Secret Empire continues to be a disappointing big event. It is no surprise that the sales numbers for Secret Empire have been weak compared to other Marvel big events. How weak? In June 2017, Secret Empire #5 sold just 87,675 units. This is even worse than other admittedly weak big events like Original Sin and Fear Itself. Take a look at the chart of all of Marvel’s big events from House of M to Secret Empire. The chart below compares the sales numbers for the #5 issue (#3 for the short Siege) of all the various big events. Secret Empire #5’s sales numbers are the lowest of the bunch.
Spencer has failed to generate much excitement or interest in this big event. Secret Empire continues to lumber forward like the comic book version of a zombie. Hopefully, since we are near the end of this big event, Spencer will pick up the intensity with Secret Empire #7. Let’s hit this review.
Words: Nick Spencer
Art: Andrea Sorrentino
Additional Art: Rod Reis, Joshus Cassara & Rachelle Rosenberg
Colors: Sunny Cho & Java Tartaglia
Story Rating: 3 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 4.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin on Alpha Flight station. Things are looking grim as they are sustaining increased Chitauri attacks that are coming in faster and large waves. Carol Danvers, America and Monica meet to discuss what to do next. Monica argues that they need to abandon the Alpha Flight station and look to trying to find a planet to relocate to. Possibly even relocating to an alternate reality that America can access. America replies that the alternate realities she accesses are not sustainable for people.
Carol replies that she is not cutting and running. That she will not abandon her post. That she will not abandon Alpha Fight station. Carol walks off. She then enters the medical bay where Avril is in a bed and still in a coma.Carol proceeds to wallow in self pity. That she is responsible for the rise of Hydra. That she picked the wrong side during the events of Civil War II. That she was eager to prove herself. That she tried to make them love her and all she did was give them a reason to hate her. (Blah, blah, blah. And I’m not wasting any more time with this because nobody cares. Nobody other than Marvel cares about Carol as Captain Marvel. As evidenced by her titles constantly getting cancelled. And her crap sales numbers.)
Carol says that she needs Avril to wake up and utilize her powers of Quasar to help them stop the Chitauri.
We mercifully leave that scene and hop over to the Red Skull torturing Steve Rogers. A voice narrates that they were in pan and that the suffering have become to great. That all they wanted was for it to end. Red Skull says that his gift to Steve is that he will escape this place and at last know peace.
The voice narrates that like many things they don’t get to decide how it ends.
We shift to the end of last issue with Madame Hydra forming a shield around Captain Nazi. (I am guessing here. It is not clearly explained what caused the explosion nor if Madame Hydra made a shield around Captain Nazi.) What we do know is that Captain Nazi is the only survivor of the massive explosion that took down the Mount.We see Captain Nazi at the Capital. He is informed that the masses are ready for him. We see that Captain Nazi is about to give a State of the Union to celebrate the rebuilding ceremony of the Capitol. The news report talks about additional restrictions being placed on internet communications and stateside media as well as new curfews for major cities.
We see that Black Widow is on the scene. So are all of the baby legacy heroes. Black Widow and Miles Morales are in a van. The other baby legacy heroes are dispersed through the assembled crowd. Miles says that he is ready to accept his fate as the killer of Captain Nazi. Black Widow says that she left some of her supplies in the back of the van and asks Miles to get them for her.
Miles goes into the back of the van and suddenly a barrier activates and seals him in the back of the van. Black Widow says that the barrier was designed to hold the Hulk so Miles shouldn’t even bother to break free. Miles says that Black Widow needs him. Black Widow says she has been doing this for years. Black Widow adds that Miles is not a killer.
Black Widow radios the baby legacy heroes and tells them that once the attack begins that they are going to rescue the prisoners who are being forced onto the stage to pledge allegiance to Hydra.
We cut to “earlier” with Black Widow at the bedside of the old white man who appears to be nearly dead. Black Widow tells the old man that she is going to give him a chance to strike back at Hydra in revenge of all the Inhumans that Hydra has persecuted. Black Widow tells him to take her hand and free himself. We see Mosaic rising out of the body of the old white man. (Damn. They just keep rolling our D-lister after D-lister.)We shift to the present with Mosaic taking over the bodies of the Hydra soldiers and getting them to turn their weapons on each other. The baby legacy heroes use the chaos to their advantage.
Black Widow gets ready to assassinate Captain Nazi when the Punisher suddenly arrives on the scene. The Punisher and Black Widow start battling each other. (There is zero chance that Spencer has Punisher beat Black Widow. Zero.) Punisher explains that he is working for Captain Nazi because Captain Nazi promised Punisher the money and equipment to properly wage his one man war on crime and to finally win it.
We hop back to Miles in the van. He uses his venom blast to start a fire. That kicks in the smoke detectors which initiates an emergency evacuation protocol. The computer asks for Miles’ password in order to open the rear doors. Miles gives the password and the doors open and Miles swings off toward the Capital.We cut back to Black Widow and Punisher brawling. Black Widow manages to throw two knives into Punisher’s legs. He collapses to the ground. (Told ya!) Black Widow goes back to her sniper rifle. She looks through the scope and notices that Miles is on the scene. Black Widow leaps from the window and heads over to the Capital.
We see Miles squaring off with Captain Nazi at the base of the Capital steps. Captain Nazi says they need to end this now. We see Black Widow fighting her way through Hydra soldiers to get to Miles.
Captain Nazi swings his shield to break Mile’s neck. Black Widow rushes in and pushes Miles out of the way. Captain Nazi’s pointed end of his shield nails Black Widow in the neck and breaks her neck. Black Widow falls to the ground dead. (Damn. I guess being a female isn’t enough to save you from death in Marvel these days. I mean Black Widow is still white, straight and Christian. So lame. That just isn’t diverse enough for Marvel.)
Miles freaks out and attacks Captain Nazi and punches away at him until Captain Nazi is knocked out. (Yeah, not sure that I buy Miles Morales being able to beat Steve Rogers in a hand-to-hand fight. But, maybe Steve is weaker in his Captain Nazi form? Kind of like how once a pro wrestler turns heel they suddenly can’t fight and win anymore?)
Miles is about to accept his fate and kill Captain Nazi when Nadia arrives on the scene and tells him to stop. That Miles does not need to become like Black Widow or like Nadia. That Miles had a choice. That Miles is not a killer. Nadia asks Miles what Black Widow would want Miles to be.
Miles says, “I’m not a killer,” and drops Captain Nazi’s unconscious body. Suddenly, Hydra robots show up and place the baby legacy heroes under arrest. Other Hydra soldier show up and pick up Captain Nazi and carry him off. (Kind of like how the Four Horsemen would arrive on the scene and pick up Ric Flair and carry him off.) Captain Nazi regains consciousness and tells his soldiers to bring him Sharon Carter.We cut to to Captain Nazi talking to Sharon Carter. Captain Nazi says that it was not supposed to be this way. That everything is going wrong. That he cannot stop it from falling apart. Captain Nazi says that he has lost Madame Hydra, Bucky, Rick Jones, Jack Flag and not Black Widow. Captain Nazi says that he wanted to save them and build a better world. Captain Nazi says that he feels so alone. That he needs Sharon more than ever. That she is all he has left.
Sharon then pulls out two a wooden stake from her outfit. (Uh, where in the hell did Sharon hide that wooden stake in her slinky skin tight outfit?! How did nobody see that bulge?!)
Captain Nazi grabs Sharon’s arm and knocks the wooden stake out of her hand. The Hydra guards then grab Sharon. Captain Nazi tells the guards to put Sharon into a cell. Captain Nazi then tells the guards to alert the High Council that he will be giving another address to the nation tomorrow in which he is going to declare war.
We hop back to Red Skull about to kill Steve Rogers. A voice narrates that they were ready for darkness. But, then they saw it. The light. The thing they needed to stand up one more time. Hope. We see Steve seeing the woman of light from earlier in this story.
Steve then gets up and tackles Red Skull and carries both of them over the side of a cliff. The two men fall into the water below.
We shift over to Arizona where the remained of AI Tony’s team just got the news that Natasha was killed. Hawkeye freaks out. (Damn. Hawkeye no longer has anyone to beat him up on a consistent basis. He must be so sad.)
A voice narrates that they were so lost and sinking so fast. That they could never come back from it alone. That they needed a hand to lift them back up. Someone who could make them believe again. Someone who could lead us out of the desert.
Raz asks “This is it, isn’t it? It’s over.” We see a shadowy figure who had put on a uniform and grabbed a round shield step forward and say, “No.”
We pan back and see Sam Wilson back in his Captain Falcon outfit. (Well, that was anti-climactic. This would be like the New England Patriots coming out in the second half of the Super Bowl against the Falcons and having the back-up QB stand up to lead the team out for a comeback instead of Tom Brady. Doesn’t really inspire confidence.)The voice narrates “We needed Captain America.” (Well, you got Captain Falcon instead. You can’t always get what you want. You know, come to think about it I’m pretty sure that MarvelNOW’s slogan is “You can’t always get what you want.”) Captain Falcon raises up Steve’s shield and says, “Not yet.” End of issue.
The Good: The eighteen page scene at the Capital was easily the best part of Secret Empire #7. This scene offered plenty of action which has been a sore point for Secret Empire up to this issue. The Capital scene is the heart of this issue and keeps Secret Empire #6 from being another boring read that barely moves forward any of the plot lines.
I enjoyed the three page scene with Captain Nazi and Sharon Carter. This is one of the few moments in Secret Empire where Spencer actually pulls of some quality character work and creates a scene with some genuine emotion. The reader gets an excellent sense of the feeling of absolute loss and loneliness that hits Captain Nazi with a crushing weight when Sharon goes to attack him. This is when Captain Nazi hits rock bottom and realizes that all of his actions to protect what he holds dear has actually led him to losing everyone in his life that he held dear. This was a well done scene.Andrea Sorrentino is a talented artist. Sorrentino is a master at laying out a page. There were several pages that were amazing. The page with Carol Danvers and Avril with the negative white spaces surrounding the two characters took a dull scene with two lackluster characters and effectively conveyed the isolation inside of Carol Danvers better than what Spencer did with his words.
The page with the flashback scenes of the end of Secret Empire #6 was brilliantly done. As was the wickedly awesome two page splash shot of Punisher fighting Black Widow. The page with Sharon attacking Captain Nazi was incredible and powerful.
However, the two pages depicting Black Widow’s death were nothing short of amazing. Sorrentino conveys the sickening thud of Captain Nazi’s shield and Black Widow’s life being snuffed out in a powerful fashion. Even if the death itself felt obligatory.
The Bad: Secret Empire #7 is another pedestrian read. Spencer continues to spend more pages wasting time than actually trying to advance the storyline. This is a thirty-four page comic book and it only offered up maybe 18 pages of any actual real content.
Secret Empire #7 kicks off with a dull four page scene with Carol Danvers that was utterly pointless. All the reader got was some melodramatic dialogue from a character that does not have much of a following at all in her current role. And Avril? A cardboard cut-out would generate more interest and sympathy from the reader. Avril is a complete unknown. This scene was completely unnecessary. This scene seemed to have the only purpose of making sure that Carol Danvers gets the spotlight just so the reader understands that Marvel views her character as incredibly important. Even if the reader does not.This is similar to how Marvel placed Carol prominently on the cover of Secret Empire #3 despite her only appearing as a bit player for two pages in the issue. This is becoming embarrassing for Marvel. They just keep shoving Carol as Captain Marvel down the reader’s throat despite the complete lack of reader interest and the embarrassingly low sales numbers. But, Marvel wants us to know how important Carol as Captain Marvel is so Spencer gives us this pointless four page scene to begin Secret Empire #7.
We then get a one page scene with Steve Rogers and Red Skull that was just there to take up space. This scene was completely unnecessary and did nothing at all to support or build up the following Steve Rogers and Red Skull scene later in this issue. Spencer just retread well worn ground in this scene. Spencer should have just skipped this scene and stuck with the second Steve Rogers and Red Skull scene.
Spencer then delivers the eighteen page scene at the Capital. This is the meat of the issue and the only part of the issue that had any substance or plot progression. Now, while this scene was easily the best part of Secret Empire #7 it was still plagued with problems.
The fight between Black Widow and Punisher was predictable and perfunctory. At no point did the reader think that the Punisher had a prayer against Black Widow. This left the fight scene to feel mechanical and lacking in any tension.Then there is the death of Black Widow. This felt like nothing more than the obligatory “shocking” death that publishers feel compelled to deliver in all of their big events. It is a tired and predictable trope. And it is one that should be retired. Especially given how the characters that are killed are almost certain to return at some point in the future. These obligatory “shocking” deaths in big events have lost any and all impact on current day readers.
This scene also gave us the hackneyed moment where the hero decides to not take the path of being a killer. And, as usual, the hero is “inspired” to take the path of being a hero and not a killer based upon someone who has recently died and who was a great influence on the hero. This is so uncreative. It came across as wrote. As if Spencer was mindlessly going through a checklist of “must have moments” in a mainstream big event.
The predictability and the rote nature of Black Widow’s death and Miles’ decision not to kill Captain Nazi robbed this scene of much of its emotional impact. Of course, the overall lack of character work and inability of Spencer to make these characters compelling during this story were also both major factors in hampering this scene.
Spencer then delivers the three page scene with Captain Nazi and Sharon that I already touched on in the positive section of the review. We then get a three page scene with Red Skull and Steve Rogers. This is another bare bones and slow moving scene. The plot progression has been so lacking with this plot line. This is clearly a shallow plot line that Spencer has stretched out over the entire event just so he can actually move it forward in the final issue. The constant re-hashing of themes, lack of information, and same repetitious narration about hope has made this plot line lose much of its initial appeal.Spencer then ends Secret Empire #6 with a three page scene of AI Tony’s team reeling from the news of Black Widow’s death. This ending was anti-climactic. Spencer gets cute by showing us the scene with Steve Rogers making his escape and talking about hope. And then Spencer gives the reader the ending with Sam Wilson donning his Captain Falcon outfit and “rallying” the troops. It does not work.
Instead, the reader can hear the sad trombones in their head when it is a weary Sam Wilson appearing at the end rather than Steve Rogers. I like Sam’s character. The Falcon is a cool character that I have always enjoyed since the old Captain America and the Falcon comics from the 1970’s. But, Sam is a C-list character at best. Sam is definitely no Steve Rogers.
Secret Empire #7 is nearing the final few issues of this big event. This is a moment where the iconic characters should step forward to lead our heroes. This is why in DC’s big events they often remove Superman from the table early in the big event and then have him dramatically return to rally the troops before the final act. For Marvel the character most fitting to rally the troops before the final act is Steve Rogers.
This final scene leads me to two more defects that have dogged Secret Empire since the beginning. The first is the cast of character that either Spencer actively chose or, more likely, Marvel’s editorial staff instructed him to use for Secret Empire.The first problem is that the cast of characters for Secret Empire is unimpressive. It is a collection of characters that Marvel is bizarrely and obsessively pushing on readers as a part of their “All New All Different MarvelNOW Point One Legacy Generations” ever evolving banner. Black Widow, Captain Falcon, Mockingbird, Scott Lang, Raz, Carol Danvers, Ms. Marvel, America, Miles Morales, Mosaic, the Champions, etc. The problem is that, in general, readers do not care about these characters. Forget the vocal minority on social media. Look to the sales numbers for how unpopular these characters have been.
Out of all of these characters, Miles is the “best” selling one with Spider-Man #17 selling 29,428 units in June, 2017. Remember when the comic market was strong and a title falling under the 30,000 unit mark often meant that Marvel would start thinking about cancelling a title? The next “best” selling title is the Champions with the Champions #9 selling 27,44 units in June 2017. Again, another unimpressive sales number.
It only gets worse from here. Next up is Carol Danvers. Mighty Captain Marvel #6 sold just 20,870 units in June 2017. Then we have Sam Wilson. Captain America Sam Wilson #23 sold a weak 18,432 units in June 2017. Next is Kamala Khan. She may get championed on the internet, but not so much in real life. Ms. Marvel #19 sold a mere 17,907 units in June 2017. That is awful.
Then we have Black Widow. While she is immensely popular in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, c’mon, who does not love Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow? The fact remains that, despite what Marvel and DC may wish, the success of their movies have absolutely nothing to do with the success (or lack thereof) of their comic books. Case in point, the last issue of Black Widow, Black Widow #12, sold an unimpressive 17,720 units. Black Widow may be popular in the movies, but in the comics she is still a supporting character.It just gets even worse from here. Mockingbird got cancelled just eight issues into her solo title. Mockingbird #8 sold a pathetic 14,302 units. Then we have America. America #4 sold 12,624 units. Then we get to Mosaic. His title recently got cancelled with issue #8. Mosaic #8 sold an embarrassing 5,254 units.
The only title from the “All New All Different MarvelNOW Point One Legacy Generations” ever evolving banner that has actually consistently sold well is Lady Thor. Mighty Thor #20 sold 42,643 units in June 2017. But, here is the crazy part. Lady Thor is the only one of these “All New All Different MarvelNOW Point One Legacy Generations” that does not appear in Secret Empire! Seriously? Marvel’s one successful character and they leave her out of Secret Empire in favor of this case of C-list characters who post weak sales numbers each month? It is absolutely insane.
So, the result of having an unimpressive cast of characters who do not have good monthly sales numbers or have particularly large followings of readers results in a big event that most readers simply do not care about or become invested in at all. The vast majority of readers want the iconic and big named characters when reading a mainstream super hero big event.
The second continuing problem that goes hand-in-hand with the weak cast of characters is Spencer’s character work and dialogue in Secret Empire. With such a cast of characters who are not particularly popular it is even more important that the writer focus on delivering compelling character work and dialogue to try and get readers invested in the cast of characters.Unfortunately, Spencer has completely failed in this endeavor. The character work had been average at best and the dialogue has been bland. The dialogue feels lifeless. It feels like the characters are on autopilot and are mechanically going through the motions. There is no emotion. There is no intensity. Everything feels subdued and emotionally numb.
The result of all this is that there is zero chemistry between the characters. There is nothing there to get readers excited or interested in these characters. Nothing feels unique or original. It all feels formulaic as if Spencer is simply on cruise control and simply doing Secret Empire for a big paycheck rather than out of passion and the desire to tell a story that he is truly invested in.
Overall: Secret Empire #7 is another average read. This big event continues to have no heart and no soul. What it does continue to have is a massive $3.99 cover price. At this point, there is no reason to keep hope alive for this big event turning into anything that will be considered a quality story years from now. Hopefully, Marvel can regroup and rebound from what has been a disappointing big event in terms of sales numbers.