Secret Empire has not had the greatest start to an event. There are certainly several intriguing plot points that have kept me invested in where Nick Spencer is going. Though it has not grabbed everyone’s attention in a positive way, I have liked how Spencer has portrayed Hydra as the ultimate threat that actually accomplished their goal in world domination. Spencer has created a scenario where the biggest Marvel superheroes have to step up big time in order to save Earth from the threat Captain America and Hydra pose to the world. Now for Secret Empire to actually reach the level of an incredible event it needs to start getting the little details with character motivation right, something that has not been executed as well as it should be. Now that we have gotten the set-up out of the way Secret Empire #2 can hopeful deliver on the execution the first two issues of Marvel’s latest blockbuster have lacked. Let’s find if that can happen with Secret Empire #2.
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino and Rod Reis
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: Following the bombing Las Vegas, Nevada lies in complete ruin. The heroes from the underground work quickly with emergency response crews to dig people out. Black Widow believes that now “he” has to die.
Inside a building in New York City, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are surrounded by demons. As they become overwhelmed by the demon horde Luke blames Doctor Strange for what is going on with the Darkforce Dimension.
Jessica Jones suddenly busts in and saves Luke and Iron Fist by knocking out all the demons.
A little later Jessica, Luke and Iron Fist walk through a hospital where they meet Claire Temple. They inform Claire that they weren’t able to get all the supplies she requested. Claire can’t believe how low on supplies they are as the city continues to be overwhelmed by demons.
Luke asks Claire how Dagger is doing. Claire says she is holding up as well as she can be with giving the city some form of light. We then see Dagger using her max power to light up the city with Cloak right beside her. Claire says that they need a better way to help Dagger as she could die from the physical demand she is under. Jessica tells Claire to keep it together.
Elsewhere, some thugs bust into a church asking for medical supplies and hold everyone inside at gunpoint. Kingpin arrives and talks about how people are resorting to the natural order of things as they blame each other. The thugs act scared in Kingpin’s presence. Kingpin approaches one of the thugs and quickly snaps his neck.
Kingpin then has his men hand out medical supplies and tells everyone inside the church is under his protection. He says in return they must remember who kept them safe.
At the Mount the underground heroes return after saving as many lives that they could in the Las Vegas wreckage. Black Widow fires her gun in the air and says they don’t have time to think anymore and the person responsible must answer for what just happened.
Tony Stark shows up and says that they can do things differently. Black Widow shows her frustration at Tony’s objection.
Tony shows everyone a video recording Rick Jones made. In the video, Rick explains that he hacked into Hydra’s database and found out what really happened to Captain America. Rick explains that Kobik, the one holding the power of the Cosmic Cube, was convinced by Red Skull that Hydra was the greatest thing ever.
He goes on to say that during the events of the Standoff, Kobik rewrote reality to make Captain America the perfect Hydra soldier down to changing his entire history. This led to Captain America taking Hydra over from Red Skull and hatching his own plan for world domination, which included capturing Kobik and killing Bucky Barnes. Rick then reveals that Erik Selvig, the SHIELD scientist that “raised” Kobik, scattered the the Cosmic Cube into fragments.
Rick ends his video by saying he’s attached all the intel he has on the Cosmic Cube to the video. As he says that he still believes in Captain America some Hydra agents bust into his room and the video cuts to black.
Tony and Hawkeye want to use the files to help fix Captain America. Black Widow opposes this idea as the deaths that have occurred have been their fault for not doing what is necessary. She goes on to say the rules of the world have changed and that if their Steve was still around he would beg them to kill him.
At the White House, Captain America gives a speech honoring the dead in Las Vegas, both their enemies and innocent citizens caught in the crossfire. Captain America ends his speech by saying they will find strength in those who have fallen.
Later in Captain America’s Hydra throne room, Baron Zemo tells Cap that people on the streets are quiet. Captain America believes they may be scared that their city is next and admits it wasn’t his decision to destroy the city as he gave Elise the power while he looked the other way. Zemo says that whatever the case may be the action worked to put fear in people and start the end of the underground resistance.
Captain America says there is another way to get things done. Zemo mentions the Cosmic Cube. Captain America gives Zemo the mission to find the fragments of the Cosmic Cube whatever the cost may be.
On a balcony at the Mount, Hawkeye checks on Black Widow and apologizes for how the conversation just went down in the other room. Hawkeye mentions that while he hates agreeing with Tony though he admits that he may be to stubborn to see that things have changed like Black Widow says they have. Hawkeye mentions that he knows that things have been hard for Black Widow to remember their lives as superheroes. Black Widow brings up that it’s been like that since Bucky died and Hawkeye killed Bruce Banner.
Hawkeye mentions that they may be relapsing into their old relationship because of what has happened, possibly leading them to make the same mistakes. Black Widow asks Hawkeye if his and Tony’s plan doesn’t work that he will honestly give up on being “heroes” in order to save cities from being destroyed.
Hawkeye is quiet for a second but when he speaks up Black Widow kisses him. Hawkeye is surprised that Black Widow didn’t have sedative lipstick on. Black Widow laughs and says she respects Hawkeye to much to pull that trick. She then knocks Hawkeye out and takes off into the desert.
Hawkeye gets back up a few minutes later and goes to Tony to talk. Hawkeye tells Tony that Black Widow is gone and that they won’t find her if she doesn’t want to be found, as Spider-Man listens in from the vents. Tony says this means they have to work faster.
Tony then shows Hawkeye the team he has assembled already, made up of Ant-Man, Hercules, Quicksilver and Mockingbird. Hawkeye mentions that Selvig probably didn’t scatter the Cosmic Cube segments in Hydra territory. Tony says then that means they have to get out of the country. Ant-Man speaks up and says he knows a guy that can help.
24 hours later, in the middle of the desert Black Widow finds Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and asks him why he is following her. Spider-Man says that he knows Black Widow won’t kill Captain America since he is the one that kills him from the vision of his future he was shown. Black Widow turns down Spider-Man’s offer to end things as he says they will as she does not need a sidekick.
Ironheart, Hulk, Wasp, Falcon and Viv Vision arrive to help Black Widow. Black Widow smirks and welcomes her little revolutionaries to the new Red Room, smearing her own blood on the wall.
In Montana, Tony and his team walk into a bar and ask Ant-Man if his contact can really pull things off for them. Ant-Man says that he will and introduces the team to former Captain America, Sam Wilson. Sam is quick to ask Ant-Man what he wants.
Elsewhere, in the middle of the forest a blonde woman is running away from the Serpent Squad. The Serpent Squad end up catching up to the woman and start beating her. Suddenly someone from the shadows arrives and quickly knocks out the entire Serpent Squad.
The woman wonders who her saved her. Steve Rogers, with a full beard, introduces himself and says he is just a guy trying to get home. End of issue.
The Good: Secret Empire #2 goes a long in developing the conflict with Captain America and Hydra by doing what the previous two issues failed to do. To Nick Spencer’s credit he has made Hydra an impossible wall of villainy that currently holds all the power. This makes you wonder how Marvel Universe’s heroes can even have any hope in overcoming them. At the same time there were certain things left undeveloped that does continue to highlight the weaknesses of Secret Empire’s story.
Out of Spencer’s entire run with the Captain America franchise Secret Empire #2 features the best writing for this version of Steve Rogers. For the first time in this event we get to see how Steve as Captain America is trying to maintain his sense of heroism while continuing down the route of world domination. Seeing how he is avoiding the blame of destroying Las Vegas by saying that he gave Elise the power to do so without letting him know. This turn your head to the other side mentality makes what Captain America come off as an even bigger villain. The fact he is not taking the blame makes it easier to hate him, which needs to be seen more rather than trying to paint this version of the character as a redeemable person.
Seeing Captain America painted in this way makes how the heroes underground resistance ended up splitting up even more intriguing. Spencer gives weight to Tony, Hawkeye and Black Widow’s individual decisions by opening up the Secret Empire #2 with Las Vegas destroyed. Seeing the heroes trying to save as many people as possible was a strong image. It made both how the underground ended up splitting up into two groups reasonable on both ends.
For Tony and Hawkeye, seeing the two still try to be heroes in the most desperate situation possible made Rick Jones risk mean more. Given that these two characters have rarely agreed, having them on the same side was an interesting mix. Hawkeye’s reluctance played into the history of these two characters together. With the two now actively going after the Cosmic Cube fragments Spencer can now play with how the rest of the world stands outside the United States. That opening creates a lot more interest in how Earth now works with Captain America and Hydra in such a high seat of power.
On the other side of the underground split, Spencer does an effective job making Black Widow going back to her roots of the Red Room. The situation created by Captain America and Hydra in Secret Empire makes it believable that one of the characters that would see killing Steve as what they must do. With the destruction of Las Vegas on top of how Captain America went about Hydra’s world domination Black Widow is right to believe they need to end Steve once and for all.
Having the Champions and other next generation heroes join Black Widow’s side was an interesting move. Since Secret Wars ended Marvel has established that Miles’ Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Ironheart and other next generation heroes have a different mindset from the old guard. And given how Miles learned what he would end up doing to Captain America, Spencer was right to play up the vision to give Miles motivation to end things quickly. Even if the vision doesn’t come true this is something that Miles feels like needs to come sooner rather than later and joining Black Widow accomplish that right away.
Now I will say that I didn’t really know how to feel about the ending revealing the Steve Rogers we know and love is somewhere lost in an unknown world. I’ve read Secret Empire #2 several times and got to say I have to wait to see this part of the story play out. There is a lot of ways Spencer can go with this reveal, both good and bad. As of now the interest in where things go with this version of Steve Rogers is a good thing for the story but that could quickly change depending on where Spencer goes with this part of the story.
Seeing what is going on inside New York as the city and its citizens are stuck in the Darkforce Dimension added to how much Hydra has done to accomplish their goals. Seeing how desperate things are in Marvel’s most iconic hero city does make you wonder how the Defenders can get themselves out of things. It is also interesting to see how Kingpin is using this opportunity to get people on his side and possibly rebuild his personal empire once Secret Empire is over.
With Secret Empire #2 leaning heavily on how dark things have become for our heroes Andrea Sorrentino was the perfect choice to get over the sensation of dread. Sorentino gets over how desperate things are for the heroes that make up the underground. He does an especially great job anytime Spencer gives him a double page splash sequence to draw. There is a certain sense of importance in these instances that make you want to pay closer attention to what is going on with how Sorentino draws them.
The Bad: One thing that Nick Spencer needs to improve upon as Secret Empire progresses is spreading time across more equally and not just ignoring things. With it being clear where Captain America is at we don’t need to see anymore of the same type of scenes from him. Instead we need to be given details on other things that have not been explained like why some heroes have joined Hydra’s version of the Avengers.
That is something that still has not been made clear and is a big question mark that makes Thor, Scarlet Witch, Deadpool and Vision be in an even worse spot than Captain America. Because unlike Captain America, we have yet to be given an explanation for them trading side. It is something that Spencer needs to address in the pages of Secret Empire and not trying to use side comics where readers need to spend more money and time to get details on.
Secret Empire #2 also did not help make us feel like Hydra is in complete control. Right now this conflict does feel like it is Captain America vs. the Marvel Universe. A big reason for that is that outside of a short scene with Baron Zemo, we did not see what else Hydra is doing under Captain America’s control. This goes back to how Spencer needs to find ways to sprinkle in how Hydra’s inner structure is working without having to involve Cap in every scene featuring Hydra.
It was also confusing to learn that Bucky Barnes is dead. This is something that I have not seen mentioned in any other Marvel comic leading up to Secret Empire. If the character is dead or even has faked his death to the public at large it should’ve been treated as a bigger moment. But with how Spencer just threw Bucky’s death into Secret Empire it did not have the same effect as it should have for a story centered around Captain America. This treatment of Bucky highlights a major problem in every Marvel event as there always seems to be a big event that is minimized and doesn’t deliver the impact it should.
The same type of treatment is given to Sam Wilson’s character. For someone that was known as Captain America his introduction to Secret Empire did not feel as important as it should have. Sam’s dialogue and appearance made him look like it would’ve been easy to replace him with any character in the Marvel Universe. There was absolutely nothing special to his appearance, which is not how Sam should be treated since he is such an important character to Captain America’s history.
Also, with us taking getting a look at how things are going in New York City it was odd that we did not see Doctor Strange at all. Since Spencer made such a big deal that Doctor Strange was make it tough on Madame Hydra to maintain the Darkforce Dimension over NYC his lack of appearance was noticeable. Even a panel or two showing us what Doctor Strange is doing would’ve helped add to how dangerous things have become in NYC.
The other problem I continue to have with Secret Empire is how Spencer is using Tony Stark. It continues to be very confusing if this is the real Tony Stark or some AI. Not helping matters is the way Sorentino drew the character made him look like the real Tony rather than his AI form. That lack of clarity made the scenes involving the character not come off as effective as it should have. So for as much as I love Sorentino’s artwork this is the one part of the issue that the art took away from what was trying to be accomplished with scenes involving Tony Stark.
Overall: Secret Empire #2 was a massive improvement over issue #0 and #1. There are still several major problems with the story that Nick Spencer needs to address in future issues. That said Spencer did an effective job continuing to make Captain America and Hydra look like an unstoppable force our heroes can’t overcome. The ending along with how the underground heroes have chosen to deal with the problem at hand create intriguing scenarios for future issues.