Secret Empire #1 Review

Posted May 5, 2017 by Alexander Handziuk in Comic Books

Written by: Nick Spencer

Art by: Steve McNiven

Published by: Marvel Comics

After much press and conflict, Secret Empire #1 has arrived on store shelves. And thankfully, it’s not the  childhood ruining, fascist piece of literature that people feared it would be for some reason. Quite to the contrary, Secret Empire #1 is a well written comic book that takes the Marvel Universe in a new direction that is truly engaging and interesting, and its’ main unfortunate detraction is the all but certain probability that things are going to return to normal once the series is over.

I was conflicted on how to approach this review because for the most part, what’s included in this issue is some great superhero storytelling that puts Captain America in one of the most intriguing situations in some time and perhaps ever.

He’s a Hydra sleeper agent now, thanks to some Cosmic Cube shenanigans and apparently he’s always been. But this issue doesn’t paint him as a straight villain, but rather as the same core Steve Rogers character, who loves his friends and is just trying to do what he believes is right. In many ways this issue provides a nuanced deconstruction of Captain America and the tricky grey matter of morality. His interaction with Sharon and Rick Jones really drive home the idea that he’s trying to do what he believes in, while keeping the bond with the people he’s lied to.

Bringing in the Resistance, led my Black Widow, Hawkeye and Tony Stark also shows how the bonds that once tied them together are now nonexistent. Also it’s nice to see some of the younger/newer Marvel heroes like Ironheart and Amadeus Cho as key cogs in the resistance and while their quips don’t always land, they do bring some levity to the somber nature of this event.

The conflict taking place around Cap is also quite interesting, as Inhumans and heroes are being rounded up and arrested by the new Hydra led government. This tension is well presented in the first scenes as a simple trip to school illustrates just how different this new world is and gives this issue a nice emotional tether right from the start.

And illustrating all the tense moments is Steve McNiven, who brings rough line work that fits well with the muted colours and tone of this series. His art shines in the larger moments whether they are moments with many characters, or big explosions. There are a few scenes where the facial work looks stilted and suffers, but for the most part McNiven successfully paints the darkness overtaking the world.

My biggest gripe with this issue comes near the end and involves Madame Hydra and Steve Rogers discussing the future. Their conversation paints very clearly where the series is heading and unfortunately in doing so presents an ending to the series that is very much expected.  It’s a weird thing to be writing because this is the first issue and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

But, my main issue is summed up nicely in a line of monologue by an Inhuman, which goes “People say that this will ‘change everything,’ That nothing will ever be the same again.’ You hear it so much, you stop believing it. You’re even surprised– When it actually happens.”

I mean, this really sums up the issue with big superhero events and even superhero comics in general. They constantly claim to have these big, far-reaching consequences and things will never be the same, and frankly it all blurs together to the point of white noise.

Marvel Legacy, a line wide reboot of sorts, launches in September and features Steve Rogers as Captain America firmly featured in the centre of the promotional art. Did I really expect Steve Rogers to stay a Hydra agent? No, of course not, but it would be nice if there was a surprise here, if the status quo shaking promises actually came true, and stayed true.

Secret Empire #1 is a great start to the event, but one that is overshadowed by a lack of overall tension and outward factors. That being said Nick Spencer creates an engaging and harrowing Hydra led America, while also providing Steve Rogers with some of the finest characterization he’s seen in years. I truly hope that this series doesn’t end how I’m expecting it too, but even if it does, at least the journey will be an engaging one.

About the Author

Alexander Handziuk

Alex is a comic aficionado who loves Aquaman, Overwatch, the musical Hamilton and medium length strolls on beaches. Check him out on the Comics Dash Podcast, on twitter at @axehandziuk and in real life patrolling the borders of Canada.