Shhh…! It’s Supposed To Be A Secret Empire!
Just so it’s out there, I got a weird “Itty Bitty” Rainbow Dash from Hallmark. It’s oddly shaped, and kind of bloated, but sort of adorable. I slapped a Hydra badge on it, and now that is Hail Hydra Pony. Hail Hydra Pony stands for crummy things, but seems to be trying very hard as I haul it around everywhere. I try not to judge Hail Hydra Pony, even though it has a scary world view, what with being Hail Hydra Pony. I think there might be a message in that metaphor, but I’m not sure what it is.
It’s a Wednesday, so I’m going to talk Comics, instead of the Standardized Test that I have to administer today and tomorrow. Just so you have an idea about what me (and the ponies) are talking about.
Marvel’s “Secret Empire” crossover has been pissing off a huge amount of the internet for months BEFORE it even started. It has upset fans from its very first page inklings, due to the Captain America/Hydra Agent reveal that preceded the comic’s debut. It’s been a so called “game changer”, following the “everything you know is wrong” model. Everything we knew about the character of Steve Rogers, the American hero who has transcended comics through the Captain America film franchise, was WRONG and he was the ultimate betrayer. Like, Benedict Arnold wants lessons, you know? “Secret Empire’s latest issue — Secret Empire No. 2, released Wednesday — leans into that twist, while simultaneously blinking in the game of “chicken” with internet fans.
Follow me, True Believer, and I’ll make it clear enough.
So…let’s make the internet fan rage clear here. For the past few months, Marvel and a faction of its fans have been sparring over the editorial decision to make Steve Rogers, (Captain America), a sleeper agent of Hydra. Many fans believe that move contradicts the character’s history (it kinda does, a whole lot). Also, since Hydra has ties to Nazi Germany in Marvel’s comic books, a huge amount of fan rage has to with that. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, Captain America’s creators, as well as creators of a lot of other Marvel superheroes, were Jewish. ARE Jewish. So…there’s a feeling that this is disrespectful to them, at least in a very vocal ‘net contingent of fans.
That’s what that’s about. We are not done, yet though.
Marvel is in the business of selling comic books and presumably believes that the twist was editorially sound — that villainy, deaths, and bad things happening to characters people love are a constant in comic book storytelling. So…despite vocal ‘bet rage, they pushed forward with the Secret Empire Crossover, that we are now talking about.
The story we knew going into Secret Empire was that a Cosmic Cube became a sentient girl called Kobik (that was in “Avengers: Standoff”, which was very boring). Kobik was in turn influenced by the Red Skull (an old school Super Nazi)to turn Steve Rogers into a Hydra agent (a time thing) and restore him to his youth (in the comic books, Rogers was an old man).
I realize that was complicated. I summarized an entire crossover in two sentences. Bear with me.
There has also been a “reveal” in “Secret Empire” that during World War II, the Allies may have used the Cosmic Cube to change the outcome of the conflict — though depending on how you read the reveal, it could be another layer of lies implanted into Rogers’s brain or, more seriously, Marvel rewriting its own history. At the start of Secret Empire, Captain America, brilliant tactician and soldier that he is, was in charge of Hydra, and Hydra is in control of everything.
Except, now I have problems. Nobody knew how to MAKE Cosmic Cubes until the 1960’s. Also, Marvel…you need to decide here…are Hydra an ancient group that has roots in Asia, going back like a few thousand years, or are they Nazis? All of your stories waffle here…but you really went out of your way to make them NOT Nazis. I’m needing you to pick a side. I’m looking at YOU Marvel Editor In Chief…!
Anyway…The “mind-blowing twist” in Secret Empire No. 2 is that there’s another Steve Rogers running around the universe. I want to point out…this happens ALL the time, so my mind is not, in fact, blown. The issue shows us this “other” Rogers wandering in the woods, and ends with a cliffhanger where he says he just wants to get home.
The other Rogers is a BEYOND ripped, with silver hair, and he fights off the Serpent Society (a thing Captain America once did for Ronald Reagan). We don’t know where he is, other than it’s a wooded area. We also don’t know where “home” is — and while running around in the woods doesn’t seem like the most efficient route to get anywhere, if he’s on the run or in a different dimension or possibly displaced in time, maybe it makes a little more sense. I don’t know, I immediately lost interest.
We have already had Actual Evil Captain Americas before. We have had “time problems” where the Bad Guys win, and wreck the Earth. In fact, in RECENT Marvel History, that’s “House of M”, “Age of Ultron,” and “Secret Wars.” I’m not even trying, and those pop right out. In the last ten years, three summer crossovers have done almost the same thing. I’ve even had a Nazi Captain America before…in the seventies.
If there’s something I’m mad about, it is the repetitive content.
If I had my druthers, Marvel would back off from the editorially driven crossovers for a while, so that when one happened again…I cared a little. In order for it to be an Event, it can’t happen all the @#$%ing time, guys. Focus on really solid, interesting storytelling in shorter arcs, or contained, well developed arcs with “families” of books.
That said…I mildly respect Marvel for not cutting the wheel and hitting the brakes in the face of fan controversy. Captain America may or may not be a Nazi, but there is something beautiful about free speech there, on the part of the publisher. Publishers get free speech too, you know.
How much any given reader enjoys “Secret Empire” depends a lot on their views of the Hail Hydra reveal. Given the multiple Captain Americas, I can already imagine debates over whether Marvel “pulled a fast one” on fans, or mined the internet outrage cycle and fans’ very real feelings for sales figures (which have not been as stellar as DC Comics as of late). I’d also argue that this is what comic books do in the first place…the sudden twist, everything changes, crisis…and back to status quo.