KC COLUMN: NOT-SO-SECRET EMPIRE


KC Carlson

KC Carlson


a KC COLUMN by KC Carlson

Secret Empire #1

Secret Empire #1


Initially, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to read Secret Empire (much less buy it). I’m suffering from Event Fatigue lately — even the semi-recent Batman/Flash/Watchmen crossover wore me out (mostly because there was no conclusion), and that was only four issues. Further, there aren’t a whole lot of current Marvel titles I’m really excited about these days.

I also wasn’t crazy about writer Nick Spencer’s recent Captain America: Steve Rogers run, which (seemingly) re-wrote pretty much everything we thought we knew about Captain America’s origin and history. This is not about me disliking Nick Spenser’s writing in general, because many of his past superhero projects have been faves of mine, including T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Secret Avengers, Ant-Man, and Superior Foes of Spider-Man. But I found the Cap storyline somewhat distasteful and disrespectful of the character and his heritage. Now that I’ve finally begun reading it, I suspect Secret Empire will somewhat change my mind, since it pulls together threads that give necessary background to much of what I disliked in Cap’s series.

The other day, I pulled out the ever-growing pile of Secret Empire titles, the crossovers into existing books, and the various adjunct titles/miniseries that are “canon” to the story (and there are a lot of them!) and started reading. (After I searched on the Internet for an appropriate — and hopefully logical — Secret Empire Reading Order suggestion. Snoop around… there are quite a few out there.) Once I got to actually reading this huge stack of comics, I got totally pulled into the storyline within that first hour.

It really helps that a lot of of those early chapters were written by Spencer, and the bulk of those early issues were Captain America-specific. Other Avengers teams’ storylines were added at a deliberate pace. Unlike the sprawling nature of many other crossover events, this one opened more slowly with more focus on mainly that character before completely bringing in the entire universe.

Captain America: Steve Rogers #15

Captain America: Steve Rogers #15


Set-up and pacing are everything in an all-encompassing storyline event like Secret Empire, so leading with things like Captain America: Steve Rogers #15-16 and Secret Empire Spotlight #1 (a FREE Marvel Previews-type special w/several multi-page teaser/previews), and then following up with rapid releases for the core title (Secret Empire #0, 1, 2 & 3, as well as the Secret Empire: Free Comic Book Day one-shot) in quick succession made for a much smoother reading experience.

Actually, before you read any of these, go back and read Civil War II: The Oath, written by Nick Spencer with art primarily by Rod Reis. This one-shot was originally presented as the epilogue to Civil War II, but it sneakily also serves as an (unlabeled) prequel to Secret Empire. It’s a key piece of the opening salvo to the event, with much of the background and character motivations presented here first.

WHAT’S THIS SECRET EMPIRE THING, ANYWAY?

Avengers: Standoff

Avengers: Standoff


In fifty words or less, Secret Empire is a limited series that follows up on storylines from Avengers: Standoff and the ongoing Captain America: Steve Rogers series, where Cap has seemingly become a sleeper agent for HYDRA. Sleeper-Cap is currently manipulating the world to recognize HYDRA as a world power.

In practice, and beyond Avengers: Standoff and Captain America: Steve Rogers, the storyline has affected goings-on in other titles, including Captain America: Sam Wilson, Thunderbolts, and certain issues of Uncanny Avengers and U.S.Avengers as well. As noted above, Civil War II also provided setup to upcoming events.

Marvel has been pretty up front about the “massiveness” of Secret Empire — even stating that, at the close of Secret Empire, the company will be taking an eighteen-month hiatus before Marvel attempts another “big” crossover event. (Pretty sure there will be plenty of little ones, however…)

As far as story points go, at this point in the Marvel Universe, HYDRA is attempting to take over the Marvel Universe, and their main agent for this offensive is the mind-controlled Steve Rogers/Captain America — who got that way due to the sentient Cosmic Cube Kobik (please don’t ask me to explain her) affecting his memories.

As this storyline has been rolling along for (almost) a couple of years now, elements of the story have crept into many other Marvel titles and tangentially affected many other characters. Secret Empire is where it all finally (let’s hope) comes together.

BREAKOUT STARS

Secret Warriors #1

Secret Warriors #1


In what seems to be the sleeper hit of the event, a quirky, action-packed side-story rolls out in Secret Warriors #1 by writer Matthew Rosenberg and artist Javier Garrón. This fun series collects a bunch of Marvel “fringe” characters like S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Daisy Johnson (aka Quake: apparently the only (former) S.H.I.E.L.D. agent not under some sort of mind-control), Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl (and especially Devil Dinosaur), Inferno (a recently rescued Inhuman), and the seeming Inhumans exile, Karnak. (Although, to be truthful, Karnak is basically exiled from everybody and everything these days. Which probably makes him a good teammate to have for this particular team — especially with his fighting skills.) There’s also a “mystery” Warrior — one whom Karnak claims will help the Warriors break Hydra’s hold on the country. This person may or may not be with the X-Men… possibly…

Secret Empire is a major event from Marvel. It’s best to choose up front if you’re “all-in” or a more selective reader. “All-in” is tough and can be expensive, as there are more-or-less over 70 separate individual comic book issues to the event (and a lot more if you consider the prequels and background material like most of the Nick Spencer-written run of Captain America: Steve Rogers). Most of the single issue tie-ins to the storyline are $3.99 (pretty much Marvel’s current standard price) with many of the one-shots and some thicker individual issues of the core Secret Empire miniseries priced at $4.99.

Secret Empire #4

Secret Empire #4


I’m only about 25 issues into the storyline, enjoying most of it, and occasionally having my comic book mind blown (as with Secret Empire #4, which I’m going to have to re-read before proceeding much further). Just so you know, since the Secret Empire storyline is still running for a few more weeks, there will most likely be a follow up to this column down the road. Thought you should know that going in, in case you have issues with closure.

No wonder Marvel designed a specially decorated comics box to collect it all. Maybe there IS method to their madness…

ONE LAST THING…

The Road to Secret Empire

The Road to Secret Empire


BTW: If you’re late to the Secret Empire party and want to get up to speed fast, check out The Road to Secret Empire, which collects the following: Captain America (2013-2014 7th Series) #21 and 25; material from Captain America: Sam Wilson (2015) #7-8; Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha (2016); Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega (2016); and Captain America: Steve Rogers (2016) #1-2. It’s a 248-page softcover and should be available from Westfield. And yes… elements of the Secret Empire storyline actually do go back to the Avengers Standoff crossover event from 2016.

Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire

Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire


Also, you do want to be careful not to confuse this new Secret Empire storyline with the original 1974 Secret Empire storyline by Steve Engleheart, Sal Buscema, Vince Colletta, and others. (Featuring great covers by John Romita Sr. and Gil Kane!) It’s also available as a collection (called Captain America and the Falcon: Secret Empire). It’s a classic Marvel storyline (ripped from the Headlines of the day, as a matter of fact) and definitely an important Captain America read, which lead to big changes to the character and the storylines. Not anything like the current Secret Empire, but an important Marvel story nonetheless!

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KC CARLSON: Please be nice to me today. I got up at 4AM to take Johanna to the airport, so she could go see her parents in Virginia.

WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you. . . . I’m totally irritated that I can’t think of anything that’s irritating me right now. Maybe next time…