Secret Empire #0 and 1
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Steve McNiven
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: VC’s Travis Lanham
Cover: Mark Brooks
Review by PeteR
This is going to be a tough review to write, so bear with me as I ramble and drift off into tangents. I started collecting Captain America comics in 1972 with issue #154. Captain America was the first comic series I actually collected. Sure, I read other comic book series, but it was sporadic. I would buy whatever comic was in front of me on the spinner rack. Friends of my parents would give me their children’s collections when they deemed that the child was too old to be reading funny books anymore. Older siblings of my friends would send their comic collections my way when they discovered football, girls (or boys) or music or whatever. Ultimately that was a good thing because I never became a “Marvel Zombie” or fanatical about DC comics. I knew that there had been companies other than the Big Two. There was Archie Comics, Harvey Comics, and Dell/Western Publishing. I even had a couple of comics by a company that had already gone out of business, Tower Comics (which I plan to discuss at some point in the future).
But Captain America #154 was when the concept of continuity really kicked in. You need to take into account what was going on in the Country back then. Our President, Richard M, Nixon, had been reelected by a landslide. Only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia voted against him. We were at war in a country called Viet Nam but no one seemed to be sure why. The idea of a “domino effect” was sort of vague when you compare it to World War II, which had good guys (us) and bad guys (Nazis).
World War II had only been over 27 years at that point. One of my grandfathers served in the Pacific Theater. The grandfathers, uncles or cousins of my friends had fought in World War II as well. I had met people who had numbers tattooed on the insides of their arms. They always looked sad when I asked about them. The Second World War was not just a concept in moldy textbooks yet. It was a real event that happened to the people I grew up with. It was taught in school. It was in our movies, TV shows and comic books. It was constantly discussed over family dinners. So by 1972, the United States was the place to be. We made the tough, moral decisions for the World. Our form of government, Democracy, was the great shining experiment. In the eyes of a child, we were righteous….or so we had been told.
Captain America embodied the best aspects of our Country. He believed in freedom for everyone. He didn’t see color; he helped everyone. He believed in the inherent goodness in all of us. The real world started to show the cracks in our beliefs. Aside from Viet Nam, the Civil Rights movement was in full bloom. Apparently not everyone in our Country was treated the same or equally. People of color, women, and people of different faiths who had been previously abused and marginalized were rebelling against being second class citizens. They were being heard, loudly. The concept that the United States was always right and just started to wane. The Washington Post was starting to drop hints that something was not quite kosher in the 1972 election.
Then on October 10, 1973 the wheels came off the cart. Our Vice President, Spiro Agnew, had to resign in disgrace because of tax evasion. After that, it all went downhill fast. The Watergate conspiracy began to dominate the news. In Captain America Comics, he was battling an organization called The Secret Empire. On August 8, 1974, The President, our President, resigned because he had attempted to use his power to cover up a crime. Meanwhile in Captain America #175, which came out around the same time, Cap had tracked down the leader of the Secret Empire to the Oval Office of the White House. After a heated confrontation, the head of the Secret Empire unmasked and promptly committed suicide in front of Captain America. Writer Steve Englehart did not come out and say it was the Marvel Universe equivalent of Richard Nixon. He didn’t have to. The dream that was America for so many of us died, and standing next to us was Captain America, furious and grief-stricken.
Flash forwards forty-two years. Marvel has rebooted Captain America (again) with a new issue #1 with Nick Spenser manning the writing helm. At the end of that comic, it was revealed that Captain America had been a disciple of Hydra all along. Hydra may not exactly be the Nazis, but they are close. They had worked arm in arm with the Third Reich. Captain America’s greatest nemesis, the Red Skull, occasionally controlled them. Now Captain America was bowing down to him. Everything written about Cap since 1941 had been a lie.
It turns out that this is a new reality that has been rewritten by the Red Skull using the Cosmic Cube. The entire history of Captain America has been wiped away and replaced with a different actuality. This is the foundation of Marvel’s latest crossover that is meant to dominate their sales for this entire summer. It’s Captain America’s control of Hydra and their conquering the United States.
Nick Spenser has weaved a tale that has succeeded at infuriating huge swaths of Marvel fans. It has become so reviled that Marvel had to issue a press release last week to reassure the fans that, in the end, all will be well. Marvel actually asked all of its readers to keep buying a massive crossover that is going to involve multiple separate comic series (at $3.99 to $4.99 apiece) and to be “patient” because the epic will resolve itself.
Why you should buy this book? If this storyline had been yet another standard good guy turns bad but it turns out they were an imposter, clone, or Life Model Decoy, no one ultimately would care. It’s not. Nick Spencer has, by his craft as a writer, made us all believe in the ultimate betrayal. The artists along the way have included Jesus Saiz, Kevin Libranda, Danial Acuna, Steve McNiven, Jay Leissten and others. All of their artwork has heightened the atmosphere of tension, disappointment and rage at the events. These creators have all worked together to create a storyline that makes us, the reader, actually feel something. Like it or not, we are emotionally invested. All of the outrage over the internet and in fandom has been because Spencer and Company succeeded in their mission. They hurt us, and now they have to fix us.
I am not enjoying this plot. That does not mean it is not brilliantly executed. Because it is being told well, I will continue to read it. I feel kind of like the bank robber in the movie Dirty Harry. He’s lying in the street and Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan is pointing his .357 at the robbers head talking about how he doesn’t remember how many bullets he has used. “Do you feel lucky punk?” Harry says. The robber gives up but, as he is being arrested exclaims, “I’s got to know.” The gun’s hammer falls on an empty chamber and the crook lives.
I’ve got to know. But, do you feel lucky? Well, do you?