Welcome back to the final installment of The Man in the HYDRA Castle, Multiversity Comics’s recap of Marvel’s “Secret Empire” storyline. As always, spoilers abound.
Last time on “Secret Empire”…
Not quite. Although HYDRA was defeated at the end of “Secret Empire” #10, a lot of loose threads were left to be tied. Namely, what’s going to happen now that we have two Captain Americas running around? “Omega” begins to answer that question as Good Steve Rogers (who was created by Kobik a few days ago and is not a real human being) breaks into the prison of his evil counterpart. There, they engage in the most exciting of all epilogue formulas: two men arguing while we dip in and out of what everyone else is doing. Evil Steve makes his first point against his two-day old clone by revealing that, uh, taking over the government and setting up concentration camps is completely legal.
You orchestrated an alien invasion that left countless people dead but lol ok.
Speaking of crimes that will definitely get Evil Steve jail time, Black Widow had her neck cracked by Cap’s shield while defending Miles Morales. Because Natasha spent her childhood learning how to be a ballerina for the KGB or whatever, she developed a super malleable neck seeing as she’s still alive somewhere in South America. Bucky goes looking for her, knowing she’s likely to shoot this affable fellow right here.
Honestly, “Secret Empire” would have been more enjoyable with this dude as the villain than Steve. Real fascists don’t get seriously introspective over the consequences of their own actions. They flaunt around like this Little Lord Pinochet fella right here, hosting parades in front of mercs with rifles. Anyway, someone shoots the general here and I guess that’ll get resolved in whatever title Bucky’s in these days. “Winter Soldier”? “Thunderbolts?” Who knows?
Over in New Tian, the US Government has come in to take back California from the mutants. They even bring in the Sentinels because the line between the feds and fascism was made out of string to start out with. Emma Frost mentions to Beast that Evil Steve might have been defeated but mutants already lived under fascism. That’s a nominal nod to how some have always been targeted by the government even before rapist game show hosts could become president, but Nick Spencer’s been trying so hard to outdo Rick Remender in washing out the inherent metaphor of the X-Men as minorities that we’re still not really addressing how one of HYDRA’s big gimmicks was Inhuman concentration camps. Concentration camps that were only around to introduce Barf, the Inhuman who can throw up godly artifacts. He’s the worst character to ever be introduced by Marvel Comics and I can’t wait to buy his Funko Pop.
“Secret Empire” also goes back to the plot point that made me the most genuinely upset: Punisher joining HYDRA. It’s upsetting because Frank is an anarchocommunist. Anarchocapitalist at his worst. He lives in a van, lives solely to kill those who would harm others, and doesn’t afraid of anybody. Joining HYDRA flies in the face of Frank’s character because, while he might be a force of individual and selective violence, he would never join with a fascist organization like HYDRA that would endanger innocents. Here, “Secret Empire Omega” undoes that by having him kill some HYDRA and uh… recruited by Nick Fury join another fascist organization. Goddammit.
With that we’re back to discussing Steve and Steve talking to each other about what happened over “Secret Empire.” It’s incredibly boring. Evil Steve keeps reminding Baby Steve that he didn’t take over the US by himself, he was aided and abetted by other Americans who were hungry for fascism in the first place. Baby Steve then tells Evil Steve that a child looked at him and ran away which means he has six weeks of being an outcast ahead of him. Evil Steve then tells Baby Steve that he awakened something dark within certain people during his reign and he has his own following, a secret empire if you will, at his disposal. Baby Steve says blah blah blah blah. It would’ve been nice if we saw more of the reaction from the United States to HYDRA instead of being told about it while Captain America fought Iron Man’s hologram at Ultron’s house.Continued below
And so “Secret Empire” ends with the reminder that none of this ever really ever ends. Evil Steve is still alive and has his followers, Baby Steve has to act like he’s actually Captain America and not a copy made by a small child, and there will always be people ready to surrender their identity to a greater evil so their foot can be in one of the boots stamping down on their neighbors’ faces. It’s exhausting. “Secret Empire” as a whole has been exhausting and, as someone who written about Marvel’s crossovers for four years now, I’m so glad this is over. More than “AXIS”, more than “Civil War II”, more than when Jess, Alice, and I decided to review all 5,000 “Secret Wars” tie-ins.
Marvel has denied up and down that this comic has nothing to do with current events but its exhausting to watch HYDRA get its big moment in the sun when Sean Spicer is at the Emmys getting a pat on the back from every celebrity figure who’s a nominal part of #TheResistance. Or when the Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, pushes a funding bump to the military that’s double what the Obamacare repeal is reportedly supposed to “save.” And like most journalists, media outlets, satirists trying to figure their way out of the world of Trump, “Secret Empire” found itself entirely enamored with the bad guys without giving much spotlight to the good guys. Sure, the Avengers were there to fight Evil Steve but it was still his book. All the marketing surrounded him, most of the covers featured him in badass poses, and he kept winning until he was stopped by another version of himself. Marvel kept asking us to “wait and see” where “Secret Empire” went and a year and a half later that journey was completely tedious. This sounds like me playing stuff up so I can get more clicks but I’m pretty sure this column only gets 40 views at most. “Secret Empire” drained me and took all the fun out of writing about something I used to really care about.