Graphic Novel Review: Secret Empire

Secret Empire

Secret Empire - Credit: Archant

The USA falls beneath the might of Hydra - led by a turncoat Captain America...

(Panini Books)

The impossible has happened. The United States of America has fallen to fascism and tyrannt. “Undesirable” elements within society have been exiled or imprisoned, public executions have become commonplace, and underground insurgents plot strikes against key political targets in a bid to undermine the new establishment.

And overseeing all of this madness is a charismatic, inspirational and beloved figurehead, a man who once embodied the American dream but has now been corrupted and twisted into a dark shadow of his former self. Invader, Avenger, director of SHIELD, one-time Captain America, now Steve Rogers is the Supreme Hydra, and he is crushing freedom beneath his leather jackboots…

The story of Secret Empire has been building for some time, after it was established that the sentient Cosmic Cube Kubik reshaped reality when she restored Rogers’ lost youth in the Avengers: Standoff event. She plucked a version of Captain America from a timeline which saw him recruited as a boy by Hydra agents, where arch villain Helmut Zemo was his best friend, and his entire costumed career was based on a lie.

Having brutally ascended to the position of Supreme Hydra, Rogers instigates his masterplan, sealing the Earth behind a protective barrier with the world’s most powerful metahumans on the other side, trapping many of their peers in New York City beneath a Darkforce dome, and blackmailing or corrupting others into joining his new team of Avengers. Meanwhile, Inhumans are forced to register as soon as their powers manifest, and the mutants are effectively exiled to a section of California dubbed New Tian.

The surviving heroes are forced underground after Hydra seizes control of the nation, but when they begin launching attacks on the administration Rogers resorts to drastic measures to assert his power – executing Resistance agent Rick Jones and razing the city of Las Vegas to the ground. With the rest of the world now in his sights, it seems nothing will stop the Supreme Hydra from completing his goal of complete conquest…

Controversy surrounded this crossover from the outset, following a backlash against “Hydra Cap” after his secrets were revealed in his own title. It seemed readers didn’t want to see an iconic hero changed in this way, and writer Nick Spencer became a trolling target over his narrative decisions. But he stuck to his guns, and things pay off admirably in this series, which puts story and characterisation to the forefront, something the recent Civil War II failed to achieve, being much more of a case of style over substance.

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The political messages at the heart of this storyline are worryingly relevant today, and continue Marvel’s tradition of using real world events as inspiration for its comic books. How quickly America accepts its new Hydra masters is a grim reflection of events over the last few years, and serves as a warning of how far things can go when good people refuse to act.

An outstanding crossover event, head and shoulders above many other so-called epics, and perhaps the most important Marvel book of the past few decades. Remarkable.