Secret Empire: Omega #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Andrea Sorrentino, Joe Bennett, Joe Pimentel, Scott Hanna and Rachelle Rosenberg
Lettering by Travis Lanham
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
“It’s not so easy to put everything back where it was.”
The battle is over. Hydra has fallen. The one, true Steve Rogers has finally returned.
And with the dust finally settling, Secret Empire: Omega seeks to answer the existential questions that have come to define this series, and to place Captain America and the rest of the Marvel Universe in new context in the wake of this heated event. But ultimately, this conclusion will serve more as reinforcement to what’s come before than to add any new twist or enlightenment - in other words, if you’ve liked this series up to this point, you likely won’t need the extra convincing, whereas if Secret Empire hasn’t been your cup of tea, the final confrontation between Steve Rogers versus Steve Rogers will probably feel hollow.
While Secret Empire #10 was all about the physical confrontation to depose Hydra, Spencer makes this epilogue more of a war of ideas - but to me, that feels like an unnecessary battle, a false equivalence. Anyone who cracked open a single issue of this book should know it was obvious that Hydra are the bad guys, and once you’ve destroyed Las Vegas, there’s no amount of argument you can give to justify Stevil’s actions. Was this about taking the world back after the Cosmic Cube? Was this about imposing order on an inherently weak and chaotic society? Is this the real Cap talking, or a bad mirror image? “You say chicken, I say egg,” Stevil shrugs. “I’ll go to my grave believing that the reality I grew up in - the reality I fought for - is the true one.” It’s certainly the kind of talking point that plenty of real-life white supremacists would give about their own world of “alternative facts,” and in that regard, I give Spencer points for verisimilitude - but given how long Spencer lingers on this obviously skewed line of questioning, it can’t help but feel unappetizing. It’s one thing to show a villain believing they’re the hero of their own story - but there comes a point, now 12 issues and numerous tie-ins down the road, it feels like beating a dead horse.
While Spencer’s interludes help give us a break from the ongoing Steve debate, they feel unfortunately by-the-numbers, undoing some of the more character-breaking changes that Secret Empire wreaked on side characters like the Punisher or the X-Men. For those two properties in particular, the scenes feel unsubstantial because these status quo changes felt so inorganic to begin with - Secret Empire has had hints of Civil War in its DNA since the beginning, but having a gun-toting vigilante joining actual fascists or having the most socially conscious comic book team on the stands creating their own shadow nation didn’t add anything worthwhile to either of these properties. Meanwhile, a scene involving Black Widow unfortunately comes off as confusing, in part because Natasha’s resurrection was a one-panel affair in the main series, so having an entire page about her funeral and just including her by implication can really throw readers for a loop.
Meanwhile, the artwork from Andrea Sorrentino has the appropriate darkness for a story this harrowing, but his penchant for experimenting with panel layouts, page designs and eye-popping colors comes at the cost of clarity of storytelling. In particular, two splash pages featuring Steve and Stevil are surrounded by iconography of the Captain America shield and the Hydra logo, with dozens of inset images that ultimately distract from the characters inside. Even Sorrentino’s expression work feels a bit sketchy and ill-defined, which can be problematic when the majority of this book is a conversation between two guys who, beyond a little bit of stubble, are completely identical. (That said, I do give him credit for using splashes of red to delineate Stevil - it’s a smart move that keeps this book from falling into the trap that clone-centric books like Ben Reilly, The Scarlet Spider succumbs to.) Yet Joe Bennett’s interlude artwork feels exactly the opposite - it feels like very standard superhero fare, with none of the flair or ambition that Sorrentino, for better or worse, has undeniably brought to every page.
In many ways, Secret Empire has been both a cup of tea leaves and a roiling powder keg in terms of Marvel Comics and its relationship with readers. For those who have wanted politics in their comic books, this book was decidedly the wrong kind of politics; for those who have wanted to keep their superhero books just as superhero books, the series has come across as more depressing than exciting, more oppressive than innovative. From a craft perspective, it’s impressive that Nick Spencer could juggle a 10-issue event in the first place, let alone dive into the breach for this epilogue - and I’m sure he doesn’t have to tell you it’s been a thankless job. But the extended arc and the explosive premise haven’t meshed well together, and this epilogue might exemplify this best - it’s too-long story exploring an argument that I think many people are likely ready to put behind them. The Secret Empire is dead - and after Omega, I hope we’re done with the eulogies.