The penultimate chapter of Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire hits stands this week, and, as one would expect this close to a climactic final confrontation with Captain Hydra, the action ramps up at a frenetic pace. This has been one of Marvel’s most entertaining and original event books since House of M, and, as with the alternate reality of Bendis’s series, when the architecture of Steve Rogers’s empire starts to fail, it doesn’t take long for the structure to come crashing down. Across the board, the heroes have been tallying victories: the Darkforce dome sealing off Manhattan is down, as is the planetary defense shield that had stranded the other heavy hitters in the stratosphere. The Underground has rallied, and New Tian is in open revolt. Corrupted superheroes like Vision and Scarlet Witch are on the verge of restoration, and presumed defeated combatants Winter Soldier and Black Panther make dramatic returns to the battlefield. And, perhaps most importantly, the haze of mead and self-deprecation that had been clouding the mind of Odinson, AKA The Unworthy Thor, finally seems to have cleared. There’s a “BOOM” that translates roughly to, “The Hel was I thinking?!”
Hope you haven’t experienced mega-super-battle fatigue yet. Because this issue has a pretty fun romp. And despite all the momentum gathering on the side of the heroes, Steve has one major play left in his bag of tricks, and it involves Arnim Zola, some Stark technology, and an impressive handful of cosmic cube fragments. It all figures to play out in an even bigger mega-super-crazy series finale.
Speaking of which, that final issue, #10, will be on stands next week. Let’s pause and appreciate that for a moment. One of the worst things about the last two Marvel summer events has been the maddening scheduling delays. The All-New All-Different era tipped off before the buzzer sounded on Secret Wars. Marvel NOW! (the fractured edition) let us know that Tony Stark was dead (or something) almost two months before we saw it happen in Civil War II. But this time, with Marvel Legacy set to kick off on September 27, we should have some real closure (the “Omega” epilogue is scheduled for 9/13) to Secret Empire, as well as a better understanding of how the Vanishing Point and Kobik’s alternate reality factor into the next publishing initiative.
Nailing down the release schedule for an altogether compelling and entertaining superhero event had a lot to do with shaking up the art duties. It’s slightly uncommon to see big names like Steve McNiven, Andrea Sorrentino, Leinil Yu, and Daniel Acuna take turns bringing a story like Spencer’s to life. Not to mention the sequences by Rod Reis or art assists by folks like Sean Izaakse, Java Tartaglia, and Joe Bennett. These are vastly different art styles, but instead of feeling like disparate parts of a whole, each chapter is allowed to have its own aesthetic, while looking to maintain overall series cohesion. And I think all of us would agree, while it would have been nice if any one of those artists could have churned out all of the pages of Secret Empire on his own, we’d much rather have it ship on time.
Which leads me to my one gripe against the book, and it’s an issue that has been getting more pronounced with every summer crossover. While I appreciate the fact that the very term “crossover” indicates that threads of the main story will intersect a variety of titles and miniseries, the main story itself should be able to stand on its own. I read a lot of Marvel books. And during events like this, I try to read every tie-in. And despite that, I find myself feeling like I’ve missed something. Like how exactly did Scarlet Witch get possessed by that demon? Or when did we first find out about all of Hydra’s captive Chitauri sending cosmic pheromones out to the home planet? Did I already know Blackout was behind the Manhattan dome? I don’t want to reference Wikipedia with every issue, and I really don’t think I need to keep up with website teasers or send a Twitter DM to “Peter Parker” to help fill in the gaps.
This is a minor complaint though, and I’m sure when I sit down to read the entire arc again, start to finish, this will be a non-issue. Especially since that gratifying revisit will have conveniently left out the U.S.Avengers dicking around in Paris.
There have been some great crossover arcs, including the Doctor Strange four-part story by Dennis Hopeless and Niko Henrichon. This week’s issue #24 wraps up the confrontation between Baron Mordo and the Strange brew of Ben Urich, Spider-Woman, Kingpin, a zombie biplane, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. All this action takes place before the Darkforce dome comes down in Secret Empire #8, and it’s an appropriate added-value tale that enhances the overall story without making itself an obligatory plot point. Hopeless is moving on after this issue, but the artistic sorcery of Henrichon will continue into the John Barber era, beginning with issue #26.