Secret Empire #3 is out today and crosses over and spins off into all manner of comic books published by Marvel on the same day. But how many can you live without and still get by? How many have a passing reference, how many are intrinsic parts of the narrative?
We mark them out of ten Hydra Skulls for their relevance. Obviously, Secret Empire #3 by Nick Spencer, Andrea Sorrentino and Rod Reis gets a full ten skulls… as it begins to give us more details with what's going on with this new Steve Rogers, and I am leaning more towards the metaphysical rather than the literal interpretations of such scenes…
Deadpool #31 by Gerry Duggan and Matteo Lolli is set before Secret Empire #0 even happened. But rather than provide exposition on the go, it sets Deadpool up as an agent of Captain America, with a mission to take down Agent Coulson who has worked out that… something is going on with Captain America.
Not that he expects to be believed.
But it might show the line that Deadpool crosses that makes him a member of the Hydra Avengers in the Secret Empire Free Comic Book Day issue.
And one that Captain America groomed him to be. On that basis alone, we get an impressive Hydra Skull count.
This idea that Captain America makes all things right is picked up in Captain America: Sam Wilson #22 by Nick Spencer and Sean Izaakse. And, it seems, deliberately using language that may be familiar to those currently living in the USA, despite whatever protestations Marvel might make.
So we have a Sam Wilson who has abandoned his role at Captain America facing the fact that the role may not have abandoned him.
And finding a new role, running an underground network to get people across the border to safety…
… with the obvious and string parallel with the Underground railroad set up and used by American slaves to get to freedom, Canada, Mexico, overseas or the free states.
Though I would wonder if the USA doesn't officially recognise New Tian, would they really be open about deporting people there? The issue ends with a visit from some familiar faces…
…which gets directly continued in Secret Empire #3.
You can certainly live without it. But scenes in the diner do plug directly into what Wilson is saying about the country.
So it's getting a few more Hydra heads.
Doctor Strange #21 by Dennis Hopeless and Niko Henrichon picks up on the Darkforce bubble over Manhattan, and has Strange, and other trapped heroes fighting against it. We get some relevance to the main storyline, revealed that Baron Mordo has taken over the Sanctorium and expelled Doctor Strange.
But from these experiences, it's more of a luxury than a narrative necessity.
Secret Empire: Uprising #1 by Derek Landy and Joshua Cassara is its own entire mini-series, taking the Champions and giving them a new role to undermine Hydra. It spins out directly from a Secret Empire plot and while one team are using Sam Wilson to try and recover the Cosmic Cube fragments, in Uprising we see Black Widow's plan to assassinate Captain America. And, because this is war, using child soldiers.
As Secret Empire #3 shows us, the other side certainly are. Though Uprising it does make for a slightly sillier Hydra, conducting the Hydra Youth Choir all in costume.
And brings in Champions' foes The Freelancers.
Though, as a team that show even greater diversity than The Champions in their makeup, even they have some doubts about the whole fascist aspect of the affair.
It does feel like a bit of a side issue though… but at least we are reminded just how fascist it all is, and the Hydra Youth aspect never lets you forget.
As to how Secret Empire #3 ends? Well…