Comic Review: ‘Secret Empire’ #1

Hail Hydra-Cap?

Written by:  Nick Spencer / pencilled by:  Steve McNiven

What’s it about?

Hydra has taken control with Steve Rogers as its leader…can the remnants of the superhero community prevail and restore hope before all is lost?

In review

Building on the prelude chapters in Secret Empire #0 and the Free Comic Book Day issue (and spilling out of the pages of Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers series), Secret Empire #1 thrusts readers into the midst of Marvel’s latest comics event.  You’d be forgiven for finding the word “event” wearying, especially with the disappointment of Civil War II still lingering in the thoughts of many, but with this opening salvo and the shocking revelations of issue #0 it seems that writer Nick Spencer is stirring up a rich brew that will truly shake up the Marvel Universe.

As even the most casual comics reader will by now be aware, Secret Empire is the culmination of Hydra’s plans to seize control of the United States – and the free world beyond – with Steve Rogers’ Captain America as their leader.  The reveal of Rogers’ Hydra allegiance (thanks to some reality altering meddling via a sentient cosmic cube named Kobik – see the Avengers: Standoff crossover) way back in the premiere issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers caused significant controversy, with heavy ripples of discontent still reverberating throughout fan circles.  To see Marvel’s greatest patriot become a symbol of evil is understandably distressing and although Spencer has not been restrained in this regard, he has managed to construct a compelling arc that any true fan of comics should approach with an open mind.

With Secret Empire #1, Spencer keeps the controversy flowing as we skip ahead some months after issue #0 with citizens of the U.S. under the rule of Hydra and kept in check by Steve Rogers and his forces.  With the bulk of the superhero community either stranded in space battling endless hordes of Chituari or trapped beneath a Darkhold ‘bubble’ over Manhattan, it’s left to an underground resistance lead by Black Widow and Hawkeye to plot Hydra’s downfall.  Whilst new readers will likely be lost (luckily Marvel have just published catch-up collection The Road to Secret Empire), having the story told mainly via the perspective of a young schoolboy named Rayshaun helps to ease us in without an overload of exposition as images of schoolchildren raising a ‘Hail Hydra’ immediately establish that there is an ominous shift in the Marvel U’s status quo.

What Spencer does with Steve Rogers is not to make him purely evil in a one dimensional sense, whilst he may not be the hero we’re familiar with there are layers to the characterisation as he paints a man who feels he is simply doing what is right in the circumstances of his altered history.  Despite the revelations of issue #0 as to the nature of these ‘alterations’ it’s unlikely that Marvel will facilitate a complete and permanent perversion of such a beloved and treasured character.

Secret Empire also has some definite parallels to the current political climate and tenuous international situations we see playing out in the news every day.  To Spencer’s credit it doesn’t feel totally overt or unnecessarily forced in the face of the reader but it’s there as much or as little as any individual might wish to read into it.

It might be dark and pessimistic stuff but there’s still a layer of hope and even fun as the younger, brighter Marvel heroes of the resistance, including Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, Amadeus Cho’s ‘Totally Awesome’ Hulk and Riri Williams’ Ironheart take the share of the action and together with the ever-loving blue-eyed Thing provide some much needed beats of humour and optimism.

Visually, Secret Empire #1 is solid albeit the usual sharpness and detail of Steve McNiven’s pencils are a little muddied by the dark, washed-out colours by Matthew Wilson.  It’s by no means as stunning as McNiven’s work on the original Civil War or Old Man Logan but decent enough and a good fit for the overall tone of the book.  It’ll be interesting to see how much consistency can be maintained with the rotation of numerous different artists on the nine issue series.

Controversies aside, Secret Empire is making for enjoyable reading and will surely pave the way for the hope and heroism promised by Marvel’s forthcoming Legacy initiative.

The bottom line:  A strong ‘start’ to yet another Marvel Comics event but one that builds on an already solid foundation as Nick Spencer presses forward with Hydra’s domination of the Marvel Universe.

Secret Empire #1 is published by Marvel Comics and is available in print and digital formats now.

Secret Empire #1

A new has risen as Marvel Comics event ‘Secret Empire’ commences (cover art by Mark Brooks).

13 thoughts on “Comic Review: ‘Secret Empire’ #1

  1. Great review of Secret Empire. I don’t tend to go in for big comic book events that much any more, sadly all the controversies around this storyline hasn’t exactly got me that interested in it either. Still, it sounds interesting enough, might check it out at some point – I’m busy covering Doctor Who for the next few weeks – maybe when I get time. However the story pans out, I just hope Marvel ease off on the big events and reboots for a bit, think the industry needs a break from all that.

    • Thanks Paul. I was initially hesitant about this event and indeed the Steve Rogers series, given that I’m a fan of Cap. I get the controversy, yet Nick Spencer has crafted something interesting here and I’m sure the outcome will see the return of the Steve Rogers as we’ve known him. It’s just good to shake thing up a little, like yourself I get tired of continuous reboots but I think Legacy will be a step in a stronger creative direction for Marvel just as Rebirth has been positive for the DC Comics universe.

      • Yes, that’s the impression I’m getting, that Secret Empire has the potential to be a good creative move – much like Rebirth was for DC. Lets hope so, Marvel need to get back on track a bit I think. I’ll watch this event series from afar, see how it goes, might check out the odd issue or when its collected in trade. I’ve never been a regular reader of Cap America or Nick Spencer’s work tbh, will be interesting to see how this storyline develops in the months ahead.

  2. Nice to see that there are people out there who haven’t been completely fooled by the latest superhero fakeout. It’s messed up that everywhere you turn, everyone has apparently so completely bought into the idea that Cap is not only evil forever, but now also has always secretly been evil. I just don’t understand how people who have been reading superhero comics for years or even decades can fall for something like this and get so very angry about it.
    Of COURSE this is all just more cosmic cube f******. Of COURSE he’ll be fine in the end. Why can’t people just enjoy the ride while it lasts?

  3. Fantastic review man. I’ve heard about all the controversy and all these “events” that Marvel has been vomiting for the past couple of weeks. I managed to snatch a copy of Secret Empire #0 at FCBD and was quite impressed by the style and the direction. I honestly wasn’t expecting what I read. I’m not sure if the style is maintained for issues #1 and everything that is to be released, but it definitely has me curious on how the story will be built and concluded. I really enjoyed that shocking moment at the end of issue #0 too. What do you think about it? This whole idea that Cap can pick up the hammer because… well.. the hammer can only be picked up by someone who strongly believes in their cause It’s what I understood from everyone, but I’m not even sure if that’s really the reason they put out out there. Great review as always, hopefully it won’t be as disappointing as Civil War II was for you.

    • Thank you sir! Unfortuantely I haven’t managed to pick up the FCD issue but I’ve been entertained and shocked (in a positive manner) by the events of issue #’s 0 and 1. I’m been a fan of Cap since Ed Brubaker’s run (solidified by Chris Evans’s potrayal of the character in the MCU) and while this twist is certainly controversial I feel that it’s sometimes necessary to shake things up. Nick Spencer is weaving a good story, some folks have read into things a bit too deeply with the whole nazi/fascism angle that I don’t honestly think has been intended to such a degree. In the end we know that the Steve Rogers we know will be back to lead the Marvel Universe in a more hopeful direction when ‘Legacy’ kicks off later in the year.

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