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Secret Empire #1 Review

Comic Books

Secret Empire #1 Review

After the excellent zero issue that basically changed everything I’d be surprised if there were many folks not on board for this series. Issue #1 hits today, which shows a very different America where Hydra rules. Scary stuff, especially since the most American hero in existence is the supreme leader of Hydra!

Secret Empire #1 Review
Secret Empire #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Steve McNiven
Publisher: Marvel Comics

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Why does this book matter?

It’s Marvel’s summer 2017 event which means every title you know and love is tying into this series. Unless you want to be left out you gotta read this. Luckily, the first issue (and the series that lead to this) are great which bodes well for a solid event series.

Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?

Nick Spencer writes another strong issue, which opens with a good misdirection scene as a boy prepares to go to school. He’s being bullied, lost his lunchbox, and everything seems like your typical “school is tough” setup… well, except for the “home of the Krakens” on the school sign. Odd. Oh, and things are totally not alright when the class stands up and yells, “Hail Hydra!” in unison. We quickly learn everything is not as it seems as Hydra has integrated itself into our culture. Part of the fun in reading this issue is seeing how America, its government, and the heroes have changed. Spencer drops you in and it’s up to us to figure out how bad it has gotten since Hydra took over.

Secret Empire #1 Review
This is quite a badass scene.

Essentially this series is starting–it is a #1 after all–with a world where Hydra has won and this is their happy ending. Captain America is the leader of those that used to be his bitter rivals and he doesn’t even need to fight with city destroying monsters. All it takes is a forceful threat and said monster to make the mistake of not obeying. A key montage via a newscast helps inform us how Hydra has infiltrated every aspect of government policy and global policy too. In a stroke of genius, Spencer has artist Steve McNiven draw Cap in the most bored position I’ve ever seen him in; while Hydra has won, Spencer reminds us all is not well with Cap and his outlook on how things function. That’s been one of the most fascinating elements of Captain America: Steve Rogers because it’s a reminder he may be Hydra, but he’s still the hero we love deep down.

This issue develops the good guys in the story as well and again we’re dropped in and must play catch up. There’s politics going on with them too and Spencer does a good job making it clear how the plethora of dynamics are shaking out. By the end of this issue, it’s quite clear everyone is on edge for varying reasons, and when push comes to shove real change is going to bust out.

Steve McNiven draws an exceptional issue and I’m really digging how Marvel switches artists on each issue of an event. The biggest success from the art side of things is the subtle pain, anguish, boredom, and other not so happy feelings Cap wears on his face. He’s finally got the ending he thought he always wanted, but his unease is unmistakable. McNiven keeps those emotions apparent, but still subdued enough that the characters around him are unaware. It’s a nice touch to keep the reader emotionally invested in the character. McNiven is always good for a more realistic portrayal of heroes, which starts with the costumes; you can see the thickness of Cap’s mask for instance, or a layered realistic look to Hawkeye’s hair. Given how heavy this issue can be on dialogue those are key aspects that keep the reader in the moment.

Secret Empire #1 Review
There are some really cool bad guy designs, including these robots.

It can’t be perfect can it?

Besides the excellent character work of Cap who is clearly conflicted emotionally–even if he’s not aware of it himself–I’m at a loss for where the series goes from here. A brief scene showcases the Avengers, but who are these characters and why do they fight for Cap? The actual resistance and the new relationships forged are interesting, but what is their plan and where can they go from here? A McGuffin is introduced early on, but it’s never actually opened, which leaves an urgency to find out, but also feels like an overt tease that’s more frustrating than it’s worth. Basically put, I don’t know where the story goes from here and the issue ends about where we started.

Is It Good?

This series is starting to give me House of M vibes in the best possible way. Reality has been altered, that is for sure, but the dynamics and character changes resulting from the event mean brand new stories and exciting ones at that.

Secret Empire #1 Review
Secret Empire #1
Is it Good?
I'm a sucker for good character writing and this issue has it in spades. It also drops you into a new America, which makes for a fun catch up.
Excellent character work as we see Cap isn't quite as happy as he should be as supreme leader
Art is excellent at capturing facial expressions and clothing
Where we go from here is a big question. A character dies, an intro of Hydra America is revealed, but it ends nearly where it begins

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