Comics Reviews

Point/Counterpoint: Secret Empire

Here to discuss Marvel’s 2017 story event, Secret Empire, are Daryll Benjamin and Michael Tennant.


Daryll Benjamin Ok dropping this grenade to start: this “event” was Marvel’s most coordinated since Annihilation.

Michael Tennant I’ll be honest I stuck to the main Secret Empire title. Unfortunately, I did not read all 20,000 related titles that Marvel threw at us. Had rent to pay, y’know.

On my end it did seem well planned. But at the same time I don’t think they told the story they meant to. Somewhere I think something went off track and for some of us it resulted in a trainwreck.

Daryll  Well there weren’t too many ways to “redeem” Steve Rogers after going so far gone here. So story had to go down predictable tropes to resolve the situation (see: cosmic cube).

Michael That was one of my problems. From the beginning I was not on board with this storyline. From the second Captain Hydra (Nazi…whichever) killed Jack Flag I said there is no way to walk this back. No way to satisfactorily bring the ‘true’ Steve Rogers back.

I had been waiting for this moment (issue 10) hoping that Spencer would find a way to surprise me. But no such luck.

Creating the storyline with a McGuffin, chasing after McGuffins and resolving everything with a McGuffin . . . that’s a basket full of McGuffins. Which leaves you feeling empty.

A few issues in I thought they should’ve just renamed the event ‘Captain America kills the Marvel Universe’ and just lean into the turn. That actually might have been more satisfying.

Daryll Well since this story isn’t quite over — Secret Empire: Omega is our September 13th — I am sure that the ramifications and fallout will continue over the next year.

Michael Please don’t remind me. The dumpster fire has only just begun.

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Daryll Well there’s 4 major points that should be great fodder for stories from this point on OUTSIDE of Steve Rogers trying to repair the image of Captain America.

  1. The rebuilding of heroic structures for the world. Avengers: decimated. SHIELD: decimated. Alpha Flight: destroyed. Inhumans: Chaos. Only thing still strong kind of is the Mutant Nation.
  2. The viewpoints of other heroes to Capt. Rogers faces external bad perceptions sure, but it was other heroes’ trust that enabled sure a complete takeover. How will other heroes go on with him from this point forward?
  3. Something that began before the event and was a line throughout it: the rebellious youth. The teens have seen the elder heroes f-up twice now to the extreme. How will they organize their systems to ensure this never happens again?
  4. The rebirth of villains. Overlooked in the whole Hydra Cap thing was that the organization marshaled and got super villains to coordinate on a scale not seen since Acts of Vengeance. Hopefully with this fleshed out, I’ll get better hero vs villain tales and less hero-on-hero.

I will be keeping an eye on these 4 arenas that the event opened up. And paying attention to how Marvel capitalizes. They had a great chance with Dark Reign and dropped that ball. The less said about the second Heroes Reborn the better. Ball is in their creatives’ hands

Michael A fresh start is needed in many of the hero teams. I think at some point over 140 different heroes have been members of the Avengers. Our beloved Legion of Superheroes pales in comparison

Daryll Yeah and no one has made that concept work like Kurt Busiek or Jonathan Hickman.

Michael Thin out the ranks. We have the Champions and the Defenders (although I prefer the original concept to the street level team this works). How about only one team that actually calls itself the Avengers? Have other teams with other motivations, but give them their own name . . . please?!!

Daryll Heck, I’ll say that was one of Spencer’s weaknesses here: he didn’t have a grasp of the heroes NOT in his Cap books by & large.

Michael That comes to point number two. I don’t like that they seem to treat the returning Cap and Hydra Cap as separate characters. That muddies things up quite a bit.

Daryll I think they will be separate characters. Will be quite the paradox/insane notion to have the same man halved into good and evil, ala Star Trek. Also, missed opportunity here yet again to return the Fantastic Four. You see Ben Grimm and Johnny Storm as background, but neither played a key role

Michael We expected the distrust of Cap. Especially from Hawkeye who should still be pissed by what happened to Black Widow. But I would say the other heroes may have an issue with Sam Wilson. I mean I understand he was going through things, but the whole world was falling apart. What took him so long to put on his big boy pants and get to work.

I thought they had the perfect opportunity to bring Reed Richards back.

Daryll Well I will say that Hydra Cap did undermine Sam Wilson’s confidence to the point where he stepped away right as Hydra made this power move. Fighting your own demons of disillusionment with trust is sometimes harder than fighting an enemy physically.

Michael I would have had the heroes totally defeated and Reed step out of nothing. And simply say “No More” giving a throwback to the Scarlett Witch’s “No More Mutants.”

But other heroes will still think of what they lost and the difference Sam could have made in the beginning.

Daryll Well, Winter Soldier did that for ya since he represented the true Cap ideals.

Michael That should have felt like a bigger moment. So often in the last issue they had story beats that should have hit harder. ‘Avengers Assemble’, ‘Hail Hydra’ . . . which just fell flat for me.

Daryll And the Sam story ties into my ‘youth in revolt’ angle since I can see “a la the new Patriot” going “Why should I listen to you old man? You bailed on us!”

Michael If they don’t do something big with Miles Morales they have missed a big opportunity. They had him all set up to be the next big hero and then just . . . pffft.

That’s where I would create a second group of young heroes. Maybe led by Bucky, helping them be better, not to fail the way the elders did. While still having the Champions do their thing.

Daryll With the right writers and long enough time, Marvel has a gold mine here for character driven stories. And that’s to Secret Empire’s positive. Like it or not, a lot of the world liked Hydra in charge. How will Heroes react to that notion from here forward? It’s a ball that they dropped with Secret Invasion. I want to see how writers handle this.

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Michael I still felt like they dropped the ball with the actual story. They may have set up some good directions, but most of the story felt like a dirge. I think some of it may have been the art.

I compare every event to the Granddaddy of them all: Crisis on Infinite Earth’s by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. One of the advantages was that it had one artistic vision.

With so many different artists doing an issue (or sometimes half) here and there it seemed a little lost.

Daryll An aside: I wish they got Jim Zub back for Bucky Barnes. He handled him well. For Miles Morales, man, I think I have reached the point where I need Brian Michael Bendis off him. Give me Geoffrey Thorne from Mosaic on him.

Michael I have liked Miles Morales written by Mark Waid. But then I like most people written by Waid (and I do not have nearly the reading experience in Mr. Morales as you do).

Daryll I think he writes Miles better in Champions than Bendis does actually. So I’m with you there.

Point 2: Yeah, artistic differences and bad editorial cooperation is why I hate events. I try to compare events to within their own companies. So I would put Secret Empire neck and neck with Secret Wars; ahead of Siege, AvX, Inhumanity, Secret Invasion; but below Annihilation/War of Kings & Infinity.

Michael All in all, I think what comes next is much more interesting than Secret Empire proved to be. They may have focused too much on the destination and not enough on getting there. The journey is the important thing.

Daryll Yeah, but now Hydra has gotten that infrastructure rebuilt even in defeat. Let’s see how creative Marvel is going to be using it from here on. That will go a long way in how we look back at Secret Empire.


About Daryll Benjamin

Blerd. Irritant. Blogger. Podcaster at afronerd.com Daryll was a quiet, insecure person for years, then an incident blew Daryll’s mind to the point where he couldn’t keep it inside anymore. Now that the rage is released, EVERYONE will receive his words. Read Daryll’s CBU Column: One Man /// Riot.

About Michael Tennant

After discovering Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes #239 as a young man, Michael never looked back. Armed with a passion for journalism and a thirst for knowledge, he still talks to his imaginary friends. Read Michael’s CBU Column: The Graphic Principle.

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