Secret Empire #6
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, Java Tartaglia, Rod Reis, Joshua Cassara and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 5 out of 10
As the old proverb goes, “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” But things are especially dark in the Marvel Universe these days, and Nick Spencer keeps shooting out more lights. On some level that’s to be expected but man, this issue is a slog. As Spencer’s narrative descends into the depths of depravity, it’s becoming increasingly hard to see how anything that’s happening is worth the cost of actual dollars and goodwill toward these characters. And the plot might be an easier sell with a more consistent art team. The three-pronged approach just isn’t working especially when the narrative is already so split.
I’ve noted before that this book has worked a lot better when Spencer has started to wing his narrative threads together. In this issue (much like the last one), he decides to pile on reveals to across his four main threads in order to dim the lights on the future of our heroes. That’s a common approach. But it’s hard to feel satisfied by a story that still doesn’t have a clear aim. Cap continues his descent into villainy. We finally find out who the mole in the Underground. We start to understand who the Hulk is. We start to really realize how broken Black Widow is. And we finally get the word on where the second Steve Rogers is. (Though, trusting the words of the Red Skull seems dubious.) Kingpin is being a good samaritan. Dagger might be dying. The Underground breaks. A lot happens in this issue. Then why does it feel so empty?
That’s a hard question to answer. The events of Secret Empire are clearly really impactful for these characters. So impactful that it feels like they’ll never come back. Except we know that’s not true and as the event continues parallel to marketing for Marvel’s Next Big Thing, we’re reminded of it constantly. So much of the drama in this event has been predicated on characters acting so far out of character that they’re almost unrecognizable, so the call the return of a more recognizable Marvel Universe feels like it’s shouting over any of the stakes of this event. So eight issues into this event (remember the #0 issue and the Free Comic Book Day story), there’s seemingly no end in sight for how bleak this story can get.
The art isn’t helping, either. Rod Reis’ work has gotten looser and a lot less structured in general. While that might be a style choice to run counter to our understanding of just what and where second Steve is, it doesn’t really feel like that. Joshua Cassara is still handling the Black Widow/Champions scenes. His work here flows a little bit better with Leinil Francis Yu’s scratchy pencils but his rough rendering of expressions and body language hold back scenes that could have more emotional resonance. Yu’s work is mostly effective in communicating the action scenes that Spencer throws at him but he makes some odd choices in terms of angles for his panels and is definitely rehashing imagery that we saw in Civil War. So Yu’s work serves the story, but it can’t elevate the script.
Secret Empire has been uneven at best. I hate the term “event fatigue,” but who is a 10+ issue event like this for when there’s such a big sea change on the horizon for the publisher? Nick Spencer’s work here has been its best when he isn’t just trading in the dynamics that the publisher has been for the last 10 years. But it’s hard to keep the stakes up when every reveal only asks more questions instead of answering any of them. The art’s scattershot approach across the event has hurt the story overall, and this issue is no exception. Secret Empire keeps delivering big moments, b...ut it’s not cluing us in on what any of it means, and that’s disappointing.