Secret Empire appears to be a miss as far as big events are concerned. We only have a few issues left in this big event and we are still waiting for a quality story. At this point, I do not think it is reasonable to expect Spencer to turn the ship on this big event. I would suspect that we will continue to get a mechanical and lifeless read before the inevitable ending that gives us the “dramatic” return of Steve Rogers as Captain America. Maybe Spencer will prove me wrong with Secret Empire #8. Let’s hit this review.
Words: Nick Spencer
Art: Daniel Acuña
Additional Art: Rod Reis
Colors: Sean Izaakse & Java Tartaglia
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 sinking in the water. He breaks the ropes that bound his wrists. We get more of the usual cheesy narration talking about how they were sinking and ready to let go. Then they saw it. A reason to keep fighting. A hope for the future. Steve then swims to the top of the water and pulls himself onto land.
We cut to the Painted Desert in Nevada. We see Raz and Shaun in the desert. Raz and Shaun are struggling to move a time capsule. Shaun asks why Raz didn’t just turn into Giant-Man and move the large device that way. Raz replies that he still forgets that he can do that. (What the actual fuck? Raz is supposed to be a scientific genius, but the moron forgets that he has Giant-Man powers? Seriously?! He has had the powers for a while now. This. This is why people hate the MarvelNOW All New All Different Point One Legacy Generations characters. They are written like morons.)
Raz has built a time capsule that will burrow underground and sit there for one hundred years in hopes that the planetary shield goes down and then it will send a message that Captain Falcon just recorded. It will send a message back in time to before the shield and the Darkforce bubble went up.
The reasons for this ridiculously complicated scheme is because Raz says if you change history then you don’t change your present. You just create a divergent timeline. So, the two of them would still be stuck here. The two then activate the time capsule and it buries itself into the ground.
We cut to New York City where we see that Captain Falcon has taken control over all TV’’s and video screens. (How did Captain Falcon do this? Who knows? Spencer sure ain’t telling us!) Captain Falcon says that he has an urgent message. That the heroes have never given up. We see that Captain Falcon has also taken over the screens on Alpha Flight Station as well.
Captain Falcon says that they heroes need everyone’s help. That they have sustained heavy losses. Captain Falcon says that they are looking for a cosmic cube. That Hydra has had more success recovering the fragments of the cosmic cube. And that Hydra has declared war on anyone with a cosmic cube fragment.
Captain Falcon says that there is still hope. (It is amazing how Spencer can take one simple theme and absolutely pile drive it into the ground all the way to the center of the earth. Its as subtle and as interesting as a sledgehammer to the head.) Captain Falcon says that they have liberated an Inhuman prison camp. And they found the last cosmic cube fragment. (Uhhh, when did this happen? It certainly did not happen in the last issue of Secret Empire.)
Captain Falcon asks everyone think positive thoughts. That these positive thoughts will help charge the cosmic cube fragment so that it will bring down the planetary shield and destroy the Darkforce bubble around New York. Captain Falcon says that he knows some people may want to give up hope. (Uggggh.) But, this is their moment to turn things around. That they have been so divided and broken for so long. But, now it is time to assemble. (I see what you did there.)
We cut to outside of New York City. Captain Falcon, Hawkeye, AI Tony and Misty Knight are all huddled together. AI Tony hands Captain Falcon the cosmic cube fragment. AI Tony tells Captain Falcon to take the shard and fly directly in between the Darkforce bubble and the planetary shield. Then Captain Falcon can use the cosmic cube fragment to “wish” away the Darkforce bubble and the planetary shield. AI Tony points out that the fragment has limited power so Captain Falcon will have to wish really hard.
Hawkeye tells Captain Falcon to be careful of all the Hydra fighter planes that he is going to have to elude. Misty interjects that Sam knows what to do because “…He is Captain America, after all.” (Spencer is just laying it on thick. As subtle as a rhino.)
AI Tony wishes Captain Falcon good luck and reminds him to not think of the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man while he is up there. (Ah, well timed humor. Not.)
We slide over to Alpha Flight Station. Star Lord and Rocket Raccoon enter the scene. The two present Carol Danvers with a nullifier bomb. Carol asks what will be the delivery system for the bomb. Star Lord replies that she is standing in it.
We hop over to New York City. Dr. Strange meets up with Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Cloak, and Dagger. Dr. Strange says that he has acquired a spell from The Librarians.
We flashback to earlier in the New York Public Library. We see that Dr. Strange had to trade The Librarians his Sanctum Sanctorum for the spell. The Librarians wanted the property because it is on prime Greenwich Village real estate. The Librarians say that they will probably cut it up into condos. The Librarians say that they are tired of tourists snapping pictures of them thinking that they are the Ghostbusters lady. The Librarians also ask what Dr. Strange needs with Manhattan real estate, anyhow given property taxes these days. (I know this is supposed to be funny. Instead, it just seems stupid. And two Ghostbusters references in just four pages? Somebody saw Ghostbusters recently.)
We hop back to the present. Dr. Strange says that for him to cast the spell he will need Cloack and Dagger. Iron Fist quips that Dr. Strange is saying that for his next trick he will need two assistants. (What is up with this really bad and poorly timed humor in this issue?)
We cut to Captain Falcon racing past several Hydra fighter jets. The cheesy voice returns and narrates how they were fighting again. Fighting together again. That they let themselves believe again.
Captain Falcon evades one fighter jet. But, then the other jet gets into position. There is a gunner on the jet that takes aim and shoots Captain Falcon straight though the chest. The voice narrates that we had one shot left. One hope still alive in their hearts. Then imagine how it felt to see it crushed so quickly. (I am getting whiplash going from juvenile and corny humor to over the top melodrama.)
We see Captain Falcon crashing into the ocean. The voice narrates that our hearts broke once again. Misty yells out “Sam!” The voice narrates that our prayers went unanswered.
We hop over to Dr. Strange casting his spell. The voice narrates that they succumbed to the darkness. What else could they do? They had allowed themselves to believe again and now they were being punished for it.
Dr. Strange spell fails. The voice narrates that it felt like a cruel joke. One that they had heard too many times before.
We cut to the Alpha Flight Station. They set off the nullifier bomb. It cracks the planetary shield but it does not break it open. The voice narrates that they came up short so many times that they should have been used to it.
We see Misty mourning Sam’s death. We see the Defenders in New York upset that Dr. Strange’s spell failed. We see Carol ready to give up. Suddenly, we see Avril has woken from her coma. (That’s incredibly convenient.) Carol orders Avril to attack the cracked planetary shield.
We cut to Captain Falcon in the ocean. The cosmic cube shard starts glowing. Captain Falcon swims to the surface of the ocean. (Oh, c’mon. There was no way you thought Sam was dead, right? He had a cosmic cube fragment in his hands!)
We see Captain Falcon bursting out of the ocean. We see Avril flying over to the planetary shield. The cheesy voice kicks back in and narrates that this time they got back up again. That this time we refused to surrender. This time we refused to accept defeat. (You know who I wish would get killed off during this big event? This annoying voice narrating throughout every single issue.)
We see Avril powering up and blasting the planetary shield. Avril says, “See you soon.” and then lets out a massive blast. The planetary shield explodes open. The voice narrates that this time they hit back.
Carol flies off to Earth and asks for the location of the Chitauri eggs on Earth.
We cut to AI Tony’s team battling Hydra agents in their attempt to free some of their people being held in Crossbones and Sin’s prison. We see Maria Hill sneaking into the same prison. She enters a hidden cell. In there is a man named “Bob.”
Bob calls Maria “Mayor Hill” and thanks her for coming to rescue him. Bob says that he does not understand what is happening. That they took him to New York City and made him do something terrible. Bob says he can’t remember what they made him do. Maria tells Bob that people are coming who can save them.
Bob then transforms into Blackout. Blackout says that he has been so afraid. Maria Hill says that they have all been afraid.
We cut to Carol streaking to the location where the Chitauri eggs are being kept. She destroys the building and all of the Chitauri eggs. Maria Hill narrates that the best of us always find a way. That they put themselves between us and evil and they say “No more.” That they inspire us to do the same. That everything is going to be okay.
We shift back to Maria and Blackout. Maria says that they are going to be heroes again. That it is good and it is what the world needs right now. Maria whispers “But, they need me to be something else.” Maria pulls out her gun and shoots Blackout in the back of his head. (Damn. Killing a person from behind. Like a coward.)
Suddenly, we see the Darkforce bubble disappear from the New York skyline. The voice narrates how we rejoiced and celebrated. That all of us would remember for the rest of our lives who led us there. Who inspired us. Captain America. We see Captain Falcon flying with the cosmic cube fragment. (Wait, what? How did Captain Falcon inspire anyone? He didn’t do anything. Mariah Hill is the one who freed New York City from the Darkforce bubble. Star Lord and Rocket Raccoon in conjunction with Avril are the ones who took down the planetary shield. All Sam did was heal himself after he got himself shot.)
We see Captain Falcon joining back up with AI Tony’s team. Suddenly, Star Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Monica, America, Blue Marvel, Carol, and Hyperion arrive on the scene. (What happened to Avril? Did she die breaking the planetary shield?) Right on cue, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Cloak, Dagger and Jessica Jones also appear on the scene. (This is all super convenient and really well timed.)
AI Tony says that they are getting reports that Hydra got the cosmic cube fragment from Wakanda and New Tian. So, the heroes still just have one cosmic cube shard compared to Hydra’s many shards. Suddenly, Namor appears on the scene and says that he might be able to help even things a bit. (This just keeps getting even more and more convenient.)
Namor said that he never bowed to Hydra. That it was all merely part of the game and that now he stands on the verge of his greatest victory. Namor then pulls a sphere with a figure in it out of the ocean. Namor says that he should allow his guest to explain. We the sphere opens up and we see Bucky is inside of it. (This scene is a veritable explosion of conveniences at this point. How is Bucky alive? Who knows.)
Captain Falcon is shocked at the sight of Bucky. Bucky then says that he heard that the heroes were looking for a plan. We then see our heroes in an action pose all heading…somewhere I guess. (That action shot was so random! And wait a second. Where the hell did Nova come from?!)
We cut to Wakanda where Black Panther has been captured by Hydra. We cut to Captain Nazi staring at his cosmic cube that is nearly whole. The cheesy voice returns and narrates that they had been down for so long. But, now they had risen. They were ready for war. The odds were still stacked against them. That the path to victory was narrow and steep. That Hydra would have its answer. But, both sides knew that the inevitable battle was at hand.
We shift to Steve Rogers walking through the forest. (That is all he has done for all eight issues of this big event. Walking and walking. Like Frodo and Sam. With no end in sight.) Steve sees the glowing woman in white. Steve chases after her. Steve asks “Who are you?!”
Steve flashes back to a scene in black and white of him sitting with Sharon on a porch swing. Steve then reaches out to the woman in while and says, “Sharon?” Steve touches the woman and she his hand passes through her ghostly body. She then disappears. Steve yells “NO!!! SHARON!!!”
A voice from off panel says that Sharon is gone. That they are all gone. The camera pulls back and we see that it is Kobik. She is crying and sitting on a rock. Kobik says “We’re all alone now.” End of issue.
The Good: Secret Empire #8 was another subpar read. Having said that, there were still several positive aspects to this issue. Hands down the best part of Secret Empire #8 was the surprise return of Bucky. This was fantastic. I nearly jumped out of my seat. I love the Winter Soldier. Bucky is a fantastic character with massive potential. I am glad that Marvel did not throw Bucky out as a part of their Stalinist purge that the MarvelNOW All New All Different Point One Generations Legacy initiative that has swept across Marvel.
Personally, Bucky’s return sets up for Spencer to deliver a thematically satisfying ending. Way back in Captain America v5 #14, Ed Brubaker delivered the climactic moment to his Winter Soldier story. Captain America #14 came out back in 2006. It is hard to believe that it has been 11 years. It feels like Ed Brubaker’s epic Winter Soldier story was just yesterday.
At any rate, in Captain America #14, Ed Brubaker delivered a moment that served as the foundation for the Secret Empire storyline. While I have been unimpressed with the nuts and bolts of Spencer’s writing on this big event; I must admit that I love how Spencer has reached back more than a decade ago to use old continuity as a strong foundation for Secret Empire.
Captain America #14 was important because Brubaker had Steve Rogers gain possession of the cosmic cube. Steve then used the cosmic cube to restore the Winter Soldier’s memories. At that point, Bucky officially returned. Right after that happened, Bucky fell into a fit of anguish over remembering who he was and then remembering all the awful things he had done as the Winter Soldier. In that moment of anguish, Bucky grabbed the cosmic cube and crushed it into shards.
Now, with Secret Empire, we have the cosmic cube that Bucky once shattered being close to being put back together. We also are presented with the possibility of Secret Empire being the perfect bookend to the Winter Soldier story. Spencer can now have Bucky use the cosmic cube to make Steve Rogers remember who he is and usher in the return of the real Captain America.
I have no idea if Spencer will go this route. But this route would make the most sense. This route would also would provide for the most powerful and emotionally satisfying ending all while working perfectly off the Winter Soldier story that set all of this in motion 11 years ago.
The other character return that we got in the double surprise hook ending was the return of Kobik. This was an exciting wrinkle in the story. Kobik was the human form of the cosmic cube . Kobik first appeared in Avengers Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill #1. It only makes sense that Kobik would make a return as we hurdle toward the ending of this big event involving the cosmic cube shards. I am interested to see what Spencer does with Kobik and what pivotal role she will play in the conclusion.
Secret Empire #8 also presented the reader with plenty of action. An utter lack of action and a generally dull story has plagued this big event since the first issue. That certainly is not the case with Secret Empire #8. There is sufficient enough action to make this issue a lively read.
Secret Empire #8 bucks another trend that we have seen with all of the previous issues of this big event. That is the pacing and plot progression. Secret Empire #8 is not a slow read at all. While prior issues have moved at a glacial pace; this issue moves at the frenetic pace of a squirrel on crack. Spencer delivers more plot progression in Secret Empire #8 than he has in issues 1–7 combined.
The Bad: Secret Empire #8 was another poorly written issue from multiple standpoints. Most of these defects stem from one overarching problem: the lack of intelligence and logic to Secret Empire. This issue was a complete mess thematically and emotionally. There is a tonal deafness and discordant delivery that runs throughout Secret Empire #8.
First, Spencer awkwardly forces Captain Falcon into the role as the inspirational savior of this issue even though he most certainly is not. It is painfully transparent what Spencer is doing. It is just another symptom of Marvel futilely trying to shove characters into positions that run contrary to the reader’s view of that character or the reader’s desires on how the character is to be portrayed.
This issue goes hand-in-hand with Spencer’s continued heavy handed approach to handling any and all themes in this big event. Evidently, subtlety is something that Spencer simply is not familiar with. Spencer pounds the reader into the head that Sam Wilson is Captain America. This is Spencer attempting to bludgeon into submission the readers who view Steve Rogers as THE Captain America.
This is made even worse by the fact that Spencer gives Sam the most dull and dry “inspirational” speech possible. There is absolutely nothing emotional or inspiring about Sam’s speech. It is pedestrian at best. But, Spencer makes this seem even more laughable by having the other characters react to such an ordinary speech in a completely over-the-top emotional manner. Spencer has characters like Carol openly weeping. The characters’ ridiculously emotional response to a lackluster speech makes for an unintentionally comical moment.
The characters’ reaction to Sam’s message is so discordant with Sam’s speech itself that it pulls the reader out of the story. It also serves to make the moment come across as even more manufactured and forced than ever. The characters’ melodramatic reaction does not fit the moment. It does, however, fit with Spencer’s general trend in this big event to go to melodrama far too often.
Spencer awkwardly forcing Sam into the role as this ultimate inspirational figure is further exacerbated by the fact that after Sam gives an ordinary speech he proceeds to do nothing. All Sam does is get himself killed and then reincarnate himself with the Cosmic Cube shard. That is it.
It is Maria Hill who takes down the Darkforce bubble. It is the Guardians of the Galaxy and Avril who take down the planetary shield. It is Carol who takes out the Chitauri eggs. Yet, Spencer has everyone heap praise upon Sam at the end of the issue for everything that happens. Again, by forcing a theme that runs contrary to what actually occurs in the issue makes Spencer look delusional and also pulls the reader out of the story. It simply serves to make Secret Empire #8 lack any logic.
Speaking of lack of logic, what was the point of the time capsule? What was the point of Sam’s message? Again, the day was saved by Maria Hill and Avril. Neither of them even saw the message by Sam. You could say that Carol was inspired by Sam’s message, but she was not giving up anyway. And the Guardians were still going to arrive on the scene with the nullifier bomb. And Avril still woke up to finish the job.
Another continuing problem with Secret Empire surfaced in Secret Empire #8. That is the dialogue and the character work. Both continue to be rather poor. The dialogue was average at best and terrible at worst.
The absolute worst of all the voices has to be the incredibly awful narrator that serves as the spine for this issue. The narrator’s voice is so cheesy. The narrator makes the reader roll their eyes and groan through out the issue. The narrator’s voice is highly repetitious. Spencer takes the one simple theme of hope and continues to just hammer it to death. It is crude and clumsy writing.
The various characters’ external voices continue to be bland. However, Spencer introduces a new wrinkle with the dialogue in Secret Empire #8. And that is odd humor that is not properly placed in the story at all. From the start, Secret Empire has been a largely emotionless and somber read. There has not been that much in the way of humor at all.
However, in Secret Empire #8, in the middle of what is another serious issue, Spencer has AI Tony busting out some wacky humor followed by the zaniness of the Librarians’ dialogue and the goofy humor of Iron Fist. Then, the issue slips right back into its normal overly dramatic, serious, and somber tone.
The humor does not mesh at all with the tone of the rest of the story. In fact, the humor in this issue is so discordant that it jars the reader and pulls the reader out of the moment. The random cheesy humor placed into this issue comes across as tone deaf moments that run counter to the general tone and purpose of the story.
The character work continues to be absent. All of the various characters have no more personality than a collection of mannequins. The characters dutifully care out their lines without any real life, depth, or texture.
The story in this issue is shallow. It is a collection of various conveniences delivered in a sloppy manner. Nothing in Secret Empire #8 comes across as particularly intelligent or creative. Everything that happens in this issue is mostly a collection of convenient occurrences.
Maria Hill just happens to take out Blackout at the same time that Avril takes down the planetary shield. The Guardians conveniently show up with a nullifier bomb in hand. Avril just happens to come out of her coma right after the nullifier bomb failed to totally destroy the planetary shield. All of our heroes conveniently show up unplanned at the same location. Namor conveniently shows up with Bucky in hand.
I know that this is a super hero comic. I understand that there will always be a few conveniences here and there. And if this issue only had one convenience that Spencer leaned on as a crutch then I would not have had too much of a problem with the story. But, this issue was just one convenient plot device leading into the next one. It was just way too much.
Secret Empire #8 reads like a story that was slapped together in a hurried and sloppy fashion. Feels hurried and sloppy. It is obvious that Spencer sat around engaging in thumb twiddling and navel gazing for seven issues and then realized, in a panic, that he only had three issues left in this big event and had not really done much at all. So, Spencer quickly crams an insane amount of plot progression in Secret Empire #8 because he had boxed himself into such a corner by delivering seven issues before with little plot progression at all.
This is terrible plotting and awful time management. Spencer goes from moving the story along at a snail’s pace to kicking it into hyper rabbit mode in an attempt to move this story toward the ending. Therefore, Secret Empire #8 gets stuffed like a turducken full of plot progression.
Let’s review everything that was jammed into this single issue. Raz builds and puts into place a time capsule to send a message from Sam, Avril comes out of her coma, the source of the Darkforce dome is revealed, the Darkforce dome is destroyed, the planetary shield is destroyed, the Chitauri eggs are destroyed, Captain Falcon gets killed and resurrected, the Defenders, the Ultimates, Alpha Flight, the Guardians of the Galaxy and the Avengers all meet and unite, Namor also joins our heroes, Bucky is revealed to be alive and Kobik returns.
Damn. I need a Gatorade and a nap after going though all of that. The problem with this is that the plotting and pacing goes from terribly decompressed for seven issues to highly compressed for issue #8 that the reader feels completely whipsawed. Spencer should have simply properly paced and plotted the story from the beginning so that the story unfolded in a pleasant fashion as we progressed to the final issue.
I have never been much of a fan of Daniel Acuña’s artwork. His style is too stiff and heavily painted for my taste. This certainly is not the top quality slick artwork that I would expect for a mainstream super hero big event story. Having said that, your mileage may vary with regard to the artwork.
Overall: Secret Empire #8 was another mess of a read. Having said that, I loved the ending to this issue. And I am glad that Spencer finally engaged in some plot progression even if it lead to an imbalanced delivery of the story. The return of Bucky and Kobik marks the first time in this entire big event that my interest has actually been piqued. I will be looking forward to seeing what Spencer does with both characters in the final two issues of Secret Empire.