Secret Empire had an interesting start with issue #0. Nick Spencer certainly set-up all the odds are against the heroes of the Marvel Universe as the villainous Captain America has helped Hydra takeover the United States. Not only that but he led to Hydra covering the Earth in a “protective” barrier and keeping out some of the strongest Marvel heroes from interfering. With so much going against the Marvel heroes I’m very interested to see what exactly Spencer has up his sleeves with Secret Empire. Could this be one of Marvel’s greatest blockbuster events? Or will it suffer from what many events have suffered through the pressures of delivering an event fans will get behind? Let’s find out with Secret Empire #1.
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Steve McNiven
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Story Rating: 2 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: In Greensboro a kid named Jason is getting dropped off at school and complains to his brother, Brian, that another kid named Marcus stole his lunch box. Brian says he’ll get him a Captain America lunch box. After Jason takes off Brian says “Captain..Fascist…..Lunch Boxes” as he types on his phone.
Jason gets to his class late and his teacher tells him to sit down as she reminds the students what time it is after the bell rings. All the kids stand up and stick their arms out while saying “Hail Hydra!!!” in unison.
A little later as the teacher gives her lecture she states Baron Strucker was killed for treason. She then asks the class who ran ran the Super Soldier Program in the USA. Jason raises his hand to say “Abraham Erskine” while another student, Anna, says it was “Arnim Zola.” The teacher says that Anna was right and while running the Super-Soldier Program, Arnim was creating superior forces for Hydra in a covert operation.
Jason is confused since last year the teacher said America won the war. The teacher uses that to speak on “The Great Illusion,” an event where the Allies were able to make everyone forget who really won the war but thanks to Captain America everyone was restored their true selves.
She then asks the class what the three guidelines are. The students yell out “Trust Authority!” “Punish Weakness” and “Report Threats.”
As the class continues Marcus speaks up and says he wants to report Brian as a threat. Jason tries to speak up but Marcus says his sister saw Brian doing something weird recently. The teacher settles the class done as a camera watches everything.
At his house Brian runs inside. Brian suddenly throws up a Captain America lunch box. He suddenly hears someone knocking on the door and Hydra soldiers end up knocking the door down and saying that Brian is under arrest.
In Las Vegas a kid arrives at the train station and thinks of how the world did not change for the better.
Over Earth, Captain Marvel desperately tries to break the barrier that has encased the planet. As she does this a message Captain Marvel sent out to anyone that can hear it plays. In the message Captain Marvel speaks about how they were attacked from within as the person they trusted most used their weakest moment to become their greatest threat. She ends the message on how Captain America left them to die from constant invasions just as another threat is coming. The message then suddenly cuts as Captain Marvel speaks on how they must fight back.
Back in Las Vegas the kid from earlier is running away from some Hydra soldiers. Amedeus Cho appears and asks what is going on. The kid says he needs to get away from Hydra as he was supposed to meet someone from the underground. Amedeus turns into the Hulk and demolishes the Hydra soldiers.
Wasp, Viv Vision, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Falcon arrive and the kid introduces himself as Rayshaun. Just as Reayshaun shows the group what he has in his backpack Hydra sentries find them. The group make a run for it. Ironheart flies in on the Fasticcar and tells everyone to get in the car.
In Denver Krigorrath talks about how in the past people feed his appetite. Captain America quickly grows tired of Krigorrath speech, especially since he has a meeting to get to. Captain America tells Krigorrath to crawl back to wherever he came from and he can escape with his life. He drives home the fact that he is not here to play games anymore and will not put up with disorder anymore. Krigorrath laughs and tells Captain America to bring on his army.
Captain America says “Avengers Assemble” and Odinson, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Superior Octopus, Deadpool, Taskmaster and Black Ant appear as the new Avengers. They quickly combine their powers to overpower Krigorrath.
The news reports on the Avengers taking down Krigorrath. They then run reports on how violent crimes are down 75%, Doctor Faustus celebrates in Wall Street with others on falling unemployment and Madripoor and USA signing a new agreement just as Hydra High Council gather for the upcoming “Day of Reckoning,” an event where 20 convicts will be killed by a firing squad.
At the White House, Doctor Faustus goes over how they’ve been able to add their special cocktail to the Earth’s water supply that’ll help increase docility and receptiveness to Hydra’s desires. Kraken reports on no sign of volatility in Northern California even though the mutants in new Tian are not to be trusted. Captain America says he will talk with Beast at their upcoming meeting. Viper then updates on two new facilities being opened as they’ve doubled the number of Inhumans they are holding in indefinite custody. Zola then brings up the incident in Nevada.
Over in Las Vegas, Ironheart is trying to do some quick repair work on the Fantastic car while Spider-Man drives. Ironheart finally gets the boost drive to work and they are able to get away from the Hydra sentries.
Back at the White House, Zola finish explaining what happened in Nevada and how the event got 50 million views on YouTube before censors took down the footage. Faustus tells Captain America that the time to issue a statement on the video has past, which all the others agree. Captain America asks Baron Zemo for his opinion. Zemo says that the Underground is growing and becoming more dangerous as time passes.
Zola says that this all happened because the rebels were given pardon’s on the “Day of Peace.” Captain America says he is not going to turn the country into a prison state. Zola says they must stop showing mercy and recommends use their dreadnoughts to weed out all forms of resistance. Faustus mentions they could also launch a mass programming as they’ve done in the past. Everyone brings up more ideas all furthering how they cannot allow the Underground to go unpunished and that it is time Captain America showed his power.
In the Nevada desert the Fantasticcar arrives at the Underground secret base. The Thing is there to greet the group, happy that the car got them back safely even though it hasn’t been used in a while. Black Widow shows up and mentions that everyone saw what Ironheart and the others just did.
Hawkeye shoots an arrow and asks if the group brought back the supplies. The group forgot to get the supplies. Hawkeye then tells the group that they are idiots and shows them the video of them in Las Vegas that went viral. Hawkeye reminds the group how their hideout is also housing civilians and doing what they did doesn’t help them.
Hawkeye then asks who Rayshaun is. Viv mentions he is from the internet which Black Widow and Hawkeye take it to mean he is a spy. Rayshaun explains how he is from Brooklyn and he brought flash drives with files that Rick Jones gave him that will change things. Hawkeye tells the others to take Rayshaun to the “Drunk.”
Elsewhere, Captain America is having dinner with Sharon Carter. Sharon doesn’t eat or drink anything that was served. Captain America tries to have a civil conversation and brings up how she can help him with the briefing papers and give him advice. Sharon has no interest in helping Captain America as he has betrayed everyone and he’s become a “fascist terrorist.” Captain America says that it is not that simple and that Sharon can be a big help in creating a stronger world. Sharon says she would never join his cause at it is corrupted to it’s core and knows her “Steve Rogers” would never do that. Captain America says he is the real Steve Rogers and Sharon asks him to prove it by sparing Rick Jones.
At a prison cell Rick is singing just as Captain America walks in. Captain America wants to know what caused Rick to steal valuable files. Rick tries to bring up his time as Cap’s Bucky. Captain America understands that people see him as a monster but he can’t just let Rick go. Captain America then asks Rick about who has the stolen information but Rick just sings. As Captain America walks away Rick yells that Cap is still his hero.
At the Underground hideout Giant Man leads Rayshaun through the facility. During their walk Giant Man mentions how they have resistance cells in the city. Rayshaun thinks he is part of the resistance now. They eventually met up with Ant-Man, who introduces Rayshaun to the “Drunk” the Tony Stark AI.
The Tony AI is working on a device but is finding some difficulties. Rayshaun introduces himself but Tony AI is still focused on finishing his device, which is to get air conditioning to the hideout. Rayshaun says he has information on how they can fix Captain America and Tony AI should focus on that since they were best friends. Tony AI says their relationship is complicated and talks about how there have been 89 casualties since Captain America and Hydra and they tried to “free” Cap.
Rayshaun brings up Rick Jones but Tony AI says he knows Rick is in prison and that Rayshaun has been catfished. Rayshaun can’t believe Tony AI is giving up but Tony AI is that their mission now is just to survive.
Elsewhere in the hideout Black Widow and Hawkeye talk about their past and that their younger resistance members can’t be so reckless. Black Widow reminds Hawkeye that he is the one who has been the driving force for the Underground, even when it looked like they would lose. She then tells Hawkeye to stop worrying about millennials and leans in for a kiss when room goes dark.
In a Hydra hideout Madame Hydra continues to struggle against Doctor Strange, who is trying to break the dark dimension barrier. Captain America arrives and he sits down to talk to Madame Hydra. Madame Hydra senses Captain America is torn about showing mercy to his friends and being seen as weak in front of the council. Captain America knows that there is disloyalty in their ranks, like Zola and Faustus, who are plotting against them. Madame Hydra says they need them for now while thy build their empire.
She then reminds Captain America that their real goal is to find the Cosmic Cube and that it is Captain America’s destiny to find it to restore everything taken from Hydra. She then says that the Hydra Council and Underground are just challenges to their power.
Later Captain America is in his office getting ready to shoot a live broadcast. Captain America greets his fellow Americans with “Hail Hydra.”
Someone speaks about how evil has finally won and that the nightmare is just beginning as an empire rises.
At the same time we see Rick Jones executed by a firing squad at a prison.
In Las Vegas the Underground hideout’s alarm are set off. The Underground members go to find out what set off the alarm. At that same time Hydra dreadnaughts start destroying Las Vegas. End of issue.
The Good: When Secret Empire #1 focuses on the conflict that the Marvel Universe’s greatest heroes must overcome it is excellent. The problem is that this is not the true focus of Secret Empire. Instead Nick Spencer spends a lot of time trying to show us why Captain America is not completely a bad guy when that is exactly the direction this first issue should’ve gone with.
When Spencer shows us how oppressive Hydra is and what their plot to have the people of Earth come over to their side Secret Empire is the most effective. The opening scene with the children attending a class where a teacher goes over the “real” history of the world we are able to see how much Hydra has penetrated things. There was definitely a disturbing feeling to hear children yell out “Hail Hydra.”
The sense of hopelessness for the heroes resistance is made worse with how Hydra has eliminated some of the strongest Marvel characters. Having characters like Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange busy doing all they can to survive their current predicament showed us how far reaching Hydra’s plot was. Captain Marvel’s speech at the opening of Secret Empire #1 is the most effective on this end of the story. It makes the eventual time when these characters join up against the resistance potential be a bigger turning of the tide moment.
That said, the biggest positive that Secret Empire #1 is the always impressive artwork from Steve McNiven. There are very few artist that match the big event-level feel of McNiven’s artwork. Even when we are constantly bombarded by dialogue McNiven is able to make everything happening on the page feel like a big event. He does an especially good job making the large scale moments, like the new Avengers taking down Krigorrath and Hydra destroying Las Vegas, come off as important events even this early in Secret Empire.
The Bad: One of the biggest problems with Secret Empire #1 is that it never reads like the first issue of an event. Rather this is just a continuation of Secret Empire #0, which should not be how it should be. As the “first” issue of this event it should not feel like a reader is missing out and is required an issue that was not promoted as the kick off of Secret Empire. There is no reason for Marvel to do this as this should’ve been Secret Empire #2 while the #0 issue should’ve been labeled as the first issue. It’s needless confusion that will make readers walking into this event with Secret Empire #1 feel lost at what happened to cause the beginning of this issue.
The other problem, and possibly Secret Empire’s biggest weakness, is that it does not fully commit in portraying Hydra, in particular Captain America, as villains. Instead there are various moments that Spencer delivers that show us how Captain America still wants to be a hero even though everything he orders goes against it. This goes against the unshaken resolve Captain America showed during his speech to Captain Marvel at the end of Secret Empire #0, which at least showed how far gone he is. By not fully committing with Captain America being an unfeeling leader of this Hydra regime his actions and decisions don’t line up with his expressions.
That is especially the case with how Inhumans are being treated. Yes, this does make Hydra look like just an extension of the Nazi’s, even though Marvel marketing doesn’t want to have people believe that. From purely a story standpoint Spencer never gives us a reason why Inhumans are being specifically singled out. In a world of mutants and other super powered people not following Hydra’s rule it did not make sense. It would’ve of made more sense if it was simply said that Hydra has set up special facilities for all super powers, including Inhumans, mutants and other people with superpowers.
This is something that clearly wasn’t thought out and because of that it made it look as though the Inhumans were singled out due to how Marvel wants to make the franchise a thing. With how much information is being dumped onto the readers laps throughout Secret Empire #1 it didn’t make sense that the Inhumans camps were not expanded on. Leaving out this detail and why Captain America and Hydra’s world of followers are fine with this made the former even more unredeemable no matter the story’s outcome.
The failed execution on the Inhumans role in the story also speaks to how the time jump between Secret Empire #0 and #1 was handled. There is never a clear idea of how much time has passed between issues. Seeing Captain Marvel still being in space makes it seem like we aren’t that far removed from the events in Secret Empire #0. With how deep Hydra’s takeover goes and the infrastructure we see it seems like we are a few months removed from previous events we saw. And because of that it never feels like we are actually experience a story. Rather it is Spencer speaking through these characters telling us how much has happened.
This hurts the Underground effort especially since we don’t have a lot of time to connect with them since we don’t see their formation. We are led to believe Hawkeye, a guy who has never inspired others, is suddenly this great leader of rebels. That lack of connections makes the character moments like Hawkeye and Black Widow conversation come off as something that Spencer wrote in because he ships the relationship rather than a natural progression of the story.
This failure in execution is particularly bad when we see Captain America’s new Avengers team. While it was established in Amazing Spider-Man that Superior Octopus is working for Hydra it made no sense that heroes like Thor Odinson, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Deadpool would work for Captain America’s regime. There is zero character motivation given. Even when Spencer casually drops in how Hydra has turned people through the drinking water he never makes that connection for the Avengers working under Captain America. Instead it looks like Thor, Scarlet Witch, Vision and Deadpool have joined Captain America down his unredeemable path of global takeover out of their own volition.
But out of all this lack of character development, the one that gets it the worst is Rick Jones. Out of all the characters that Spencer could’ve used to drive home Hydra’s rule he chose a character that very few people care about. Worse yet is the fact Rick has been so out of the public eye that his sudden elevated sense of importance does not resonate whatsoever. If Spencer really wanted to give us a meaningful death, that meant something to Steve Rogers, then he should’ve chosen a lower tier Avenger that we’ve seen interact with Captain America in the last few years. In choosing Rick Jones we saw the death of a character that has not been relevant in many, many years. Which basically sums up a lot of Secret Empire #1’s problems in one character.
Overall: Secret Empire #1 has a few good things, from a story standpoint, going for it. Unfortunately for readers stepping into Secret Empire #1 fresh will be lost as issue #0 is required reading for this story. Questionable character and story decisions only make things worse for an event Nick Spencer is trying to make resonate with the reader.