With Black Widow and the Champions departing from the Underground to deal with the Captain America and Hydra problem more directly, a good idea for an off-shoot miniseries arises. The idea is based around a singular question: How is the battle-hardened and cynical Black Widow going to cooperate with this group of idealistic and naïve young heroes when the end goal is to kill Steve Rogers? That's a great idea and fits with Secret Empire's theme of dashed hopes and dark futures. Essentially, Natasha would have to break these dreamers to make them the spies and soldiers she needs to overthrow Hydra. Secret Empire: Uprising #1 has a great premise to run with.
It's just a shame that it's fumbled and dropped within the first two bleeding pages.
So, the premise of the first issue is that Black Widow wants the Champions to infiltrate the Hydra Youth Choir. Nadia Pym, aka the Wasp, and Amadeus Cho, aka the Hulk, are chosen to be best suited for the task. The remainder stay with Widow to provide support when needed.
Much of the comic is spent with Nadia and Amadeus trying to stay undercover in the band camp-like choir building.
None of these ideas are bad on the surface. Two young heroes having to infiltrate and maintain cover within a Hitler Youth-esque organization? Sure, why not? However, the idea falls apart when the story seems to have no grasp of the gravity of the situation. The fact that the Hydra Youth Choir is comparable to the Hitler Youth of Nazi Germany is evidence enough that this is a heavy story that needs to be handled with care and grace.
My heart sank at page two when the Champions immediately responded to Black Widow's plan to infiltrate the choir with a chorus of "lames," a now-tired cliché of generic youth vernacular which I'm pretty sure actual kids and teenagers no longer use. This is soon followed by a cringe-worthy sequence of Amadeus and Nadia singing in very theatrical fashions (the former of which does this in Hulk form mind you).
There is a moment where the story seems to come together after this. Black Widow has told the team that they are going through "ethical adjustment" to make them more prepared for the mission. Here, we have the core idea of the story threatening to be fully explored in what could be a very intense sequence of Black Widow breaking these upbeat kids into cold and hardened soldiers. Instead, it is done entirely off-panel and represented by Riri silently going into the room with Black Widow and then silently walking out whilst crying. It was an incredible cop-out that is more frustrating because it seems to be intended to get a laugh.
The Hydra choirmaster rubs more salt in the wound by being a stereotypically flamboyant and overambitious music teacher who spouts Simon Cowell-like dialogue in full ridiculous Hydra regalia.
Spoilers (I guess) Amadeus ends up forcing Nadia to bail out by claiming she was working with Spider-Man when there is literally no reason to force her into leaving. A Hydra agent spots Miles giving Amadeus an image inducer, and Amadeus, rather smartly, starts screaming that Spider-Man is there. Then he claims Nadia was working with him too. No reason. It just happens.
The humor is what drives the killing blow. It should be pretty obvious why attempting to tell a lighthearted story filled with quips and gags in the midst of a Hitler Youth-esque organization in fascist-controlled America adorned with Nazi-reminiscent imagery is a bad idea right?
There is a single part of the story that actually works. Shortly after the above scene, Spider-Man is fighting through Hydra soldiers alongside Falcon, Ironheart, and Wasp. He claims to be trying to rescue some members of the choir, and then he seems to extend the offer genuinely to a crowd of the kids. They respond by telling him "I hope you die," and throwing debris at him. This was an appropriately heavy moment, showing a bunch of kids even younger than the Champions having been fully indoctrinated into Hydra. It's unnerving and ugly, and it really worked.
The other saving grace of this comic is the art, which looks really good. In fact, the art fits the overall story than the writing does. It's dark, heavily shaded, and resembles the drawings of someone working only with the tools available in a desparate situation (that's a compliment as weird as it sounds). The faces are still expressive, and everything is still clearly defined though.
There was a lot of potential with this book. It could have been something heartfelt and great, but it only flounders and relies on winking, sarcastic humor to badly characterize a story where it is not appropriate. Give this a hard pass.
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