Welcome to the (Not So) Secret Empire

Some people are engrossed in the Stanley Cup playoffs currently underway (Go Leafs!). They’re probably dissecting and discussing each game of the best of seven series and trying to figure out what it might mean for the postseason going forward. But we Marvel Comics fans have our own event now getting started. That’s right! It’s mega-crossover time!  And we’re going to give you the breakdown issue by issue as Marvel once again threatens to change everything and assures us that nothing will be the same again.

You might be feeling a little gunshy. Oh sure… we just went through Inhumans Vs. X-men, Civil War 2, Monsters Unleashed, and Secret Wars in pretty rapid succession. And before that, there was Axis, Original Sin, Age of Ultron, X-men Vs Avengers, Fear Itself, Siege, Dark Reign, Secret Invasion, World War Hulk and probably a few others that I’ve forgotten. But this time it will be different I’m sure.

The first issue of Secret Empire drops today (officially Secret Empire #0). But we have a connection, and we’re sitting down with the issue to give it a read right now. Let’s see what we’ve got…

Secret Empire #0

Marvel Comics

Written by Nick Spencer

Art by Daniel Acuna (Prologue by Rod Reis)

First Impression: Woah.

See… this is how Marvel Comics gets me. They sucker me in with spectacular art and a pretty solid premise. They lay out multiple threads, each of which holds a lot of story promise but I know… I know it can’t last. Marvel Comics… I want to believe.

You have Nick Spencer at the helm. I love ‘Morning Glories’ and ‘Bedlam.’ ‘Infinite Vacation’ is one of my favorite books to put into people’s hands to show just what the comic medium is capable of doing.

The story is laid out pretty systematically. There’s one plot point that had me scratching my head because it hinges on something that seems to go against current Marvel continuity and there’s no explanation for that incongruence.

The Breakdown (Spoilers Within!):

Marvel has been developing the Steve Rogers as Hydra agent plot for just about a year now, and with Secret Empire’s arrival, everything is coming to a head. The story opens with a flashback to 1945 and we’re treated to a different version of Captain America being frozen in ice. I say “treated” because Rod Reis’ art is gorgeous. I love his painted style. And it fits perfectly with the tone of the prolog.

When we arrive in the present, it is with Steve Rogers as the newly minted head of S.H.I.E.L.D. facing three distinct threats to Earth.

  1. A massive invasion by the alien Chitauri.
  2. A supervillain assault on New York City.
  3. Hydra has taken over the country of Sokovia and is threatening nuclear strikes.

The Chitauri Invasion is met in space by Captain Marvel and her strike team. Horribly outnumbered and outgunned, they are fighting a delaying action trying to buy time for IronHeart (RiRi Williams) and IronMan (Tony Stark) to fix the planetary defense shield. And this is the plot point that made me scratch my head. I thought Tony Stark was in a self-induced coma recovering from the events of Civil War 2. As far as I know, he’s never been re-awakened. He certainly hasn’t put the armor back on. In fact, his absence is the whole reason that Riri and Doctor Doom are currently running around as IronMan. So I hope that there’s some explanation forthcoming for his presence in the book.

The attack on Manhattan pulls in a lot of the superhero population. Specifically shown is Luke Cage, Cloak and Dagger, Spider-Woman, Iron Fist, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Doctor Strange. In what felt like a bit of a nod to the Netflix television universe Cage calls them all the Defenders.

S.H.I.E.L.D. moves a lot of their assets toward Sokovia to deal with the Hydra invasion.

By the end of the issue, we have three distinct “fronts” where conflict is happening. The space team has been trapped off Earth. The island of Manhattan has been pulled into the Dark Dimension. And Hydra -with all of the S.H.I.E.L.D assets- are moving toward Washington D.C. with Tony Stark putting out a call for any and all remaining heroes to head there to defend the Capital.

Final thoughts:

This issue sets up a lot of stories. And it feels like maybe for the first time things will never be the same again. I really don’t see how Steve Rogers comes back from any of this. I’m a little afraid that it is so big of a story that it means Marvel Comics can only be setting up a reality reset where no one remembers any of these events.

Or maybe they’ll surprise me and actually let actions have consequences.

In either case, this issue moved the barometer for me from “no interest whatsoever” to “tentatively interested.” Let’s see what they can accomplish in issue one.