Secret Empire continues to be an unimpressive big event. Secret Empire #7 sold just 81,365 units. That is rather poor for a Marvel big event. This big event continues to shed readers as it slumps toward its predictable ending. Having said that, perhaps Nick Spencer will be able to shake things up and deliver an exciting climax to this dull big event. Let’s hit Secret Empire #9 and find out.
Words: Nick Spencer
Art: Leinil Yu & Joe Bennett
Additional Art: Gerry Alanguilan, Leinil Yu & Joe Pimentel
Colors: Sunny Gho & Dono Sánchez-Almara
Story Rating: 4 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin with Steve Rogers talking to Kobik. Steve says that he recognizes Kobik but he can’t remember how he knows her. Kobik says that she knows where everything is and that she is hiding here. Steve asks, “What is this place?” Kobik replies that “they” wanted her to make everything better.
Kobik leads Steve to the edge of the forest. They look down on Pleasant Hill. Kobik says that she just made everything worse. Kobik looks at Steve and says, “Remember.” (Welp. So much for the cool symmetry of having Bucky use the Cosmic Cube to help Steve Rogers remember who he is.)
We cut Washington, DC. Baron Zemo meets with Captain Nazi. Zemo congratulates Captain Nazi on becoming Hydra Supreme and finally taking over the entire world. Zemo then unveils that he has captured Black Panther.
Panther promises to break free of his chains and break Zemo. Zemo says that since they have gotten the cosmic cube fragment from Black Panther that there is no need to keep him alive. Zemo says that they should kill Black Panther now. (Yes. That is exactly what is logical. There are two guards next to Black Panther. One bullet to the head and move on.) Captain Nazi replies that he wants the world to watch when they have Black Panther executed. Captain Nazi orders for the guards to place Black Panther in a cell. (Ah, yes. The old reliable trope of the villain making stupid and nonsensical decisions that are convenient to the story. Keeping Panther alive only to execute him publicly makes no sense. Killing him right now ends him as a threat. Also, killing him in private rather than in public prevents the Panther from becoming a martyr.)
Captain Nazi is then notified that the mutants from New Tian have just arrived. We see Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw and Beast arriving on the scene. A Hydra officer then says that the Military Council is advising that they move their ship out of range of the fighting between the Hydra forces and the super heroes. Captain Nazi replies that his ship is right where he wants it to be. (Of course. Just double down on having to make the villain stupid and illogical in order to move the story forward.)
We cut to our heroes battling the Hydra soldiers. The voice narrates that this was their last stand. The final battle. The war against Hydra. The war for a fate of a nation. (Oh, yippie. The always cheesy and ever present narrator is back. And immediately doing nothing but stating the obvious in a repetitious fashion.)
The voice says that, “He lead us.” We focus on Captan Falcon. Hawkeye tells everyone to listen to “Captain America” as the heroes follow Captain Falcon’s orders. (Spencer is really just going to cram this down the reader’s throat. It is even more lame given that we know Sam goes back to being the Falcon and Steve resumes is role as THE Captain America once this event concludes.)
Our heroes continue to battle the Hydra forces. The narrator continues to drone on about absolutely nothing important at all.
We cut back to Captain Nazi meeting with Emma Frost and her band of mutants. Captain Nazi tells Emma that she lied to him and stole something that belongs to Hydra. Emma says that nothing about the Cosmic Cube fragment was specified in their agreement. Emma says that she now offers Captain Nazi her Cosmic Cube fragment as a gesture of good faith. In exchange, Emma asks to negotiate a cease-fire between Hydra and New Tian.
Captain Nazi says that he can no longer accept New Tian as a neighbor. Emma responds that no mutant will kneel to Hydra. We then see Magneto arriving on the scene. Magneto begins taking down Captain Nazi’s ship. Emma and her mutants begin battling the Hydra soldiers in the room.
Arnim Zola then takes Captain Nazi over to his lab. Zola says that with New Tian’s Cosmic Cube fragment that they now have all but one of the fragments. Zola says this is enough to weaponize them provided that the proper conduit can be utilized. Zola says that they found something from Tony Stark’s lab that has problem most promising.
We shift back to our heroes battling the Hydra forces. The ever-lovable cheesy narrator is back. The narrator comes up with such creative and interesting lines like how the war waged on. How they fought with everything they had. That they struggled against the full might of the empire. That the heroes stared defeat in the eye. But, one choice was made that would turn the tide of the battle. That the Odinson had seen enough. We see Thor saying, “No more.”
Thor turns babyface and says, “Do you hear me, Rogers? No more compact. No more compromises. NO MORE!” Thor smashes the ground with his hammer and lightning crashes down and takes out a bunch of the Hydra villains.
We cut to Eric O’Grady (Black Ant) and Taskmaster inside Captain Nazi’s ship. They two villains here Thor’s boom. Eric says that the boom means that they are going to lose. Eric says that he is not surprised. Hydra only pays government wages and he can’t even get reimbursed for mileage. (Random humor because random humor!)
Eric asks what should they do now. Eric bemoans that he doesn’t want to go on the run again. That he was dating the girl in processing. That they are looking at apartments. (Ooooookay…)
Taskmaster says that he is a mercenary. That there is only one thing they can do. Switch sides. The two mercenaries arrive at the cell holding the baby All New All Different MarvelNOW Point One heroes. Taskmaster tells them that they want to make a deal. That they will release the baby heroes in return for the baby heroes not hitting them and telling the Avengers that they let them watch TV and brought them Shake Shack after the baby heroes cleaned their bunks. (This oddly placed “humor” is just awful. And sticks out like a sore thumb in this overly serious story.)
The mercenaries free the Champions. Miles then webs the two mercenaries to the wall. The baby heroes then join the fight outside of the ship. Sadly, the narrator returns as well. The voice says that they fought for the future and the future fought for them. (Jesus. Ham-handed meet heavy-fisted.)
Viv apporaches the Vision. Viv says that she can see the virus and says that she can help her father. Lady Thor then appears on the scene. She attacks Scarlet Witch. Suddenly, Lady Thor collapses and transforms back into sickly Jane Foster. Dr. Strange comes to her side. Captain Falcon swoops in and grabs Jane and flies her off to a hospital.
Dr. Strange then places Scarlet Witch on a magical symbol and begins to perform an exorcism in order to free Wanda from the control of Chithon.
We zip back to the ship where Baron Zemo is leading Black Panther past “the army that sleeps” which is none other than the Masters of Evil, the Wrecking Crew, the Blood Brothers and Gravitron. Faustus has the villains prepared to join the battlefield on behalf of Hydra.
Suddenly, Bucky arrives on teh scene. Bucky takes out the Hydra guards who were escorting Black Panther. Bucky then starts battling with Baron Zemo. Black Panther then sneaks up behind Zemo and begins choking him with his shakle chains. Black Panther knocks out Zemo.
Bucky tells Black Panther to go to the battlefield. Bucky says that he will take care of Zemo.
We hop over to Dr. Faustus finishing his mind control over Sharon Carter. Sharon appears to be a good Hydra agent now. Sharon pours Faustus some tea. Suddenly, Faustus begins choking. Sharon then reveals that she was faking it. She tells Faustus that the toxin she put in his tea is not lethal…but she is. (This is 1980’s action movie level bad dialogue.) Sharon punches out Faustus. Sharon reveals that she listened to recordings of Faustus’ voice constantly in order to build up an immunity to it. (Well, that is certainly an alternative to listening to podcasts.)
Sharon says that Captain Nazi claims to be the real Steve Rogers so that means she still knows all of his passwords. Sharon then gets access to the Hydra computer system by using Captain Nazi’s password. (Really? Hydra’s IT does not require new passwords on a monthly basis like pretty much every single business in America? This is so laughable.) Sharon is intent on taking down the Hydra warships.
We shift back to Zola’s lab. We see Captain Nazi wearing a chest plate. Zola places the Cosmic Cube minus one fragment into the chest plate. Zola says that this will give Captain Nazi the powers of a god. Black Panther watches from the doorway. (Like a total creeper.)
We zip back to Kobik and Steve Rogers. Steve says that he remembers being a soldier. He remembers fighting Crossbones and then waking up in this dream forest. Steve asks if he is dead or if he is dreaming. Kobik leads Steve to a well with golden energy emanating from it.
A voice narrates that they faces their ultimate enemy. Steve looks into the well. He sees various moments of the recent past including Black Widow’s death. The voice narrates that they faced the evil they had become. That it brought them low and left them broken. Ghosts of what they once were.
Steve turns to Kobik and says that he is in Kobik’s mind. Steve says that he is just a memory of someone Kobik knew. Steve asks if Kobik can make him real again. Kobik screams that “he” is too scary and that it is too late. Kobik runs away. Suddenly, the ground rumbles. The voice narrates that the heroes thought this was their moment. Their chance to change everything.
We shift back to DC where the Hydra warships suddenly begin to fall from the sky. The voice narrates that they were on the cusp of victory. That it was Hydra’s turn to fall. Carol tells Captain Falcon that this is fun. Captain Falcon replies that this is fun. (Yes. Waging war and killing people is fun. Waging war where innocent people get killed from the collateral damage is fun. Jesus. Could Marvel make these All New All Different MarvelNOW Point One characters any more unlikeable?)
The voice narrates that the heroes were finally back together and fighting for what they believed in. But, that did not mean that they would be enough. Suddenly, Black Panther runs onto the scene. Panther tells the heroes to run.
Suddenly, a massive explosion occurs and takes down the heroes. Sadly, the massive explosion did not take down the narrator. The voice says that their greatest challenge stood before them. That they had beaten his armies. Defeated his allies. But they had not defeated him.
We then see Captain Nazi in a suit of armor powered by the Cosmic Cube. End of issue.
The Good: Secret Empire #9 was another pedestrian read. This big event is coming together in a clumsy and dour fashion. Having said that, there are some bright spots to Secret Empire #9. A lack of action has been one of the constant weaknesses with each issue of Secret Empire. That is certainly not the case with Secret Empire #9. Spencer crams in a ton of fighting in this issue. In fact, the action scenes take up a majority of the pages in this issue.
Secret Empire #9 is also a fast paced issue. Spencer stomps on the gas and carries the reader thorough this issue at a brisk pace. At no point does the story feel slow or meandering. Spencer hits the ground running and races to the end of this issue. Now, don’t be confused, there is little plot progression or substance to the issue. However, Spencer masks those defects by employing shorter fast paced scenes with rapid scene cuts in order to give the issue the illusion that the reader is getting quality plot progression.
I found the artwork in Secret Empire #9 to be nothing more than average. I did find the art in Steve Rogers/Kobik scenes to be better than the art for the main story. No matter how much I try I just cannot get into Yu’s style of art on a mainstream super hero comic. However, your mileage may vary regarding to the artwork.
The Bad: Secret Empire #9 is a paper thin story that is delivered in a sloppy fashion. It is obvious that Spencer is trying to wrap up this story in quick order after wasting issue after issue performing next to zero plot progression.
The plotting in Secret Empire #9 is poor. This has been a continual problem with this big event and this issue is no different. While we do get plenty of action scenes and a fast pace the fact remains that not much really happens in this issue. Secret Empire #9 is basically Spencer running circles around the reader while screaming and shouting at the reader while banging a pot. It is all designed to distract the reader from the fact that not much really happens in this issue. It is also designed to distract the reader from the fact that we are at the penultimate issue and the story is still as thin and shallow as ever.
As I mentioned earlier, Spencer employs fast paced short scenes to give the illusion that the reader is getting plot progression. The longest scene is the four page scene with Steve and Kobik where Steve realizes he is just Kobik’s memory.
Secret Empire #9 starts off with a two page scene with Steve and Kobik that establishes that they are outside of Pleasant Valley. The location of this dream forest does not really matter. All that matters is that this location is all part of Kobik’s memories. This was largely a useless scene and could have easily been rolled into the later scene between Steve and Kobik.
We then get three pages of Panther and New Tian being presented before Captain Nazi. The pages with the Panther were pointless other than making Captain Nazi look like an idiot for not killing Panther on the spot. The page with New Tian served to deliver the second to last Cosmic Cube fragment to Captain Nazi. This is the first moment of any substantive plot progression.
We then get four pages of fighting full of the narrator spewing out pointless blather. This is followed by six pages of fighting including New Tian turning on Captain Nazi and Thor turning on Captain Nazi. The loss of these two allies are the second moment plot progression even if they are both minor.
We then get two pages of the Champions getting freed. This could have been easily done in one page. The pointless “humorous” banter between Black Ant and Taskmaster was as pointless as it was jarring to the tone of the rest of the story. This scene is followed by three more pages of fighting. No real plot development occurs in these two scenes.
We then get three pages of Bucky freeing Panther. This did not do much, either and could have been done in a page. Then we get the two page scene with Sharon and Faustus. We get a bit of plot progression with Sharon gaining access to the Hydra computer system in an unintentionally hilarious manner.
Then there is the four page scene with Kobik and Steve where it is revealed that Steve is just one of Kobik’s memories. While the reader had probably figure this out already this scene offers up the third moment of plot progression. However, this scene could still have been done in a more concise fashion.
We then get three more pages of fighting that lead into the one page hook ending with Steve Rogers in his Cosmic Cube powered armor. This final page presents the majority of the real plot progression in this entire issue.
So, in the end, Secret Empire #9 offered up very little plot progression. We see Captain Nazi gaining the second to last missing Cosmic Cube fragment, Steve learned he is just a part of Kobik’s memory and Captain Nazi getting a power upgrade in the final page of the issue. That’s it. Basically, Secret Empire #9 was a lot of sound and fury that signified nothing for the most part.
Secret Empire #9 offers up next to nothing in terms of substance. This story is shallow. Everything is on the surface. There is no depth to the story. Spencer has delivered a bare minimum of plot lines and none of them have any texture or nuance to them.
Secret Empire is the polar opposite of a big event like Secret Wars which offered up a sumptuously complex story crammed full of detailed and nuanced plot lines that all interconnected in an intricate fashion. Hickman in Secret Wars was like Frank Lloyd Wright creating a stunning home while Spencer in Secret Empire comes across as a child building a toy house out of Duplo blocks. Secret Wars was a tantalizing seven course meal prepared by a master chef. Secret Empire has been a fast food meal prepared by a disaffected McDonald’s worker.
I appreciate it when a writer agonizes over the smallest details in an effort to craft a myriad of intricate plot lines that all connect together like the fine silk lines in a spider web. I love the effort that it takes a writer to weave such a complex and engaging story with multiple levels that offers an issue that requires the reader to read it more than once in order to gain everything that the story has to offer.
It appears that Spencer has spent next to no effort in crafting the story for Secret Empire. The story is so uncreative and generic. The story is so shallow and emotionless. There is nothing that captures the reader’s imagination and pulls them deeper into the story. Some big events are created out of a writer having a story that they are passionate about that they then convince Marvel to publish. Other big events are cheap cash grabs where the writer phones it in and lets the editorial staff dictate the story. Secret Empire continues to be the latter of the two big events. It is clear that Spencer looked at Secret Empire as a easy way to cash in some big checks from Marvel.
Now, even an uncreative and somewhat generic super hero story that is shallow can still be relatively entertaining if it is constructed in a technically proficient manner. However, what makes Secret Empire #9 even more disappointing are the writing flaws from a technical standpoint.
Secret Empire #9 lacks any internal logic. Spencer relies to heavily on cheap plot conveniences or characters acting in a mind numbingly stupid fashion. In general, things seem to randomly happen for no other reason than Spencer just needs them to happen in order to move his story forward. Spencer never lays a strong foundation so that these plot conveniences at least seem somewhat organic.
Spender has Captain Nazi keep Black Panther alive for absolutely zero reason. This only serves to make Captain Nazi feel like a cheap parody of an old Bond villain. The type of villain that never kills Bond when he has a chance and always goes on a long monologue detailing his evil plans. This only serves to pull the reader out of the story and rob Captain Nazi of any gravitas as a legitimate villain. Spencer unintentionally gets the reader laughing at Captain Nazi with this scene.
Spencer then has Sharon gain access to the absolutely everything in the Hydra computer system by using Captain Nazi’s old password from back in the day when Steve and Sharon were together in SHIELD. Again, this is a plot convenience that is so ridiculous that it pulls the reader out of the story. The idea that Hydra with all of their incredible technology and brilliant scientific minds would not put into place even the most basic password protocol involving a new password every month is laughable. The idea that Zola and Zemo would be okay with Captain Nazi using a password from when he was with SHIELD for the most sensitive computer systems is a joke.
But it does not end there. Spencer doubles down by somehow having the computer system control all of Hydra’s Helicarriers. This makes no sense. This would be like immediately sinking all of the United States’ Naval vessels by hacking into the Pentagon’s computer system and simply “turning” all of the vessels off.
How about Thor finally turning on Captain Nazi? What exactly triggered this occurrence? Who knows? Spencer sure never gave us any reasons. Spencer has not been laying the foundation for this turn over the past several issues so that it felt organic and logical. Instead, it just felt convenient. It is not like Thor saw anything in particular that triggered his turn. What is silly is that the death of Black Widow was not enough to get Thor to turn on Captain Nazi. But, a random battle with the assembled heroes was evidently enough. Spencer gave no motivation for Thor’s reasoning behind turning on Captain Nazi.
Again, it is a lack of basic common sense and logic that can absolutely ruin a story. These moments add up to continually pull the reader further and further out of the story. It also gives the impression that the writer does not care at all about the story and is engaging in ridiculous plot conveniences at the expense of logic in order to move the story forward.
Now, let’s address the action scenes. Yes, there was lots of “action.” But, it was poorly done. The action scenes were mindless. The action scenes were not well choreographed at all. There was also little psychology in the action scenes. This is a fatal flaw. Quality action scenes must possess good psychology. Action scenes should have an internal psychology in how the fight progresses over the issue. The action scenes should also be able to deliver good character tension and chemistry as the heroes struggle against the villains during the battle. There should also be plenty of emotion in any action scene.
Spencer gives the reader none of the above with the action scenes in Secret Empire #9. The action scenes felt more like the static posing of characters rather than actual fighting. The action scenes also lacked any immediacy and urgency. There was very little emotion in these action scenes. The dull and droning narrator that was present in all of the action scenes served to act as a barrier and making the action scenes seem more detached and remote from the reader.
Spencer never uses the action scenes to pull the reader into the moment and give them a visceral experience. Instead, the reader feels like they are watching the action on a screen far removed from the heat and the passion of the battlefield. The action scenes seemed more like just a backdrop for the narrator’s dialogue which appeared to be Spencer’s primary focus.
This leads us to the next problem with Secret Empire #9. The poor dialogue and lack of any character work. These have been chronic problems with Secret Empire and this issue is no different. The character work is non-existent. The characters are nothing more than cardboard cut-outs. Spencer is able to generate zero chemistry between the various characters. The dialogue is disappointing. The characters all possess generic external voices.
Then you have Spencer oddly shoving some average humor from Black Ant and Taskmaster in such an awkward fashion. These two pages of “humorous” dialogue stick out like a sore thumb in what is otherwise a somber and overly serious story. It is too much of a stark dichotomy and Spencer fails to pull it off.
I understand that well crafted stories can be dramatic and serious while still delivering some moments of humor. However, those type of stories do not deliver the drama and seriousness in a ham-fisted way. And when they do insert some humor it is done in an organic fashion that fits with the story. Black Ant and Taskmaster’s dialogue was out of a bad TV sitcom and felt discordant with the rest of the issue.
Then there is the narrator. For the love of God, that damn ever present narrator. The narrator’s voice is just the worst. It is a hideous combination of overly wrought drama and ham-fisted dialogue. At moments the narrator is simply cheesy while at other moments it is hackneyed. Neither are enjoyable.
Overall: Secret Empire #9 is a sloppy read that is not particularly well constructed. This issue certainly is not worth the $3.99 cover price. At this point, Secret Empire just needs to end so Marvel can forget about this dull mess and move on to something better in the future.