Secret Empire #4 Review

Secret Empire has been such a disappointment. Spencer has presented the reader with a crushingly slow story that lacks any heart or soul to it. Each issue has offered a dull read with little to spark the reader’s imagination. Mainstream super hero big events should be delivering the excitement and adventure of a quality summer blockbuster movie. So far, that certainly has not happened with Secret Empire. Can Spencer finally breathe some life into this big event with Secret Empire #4? Let’s find out.

Words: Nick Spencer

Pencils: Leinil Francis Yu

Inks: Gerry Alanguilan

Colors: Sunny Cho

Story Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10

Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10

Overall Rating: 6.5 Night Girls out of 10

Synopsis: We begin with Steve Rogers still wandering the dream forest and suddenly being attacked by Batroc and two other villains. Steve starts kicking ass but the 3-on–1 disadvantage eventually means that the villains get the upper hand on Steve. Suddenly, Bucky and Sam appear on the scene and help Steve kick ass on the three villains.

Steve thanks the two men for their help. Steve asks them who they are. Sam says they are just like Steve. Just a couple of travelers trying to make sense of this place. Bucky says that they figured out that it didn’t hurt to have someone watching their back so they teamed up with each other.

Steve said that teaming up is a good idea. Steve says that he has been out here on his own for a while. Sam says that Steve doesn’t have to be on his own anymore. Bucky says that they are going to head up the hill. Bucky invites Steve to join them.

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Steve says that he does not know what he is supposed to do. Sam says that Steve thinks that he has to do it on his own. But, everyone could use friends. Steve smiles and joins Bucky and Sam. Steve narrates that in the midst of darkness we found hope in friendships…in family.

We cut to Baltimore. We are at one of the Punisher’s safe houses. Kraken appears on the scene and says that they have been looking everywhere for Punisher. That this is the sixth safe-house they have been to. Kraken reminds Punisher that Punisher is on a vital mission and that he needs to report in to Hydra.

Punisher says that he does not answer to Kraken. Suddenly, a hologram of Captain Nazi appears. Punisher salutes Captain Nazi. Captain Nazi apologizes for intruding but time is running out. Captain Nazi asks if Punisher has any leads on the Black Widow’s location. Punisher says that he has gotten some solid intel and should have her location soon. Captain Nazi says that the Punisher has been his most trusted lieutenant and that he needs the Punisher now more than ever.

We cut to an unknown location. We see Black Widow torturing a Hydra agent who has been tied to a chair. The MarvelNow newbies are all watching in horror. Black Widow says that the Hydra agent has information that they need. The Champions decry Black Widow’s use of torture. The Champions point out that the Hydra agent is a low level grunt who is barely older than the Champions themselves.

Black Widow agrees that the Hydra agent is low level. But, that he has been charged with catering the rebuilding ceremony at the Capitol. That he was given a tour of the site. Black Widow tells one of the Champions to get her some duct tape and a blanket.

Viv steps up and says that they will not let Black Widow torture the Hydra agent anymore. Black Widow reminds Viv that she knows how to cut a bitch. Even a syntheziod. Black Widow says that they have to kill the Hydra agent anyway since he has been them and will report back to Captain Nazi about them if they let him go.

Riri then says that she has an app just for this situation. The app induces short-term memory loss using UV light responses. Rir then unties the Hydra agent from the chair. The Hydra agent immediately pulls out a knife hidden in one of his boots. The Hydra agent yells “Hail Hydra” and goes to stab Riri. Black Widow then shoots and kills the Hydra agent. (Wait. Why in the hell would Riri do such a stupid thing?! Just blast him with the app to scramble his short term memory. Then knock him out. Then untie him. Then leave. Jesus. These MarvelNOW heroes are morons.)

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The Champions stand there looking horrified. Black Widow says, “Wonderful. Now we have to switch motels.” We see Black Widow and the Champions head into a white 1983 GMC G–15 van. (Which is the same van used by the A-Team.)

We zip over to Ultron’s fortress in Alaska. When Ultron returned from space instead of trying to destroy the world he set up base in Alaska. Then Ultron began building cities full of more Utrons. These areas are called Ultronic territories. Hydra has refused that they even exist.

We see AI Tony and his team en route as well as Captain Nazi and his team en route. AI Tony tells his team that this is a stealth mission. (AI Tony is wearing an Iron Man suit of armor?! A hologram. Wearing a suit of armor. This is so stupid it is hilarious.) That they do not want to anger Ultron. Captain Nazi tells his team that they are not here to start a war.

Both AI Tony and Captain Nazi tell their respective teams that Ultron is wearing the face of his creator, Hank Pym, but that this is not Pym at all.

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We cut to Jarvis notifying Ultron that the two teams have arrived. Ultron says that he can fix this. That Hank Pym is going to save the Avengers.

We shift to AI Tony’s team sneaking into Ultron’s fortress. Ant-Man then runs across Black Ant. Mockingbird runs across Taskmaster and Sam gets taken out by Vision. Quicksilver then comes across Scarlet Witch. Hercules comes across Thor. Everyone starts fighting. AI Tony laments that this was supposed to be a stealth mission.

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We get a massive brawl between the two teams. Then AI Tony and Captain Nazi come face-to-fave. The two men start battling each other. Suddenly, Ultron appears on the scene and blasts everyone with a massive energy beam. This takes out all of the members of both teams. Ultron apologizes that it had to be this way. Ultron says that he wants them all to know that he really has missed all of them dearly and that it is good to welcome them home again.

We shift to the members of AI Tony’s team and Captain Nazi’s team waking up. They are all in bonds that keep them in place. They are seated at a large table in a replica of the dining room of the Avengers Mansion. We see Ultron at the head of the table with a fork and carving knife and wearing an apron that says “Kiss the Overlord.” (That’s actually pretty funny.)

Ultron asks Thor if he recognizes him. Ultron says that he is Hank Pym. Ultron says that he doesn’t really recognize anyone anymore. AI Tony says that he can help. AI Tony says that Captain Nazi has been rewritten by the cosmic cube, that Scarlet Witch has been possessed by a demon, that Vision has been infected by an AI virus and Thor just wants his hammer back.

Ultron replies that he was actually talking about Tony’s team not Captain Nazi’s team. Ultron asks why AI Tony si wearing one of his old Iron Man suits of armor. Ultron asks if it is because of nostalgia.

Captain Nazi says AI Tony is wearing his old armor because he is so inebriated that he cannot pilot any of the newer suits of armor. All of the Avengers from both teams start bickering and arguing with each other. Ultron finally yells “Enough!”

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Ultron says that the constant bickering, battling and being at each other’s throats is all that they ever do. Ultron says that it is all so wrong. Ultron asks if they know why Ultron built this city. Why Ultron did not come after the Avengers again. Because he didn’t have to. Because he looked at Tony’s war and Steve’s scheming and realized that he did not have to destroy anything. That the Avengers were already doing it for Ultron. That the Avengers were going to tear each other apart and burn everything they had built in the process. That Ultron did not have to lift a finger. He just needed to wait.

Captain Nazi says that Hydra is going to change all of that. Ultron replies mockingly that he is sure that will happen. Just like how Tony’s superhuman registration was going to make everything so much better. Or just like how Scarlet Witch was going to fix everything with making no more mutants.

Ultron says that the Avengers have such big ideas for solving all of the world’s problems. But, they just keep making everything worse. This is why Ultron brought them here. To reconnect with what they have lost.

Captain Nazi says that he has no interest in nostalgia. That Ultron has something that belongs to Hydra. Ultron sighs and says that they only visit when they want things. Sam and Captain Nazi begin arguing. Ultron tells them to stop. Ultron says that they have not heard a word he has said.

Ultron yells that he has always been trying to help them. But, that they never listen to him. Ultron yells that if Captain America said assemble then the team would jump immediately. That if Tony had a big idea then they would happily line up behind Tony.

Ultron asks, “What about me?! I’m a founding Avenger! I deserve some respect!” Suddenly, AI busts out laughing. AI Tony says that he did not this it was actually Hank until just now. That this is the most Hank Pym thing he has ever heard anyone say. Tony asks Hank if this is what he has been doing this entire time. Sitting in his dollhouse feeling sorry for himself.

Captain Nazi tells Tony to stop. AI Tony continues that the one thing that finally stopped Ultron for good was Hank Pym’s all-consuming inferiority complex. Sam then tells AI Tony that maybe Captain Nazi is right this time.

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AI Tony says that he is not stopping and needs to get something off his chest. AI Tony says he knows when it all went wrong. That it was Hank. And it wasn’t Hank’s creation of Ultron or having his breakdown afterward and betraying the team. What damaged them as a family. What made them stop having the dinners and the parties by the pool was when Hank hit Jan. Then it got too awkward and uncomfortable for people to act like everything was still okay in general and with Hank.

Hank yells “How dare you?!” Hank grows giant sized and grabs AI Tony and smashes him to the ground. Hank says that he discovered the particles. That he took artificial intelligence to the next level. That he founded the Avengers Academy. Hank asks what Tony has ever done. Hank says that Tony was a lout and a cretin who made his fortune selling weapons to murderers. That Tony’s arrogance started two wars. That Tony’s incompetence put Norman Osborne in power. Hank asks who Tony is to lecture anyone.

Hank says that everyday he holds the monster inside of him at bay. That if Hank could not control Ultron then Ultron would incinerate every living man, woman and child on the planet. Every day Hank has to live with this.

Hank yells that he made one mistake. Years ago and it is all any of them will ever remember him for. Hank says maybe he will give everyone something else to talk about after he kills Tony. (Uh, yeah, not sure you can “kill” an artificial intelligent hologram.)

Ant-Man yells out for Hank to calm down. Ant-Man says that Hank has always been his role model. That Hank isn’t his role model just because Hank gave him his Ant-Man costume. Hank is his role model because Hank screwed up big time. Ant-Man says that he screwed up big time, too. That Ant-Man made one mistake and that put him in prison and cost him his family.

So, when Ant-Man met Hank he thought that Hank was a guy who didn’t let that stuff stop him. That Hank as a guy who did something he regrets but then got right back up and kept trying to do what’s right. Hank helped Ant-Man to get where he needed to be.

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Ant-Man says that guys like them don’t always make the bet decisions. But, they have people in their lives who are a lot better than them. For Ant-Man it is his daughter Cassie. Ant-Man says that whenever he gets stuck in a bad place and he has a choice to make he asks himself what would his daughter do. Ant-Man then asks Hank what would Janet want him to do right now.

Hank gets quiet. Hank lets of Tony. Hank teleports AI Tony’s team out of the room. Hank then turns to Captain Nazi’s team and says that now that is done with would anyone like some desert.

We then cut to Hank telling AI Tony’s team “Farewell! Safe travels!” Hank says to Ant-Man “Enjoy the cube fragment!” Hank promises to make sure that Captain Nazi’s team will be headed in the opposite direction.

Hank then tells AI Tony that he is sorry that things got a bit testy during dinner. Hank says that this little adventure should be good for AI Tony. Hank says that AI Tony did not get here by accident. That AI Tony has been carrying around this baggage and these regrets. Hank says that they are the sum of their choices. That a conflict like this one can have a cleansing effect and help AI Tony face his demons.

Captain Nazi then approaches Hank and says that the two of them had a deal. Hank says that they still have a deal. Hank says that he won’t be invading Captain Nazi’s little country. However, the cosmic cube fragment is its own issue.

Hank says that Captain Nazi kept calling him “Ultron.” Hank says that if he was Ultron then it would be easy to see why Ultron would build this city and wait for humanity to destroy itself. Hank says that Captain Nazi has consolidated so much power. That Captain Nazi has AI Tony’s team on the ropes. That this is a recipe for peace and not war. So, it would be in Ultron’s interest to level the scales a bit and keep things interesting. Captain Nazi says nothing and then stalks off.

We hop forward to six hours later. WE see AI Tony’s team feeling good about getting the cosmic cube fragment. Hercules says taht they have much to be proud about and that this calls for a hearty celebration.

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AI Tony’s team then get a notification of breaking news. They watch on a video screen a news report of Namor arriving at the capital to meet with Captain Nazi. Namor has decided that Atlantis cannot win a war with Hydra. Captain Nazi greets Namor and thanks him for coming around to the fact that no more bloodshed is needed. Captain Nazi says that he regrets the deaths of the Atlantean priests from the events in Secret Empire #3.

Namor retorts “Is that so Then why am I the one who comes bearing gifts?” Namor hands Captain Nazi his cosmic cube fragment. We hop back to AI Tony’s team watching the news report. They are all stunned at what just happened. Hercules glumly says that he will but back the celebratory snacks. (LOL. Poor Herc.)

Ant-Man asks AI Tony that if Captain Nazi keeps getting more fragments at what point will AI Tony not have enough to do whatever it is he needs to do. AI Tony responds that he does not know. Quicksilver says that they should give up. Mockingbird does her best John Belushi impersonation and says that nobody is giving up. That they are going to recover as many cosmic cube fragments as they can. (Why is Mockingbird giving this stern and rousing speech wit the expression of a super model who just did something mischievous?)

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Namor leaves. Baron Zemo tells Captain Nazi that at this rate they will have all the fragments they need. Captain Nazi says that it does not matter if Tony’s group gets more fragments. It won’t change the outcome. Captain Nazi says, “After all, we have someone on the inside.” We see a group shot of AI Tony’s team. End of issue.

The Good: Secret Empire #4 is easily the best issue that we have gotten to this point. Now, I am not too sure that every reader will find Secret Empire #4 a compelling read like I did. This is an issue that is going to be more appealing to long-time Avengers readers as well as to readers who are Hank Pym fans.

I am not sure how many Hank Pym fans there are out there under the age of 35. But, I will openly admit that I am a huge Hank Pym fan. I have always loved his character. I am also a long-time Avengers fan who still thinks fondly of the Jim Shooter Avengers from the 1970’s. Needless to say, I love that Hank Pym took center stage in this issue.

I also am a continuity geek and I loved how Spencer put a spotlight on what moment in Avengers continuity first signaled the end of the Avengers franchise as a family and began the era of the Avengers as a team with splintered factions.

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Before dealing with how Spencer masterfully handles Pym’s cahracter and the Avengers’ continuity a quick examination of Hank Pym is neccesary. The moment that AI Tony refers to in Secret Avengers #4 when Hank hit Jan was the events of Avengers #213. Jim Shooter was the Avengers writer at that time. Leading up to Avengers #213, Shooter had Hank Pym beginning to suffer from a mental breakdown stemming from an inferiority complex.

Shooter has come out and spoken about that controversial issue. Jim said that Hank was supposed to turn his back to Janet and throw his hands up in the air with despair and accidentally hit Jan. However, the artist Bob Hall decided to turn that scene up to 11 and had Hank giving Janet a purposefully punch to the face. It is not what Shooter wanted, but they did not have time to get the page redrawn. Jim Shooter wrote about this moment and explained what happened.

So, Hank Pym was never supposed to be a wife beater. It was a mistake by an artist that lead Hank Pym’s character to become nearly fatally damaged and practically unuseable by succeeding writers on the Avengers title. Dealing with Pym’s character became even more porblematic after Pym helped Egghead in a plot against the Avengers taht lead to Pym being publically disgraced and serving time in jail. THe concept of Pym dealing with an inferiority complex? That is some interesting character work that could produce some fascinating stories. The concept of Pym as a wife-beater? Not nearly as compelling or productive of a direction for the character.

Since the early 1980’s Pym’s character had become nearly irrevocably broken. And it is a shame, too. Especially since it was not Shooter’s original intent. And it also robbed the Marvel Universe of a cool founding member of the Avengers.

Since the early 1980’s, writers have struggled with how to properly handle Pym’s character. It was made even more difficult with many fan’s hostile feelings toward Pym due to the “wife-beater” label that was hung on him. Over the past few decades, writers have attempted to rehab Pym’s character back into something that could be productive and fitting for one of the founding members of the Avengers. But, none of the efforts have worked at all.

It was not until Mighty Avengers #23 back in 2009 did Hank Pym get any serious push into begin redeemed. Dan Slott has Pym become the leader of the Avengers in Mighty Avengers #23. This was a huge point that marks the first real substantive effort to rehab Pym’s damaged character.

This was further boosted with Hank Pym becoming the Scientist Supreme, essentially the science version of Dr. Strange as the Sorcerer Supreme. This moment was huge in that it wiped out Pym’s inferiority complex and placed him on a greater level than other Marvel geniuses like Reed Richards and Tony Stark.

In 2010, Pym’s character continued to get the love when Christos Gage had Pym creating the Avengers Academy. In 2013, Marvel had Pym creates and leads the Avengers AI team. Most recently, Pym was made a member of the Illuminati in Avengers Vol 5 #35.

So, from 2009 to the present, Marvel has made a concerted effort to legitimately rehab Pym’s character and reestablish him as an important member of the Avengers. For fans who began reading comics after 2009, Pym’s character holds a much better reputation than it does for readers who had started reading comic anytime between 1981 and 2009.

Unfortunately, much of the progress made with Pym’s character was lost when he was “killed” and then merged with Ultron. However, Spencer does a nice job with Pym in Secret Empire #4 and building off of Pym’s past and the Avengers continuity leading up to this dramatic moment.

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The dinner scene was a moment that has been building for a long time. Spencer delivers this moment in a spectacularly dramatic and emotionally charged manner. I loved this scene. The dinner scene was a fine combination of strong character work, excellent dialogue, passion, emotion and the weaving of continuity into the fabric of the current story of Secret Empire.

Let’s start with Spencer’s use of continuity as the backbone for this scene. I love that Spencer pinpoints the beginning of the Avengers fall from a family into a team full of splintered factions with Avengers Vol. 1 #213. That was perfect. That truly was the moment that began the shift in the Avengers tone and their relationships with each other.

Most people would point to Avengers Disassembled that stemmed from the House of M as teh moment where the Avengers began to fall apart. However I think subtle changes were happeneing much earlier than that. And Avengers Vol. 1 #213 was the first most dramatic shift in the Avengers tone and the relationship between the characters.

Spencer then shows how all of the events in House of M, Civil War and Secret Invasion have all logically brought us to the events in Secret Empire. This scene does an excellent job in presenting Secret Empire as the logical and natural evolution of the prior big events in the Marvel Universe over the past decade. I love when a story has a strong foundation in continuity. And it is pleasing as a long-time reader to see how prior events all come together in a satisfying and logical manner in current big event story.

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Spencer utilizes the dialogue for AI Tony, Ant-Man and Hank Pym in masterful fashion to represent several different schools of thought concerning Pym and the Avengers in general. AI Tony presents the old view of Hank Pym that existed post Avengers Vol. 1 #213. AI Tony spits out the well worn view of Pym being nothing more than a shell of a man who is crippled by an inferiority complex and who beats his wife.

Then we have Ant-Man’s dialogue. Spencer has Ant-Man represent the view of the new version of Hank Pym that we have seen post Mighty Avengers #23. Ant-Man also represents the view of the long-time Pym fan from prior to the events of Avengers Vol. 1 #213. Ant-Man’s dialogue perfectly summarizes what is so compelling and great about Pym’s character.

Spencer wisely gives AI Tony the initial floor to present this old view of Pym before knocking down that AI Tony’s position with Ant-Man’s dialogue. Ant-Man’s dialogue is the perfect answer to the old views of Hank Pym. Spencer uses this moment to lay to rest the old view of Pym.

I love that Spencer is able to tap into what makes Pym such an interesting character. Pym’s flaws make a character that would otherwise be a generic and vanilla scientific genius like Reed Richards and makes him into a character that is more relatable and engaging to the average reader. Spencer manages to present the textures and complexities of Pym’s character.

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Ant-Man’s dialogue properly positions Pym as a hero, a role model while still acknowledging that he has flaws. However, Spencer rightly has Ant-Man point out that the flaws do not make the man. It is how Pym deals with his flaws that define him as a man. Spencer gets over with the reader how Pym is a hero and a role model. Ant-Man’s dialogue establishes with the reader that Pym is not to be defined by one panel from a comic over 30 years ago.

Ant-Man’s dialogue certainly had long time Pym fans nodding their head in support. By positioning Ant-Man’s dialogue last and letting it to serve as the conclusion to this dramatic scene; Spencer gives this Ant-Man’s words more legitimacy than AI Tony’s view.

Then there is Hank Pym’s dialogue. Pym represents the modern reader who is sick of the dark and dreary Avengers that we have gotten since 2004. Spencer has Pym rightly point out that the biggest super villains in the past big events, House of M, Civil War, and Civil War II, and in the current big event, Secret Empire, have all been the Avengers themselves. Pym’s dialogue pointing out that the Avengers have turned into the Marvel Universe’s biggest villains gives voice to what many current readers who dislike this treatment of the Avengers. Many readers find it depressing that Marvel have made the Avengers the biggest villains in the 616 universe and centered so many big events around heroes battling each other instead of the heroes battling villains. Pym gives voice to that point of view.

Pym’s dialogue reflects the feelings of the reader who is totally over unlikeable super heroes who do nothing but constantly fight and bicker with each other. The reader who is currently embracing DC Rebirth where the universe is brighter and more positive. Where the super heroes actually like and respect each other and actually get along. Pym brings the position of the readers who like the JLA and the Avengers to be a family and not just a team of characters who barely tolerate each other.

I hope that Pym’s dialogue is a dog whistle to fans that Marvel has a more positive universe in store for us after the conclusion of Secret Empire. Perhaps we will get a Marvel version of Rebirth. MarvelNOW foolishly aped the failed N52 endeavor. Maybe Marvel will now ape DC’s much praised and successful Rebirth. One can only hope.

It certainly seems that Spencer is planning on making Secret Empire the final conclusion of a decade long story. draws a clear line from Avengers Vol. 1 #213 and strings it straight to House of M then to Civil War

to Secret Invasion to Civil War II and straight to the events of Secret Empire. I adore the use of continuity in creating a logical and strong foundation for current stories. It gives a much richer reading experience for the reader. It also lets the reader know that history counts. That past events matter and continue to impact the Marvel Universe for years after the events have concluded.

All in all, the character work and the dialogue was impressive in Secret Empire #4. Spencer really upped his game and delivered some passionate and emotional moments in this issue. Spencer certainly grabbed my attention and captivated me until the very end. The character work and dialogue particularly sparkled in the scene with Pym and the two teams of Avengers. This was the majority of Secret Empire #4 and offered up the best character work and dialogue of this entire big event. Spencer finally flashed a good feel for the various characters and generated some strong chemistry between the different Avengers.

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Secret Empire also finally delivered some much needed action. Seriously. Secret Empire has been so terribly dull and dry with little to no action or excitement anywhere. Well, Spencer finally addressed that deficiency with giving us some action and a sense of excitement when the two Avengers teams arrived at Ultron’s city. The action and excitement helped to inject some life and intensity into Secret Empire. Which, over the course of the first three issues, felt like a soulless story.

The Dream forest scene was, once again, quite short. But it was cool to see the addition of Bucky and Sam to the adventure. I love all three characters and I like to see them back together and working as a team. Hopefully, we can get Bucky back and better than ever once Secret Empire has concluded.

Spencer ends Secret Empire with a solid hook ending. Now, is the old mole on the good guys team that creative? Absolutely not. However, there are plenty of plot devices that aren’t original or creative that can still be fun if executed properly. The old traitor on the heroes team is one of those plot devices.

I’m curious to see who Spencer selects to be the traitor. I am going to rule out AI Tony. He is the leader and him being the traitor does not make any sense from a story logic standpoint.

Mockingbird makes the “passionate” rally the troops speech. That could be a bit of misdirection by Spencer. Still, I’m inclined to say that Mockingbird is not the traitor. There is no real connection between her and Captain Nazi.

Next is Ant-Man. I definitely cannot see Ant-Man being the traitor. Not after the speech he gave. This would go to sharply against the core values of his character.

How about Hercules? I say no to this only because Hercules has been nothing more than the comedic relief. Him turning traitor would have little to no impact on the reader.

Quicksilver? I’m not inclined to say he will be the traitor because he is way too obvious of a choice. Quicksilver’s motivation to turn traitor would be because his sister is aligned with Captain Nazi and maybe he things helping Captain Nazi would gain him help to free Scarlet Witch from the control of Chthon. Still, the fact that Quicksilver is often cast as a villain would mean him turning traitor would have zero shock value to the reader.

This leaves Sam Wilson; the unwilling participant to AI Tony’s team. Sam has the closest connection to Captain Nazi. And Sam’s betrayal would be the most stinging of all the characters and would have the biggest impact on the reader.

The Bad: Secret Empire #4 still presents the same defects with the pacing of the story. This issue is still way too decompressed. Spencer is barely pushing the story forward. This issue has zero sense of urgency. Secret Empire #4 is the halfway point for this big event and it clearly feels like Spencer had enough of a story for maybe a four issue story arc but was forced to stretch it out over ten issues. You know, because Marvel big events are nothing more than editorial mandated crass cash grabs.

Despite the incredibly entertaining scene with Pym and the two Avengers teams the fact remains that the story really did not get advanced much at all. The only real plot development occurred in the first three pages with the appearance of Bucky and Sam in the dream forest. Other than that, AI Tony’s team gets a cosmic cube fragment and Captain Nazi’s team gets a cosmic cube fragment so both teams are still pretty much in the same position with neither side having an advantage. Then, Spencer ends Secret Empire #4 with a “shocking” hook ending with the reveal of a traitor on AI Tony’s team. Secret Empire #4 follows the same format of previous issues offering as little actual plot progression as possible and then ending with a “shock” hook ending to make the reader forget that not much actually happened in the issue.

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The Black Widow and the Champions plot line continues to be atrocious. This plot line is languishing with no purpose at all. This scene added absolutely nothing of value to Secret Empire #4 and could have easily been cut out of the issue.

And if the point of the Black Widow and the Champions plot line is to get the MarvelNOW newbies over with the majority of the readership who has no interest in them then Spencer is failing miserably. The MarvelNOW newbies continue to come across as annoying at best and downright idiotic at worst.

Riri, in particular, takes it on the chin in this issue. Spencer has Riri cut loose the Hydra agent before trying to wipe his short term memory. This was beyond idiotic. All that had to be done was for them to wipe his memory, knock him out, then untie him and then leave the hotel and seek a new hidden location. It is so basic that it makes Riri look stupid and makes her character incredibly annoying to readers that you are trying to win over.

The rest of the Champions? They are mere window dressing. They are one dimensional annoying teen-age stereotypes. They all have the same basic personalities and viewpoints. There is really nothing here at all to get readers interested in these MarvelNOW characters. If Secret Empire was supposed to help establish these characters then consider the effort a total failure to this point.

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Spencer’s Black Widow is also disappointing. Black Widow is a fantastic character. But, Spencer delivers a one-dimensional take on Natasha that presents her as unlikeable and shallow. The lack of any character work and the weak dialogue for the Black Widow and the Champions plot line is not helping, either. This also leads to a complete lack of chemistry between the Champions themselves and then between the Champions and Black Widow.

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Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and  Sunny Cho deliver serviceable artwork. No doubt that they are all professionals. However, Yu’s artwork is not at home at all on a mainstream super hero big event title. Yu’s artwork is rough and sketchy. Yu’s character faces are not as horror inducing as they often are in past comics. Still, Yu’s style of artwork works far better on a gritty street based title or on a horror themed title. There was one odd moment where it looks like Yu either photo-traced Mockingbird’s face or Yu was simply ignorant of the story and Mockingbird’s dialogue. You has Mockingbird smiling like a naughty fashion model while Spencer has her delivering some inspiring lines in a supposedly emotional moment of the story.

Overall: I enjoyed Secret Empire #4 and found this to be easily the best issue of this big event to this point. However, it is tricky recommending Secret Empire #4 to readers. For me, the Pym and the two teams of Avengers plot line that dominated this issue made Secret Empire #4 worth the price of admission. However, for readers who are not a fan of Hank Pym or who do not care much about old 1970’s and 1980’s continuity then Secret Empire #4 will probably not be worth purchasing. Because without a fondness for Pym and old Avengers continuity there really is not much else that Secret Empire #4 offers for the reader. So, if you are a long-time Avengers fan and love Hank Pym then definitely pick up Secret Empire #4. For everyone else? Pass on Secret Empire #4. Nothing much else happens and there is simply not enough content outside of the Pym story to justify the hefty $4.00 cover price.