Thursday, 7 June 2018

Secret Empire (Marvel) Review

Honestly, though? Most of theses
characters aren't in this book!
Writer: Nick Spencer

Artists: Andrea Sorrentino, Steve McNiven, Mark Brooks and Daniel Acuna

Background Information:

2017 was the year Marvel shot themselves in the foot more than barefooted man in a needle dump. Inhumans Vs X-Men was all about how evil the X-Men were for being gassed by the Inhumans- a claim that sounds a lot like blaming the twin towers for being in Al-Qaeda’s flight path. Various men over 38 complained that Thor was wearing lipstick and Captain America….

Oh, Captain America.


Captain America post Secret Wars was turned by Spencer into an agent of HYDRA. This pleased absolutely nobody. So-called “SJWs” hated the change because a character with a Jewish creator was now a Nazi and the “anti-SJW” community hated it because OF COURSE the straight, white, cis character was a Nazi because that’s what pop-culture does these days! That dedication to upsetting just about everyone continues in Secret Empire, which seems dedicated to driving away the last dregs of the Marvel fandom that still exists.
Remember how Marvel is supposed
to be the colourful one?

You know a book has a problem when the title bears no resemblance to what actually happens in  
the book. See, a secret is a fact or reality that is deliberately hidden from the public, whereas empire suggests a group of nations that is under the control of one larger, more powerful nation. Pay attention to that as we have a look at the plot of a book that is actually called Secret Empire:

The recently Hydrafied Captain America takes over the USA- and JUST the USA- and then makes everyone aware that Hydra is in charge by BLOWING UP WASHINGTON DC! So, Marvel, if this isn’t particularly secret and also not quite an empire, why are you calling it Secret Empire. Is it because you wanted to bank on the word “secret” that you’ve used in Secret War, Secret Warriors and Secret Invasion? Is it because the word “empire” sounds more like the kind of word used to describe the baddies than “kingdom” or “government”?
And how they had consistent art?

I mention this, because Secret Empire is a book that feels as though it’s more about PR than story. The book tries its best to put the focus on the new legacy characters- not because Marvel has any clue what to do with them (the characters do precious little in the story despite being given a huge chunk of page space), but so that Marvel can parade them around like so many Hollywood celebrities with Ugandan orphans. It’s more about how Marvel appears to the general public than where Marvel are going with the two years of monthly storytelling since Secret Wars.

I’ve heard rumblings amongst the community that Secret Wars is meant to be some scathing criticism of the Trump presidency. I for one am quite fond of Trump criticisms, but if Spencer wants this to be a Trump criticism, he’s absolutely failed at it. Before he got into power, Trump could be most charitably described as “not Hillary Clinton”. Captain America was considered to be an American hero by literally everyone. Furthermore, Cap is able-bodied, brave and intelligent! The only similarity between the two is the fact that they’re both terrible choices and there’s no way that’s enough for the metaphor to work!

And how that art was always interesting?
Nick Spencer isn’t by any means a bad writer. When he’s writing upbeat, humorous books such as his work with Ant-Man and The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, it’s pretty clear that he’s in his element. Secret Wars isn’t an upbeat book though, and Spencer seems to have no idea what to do with it. Most issues he starts out writing relatively dark dialogue which at worst is boring, but then something snaps in his head and he realises that if there isn’t a joke, he’ll likely develop a brain tumour. So he puts in the first joke that comes to his head, which is usually gaudy and instead of the issue just being boring, what we get is an issue that is painful.

If you don’t like to know the ending of books, stop reading now. I would call this a spoiler, but I get the feeling Spencer “spoiled” things enough since the beginning of the new Marvel NOW. One of the biggest kick to the teeth is the way that Secret Empire resolves itself. When HydraCap first started, Spencer insisted that this was the 100% real, cross-his-heart-hope-to-die Captain America. By the end of the book, however, we find out that HydraCap in fact isn’t the 100% real, cross-your-heart-hope-to-die Captain America and that the real version was inside the Cosmic Cube all along. Someone needs to tell Spencer that there is a difference between misdirection and flat out lying and that what he did was definitely the latter!

Actual footage of Nick Spencer in private.
I feel bad for criticising the artists here, because Andrea Sorrentino (who is one of my favourite comic artists currently in the industry) does at least a third of the art duties, but it honestly the worst Sorrentino art I’ve seen to date. Now, as I just said, Sorrentino is an excellent artist, but he’s an excellent artist when the writer knows what to do with him. When he’s working with Jeff Lemire, for example, you get a book that highlights just the right part of the action and it lends the book a kinetic, visceral energy the best example of which are in Lemire’s Green Arrow and Old Man Logan. In Secret Empire, there’s so little action in the issues that Sorrentino draws that we never get that feeling of primal brutality that makes him such an interesting artist.

The other problem is that this is an event book. Event books need big, colourful, artists who work with a sense of grand scale and that’s not Sorrentino’s wheelhouse. As such, the better art in this book comes from the other THREE ARTISTS. Each of these artists, though, have very different styles and as a result, nothing in this book feels like it belongs in the same story as anything around it, like a heroin dealer at a christening.

It’s been a long time since I’ve review a book this big and an even longer time since I spent this much time reviewing a book. But honestly, I keep finding things I hated and really nothing I liked outside of the artwork. It gets one out of five PR projects.

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