosmic energy. Did you really think I needed all of it to win?’ Make it a big deal. But there is no twist there. Instead, Spencer has given Captain HYDRA Schrodinger’s Cosmic Cube. It is both complete and incomplete at the same time. It can do everything that a Cosmic Cube can do, the the point where Sam giving him another piece is meaningless (yeah, that’s what you want to build the lynchpin of your climax on. The hero’s deception being something that wouldn’t even matter if it was true), but it also isn’t complete for the sake of the finale.
    But that isn’t the only problem. The Mjolnir scene simply breaks the rules Spencer as established. The basic idea is one of the few good things of the issue, but the idea that Madame HYDRA could rewrite Mjolnir with a shard is inconsistent with the rules that Spencer has established. A shard is only supposed to massage fate. Tony Stark couldn’t magically summon a cake, only massage events so he has a cake. THe whole point of Secret Empire 8 was the need for existing elements in the narrative to act as force multipliers. And yet Mjolnir’s enchantment can be rewritten?

    What could possibly be called redeemable about the plot is ruined by the use of character. Which in uniformly awful. The book is obviously missing Tony and Natasha as coleads. But with one dead, and the other stepping aside, character has just collapsed. All of our main players are crap. I’ll start with Sam, because any discussion of anyone else will bump into the next section, theme. Meanwhile, Sam is meaningless. He doesn’t matter. That’s why the final panel of the issue gets such a shrug. Sam is supposed to represent hope? Bullshit. He does nothing. It is Bucky’s plan, based on Bucky’s relationship with Kobik. Sam just stands around, doing nothing. Secret Empire should have been the biggest moment in Sam’s career as Captain America. The iconic Sam Wilson story. Even as it was the story of many other characters, it NEEDED to be a Sam WIlson story. Instead, he is a background character. I understood Sam being sidelined at the start of the series (even if dream sequences could easily have been cut in exchange for dramatising Sam’s arc) because the point was that Sam was at his lowest point. But after his moment in the limelight, he becomes a nobody. He is not a feature in this comic. And with Bucky hidden in the background for most of this comic, our heroic lead is a meaningless character who literally doesn’t matter. When Steve returns to Sam his shield, Steve says ‘this belongs to you’. But why? What, in this issue, justifies Sam to hold the shield. To be Captain America? TO be a superhero in the first place? THis isn’t me policing PoC’s chances to be legacy characters. According the Comicvine, Sam Wilson has been in 1973 issues. This means that there are 1972 issue that prove why Sam deserves to be Captain America. But surely this issue should also prove why? In one of the missteps in Spencer’s generally well done Sam Wilson series, I stated that Sam Wilson’s solution to the Americops, where he created a global surveillance network answerable only to him to spy on the world, was fascist. But I still think that version was more heroic than this issue’s Sam. At least that Sam was actually actively making decisions and trying to make a better world. Here, Sam is a footnote. Sam should actually do something.

    And then there is Bucky… Because somehow, everything in Secret EMpire comes down to that crappy THunderbolts series only I read (and yet, many of the cliffhangers are ignored. We are supposed to treat Thunderbolts as massively important, and yet ignore the fact that ends with Melissa trapped in the arctic, taking one step in front of the other in an attempt to survive and stop the Masters/HYDRA, or that a long lost hero had finally returned, with Ghost? Or any of the cliffhangers this apparently really important book had). So yeah, THunderbolts is apparently important now. And Bucky’s plan is all about his relationship with Kobik from Thunderbolts. Kobik is strong, and is I reach out to her as her friend, I can get her to fix this. All great, except for two things. Firstly, this has not been established as part of Secret Empire. Whatever Thunderbolts says doesn’t really matter, as this should be established in Secret Empire. Bucky shouldn’t walk in during the eleventh hour and go ‘I have a preexisting relationship with Kobik that can save the day’. A relationship that important should be an established part of the narrative. If you only read Secret Empire, Bucky is the world’s most convenient plot point. Wow, exactly what we needed! And secondly, Bucky doesn’t even talk to Kobik. So the key value of having Bucky turn up here, the fact that we can leverage and develop a preexisting relationship, is meaningless. So he comes in conveniently to shift the plot into the right place, but the character stuff that makes the plot gymnastics meaningful is skipped! And wait. THere is actually a third reason why the Bucky/Kobik stuff fails miserably.

    Kobik is still a nonsensical character who motivations and viewpoints don’t make sense. Kobik is a little girl who has been raised on Red Skull’s propaganda. Her naivety combined with this propaganda gave her a warped perspective of the world, which she used to change Steve Rogers into a… Red Skull hating member of HYDRA. Why would a girl raised on Red Skull’s propaganda not change Steve into a man who worshipped the Red Skull. We saw in the very second issue of the Steve Rogers title that Kobik’s view of the perfect HYDRA had Red Skull at the top. And yet, in this issue, we are also supposed to see Kobik as anti HYDRA, anti fascism. Why isn’t she on Steve’s side, wanting everyone to stop rebelling so he can finally implement the perfect HYDRA society she was always taught was important? Isn’t that consistent with her beliefs? This is worse than the Bucky stuff. Not only do we have a character whose two major actions in Secret Empire are contradictory with no focus on character, but she makes even less sense when viewed in the greater context of Spencer’s work. She’s supposed to be the emotional core, but she simply doesn’t work. Introduced too late in the game, and fundamentally lacking in all the stuff that will let her act as the emotional core that all the themes circle.

    Because now we’ve dug down to the themes, as we discuss Steve Rogers himself. Because Steve and the themes cannot be split. Which is a major problem, because after nine issues of great thematic depth, all there is here is a endless void of nothingness. There are no themes here. We all knew where Secret Empire was heading. Siddhant Adlakha described how by the end of issue 2 of Secret Empire, there was only one climax. But I’d say the writing was on the wall much earlier. second issue of Steve Rogers at the most, if not the first. The climax was obvious. Captain America was going to make the case to Kobik on why the values behind Captain America matter, and why the real Steve should return. It would end with a beautiful summation of everything great about the hero, and a rejection of all the worst qualities of the flag he wears. A statement of why Captain America is beautiful and meaningful, and why the corruption and appropriation of his symbol is such a horrific thing. The only question was, which Captain America would it be? Would it be Sam Wilson, the real Captain America set up in contrast to the fake Captain HYDRA? Would it be Bucky Barnes, the Captain America (despite having retired the shield) who actually has a relationship with Kobik? Or would it be Steve Rogers, who by comic book magic could make the case AND be the villain? Now, I will admit I was hoping it would be anyone but Steve. I thought making it Steve falls into the trap of placing iconography over values that Secret Empire is partly about. I thought making Steve the one to give the speech fell into the trap that the Marvel Universe fell in when they were manipulated by Captain HYDRA. Treating Steve Rogers as inherently good, without critically thinking about what he is currently doing, instead of the values themselves. Havign Sam or Bucky, who embody those values without being Steve Rogers, would show that the power in Captain America comes from those fundamental values, regardless of who holds the shields. But that doesn’t mean that a beautiful, meaningful speech about the value of Captain America couldn’t work from Steve Rogers. It could have worked. Except Spencer just forgot to do it.

    I honestly feel sorry for Rod Reis, who has been doing these dream sequences. As a storyteller, this can’t have been a satisfying assignment. He’s been hired to do the thematic backbone of the book, only to spend issue after issue giving meaningless filler that would be better cut. And int eh final issue, he does just as little. The dream sequences could be cut from the story and nothing would change.

    Spencer has his chance to make his grand, thematic statement. What are the values of Captain America? Why are they special? What makes Captain America important? And all that Spencer can say is ‘punch bad guys’. This is fucking atrocious. I mean, this is Rebirth level garbage. With Rebirth, DC has surrendered the idea of superheroes having meaning to nihilistically dance around going ‘nothing matters! Nothing matters!’ and Spencer just repeated the excretable ending of Tom King’s Batman 20. In true Rebirth fashion, it was so horrifically simplistic it essentially gave up on superheroes. And that is exactly what Spencer does here. What does Captain America mean? What makes him so great? Is it his fundamental belief in the value of justice? The value of freedom? Is it the way that he constantly challenges the world to be better that what it is? Is it the way he challenges his nation to be better, that he is the first in line to protest America’s worst elements? His beliefs that the hatred, nationalism and lack of empathy that make up fascism are humanity at its worst? The big thematic question here is Who is Captain America? And Spencer declines to answer.

    So why is Steve Rogers Worthy and Captain HYDRA not? According to Secret EMpire 10, it is because Steve Rogers punches bad guys and Captain HYDRA punches good guys. That’s hollow. That’s empty. I love how Pulliam-Moore and Whitbrook put it at io9.

    ‘If this journey, one that’s dragged Steve Rogers’ character and Marvel’s own reputation through mud, was one meant to be worth going on, its culmination being the simple message that “Hey, maybe you should stand up and fight back against the bad guys”—a message so explicitly obvious in the realm of superhero comics the fact that it is presented here as a grand statement feels almost disingenuous—rings hollow.’

    Ultimately, Secret Empire 10 is empty. It feels like everyone involved just gave up, stopped caring and pushed out whatever. It is a book riddled with atrocious flaws. The very DNA of the issue is corrupt as it moves from plot point to plot point. The form is frequently incompetent, the plotting is atrocious, the characters are empty and the theme and meaning is nonexistent. It shocks me that this is the final result. Regardless of your thoughts on the book itself, the idea that Spencer wouldn’t have some grand point to conclude on was a ludicrous concept. Whether we liked Secret Empire or not, we all expected there would be some grand thesis to debate, whether we agreed with it or not.

    And while I was slightly more negative than you guys most of the time, I did love Secret EMpire. I was looking forward to the final issue. But ultimately, this issue leaves you with one question. WHat was the point? Because this issue is an empty shambles, devoid of meaning and with every element failing. Awfulness without even the merit of being interesting in its awfulness. Dead on arrival disappointment.

    I’d rather be reading Rebirth. That’s how bad this is. At least Rebirth occasionally fails in interesting ways. I’m honestly unsure if I’ll read the Omega issue. Because this is the worst type of emptiness.

    Let Secret Empire 10’s lesson be this. Never let the fact that a book looks like it is doing the right thing when it isn’t. It all comes down to functional storytelling. Don’t let issues like this coast on previous issue’s strengths, nor the fact that the problems aren’t obvious. There’s no obvious signpost for why this issue is a disaster, but that’s the problem. In truth, the issue’s flaw is absence. When there is literally nothing there, there is no signpost to find.

    Just an empty issue, dead on arrival.

    This should have been better

  4. Way back when this all started with Steve Rogers’ first surprise “Hail Hydra” Nick Spencer made a huge point of saying that THIS is the real Steve Rogers and his story would be about a man who would have to fight against his upbringing to decide for himself what was right. There wasn’t going to be any cosmic cube meddling; it was just going to be a story of a good man fighting to stay good after being brought up bad. It was supposed to be about who Steve Rogers IS regardless of whatever brainwashing he received; a good person who fights for what’s right and who can pull himself out from the darkness of an evil ideology.

    ….Instead, this issue was like “lol, nah, here’s the real Steve, look at him go. We lied to you fan that was expecting some sort of pay off or conclusion to a character arc. Boy, we got you good.”

    • I really don’t think we need a story of ‘I oppressed millions of people by founding an evil, authoritarian regime, but now I feel bad about it’. He was the villain, and that is what he should be. We don’t need stories about people like Hitler being redeemed (And yet, DC is writing that). Nor do I think any story that suggested Steve Rogers by virtue of being Steve Rogers, could overpower any brainwashing (especially reality rewrites) is anything but a terrible idea. It gives Steve Rogers an inhuman ability that ceases to be aspirational and becomes impossible. Steve ceases to be humanity at our best, but some god figure that is better than we can ever be, more figure of worship than aspiration. The fact that Steve can’t do what we can’t do, that he faces all the struggles we would face in the same context, is the point.

      There was only one satisfying end to the character arc, and it was to have one of the three Captain Americas (Dream Steve, Sam or Bucky) make a case to Kobik on why Captain America is important. Explain why the true vision of Captain America/American values is much more valuable than the corrupted, appropriated Captain HYDRA (with the context that this corruption happens in real life all the time) and have the arc be Kobik’s choice to reject the worst parts of America’s values for their best. The only problem is, Spencer never got round to doing that, and left the crap we got instead.

      Also, Marvel very specifically left a loophole for cosmic cube meddling. They never promised that it wouldn’t be cosmic cube reality manipulation. Just not brainwashing. First time I saw the statement, I could see the loophole, and the fact that issue 2 confirmed it and every use of the cosmic cube in this story is exactly what I expected since that first issue. The fact that Secret Empire collapsed like a house of cards has nothing to do with the cosmic cube, and everything to do with writing Steve, Sam and Bucky as three empty characters with no values or meanings, in an issue all about the values and meaning of Captain America. That is the problem

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