Secret Empire #0
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Daniel Acuna and Rod Reis
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
“He was the greatest among us. The one we looked to, to lead us and to guide us. We were wrong.”
For the better part of a year, there’s been a ticking time bomb at the heart of the Marvel Universe, as Captain America Steve Rogers has schemed and sabotaged as a secret agent of Hydra. But now, after months of plotting, Steve is finally moving in for the kill in Secret Empire #0, a solid introduction to Marvel’s latest event series.
In many ways, Secret Empire #0 reminds me a lot of Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis - this idea of “the day that evil won.” As writer Nick Spencer ties his Captain America storyline back to some very interesting source material - Jonathan Hickman fans, you’re not going to be disappointed here - he actually leaves a big potential bombshell deep in the history of the Marvel Universe (if his story is to be taken at face value, that is). It’s Spencer’s surprising swerve deep into Marvel lore that might be the best part of Secret Empire so far, and while it’s unclear and even doubtful that some of these changes will stick, you can’t help but admire such an audacious idea.
But ultimately, the meat of this issue is all about taking caped crusaders off the board - and as Cap leads the Avengers on a three-pronged assault from a variety of threats, Spencer certainly keeps the challenge level high, as he subverts standard superhero structure as defeat is suddenly snatched from the jaws of victory. While many recent Marvel events have been marred by a sense of interchangeability between the legions of characters crowding the pages, Spencer is able to pick up on threads from Civil War II, particularly between Steve and Captain Marvel, as he systematically removes his rivals from the action. As Spencer reveals Steve’s double-agent status to his closest friends and confidantes, their reactions are particularly heart-breaking, and one can only hope that sense of betrayal permeates this event moving forward.
Seeing Daniel Acuna headlining an event like Secret Empire might seem counterintuitive at first, but he really sells so much of the foreboding mood that propels this series. To Iron Man, Captain Marvel and Sharon Carter, this might be a challenging day, but they don’t know what we know - namely, that these characters are going to get stabbed in the back by someone they trust with their lives. Acuna keeps everything dark and menacing, as Steve broods in the shadows as the pieces fall into place. It’s a credit to Acuna’s colorwork that he’s also able to juggle the various eclectic designs of Marvel’s mishmash of superheroes without his pages looking too disorganized - and believe me, if it’s a character that’s had a sizable presence over the past few years, chances are Acuna fits them into Secret Empire #0. Rod Reis, drawing the book’s intro sequence, is a great counterpoint to Acuna as well, still producing that eerie and off-kilter tone, but also playing with energetic contrasts of light in the overwhelming darkness.
While some might argue that Spencer is taking a fairly meat-and-potatoes approach to this superhero event book, given how hit-and-miss Marvel events have been received in recent years, it’s not necessarily a bad approach to keep things simple, and to avoid overextending what is already a controversial premise to some fans. Taking a big picture approach to Captain America’s villainous plan, Secret Empire #0 is a table-setting issue that throws Earth’s Mightiest Heroes into a variety of predicaments that they may have to go underground to solve. Like Final Crisis before it, this feels like what might have happened when the bad guys had their day - but given Captain America’s symbolism to both comics and country, there’s the potential to either tell a gut-wrenching and evocative story, or to stage a character assassination that might rival that of post-House of M Scarlet Witch. While the jury’s still out based on this first issue, the first installment of Secret Empire is solid enough to bear further watching.