I’ve decided to bite the bullet when it comes to Secret Empire and review it for the Revolution. Additionally, I will be provided the perspective of a reader who is coming into Secret Empire not having read all the build to this event that started with Avengers: Standoff. A lot of this is due to the fact that I have not been a big fan of what Marvel has done with the majority of their comic books after Secret Wars. That said, over the last few months I’ve been trying to give Marvel a chance to win me back in reading the comic books that I’ve dropped a while back. With Captain America leading the story of Secret Empire Marvel has that exact chance to win me back as a fan of the Avengers franchise. Will Secret Empire be the disaster that many fans expect? Or will Nick Spencer surprise fans and deliver a story that satisfyingly payoff the story he has created with Captain America becoming an agent of Hydra? Let’s find out with Secret Empire #0.
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Daniel Acuña, Rod Reis and Andrea Sorrentino
Story Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In 1945 Captain America is walking through the snowy mountains in Japan. He ends up meeting Kraken, who he thought was dead, outside a cave. Kraken walks Captain America through the cave while complimenting Captain America on being Hydra’s greatest spy during the war against the Allies.
Kraken ends up leading Captain America to a special pool that is the source of Hydra. Madame Hydra, who turned Kraken into who he is, explains that the cave is all that remains of Ashomia, of which she has taken all of the hidden arts written for her own. Captain America is confused but Madame Hydra says he doesn’t need to understand what is going on.
Madame Hydra then presents Captain America to the Catalyst, who controls the special pool and shows Captain America the Allies using the cosmic cube to win the war. The Catalyst then shows Captain America various visions of his life and what Red Skull has done as a Hydra traitor. Kraken explains that they will use the pool to transport Captain America through time, which will cause him to see visions of another life but not to be confused by them. Captain America steps into the pool and starts being transported to another world.
In the present Captain America is in a Helicarrier where Sharon Carter goes over how they are dealing with the Chitauri invasion after Hydra took out the the Planetary Defense Shield they were working on. Captain America calls Captain Marvel to get her team ready.
Above Earth, Captain Marvel leads the Guardians of the Galaxy, Alpha Flight, the Ultimates and other heroes start fighting the first wave of Chitauri.
Captain America checks on how Iron Man and Ironheart on how repairs for the Planetary Defense Shield are going. Iron Man says they are still trying to asses how much damage Hydra’s bombing caused.
Sharon Carter is then alerted to a bunch of villains who were at Pleasant Hills prison are now attacking New York City, with Graviton acting as the leader of the attack. Luke Cage leads the Defenders to stop the villains from destroying New York City.
Sharon then goes to view the latest Hydra invasion of Sokovia, which is SHIELD’s mission to stop. Sharon says things are being complicated after they lost the Helicarrier Crescent in the area, which is why SHIELD is sending a fleet to deal with the situation.
As the battles intensify above Earth, in NYC and Sokovia Captain America looks on with a serious scowl on his face.
Suddenly above Earth, the Chitauri begin pushing Captain Marvel’s team, eliminating both Hyperion and Quasar from the battle. Captain Marvel updates Captain America on what just happened.
Captain America tells Iron Man and Ironheart to hurry up with getting the planetary shield back up but they need more time.
Captain America checks in on the Defenders. Luke says they are doing their best but aren’t doing any better than Captain Marvel’s team. Nitro gets ready to blow up Time Square. Jessica Jones acts quickly and tosses Nitro in the air. Nitro still blows up in the air and takes out part of New York City with him.
Sharon and Captain America witness the explosion from their Helicarrier. The Secretary of Defense calls Captain America to inform him that with all that is happening the President has authorized Captain America to have full control of the US military and all federal agencies.
Captain America communicates with every hero fighting and inspires them to continue to fight until their last breath.
At the Planetary Defense Shield Ironheart notices that the system suddenly reactivates even though they have not done anything to fix it. Iron Man thinks that it’s impossible but Ironheart reminds him to contact Captain America.
Captain America gets the shield on and it starts covering the entire Earth. With the shield finally acting as a barrier to protect the Earth the heroes start winning all of their fights to the point that the villains on Earth and Chitauri teleport away.
While all the heroes report what is happening SHIELD finally finds the Helicarrier Crescent’s signal but aren’t able to communicate with them. The Helicarrier Crescent suddenly rams into the main SHIELD Helicarrier.
Hydra blows their way into the main Helicarrier and send out a signal that causes all the SHIELD agents not to fight back. The signal that is playing is actually a message with Sharon being able to recognize the voice as coming from Doctor Faustus.
Sharon tries to act quickly but Hydra breaks into the SHIELD control room. Captain America steps in to tell everyone to hold their fire. He says it one more time while standing in front of the Hydra soldiers and they listen to him. Sharon is completely stunned as Hydra soldiers grab her.
Sharon tries to get Captain America to explain what is going on but as she is taken away he says he’ll explain everything later.
Captain America gets word that his transport is ready so he gets ready to communicate with Captain Marvel, who is desperately trying to contact him about injuries on their side.
At the Planetary Defense Shield operation center Ironheart and Iron Man are trying to figure out what made the system get online. Iron Man ponders about the recent bombing being a distraction for the real reason the shield went down. Before they can figure out what happened Hydra soldiers barge in.
Captain America finally contacts Captain Marvel. Captain America informs Captain Marvel that he is not going to teleport her team back to Earth. Captain America explains that back in the past a Soviet scientist named Ivan Kragoff got a hold of a Chitauri Queen and created the Planetary Defense Shield, which Captain Marvel “found,” to ensure Earth didn’t suffer the wrath of an invasion. Captain Marvel is left confused as to what is going on. Captain America congratulates Captain Marvel for building a wall to protect the world, which she is on the other side of, and cuts out communication with her.
As Captain Marvel’s team is exiled from the world Iron Man and Ironheart fly off to get a distress signal out to the hero community.
Near the shores of New York City, Baron Zemo talks about the beauty of the justice they are about to give people with Blackout, which they see as revenge.
Suddenly darkness begins to engulf New York City, including the area where the Defenders were fighting.
Elsewhere, while fighting Hydra with Ironhear, Iron Man figures out what is going on and contacts all of the Avengers left standing and alerts them to an Infinity level threat and that they need to assemble in Washington D.C. fast.
Over in Washington D.C. all of the SHIELD Helicarriers, now featuring the Hydra symbol, hover over the White House. End of issue.
The Good: While this comic is called Secret Empire #0 it does not act that way. Though there are elements of the recap nature of normal #0 issues Secret Empire #0 read more like the first issue of the event. It’s to the point that you are left wondering why this wasn’t just Secret Empire #1.
That is where I will give Nick Spencer some credit. Whether you love or hate what Spencer has done during the course of his Marvel work, especially in Captain America, Secret Empire #0 lets you understand what is currently going on. The opening with Captain America meeting the Hydra leader of 1945 does explain why Steve Rogers had such a shift when he did. It also opens up the possibility to explore an internal struggle within Steve as there are two versions of the character in his head, with the one we know locked dormant somewhere deep inside.
It was also a great relief that the whole plot involving Captain Marvel preparing Earth for the Chitauri invasion is over. That was something that did not need to be yet another event. Using it as a way to unite the heroic community for Captain America’s big betrayal was the most effective use of this plotline introduced in Civil War II. Now Spencer and other Marvel writers do not have to worry about this invasion and focus on other things involving all of these characters.
Daniel Acuña delivered some of his best artwork to date with Secret Empire #0. Acuña made everything that happened in this opening issue feel like a big event. With the Chitauri invasion and villains attacking various parts of the world Acuña had ample opportunity to show off his style. And with all the characters involved in this story Acuña was also able to play with various types of characters. Most effectively was how Acuña drew Captain America as someone that has something to hide and has no sympathy for his betrayal in the second half of the issue.
The Bad: Though there were things to like about Secret Empire #0, there were equally, if not more, things that hurt the hype of the story. The first thing that stood out is how mismarketed this issue is. By making this the #0 issue Marvel and Spencer make it instantly seem like an issue that can be passed up by readers as it supposed to be a primer to the event. And with how Captain America’s big betrayal does take place in this issue readers who start this event with Secret Empire #1 will be lost.
The other part in which Secret Empire #0 fails is with the actually continuity of the current Marvel Universe. This is most highlighted with Iron Man and Ironheart’s involvement. Currently Tony Stark is supposed to be in a comatose state and has yet to come out of it in any Marvel ongoing series. And with how Spencer wrote the scenes between Iron Man and Ironheart he definitely was writing Tony Stark the person not the AI version that Riri Williams has been using. Not helping this is the fact that Acuña draws eyes through the eye holes in Iron Man’s armor during close up shots.
Additionally while it makes sense that the heroes would unite to save the world it was confusing to see Luke Cage calling his team the Defenders since that team has yet to form. This, along with the Iron Man mystery, calls into question where exactly Secret Empire takes place and the possible spoilers for other writers work that Spencer delivers. That lack of clarification of the timeline makes Secret Empire look like an event that was rushed to be published rather than a natural progression of current Marvel events.
The other misstep that Spencer does is with his writing when it comes to the narration boxes. During the moments where Spencer uses these narration boxes it just seems that Spencer is speaking to the reader rather than it being some other Hydra related character. It’s in these moments that Spencer completely takes you out of the story as it feels like someone is holding our hand through the issue rather than discovering things through just reading character dialogue. In doing so Spencer shows a lack of confidence in the Secret Empire story being a cohesive story that any fan can jump into.
Spencer’s writing is also problematic whenever he injects political views into characters. It’s once again in these points of dialogue that it felt like Spencer was using characters as his soapbox for real world events. This is a big problem in the writing as even when it comes to writing your own thoughts in a character’s dialogue it should still come through as something that that character would say. But by not doing so correctly characters like Kraken just sound like comic book versions of Spencer himself. The same goes for when Spencer has Captain America speak on the shield as a wall to “protect” Earth as we aren’t getting any version of Captain America, but rather the writer speaking through the character’s mouth.
And with Secret Empire #0 being wall to wall action there was never really time for a reader to catch their breath to actually connect emotionally to Captain America’s betrayal. Things just happen so fast that you are left wondering how all the heroes could not see things coming. It’s that lack emotional connection that reminds me of where Civil War II failed most. Throughout that event Brian Bendis was so busy with trying to deliver one big moment after another that you started to care less with each thing that happened. That same thing happens again in Secret Empire #0 as you become so desensitized by all the action that you don’t really care which side wins.
This all highlights biggest problem with Secret Empire #0 is that it never actually tries to set up a mystery that our heroes have to solve. Rather than try to set up questions as to what is going on Spencer only establishes that we are in store for more superhero battles as Marvel’s heroes go up against Captain America and Hydra. If Secret Empire is really going to be 9 issues than Spencer better start setting up more to the story than just how Marvel’s heroes stopping another villainous group. If not the questions will be more about why the event is so long rather than if Marvel’s heroes can stop Captain America and Hydra.
Overall: Secret Empire #0 has it’s moments where you can see that Nick Spencer will possibly deliver a good big event. The event starts off on a high note when it comes to big action sequences that will be hard to top. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you see it, for those who have not been onboard with Spencer’s Captain America work Secret Empire #0 does not go out of it’s way to try and win you over. Some of the problems with continuity will definitely leave a lot of people scratching their heads along with some very questionable dialogue choices.