Comic Book Review: Secret Empire #1

The corrupted Captain America’s HYDRA takeover of the world continues in a dark and dramatic issue of Secret Empire…

 

Even if you have only kept a cursory glance on the Marvel comics universe of late, you can’t fail to have heard about the big news in the MU at the moment. Thanks to Red Skull getting his hands on the reality-warping Cosmic Cube, Captain America is now a secret HYDRA agent. Now, his plan to spearhead a HYDRA takeover of the world is in motion in Secret Empire, the latest Marvel crossover event.

Jumping ahead to several months after the events of Secret Empire #0, HYDRA now has control of the United States. Children are being taught an ‘alternative’ view of American history at school. Inhumans are being hunted down and New York is trapped in a Darkforce bubble. The few heroes left are operating underground and are mostly just trying to protect themselves.

Often Marvel’s company-wide events don’t feel as if they have enough at stake. Well, that’s definitely not the case in Secret Empire as the threat is both huge – the world has already been conquered by the bad guys – and personal – those bad guys are led by the Avengers’ staunchest defender, Captain America. The decision to jump ahead in time is a genius one. Instead of the usual ‘stop the villains’ evil plan’ story it has now become a much bigger, more monumental task.

As it details a dark, dystopian timeline where the world’s most moralled hero becomes the evil overlord, there are hints that Secret Empire could become the Marvel counterpart to DC’s Injustice. Certainly, Injustice’s gleefully mean tendency to have beloved characters meet terrible fates has already rubbed off on it (no spoilers here!). Still, unlike Injustice, Secret Empire is actually set in the mainstream Marvel universe. As such, as engrossing as the story is, you can’t help but wonder if you are reading a character assassination of Steve Rogers.

Still, writer Nick Spencer handles Steve’s character well. This is recognisably the same man – someone dedicated to making the world a better place – it’s just that HYDRA-Cap believes in a very different way of doing that. The seeds are sown for him regretting his actions, however, as he is clearly questioning this new regime. The real question with this comic is how Spencer will wrap it up: will it be as easy as using the Cosmic Cube to wipe HYDRA-Cap from existence or will Cap redeem himself by his own volition and have to live with the consequences of his actions?

Secret Empire #1 is a high-quality, if lengthy, read and promises to be the strongest Marvel event we have had in a while. It’s well-written and well-illustrated – with moments of humour to punctuate the drama, thanks to the hijinks of teen team the Champions. Let’s hope this quality is maintained in the coming issues. If they have to destroy Captain America’s character, let’s hope they do it in style.

 

Rating:

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