Should I start with a caveat? I don’t know, it feels like maybe I should say? Okay, I’m just gonna say it. I have not cared for Nick Spencer‘s HydraCap plot. Not because it is bad structurally, or even necessarily badly written – technically, Spencer has pulled off the reveal and build of this long running plot to this major event with aplomb and skill that is, frankly, rare to see in Marvel events these days. However, I dislike the very idea of the story. I dunno, maybe it’s the marginalised minority in me.
But what of Secret Empire #1? Well, I promise, I am going to come at this as objectively as I possibly can, and yes, there is fairness in the comment that to properly review it, one must read it. To say simply you don’t like the idea of something is fine, but you can’t pretend that that is an objective and informed review of the actual products quality. So I bit the bullet, I have decided to read this issue, in hopes that there may be something that changes my mind on this story.
I didn’t find it.
Let me start off with this: again, much like the zero issue, objectively this book is technically great. It’s well structured, it shows a wonderfully broad scope of the world post HydraCap’s violent takeover of the United States of America. It feels powerful, and the story has a weight and importance to it that makes this, from a structural and clinical sense, one of the best first issues of a major Marvel event in some time.
We pick up some unspecified months after Hydra’s takeover of the USA and find a country in the midst of a scarily relevant and recognisable fascist regime. We follow the heroes that have become resistance fighters, see those trapped in a certain-death situation in the stars, and follow Captain America as he goes through some of his new duties as the Supreme Leader of the United States of Hydra.
The book is not trash because it is badly put together or constructed. It’s the very idea of the story that is an absolute garbage fire.
For all the want of Marvel and Spencer to distance Hydra from the real world Nazis of World War II, this book does away with it, and there surely can be no denying that these fascist characters are Nazis now. We have book burning, we have people being made an example of, we have internment camps. Pretty much everything reprehensible and fundamentally vile that the Nazis did is being done here by Hydra, or will be soon, and thus by extension by Steve Rogers.
To make matters worse, tarnishing one hero is apparently not enough. Odinson, Vision and Scarlet Witch are all part of Hydra’s Avengers, along with several villains, and there is no explanation why or how. Maybe that will be in the FCBD issue, but for now all we know, as they get next to no lines (Odinson is the only one to speak, but he does not speak to his reasons for joining up with Hydra), is that for some reason they decided to be cool with fascism when other heroes went underground. The fact that one of these heroes, Scarlet Witch, is a character of Jewish Romani descent is just tremendously bad taste, and it seems that no one at one of Marvel’s famous writing retreats decided to bring this up. But then, Marvel’s Writers Retreats aren’t exactly overflowing with marginalised minorities, so perhaps no one noticed.
We don’t know if these characters are mind-controlled or manipulated, and there’s no suggestion of it. One hopes that it will be the case, but perhaps it would have been handy to have some sort of suggestion of this in this issue instead of having a Romani woman joining up with a group that employs the use of internment camps.
Moving aside for a moment…the art by Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten and Matthew Wilson is superb. McNiven and Leisten manage to convey a great range of emotion within the issue, as well as making the action seem suitably epic and gorgeous to look at. This depth of emotion is important for the story, as it goes to great lengths to show us the internal and emotional struggle Captain America is going through, setting up death camps, ruling with an iron fist, manipulating schoolchildren, policing through surveillance and murdering one of his best friends and oldest allies.
Which leads to another thing that I just find utterly distasteful about the whole idea of this story: the fact that we’re meant to feel sorry for Nazi Cap at any point offends me deeply. It’s just….am I genuinely supposed to feel for the emotional conflict and struggle of a man who at this point has sent his friends to certain death and is drugging a whole nation and sending people who are different to camps? I’m sorry, but no.
And this is why the concept of this story just doesn’t work for me, and for many others.
I, like Rich, enjoy a bit of politics and social relevance in my comics, and all my media. And yes, I agree there’s certainly argument to be made that now is the time for hard-hitting, socially relevant stories tackling the modern issues of the world around us. But there are many ways this could have been done that would have been just as hard-hitting and dramatic and told this important story effectively without making Captain America a goddamn Nazi.
V for Vendetta works and wasn’t offensive in that sense because it doesn’t take a beloved cultural hero and recast them as a scheming Nazi.
This is a great comic, in the most objective terms, of that there is little doubt. It may even be an important kind of story to tell right now. But it is not a good idea, the way it has been executed in this manner.