Secret Empire #3 Review

The Revolution was not that impressed with Secret Empire #2. Spencer is taking an indie comics approach to a mainstream super hero big event story. The result is a big event that feel small in scale and that has little excitement or energy. I have to hope that Spencer is simply starting slowly and is now going to build up steam and finally get Secret Empire rolling like a freight train. Hopefully, Secret Empire #3 injects some much-needed action and adventure in order to kick this big event up several notches. Let’s find out.

Words: Nick Spencer
Art: Andrea Sorrentino and Rod Reis

Story Rating: 3 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Steve Rogers checking on the woman who he just saved from the Serpent Squad. He notices that she got bit by one of the Serpent Squad members and his fangs injected venom into her bloodstream. Steve says they have to find help. The woman replies that there is no help here. Just evil. The woman says that Steve is the only good she has found. (This dialogue is like a heavy sledgehammer beating into the side of the reader to make sure we understand the theme of hope that Spencer is using here.)

Steve says that he just woke up out here. That he can’t remember much of anything. We then see a flashback to a basic training with Steve Rogers all small and scrawny before he received the Super Soldier serum. Steve says that he feels, “it.” That he is supposed to go someplace that needs him. Steve then says that the woman needs water. (No, what the woman needs is the anti-venom for the venom that just got injected into her!) Steve picks up the woman and starts walking off. (By, the way, the entire scene was narrated by some random narrator that would have been perfect for a Hallmark Channel movie.)

We cut to Star-Lord, Rocket Racoon and Baby Groot addressing someone off camera. (Wow. Spencer isn’t even trying to give us the comic book versions of these characters. This is an exact replica of the movie versions of these characters.) Star-Lord talks about how Earth has been taken over by Hydra. (Star-Lord basically recaps the past two issues. And thank god for that. You know what a painfully slow story that already has a recap page in the beginning needs? Another full-page of recapping what has happened in the prior two issues. Lucky us.)

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Rocket Raccoon explains how Captain Nazi is behind Hydra taking over America. Rocket then says that people think Captain Nazi is the real Steve Rogers. However, Rocket says that Captain Nazi could be a clone, a doppleganger or a robot. Rocket adds that people have come up with nicknames for Steve including Hydra Cap, Captain Octopushead, and Stevil. Rocket says Stevil is his favorite. (Yes. Insulting and mocking your rapidly dwindling paying fanbase is always a wise idea. It doesn’t at all make Spencer look like a thin-skinned unprofessional. Perhaps Spencer has taken inspiration from Vince McMahon and his contempt for WWE fans who continue to boo Roman Reigns? Spoiler alert. Using Vince McMahon as your inspiration is always a bad idea.)

We then see that our heroes were addressing a Skrull leader, a Kree leader, a Brood leader and a Shi’ar leader. (Yes. Going to Earth’s biggest villains of all-time for help is a brilliant strategy.) The assembled leaders are thrilled that Earth is in trouble. They yell “Death to Earth” and begin shooting at our heroes.

Star-Lord radioes Marvel’s version of Janet Reno. Star-Lord tells Carol that the talk with the assembled villains did not go so well. (Shocker.) We see Carol outside of her space station. Carol says that she appreciates Star-Lord’s help. Carol then says that they actually have company right now. We see Carol and her team bracing for an oncoming horde of Chitauri soldiers. (Yeah! Finally! Let’s get some kick-ass action in this big event!!)

And we immediately cut to after the fight. (Huhbutwhat? Oh, how nice. Yippie. Nah, I didn’t want to see any cool kick ass action taking place in this big event. That’s all right. All I wanted was small panels of indie comics styled talking heads! Yeah!) We see Carol talking to Monica that the waves of attacks keep increasing in frequency. That the space station is running out of oxygen and can barely keep the station afloat for much longer. Carol says they need to bring the Earth defense shield down fast or they are all doomed. Monica suggests that maybe Galactus will return. Carol says that Galactus isn’t coming back. Carol says that only the new Quasar (Ugh. I forgot about this lame version of Quasar) has the power to help them now. Unfortunately, new Quasar is still in a coma.

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We shift to Newark. Black Widow is meeting with Boomerang at his restaurant. Boomerang has taken advantage of the fact that all the organized crime leaders were in New York when the Darkhold sphere trapped them inside. As a result, Boomerang now runs the organized crime in New Jersey. Boomerang tells Black Widow that the person that she wants to meet with is in the back of his restaurant.

Black Widow enters the back of the restaurant and we see that the mystery person she is meeting with is Mariah Hill. Mariah Hill is now the leader of the freedom fighters battling with Hydra. Hill was behind the bombing in St Louis that killed a lot of innocent people but also killed 4 Hydra generals. So, for Hill it was a success and the innocent deaths were acceptable collateral damage. We then get Hill and Black Widow engaging in a tepid debate about ethics. (This is so bland. Hill is okay with collateral damage and sees herself as a freedom fighter and not a terrorist. Black Widow is okay with killing villains if it means saving innocent people. Oh, the moral dilemma.)

After Spencer has finished burning a page of panel space to stretch out his story we finally get to the point of the scene. Hill hands Black Widow Captain Nazi’s social calendar. This is to help Black Widow in planning when to try to kill Captain Nazi. Black Widow is disappointed that this is the best that Hill could do. Hill counters with the fact that her best operatives are all in Sin and Crossbones’ super-prison.

We then cut to a concert hall where the Champions are squared off against a woman on stage has nano-sized fusion bombs insider her heart. She is about to blow up the concert hall full of innocent people. Our dippy MarvelNOW heroes are confused about what to do. They can’t get all the people out of the concert hall before the bomb in the woman exploded. So, Wasp decides to fly into the woman’s mouth and attempt to disarm all the mini bombs inside of the woman. Of course, there is not enough time and the bomb exploded.

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We then see that the Champions were in a Danger Room. (Wait, what? Black Widow had a fully operational Danger Room installed in her tiny cabin out in the middle of nowhere?) Our MarvelNOW heroes can’t believe that they failed again. (I can easily believe that.) Falcon asks if this is some sort of Kobayashi Maru situation. (Ah, the obligatory Kobayashi Maru reference that must be inserted in a comic book story when our characters are presented with an impossible situation. How fresh.) Black Widow then appears with a disapproving attitude. (Uh, oh. Mommy’s home.) Black Widow said that there was a simple solution that nobody thought about. That the bomb was powered by the woman’s heart. Stop her heart and you stop the bomb. Of course, our MarvelNOW babies still don’t want to kill anyone. (Even though they willing joined Black Widow even after she openly and clearly stated that her mission was to kill Captain Nazi. Brilliant.)

Black Widow says that the Champions are going to have to grow up and start making the hard decisions. Black Widow says that the old guard are being picked off one by one. (Ha! Unintentional meta commentary! Spencer is referring to Hydra, but one cold easily say that it is Marvel’s editors who are picking off the old guard Marvel characters one by one with the MarvelNOW initiative.) Black Widow says that it is time for the Champions to give up childish things for once and for all. (Is Spencer slipping in a C.S. Lewis reference here? His quote was “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” Nah, couldn’t be because Eliot’s second half of the quote disproves Black Widow’s position.)

We then zip over to Montana. Sam Wilson tells A.I. Tony’s team to go pound sand. Sam says he is over the hero gig. Sam says that he did his time as Captain America and he has nothing to show for it. That he is done trying to make the world something it clearly doesn’t want to be. So, he is focusing him time and energy on helping people escape America. Sam says that nobody is fighting in the streets anymore. That people gave up quickly. Sam says that maybe they are all getting what they deserve. (Man, Sam is a pathetic sad sack.)

A.I. Tony then says that Captain Nazi is not the real Steve. Sam says “You think I don’t know that?” (Ummm, what? Nobody knew that Captain Nazi wasn’t the real Steve Rogers until last issue when it was first mentioned. Does Sam now have some sort of psychic powers? Or is Sam a total asshole who discovered this secret and then sat on it and didn’t tell any of the other Avengers.) A.I. Tony says that if they can get the fragments of the Cosmic Cube then they will have their one chance to save Steve.

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We shift to a Hydra Youth Annual Science Fair. Captain Nazi is strolling around with Sharon Carter. Sharon engages in verbal banter with Captain Nazi about how Hydra is going about things. Clearly, Sharon and Captain Nazi have massive differences of opinion on how things should be run. Sharon then makes the mistake of insulting Madame Hydra which draws a sharp rebuke from Captain Nazi. Captain Nazi then says that maybe this was a bad idea. At this point, a Hydra soldier interrupts informs Captain Nazi that he is needed in the Situation Room.

We cut to the Situation Room. Kraken informs Captain Nazi that Baron Zemo is about to lead his team of soldiers an ancient temple near the city of Atlantis. This is where Namor is safeguarding one of the fragments of the Cosmic Cube. We see Zemo, Taskmaster, Black Ant and Superior Octopus leading the Hydra squad into the temple where the Atlantean guards rush to stop them. (Yeah! Finally! Some kick-ass action in this big event! A bad-ass underwater fight scene is exactly what this slow and boring story needs to spice things up!)

And we skip past all the fighting and jump to the Hydra team questioning the last remaining Atlantean standing. (Ummm. No fighting? No action. Yay?) Zemo asks the Atlantean where they have hidden the Cosmic Cube fragment. The Atlantean refuses to answer. Scarlet Witch appears and taps into the mind of the Atlantean and discovers the location of the fragment. Black Ant then goes and finds where the fragment was hidden. Superior Octopus then analyzes the fragment and says that it is a fake. Zemo then kills the Atlantean.

Zemo apologizes to Captain Nazi. Captain Nazi says it wasn’t Zemo’s fault and tells him to get his team out of there. Captain Nazi tells Kraken to destroy the temple. One of the Hydra lackeys says that the temple is the Atlantean’s holiest place. That destroying it would be considered an act of war. Captain Nazi replies that Namor needs to understand that if he wants to hide what Hydra wants then they will leave him nowhere to hide. We see the Hydra sub blowing up the temple.

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Captain Nazi then tells Kraken that he will handle the next mission to retrieve one of the fragments himself. Captain Nazi tells Kraken to assemble the Avengers because their next target is by far the most dangerous.

We shift to A.I. Tony and his team following Sam. A.I. Tony tells Mockingbird to not say anything about where they are headed. A.I. Tony wants to wait until they are across the border. A.I. Tony doesn’t want anyone to lose their nerve considering their real destination and who is there.

We then cut to that mysterious destination. We see a man in a chair next to a fireplace. The man talks about a wonderful Thanksgiving that the Avengers had back in the past. The man is holding a picture which looks like a panel of an old Avengers comic from the late 1970’s. A Jarvis robot then approaches the man and says that they have detected incoming arrival traffic. Multiple ships. The man says that he detected that as well. The man tells Jarvis to open the gates. We pan back and see that the mysterious man is a combination of Hank Pym and Ultron. Ultron Pym says that they should give them a warm welcome. That it will be nice to see their family again.

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We zip back to Steve Rogers carrying the injured woman to a river. He places the woman next to the water. The woman says that she does not have long. The woman says that Steve will have to do the fighting for both of them. She says that she wishes she could see it through Steve’s strength and perseverance and his goodness. The woman says that Steve will overcome all obstacles in his way as long as he holds true to what he believes. The woman says that Steve will make it home. The woman then dies.

We then hear a voice narrate that if they knew what hope was again then they would also know what its absence felt like. And they felt the fear that comes with the chance of losing something cherished. The voice narrates that they relaxed how keen it would be for them to strip hope away from them. That if they saw that hope was even a possibility tomorrow then they would answer today and answer in full measure.

We hop back to Newark. We see Boomerang kissing his money. (Dude! Gross! Money is ridiculous dirty. Don’t put that shit near your mouth!) Boomerang enters the bathroom and sees a briefcase bomb attached to the mirror. The bomb explodes. Boomerang hits the floor.

We then see a foot place itself on Boomerang’s head. The mysterious person says that they are not here for Boomerang’s money. The person says they are here for information. The person says that they want to know what Black Widow and Mariah Hill met about.

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Boomerang asks “C-cant’ see…who are you?!” The person responds that it doesn’t matter. That he could be the right hand of god. That he could be vengeance. That he could be punishment.

The camera pans up and we see that it is the Punisher wearing a Hydra logo on his chest instead of his signature skull logo. Punisher says, “Hail Hydra.” End of issue.

The Good: Oh, boy. Some days it is just not easy following The Revolution’s Rule of Positivity. All right, what was enjoyable about Secret Empire #3. Let’s see. Well, I did enjoy the appearance of Hank Pym/Ultron. I am not sure exactly if it is Ultron in a Hank Pym disguise. Or if it is Hank Pym with Ultron implants. At any rate, I am a massive fan of Hank Pym so anything having to do with him is always welcome.

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I also love the touch with the old Avengers photograph that was done up like a panel from an old 1970’s Avengers comic book. That was fantastic. It was a nice nod to earlier continuity. I appreciate when writers embrace continuity and try to work with it in an intelligent fashion rather than simply ignoring it. It always serves to add more depth and texture to the characters and the storylines. I will admit that Spencer piqued my interest with the appearance of Pym/Ultron. This is the only plot line that has me excited for the next issue.

The final three page scene, while largely useless, was incredibly cool. That was a badass moment for the Punisher. If you are going to burn page space with fluff then I at least appreciate getting badass moments like the Punisher’s appearance rather than indie comics styled talking head panels.

Rod Reis’ scenes look fine enough. They are not terrible dynamic. However, I will give Reis credit in that his scenes look dreamy. There is almost an aura of light around the characters. This fits nicely with Steve’s dreamlike state of amnesia and his nearly magical appearance. Steve’s scenes are supposed to appear dreamlike and Reis certainly achieves that look with his art.

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As far as Andrea Sorrentino’s art is concerned, his high moment is the final single page splash shot of the Punisher. That was excellent.

The Bad: Unfortunately, Secret Empire #3 delivers the exact same defects that were presented in the prior two issues of this big event. Once again, Spencer serves up another pedestrian read. Rather than delivering a sumptuous five course meal befitting of a universe spanning big event story what Spencer dishes out is a simply lukewarm bowl of oatmeal.

To put it simply, Secret Empire #3 is dull. This is a boring read that offers up nothing that could be confused with actual plot progression. The pacing and plotting continue to be absolutely atrocious. Literally nothing of any substance at all occurs in this issue other than the appearance of Ultron/Pym. That is it. The reader could completely skip Secret Empire #2 and pick up Secret Empire #4 and not miss anything at all.

Spencer appears to worship at the altar of decompression and the result is a big event that is pathetically shallow and slow-moving. Secret Empire #3 begins with a two page scene with Steve and the woman. Absolutely nothing of substance occurs in this scene. It is pure fluff and adds nothing of value to the story. Then Spencer gives us a four page scene with Peter, Rocket and Carol. This scene was also pointless. It did nothing to advance a single plot line. Nor did it do anything to add depth or texture to the story. This was nothing more than wasting time and panel space to stretch out a thin story.

Spencer then gives us a three page scene with Black Widow and Mariah Hill. This was another boring talking heads scene that added nothing of value to the story at all. We get a pointless and generic moral debate between the two characters. That is it. No plot progression is performed. Nothing is done to grow the characters.

Instead, Spencer gives us such a generic moral debate. The reader has read this same moral debate in countless of other comic books and in a much more interesting and creative fashion. This scene’s moral debate feels unoriginal and canned. It was more of a perfunctory effort by Spencer. As if Spencer felt that all big events had to have a moral dilemma so he robotically inserted this hackneyed moral debate into this scene.

Spencer then trots out a three page scene of the Champions in the Red Room. This scene does nothing to further any plot lines at all. It just rehashes the same theme from Secret Empire #2 that the Champions don’t believe in killing. We then get a two page scene with Sam and A.I. Tony’s gang. This did barely inch forward the story with Sam agreeing to help A.I. Tony and his gang across the border.

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We then get a six page scene with Cap Nazi and team in Atlantis. We get the barest bit of plot progression in that Hydra still hasn’t found any cosmic cube fragments. Then Spencer delivers the first real new plot development with the two page scene introducing Ultron/Pym into the mix. Then Spencer wastes two more pages on Steve and the woman that does absolutely nothing to move that plot line forward at all. And then we end with a three page scene with Boomerang that introduces the Punisher into the story.

Spencer delivers maybe four pages of actual plot progression in this issue. The rest of the issue is just Spencer stalling for time and burning panel space in an attempt to stretch his hideously decompressed and shallow story over as many issues as possible.

The complete lack of any sense of urgency or purpose to the story robs Secret Empire #3 of any impact on the issue. Spencer lazily progresses the story in a fashion that puts the reader to sleep. The author sets the tone with the pacing and the plot progression. And the only tone that Spencer is setting is one of boredom.

The story itself continues to lack any depth or texture. The entire big event feels uninspired. There is no tension. No excitement. No electricity that courses through the various plot lines. There is no complexity that challenges the reader’s mind. There is no sense of excitement or adventure that gets the reader’s adrenaline pumping.

The complete lack of action does not help any, either. Secret Empire feels like it barely has a pulse largely because of the slow plotting and pacing. But, it is also the complete lack of action. We are now three issues into Secret Empire and we have yet to get anything in the way of summer blockbuster styled action that big event comics should always present to the reader. Each time we got on the verge of any action Spencer would immediately skip over the action scene and get right back to his comfort zone: panels of talking heads. That may be great for an indie comic but it is not so great when you are talking about a mainstream Marvel super hero big event.

Secret Empire #3 continues the trend of delivering average dialogue and character work. Most characters talk in a generic external voice. The only times characters display much personality is when Spencer presents them as more caricatures than characters like he does with Black Widow. There is zero chemistry at all between any of the characters. It does not seem like Spencer has any genuine love or interest in any of the characters involved in this story.

Another aspect to the dialogue and character work that was disappointing was the handling of Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon. Spencer takes the cheap and lazy way out and simply gives the readers 100% imitations of the movie versions of Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon. I love the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. But, the comic book versions of these characters are not the same as the movie versions. And writing the comic book characters as nothing more than complete reproductions of the movie versions of the characters is rarely appealing in comics.

Secret Empire #3 presents the reader with a story with even more lack of internal logic. This has been a reoccurring theme with each issue of this big event. It feels that Spencer is putting forth very little effort into this story. It does not feel like he is particularly excited to write this story nor does it seem like his heart is in it. Secret Empire certainly reads like it is written by a writer who does not love the super hero genre and would much rather be writing indie comics. But, indie comics don’t pay the bills like writing a Marvel big event does. So here we are.

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There are several scenes that lack internal logic. The scene with Star-Lord and Rocket was stupid. Look, I love the Guardians. They have been some of my favorite characters even before DnA worked magic with that franchise. But, this scene made zero sense. There was no reason for Spencer to have our heroes go seek help from some of Earth’s greatest alien enemies. I am sure Spencer was trying to create a tie-in with the popular Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie that is currently playing in movie theaters. Corporate synergy is very important to Disney. I get that. And I am also sure that Spencer was going for a little comedic relief with this scene. However, a writer cannot every deliver a scene that makes his characters look unintentionally idiotic. It was so outlandishly unbelievable that our heroes would approach Earth’s greatest alien enemies for help that the reader is immediately pulled out of the story. It also doesn’t make Star-Lord and Rocket funny it makes them look stupid. And I mean the type of credible killing stupid that is toxic for any character.

Then Spencer has the Champions fighting in a danger room that is located in Black Widow’s remote cabin safe house. How? How is this even remotely possible? How did she get it built? Why would she ever have a danger room built there? The cabin is a safe-house that she had for herself. As a solo operative. How would she know she would need to somehow build a danger room in the event that she might have the sudden need to train a group of teen-age heroes? Black Widow was not even expecting the Champions to come with her in the last issue. She left A.I. Tony’s team with the intention of operating alone. So, did she have a danger room built between Secret Empire #2 and Secret Empire #3? Because there is no logical reason for her to have a danger room in her safe house as a solo operative.

Then we have the scene where Sam says that he knew Captain Nazi wasn’t Steve Rogers. How is this possible? I thought the fact that Captain Nazi might not actually be Steve was an idea not even discussed until last issue. Did Sam know all along and just not tell anybody? Because, if so, that would make Sam a massive dick.

On a side note, the cover to Secret Empire #3 is unintentionally hilarious. First, you have the Carol Danvers factor. Poor Carol. She used to be such a great character back when she was allowed to be an actual person when she was Ms. Marvel instead of a Statement. Carol gets to be front and center on the cover of Secret Empire despite appearing in only two pages of this issue. It is another sad attempt at Marvel’s increasingly pathetic effort to make Carol seem massively important even though her run as Captain Marvel has been a total failure in terms of sales numbers. Man, the Vince McMahon references continue because Marvel is to Carol as Captain Marvel as WWE is to Roman Reigns.

The second funny aspect of the cover to Secret Empire #3 is that it showcases Groot in adult form. However, inside the comic Spencer has Groot in baby form. Awesome. This just sums up in a microcosm everything Marvel does these days.

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The art continues to be a disappointment in this big event. Andrea Sorrentino handles the art duties for the main story. Rod Reis handles the art for the Steve Rogers and unnamed woman story. Again, Sorrentino and Reis are clearly talented. No doubt. However, both artists continue to be just miserable choices for artwork for a mainstream super hero big event story.

Sorrentino clearly is more at home handling an indie comics styled story or a street level gritty story like the Punisher or Moon Knight. However, there is nothing about Sorrentino’s art that screams mainstream super hero big event story. Sorrentino’s art is rough and sketchy and lacks details. There are panels where I have trouble figuring out who the various characters are and what exactly is going on in the panel. The colors are drab and muted. Overall, the art creates a dull and lifeless look for what should be a dynamic and exciting big event. It is unfortunate, because dynamic and exciting art would help to inject some life into Spencer’s subdued indie comics styled story.

A good example of what is going wrong with the artwork would be the double page splash shots. The double page splash shot is a highly effective tool when used judiciously and properly. These can give a big event story a massive scale and a cinematic feel. The double page splash shot can also highlight a single dramatic moment for maximum impact.

However, in Secret Empire #3, Spencer does his artist zero favors at all. The first double page splash shot when Carol leads her heroes against the Chitauri attack. Spencer calls for a large panel and ten small panels.

The second double page splash shot involves The Champions failing in their Red Room training exercise. Here Spencer has Sorrentino deliver two medium panels and then cram ten tiny talking head panels into it.

The third double page splash shot involves Zemo’s team attacking the Atlantean temple. Here Spencer has Sorrentino deliver one medium size panel and then shove 10 tiny panels into this double page splash shot.

This is awful use of the double page splash shot technique. Both Spencer and Sorrentino deserve blame for this. Both men completely miss the point of a double page splash shot to cram them full of tiny panels mostly of talking heads. It renders a highly effective story telling tool into something pointless and useless. It is a shame because this robs Secret Empire of the proper massive and grand big event scope and feel that it should otherwise possess.

Then there is the fact that the scarce bit of action that we do get in Secret Empire #3 is in tiny panels. While talking head moments get larger panels. Either Spencer or Sorrentino, or both, have zero clue on how to layout a proper mainstream super hero big event comic. The result is an issue that feels small in scale and dull in look.

Overall: Secret Empire #3 is another pedestrian read. Secret Empire continues to be of a study in the art of decompression than it is the art of a mainstream super hero big event story. There is next to no content in this issue. There is little in the way of actual plot progression. Secret Empire #3 is entirely skippable. Nothing of importance occurs. The reader can easily pick up with Secret Empire #4 and not feel lost.

Keep in mind that Marvel is charging a whopping $4.00 for Secret Empire #3! That is a horrible return on your dollar. $4.00 can buy me several songs, several apps or even half a month of Netflix. There is simply no way Secret Empire #3 is worth a $4.00 admission price.

2 Comments

  1. Positive things to say……… it’s running on schedule so far? Unlike Civil War 2 and Secret Wars. I don’t get the reasoning from cutting away from the action. I’m at least hoping that next issue we’ll get some kind of confrontation with Pym/Ultron but the way he’s welcoming them makes me think that they may just have a chat. Very underwhelmed so far. This could have been so much better given the premise of the story.

    • Running on schedule! Damn. I shouldn’t have forgotten that! lol

      Totally agree about the potential for this story. This could have been something so much greater.

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