Welcome back to The Man in the HYDRA Castle, Multiversity Comics’ ongoing recap of Marvel’s “Secret Empire” storyline. As always, spoilers abound.
Last time on “Secret Empire,” Black Widow continued to train her army of Champions to kill Cap, the fused form of Ultron/Hank Pym was revealed to have the first Cosmic Cube shard and Steve Rogers sent HYDRA to kill some of Namor’s Atlantean priests. Also, it was revealed that The Punisher joined HYDRA as part of Marvel’s ongoing efforts to upset Alice Castle and me.
I’m going to be totally honest for a second. I’ve been writing about Marvel’s crossovers for four years now (woof) and “Secret Empire” has been the hardest to write about. Most Marvel crossovers are pretty innocuous. “AXIS”, for example, had Carnage talk like Colonel Sanders for no discernible reason. I write some jokes about how out of place that is, five people including my editor read my column, and we all go home. With “Secret Empire”, everything that’s so mucky about the storyline is still prevalent in all of our day-to-days.
Before, I could keep my head down after a hard day of classes and spend an hour writing about something stupid like Dixie Fried Carnage. Now? I go through an entire day of watching conservatives do everything they can to kill as many Americans through their legislation as possible while Democrats go around in circles quote-tweeting the President and calling him a buffoon before declaring a need for compromise. Then I go home, crack open “Secret Empire” and go through forty-ish pages of a toothless satire that has less political relevance than one of Eric Garland’s tweetstorms. It’s exhausting to write about. So I want to take the moment to thank “Secret Empire” #4 for being nothing but the kind of insipid nonsense I’m accustomed to writing about.
First off, that fuzzy Steve Rogers is definitely a vision in Evil Cap’s head since he gets help from what are definitely not the real Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes in fighting off Batroc the Leaper and two guys who aren’t Batroc the Leaper. I’m only putting this here to keep that Real Captain America thread going and to post about Batroc the Leaper.
Black Widow and the Champions are investigating a HYDRA lackey for info on how to get to Cap. When the Champions become repulsed by Nat’s torture techniques, Riri Williams offers an alternate form of interro- what the fuck
Enhanced Interrogation: There’s An App For That.
Riri offers to use her app to mindwipe the HYDRA goon after they let him go so he won’t remember them. While the Champions are decidedly not asking Riri why she made the killer app for date rapists, the HYDRA agent breaks free from his chair, attacks Riri, and gets got by Black Widow before he could do any damage. Another agent of HYDRA is dead, the Champions have grown up a little more, whether they wanted to or not, and Bill Cosby just made his first App Store purchase.
Over in Alaska…
It’s like I don’t even need to write that much for this issue. Ultron (who’s still fused with Hank Pym due to a Rick Remender graphic novel I am not going to read anytime soon) snuck back onto Earth before the global shield went up, headed to Alaska, and just created cities filled with copies of himself. Also, HYDRA just allowed this to happen because “Secret Empire” has to be designed like a Bioware RPG where we have to go to completely unrelated parts of the world to pick up the same plot device held by various bad guys, which is why Ultron has a Cosmic Cube shard. My worst case scenario for all this is Ultron coming in right at the end to attack the rest of the world, leading to HYDRA and the Avengers teaming up for the greater good. Immediately after I finished typing that sentence, four of my fingers fell off.
The Avengers and HYDRA meet at Ultron City which leads to a bunch of fights between the two before Hank Pym/Ultron sit them down to hash it out. Literally, he places everyone in a replica of Avengers mansion and puts on a “Kiss the Overlord” apron. This might be the weirdest exchange I’ve ever seen in a Marvel crossover and I’ve seen Nick Fury reveal that he stole someone’s eyeballs because it was his job as the outer space version of Big Boss.Continued below
Tensions heat up at the table like the world’s fourth strangers Thanksgiving Dinner with Steve Rogers and the A.I. version of Tony Stark hurling insults at each other.
… Isn’t Iron Man still an A.I.? The real Tony’s still in a coma somewhere until Brian Michael Bendis revives him to take back the armor from Doctor Doom. How is he inebriated? Is Iron Man such an innovative genius that he created a digital version of bourbon so he could get blasted for eternity? How does a hologram even get drunk? Was “Secret Empire” written like a year ago and we hadn’t planned for Iron Man to be replaced by an A.I. so we just kind of colored over him? Also, where the hell has Peter Parker been?
Anyway, as most discussions with Hank Pym go, someone reminds Pym that he beat his wife once which causes him to start screeching. Before Ultron can kill the Avengers, Scott Lang talks Pym down with a speech about moving past the mistakes that others define you by. It’s a speech that runs for an entire page and a half because Nick Spencer still had a lot of material left over from “Astonishing Ant-Man” (RIP). Ultron just hands over the Cosmic Cube to the Avengers who run off. Ultron then explains to Steve that he’s looking for the world to be as chaotic as possible and evening the power struggle between the Avengers and HYDRA volatile. Definitely, has nothing to do with Scott Lang being Nick Spencer’s favorite. Nothing.
In the most realistic moment of this storyline, any hopes that the heroes might have made a strike against fascism are completely dashed against the wall.
Not wanting to further a war with the surface world, Namor surrenders his Cosmic Cube shard to HYDRA bringing the scavenger hunt score to 1-1. Steve also tells Baron Zemo that he has someone on the Avengers team working for him. It’s Quicksilver, trying to save his possessed sister. Or Hercules for the same reason that Thor and Frank Castle joined HYDRA: no reason at all. See you next time.