Secret Empire Series Review
Nearly 18 months in the making, the Secret Empire is finally over. The Secret Empire has been setup through multiple story arcs and crossover events, beginning with Avengers: Standoff! (which initially appeared to be a crappy, go-nowhere miniseries). This was followed up with the Steve Rogers: Captain America series that set the groundwork for Rogers’ becoming Hydra. Then Civil War II, Uncanny Avengers Vol. 3, US Avengers, and more.
It was announced in early 2017 and fans fell into one of three groups: protesting against Captain America for becoming Hydra, protesting against Marvel for another crossover event, or willing to give it a chance, even though it’s sure to be a waste of time and money. Since I’m not the biggest Captain America fan, I gave it a chance, reading through all the lead-up series and the tie-ins to give it every opportunity to enjoy event.
Here’s my thoughts on the series.
Steve Rogers: Captain America
The Secret Empire began over a year ago, with the Steve Rogers: Captain America series acting as its primary lead-up to the main event. The series described the events of the Cosmic Cube Kobik, the living crystal who’s also a girl, who can manipulate all reality, with the help from Red Skull, brainwashing Cap to believing he was raised a Hydra agent, and the future leader of its rebellion. I’m not sure why it took 80 years of patience before finally making their move, but apparently brainwashing worked. The series was a surprisingly good buildup to the Secret Empire, with Cap’s continued deception of his peers, manipulating events throughout Civil War II, the Uncanny Avengers, and US Avengers to his and Hydra’s benefit.
The relatively quick takeover of America by Hydra was really brilliant. He convinced everyone that a force field to keep the Earth safe from Chitauri forces and other alien invasions, and then locked many of Earth’s greatest heroes outside of it. He imprisoned most mutants and Inhumans for “their own benefit”. Blackout, a lesser-known villain, was used to blackout New York City, where nearly every superhero lives. Several remaining superheroes were convinced, blackmailed, or brainwashed into supporting Hydra, including Odinson, Punisher, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Deadpool, and Ant-Man. Namor and Black Panther avoided the fight to protect their homelands, which they both soon regretted.
The artwork was another positive throughout the main series, which included work by Rod Reis, Daniel Acuña, Steve McNiven, and Andrea Sorrentino. Many of the scenes were among the best I’ve seen from Marvel in years. The darkened disposition of the country was executed effectively and the characters helpless moods were also depicted appropriately.
What Didn’t Work
Most of the MANY tie-in series were bad and often didn’t directly impact the story itself. When I realized I spent money to see obnoxious millennial superheroes infiltrate the Hydra choir, I whipped the issue against the wall and nearly swore off Marvel titles altogether. Maybe the most important tie-in was when an Inhuman named Barf vomited a Cosmic Cube fragment. And they wonder why we mock them…
The ending couldn’t have been more predictable. Kobik returned and set the world back as it was pre-Secret Empire, including the return of the real Captain America. So basically, everything that just happened for the last 18-months is now as if it never happened. The turncoats who fought for Hydra faced no consequences for their actions. The causalities of this war will likely all be reversed throughout the next few months as well. Even Bruce Banner, who was the main causality of Civil War II, was brought back to life. This is essentially the longest What If… issue ever.
What I Would Have Done Differently
Much of what they did was a good idea, minus reality-changing Kobik and an evil Captain America. The Red Skull could have built up his army, taken over smaller countries (as was done at first), and continue to manipulate the world into believing Hydra’s views on transforming into a “peaceful” world. Then have Hydra recruit supervillains to do their work in the US as they take over the country. This could have been a full good vs. evil crossover event.
Or another idea would be to scrap all of this and focus on putting out quality comics instead of continued crappy Pinky-and-the-Brain-type shticks that everyone ends up hating.
Rick Jones – The first casualty of the war against Hydra was Rick Jones. The Avengers longtime sidekick and current hacktivist tipped off the Avengers to the Pleasant Hill initiative and Project: Kobik during the Avengers: Standoff! series, which kicked off the Captain America-turned-Hydra story arc in March 2016. Jones was quickly captured and Rogers ordered him to be executed by firing squad.
Current Status – Still dead, for now.
Bucky Barnes – What better way to kill off Bucky than by Baron Zemo strapping him to a rocket and firing it off, again? The same way he died the first time in WWII. However, we later find out Kobik manipulated reality to save her playmate. Bucky landed safely in the ocean where Namor rescued him and allowed him to work in secret for him as a personal guard in Atlantis.
Current Status – Alive, but there’s no indication where he will be once the Marvel Legacy reformat takes place.
Natasha Romanova – Once Hydra took over, no one was more set on killing Steve Rogers than Romanov. She enlisted the Champions into her own personal army to help assassinate Rogers. In doing so, she also prevented Miles Morales from killing Rogers, which was prophesized by the Inhuman, Ulysses during the Civil War II story arc, to keep him from having to have death on his hands (even if it meant thousands more would die). Miles attacks Rogers, but Natasha steps in front of a swing of Rogers’ shield that was aimed at Miles and she seemingly falls to her death.
Current Status – The Black Widow is likely still dead, with her funeral shown at the end of the final issue. I doubt we see a popular character such as her remain dead with the next Avengers film released next May; however, there are no current signs of her in any upcoming comic series.
Blackout – Blackout was one of the Pleasant Hill victims who never recovered from the brainwashing and Rogers used it to his advantage. Blackout was used to blackout all of New York City, where unfortunately, seemingly every superhero ever lives. Maria Hill hunted him down and put a bullet in his head, bringing light back to the city.
Current Status – Dead
Crappy Marvel Crossovers – In April, Marvel execs announced that following the Secret Empire, there would be an 18-month hiatus for Marvel from big crossover events. This will be their longest consecutive gap without any major crossovers in twelve years.
Current Status – We’ll see if they can handle going 18 months without a crossover event without withdrawals.