By Nick Spencer, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Rod Reis, Joshua Cassara, Rachelle Rosenberg and Sunny Gho
What do I want out of a comic book event? If it’s a crossover event then those issues need to be solid; they need to serve the event but also stay true to the original title. I want to care about the characters; I don’t need to know who the characters are but there are obviously going to be some major stakes involved and I want to care what happens to these people. I want there to be a clear goal in mind; why is the event happening and how do we get through it? I was a big fan of Secret Wars, the tie-ins were tight and the main title was brilliant. I skipped Civil War II because it felt like been there done that. This year’s Marvel summer event is Secret Empire. Although we have a Cap vs Iron Man plot which, believe me, should definitely feel like been there done that, shows why this event is so much more. Cap is bad. He has the likes of a possessed Scarlet Witch, a Mjonirless Thor and a compliant Punisher fighting alongside him. Honestly, it’s a little confusing. In a time when there are so many amazing comics, reading them can become somewhat reflexive. I know when I pick up a Marvel book that Cap is good and Ultron is bad. But, Secret Empire takes advantage of that reflexive reading and turns it on you; it makes you think. Secret Empire is out to tell a story that on the surface looks familiar but in the pages is nothing you have ever seen.
Even though you have a seemingly brainwashed Steve Rogers, it still feels like Steve Rogers. Sure, we get a possessed Scarlet Witch, but we also get a Odinson who’s only hope of getting his hammer back clings to this mission. This event isn’t about an opinion that both sides are willing to kill for, those events feel silly. This event is about a man, a hero and a friend who although on the outside he walks, talks and fights like he always has, on the inside he is poisoned and corrupted. This event is about saving a friend in order to save the world.
I mentioned that an event needs to have a goal. I’m going to be honest, Secret Empire’s first three issues are just okay. It isn’t until this issue where I was able to not only see the goal of the story, but also get a good feel of how it will continue. Cap is brainwashed, and it’s because of a cosmic cube in which the pieces have been scattered. It is up to Tony and the crew to recover the scattered pieces and bring Cap back. This entire issue was about Cap’s crew and Tony’s crew trying to get the first shard from Ultron. What a perfect roadmap for an event. They have set up a precedence to make any issue they want a race-for-the-shard concept. I hope this issue was a taste of many to come & I enjoyed is front to back. The art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan & Sunny Gho (with an assist from Rod Reis, Joshua Cassara & Rachelle Rosenberg) is so unique and cool it had me flipping back for a second look. The character work by Spencer is brilliant, but as you know, I’m a huge Spencer fan so that’s no surprise. Events are about big moments. This issue was full of them. What follows are some of my favorite.
Romanoff’s “I told you so“
After the cold open we get thrown in the middle of a Black Widow interrogation scene. She is beating, threatening and demeaning a member of Hydra who really only worked in the mess hall at one of the Hydra installations. To Natasha this is the perfect guy to interrogate. However, her team consisting of Wasp, Spider-Man, Viv Vision, Ironheart and Falcon, are not having it. They get a very worked up Natasha to back off while they free the cook. A hidden boot knife, a hail Hydra and a few bullets from Natasha’s gun later instead of hearing “I told you so” from Natasha we get a way cooler “Now we have to switch motels”.
These pages were particularly interesting to me from an art perspective. All panels have right angles except for the moment when the Hydra agent attacks. That is when Yu gives us a cool slight angle down then up to really make us feel the quick motion of the knife pull.
Mirroring Mission Briefs
Is there anything more exciting then a good rah-rah speech in a story? There is so much tension building because the big event is about to happen and the leader of the crew takes this time to tell his followers what the stakes are and what they are getting into. In a sports movie, this is equivalent of the coach their team a motivational talk before the big game. Well, in event comics, it is when a super-unit leader is firing up his troops before the theft of a highly desired item from a big time unstable baddy. What makes this scene special and memorable in this issue is the constant switching between Cap reciting the speech to his crew and Tony reciting the speech to his. A question is asked to Cap and Tony gives the answer. Two troops, closing on an item with the same goal in mind, giving relatively the same speech and receiving the same feedback just increases the already built up tension that this mission ain’t gonna be easy.
Pair Up And Throw Down
One of my favorite things about 80s and 90s comics is when big teams would clash with other big teams and pair up in a battle. You got to see how two power sets would match up and it can be fascinating. It gives the creators a chance to explore powers and allows their quippier characters to really let the zingers fly. Secret Empire United #1 also used this same concept this week, although things weren’t going well for the heroes so they switched up who they were paired with to get the power match ups in their favor. This is also a very cool concept but with the match ups in Secret Empire #4, there was no need for any switching. The action sequencing in these pages was incredibly enjoyable. There were enough short breaks in the action for a reader to really feel the tension between opponents, while at the same time, having enough dynamic single panels to get the heart rate up! Here is what the match ups were:
Ant-man vs The Ant-Man Nobody Likes (The Black Ant)
Mockingbird vs Taskmaster
Quicksilver vs The Scarlet Witch (Sibs!!!)
Hercules vs Hammerless Thor (Cuz!!!)
Tony vs Steve (Here we go again)
Tony vs Steve… Again
Here is the part that could feel forced and over done. Here is the part that could simply be boring just based on repetition. But, it wasn’t any of these things. If you think you’ve seen this before, you’re wrong, and Tony does a great job of pointing this out for the reader. Right before they get to the throw down, and they are face to face, Tony says; “Not gonna lie – I’m actually very excited about the prospect of kicking your ass and nobody being mad at me for it afterwards”. How true is that statement? No matter how charming Tony is, Cap is always the do-gooder. Whatever situation they find themselves in, when the dust settles, everyone was pulling for Cap and everyone would be pissed at Tony if he roughed up Steve. Well, guess what people, Steve isn’t making the boy scout choices anymore and finally we are going to have a fight between the two of them where I am confused about who I want to come out the other side. Finally we get to see…oh wait… it’s only issue #4, so of course a big explosion happens and they don’t actually fight. You thought they were going to just throw down in issue #4? That’s okay, it means you were into it!
This is the most epic scene so far in the series. I kind of don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read it yet. This basic concept is, Ultron who thinks it’s Hank Pym, let’s call him Pymtron, has captured both sides and sat them down for a nice big family dinner. He is wearing an apron which says Kiss the Overlord and he is ready to have a nice meal with all his friends. The problem is his friends are all mad at each other. So, as kids often do at the dinner table, they begin to bicker. It’s actually bonkers. All the people that were just outside fighting get to actually sit and argue about things, while a mentally unstable Pymtron tries to provide a little exposition. Eventually, Tony realizes that the Pym part of Pymtron is running the show so he starts to take some personal shots. Pymtron doesn’t take that very well.
You Wouldn’t Like Him When He’s Angry
What was seemingly a pretty calm situation for everyone, albeit almost everyone as a prisoners of Pymtron, turned into a full fledged fight for your life scenario after Tony open’s his arrogant mouth. However, this serves up on a plate (totally intentional) a historic story of a dark past. At the end of all this, Cap is going to look back on this time and really struggle with the decisions he made. Sure, he is brainwashed or, but you think that is going to matter to him? He’s going to have to hate himself for some of the things he’s done inside these pages. This scene brings up Hank Pym’s dark past and finds a way to use it as an empowering moment for making mistakes. And in an example of Nick Spencer’s strength as a writer, he gets his most well rounded character in the series (Scott Lang of course), to talk down Pymtron and save the day.
Winning A Battle; Losing The War
Tony’s team, thanks to the heroic Scott Lang, walk away with the shard from Ultron. However, within two pages, Cap gets his hands on another piece of the cosmic cube, and then proclaims that Tony can collect as many shards as he wants because none of it will matter when his mole busts up the party. This issue was a clear win for team Tony until those last couple pages. It made me think for a second that the shards were a red herring, which honestly would have pissed me off. But, I realized Cap isn’t saying let them collect all the shards they want because they don’t matter; he is saying let them collect all the shards they want because my mole on the inside is going to steal them for me. Which, as we all know, is classic bad guy overconfidence. Oh evil Cap, at the end of the day your ego will turn that evil brain of yours back to good old helicopter curling boy scout brain. But not before Tony roughs you up a bit.
Secret Empire rocked this week. This is what I want my comics to be.