How Secret Empire Doesn't Get Mainstream Superhero Comics

Secret Empire

I was Bleeding Cool's resident "Secret Empire is actually pretty good guy." I'm not so much anymore. I tried to defend it, because I saw a lot of good in it. It's hard to do that anymore. I'd say Secret Empire #5 broke me, but, in truth, it finished off the culmination of problems that had been inherent to the story since even before it's beginning.

In the back half of my review of Secret Empire #5, I pointed out that Nick Spencer's big blowout story is a decently good story, but it's not a good comic book story.

That's never been a very good qualifier to me. If something is a good piece of art or literature, shouldn't it be just that? How can it be bad at what it's doing while simultaneously bad at what it's doing (outside of the "so bad it's good" realm)?

Now I understand that criticism, thanks to Secret Empire. I genuinely want to like this story, and I think it has clever ideas running through it. However, it is not cut out for the format it's being presented in.

I genuinely think that, if it were released as a graphic novel in the style of Superman: Red Son, Squadron Supreme, or Watchmen, this would have been adored. It has a lot of similar themes, and it is holding up a warped mirror to wider superhero fiction. It plays off the idea that, yes, superheroes play judge, jury, and executioner in a semi-authoritarian and objectivist manner, so why not take that as far as reimagining heroes as government enforcers or the government itself?

It seems to understand a lot about superhero fiction — except the medium itself. This should not be set inside the mainstream Marvel Universe continuity, and it should not be taking over the wider canon for a months-long endurance test of "How much can you take us warping your favorite characters?"

Steve Rogers shouldn't be acting like this, Thor Odinson shouldn't be helping him, Mockingbird shouldn't be selling out the Underground to him, and the Beast shouldn't be an ambassador to this Hydra nation. Black Panther and the Sub-Mariner shouldn't be sitting idly by while it all happens.

It doesn't really feel like these characters. To make matters worse, for however long this is part of their continuity, we're going to have to contemplate how our beloved characters have done this. If they do a reboot just to take this out of that continuity, then it was a questionable story to place in your canon to begin with.

Marvel and DC Comics put out these comics as a serialized storytelling medium. They have been doing this for the better part of 70 years, and, while they have made missteps along the way, they have mostly kept the whole dog-and-pony show together.

Some people call this hokey, tacky, cheap, foolish or not real literature.

I call it my favorite collection of characters, as well as my favorite storytelling medium of all time. What can you do?

Secret Empire shows a radical misunderstanding of how this all works. Instead of existing in what would have probably been a pretty good graphic novel, it's become something to be endured through half the year, while bleeding into other comics that may be ill-fit for the themes and heavy tone of Secret Empire — or would have just generally been better off without its interference.

It's made many popular characters genuinely unlikable. It's the umpteenth superhero smackdown in recent years. It helps shatter any and all perception of camaraderie between these characters. It just shouldn't exist in the same continuity of delightful comics like Ms. Marvel, the Champions, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. I'm not saying these characters can't be involved, but it just shouldn't touch the mainstream Marvel universe.

Let's just say I'm relieved Luke Cage, Black Panther, and the Defenders are remaining unaffected by this story.

Again, I've nothing wrong with mainstream superhero fair touching on heavier issues. I've no problem with them talking about tough questions.

In the same right, these aren't tough questions. This is the Fourth Reich. It's wrong. That's not a question. The people it's parodying can only be insulted by it, and they don't know that it's an allegory of their political ideologies. The people it's attempting to appeal to are going have trouble enjoying it, because it's not really making any clever or poignant statement about fascism — because it's fascism, and obviously wrong and evil.

It also seems imprudent to preform something of a character assassination on Steve Rogers, one of the most beloved comic book characters of all time, for something that could have been accomplished with any number of preexisting Nazi supervillains.

Making this a year-long story in Steve Rogers: Captain America wasn't a particularly wise choice either, given that Steve hadn't been in action in some time. Plus, while I'm always up for villain-centric comics like Venom, Deathstroke, and Sinestro, it's pretty hard to believe that there exists a large audience what would want a "Steve Rogers as a villain" comic.

This isn't a bad story, but it's a bad mainstream serialized superhero comic story. It makes characters that have been loved for years seem horrid and unlikable. It preforms some fairly surface-level allegory that doesn't help to cover up the fact that it should have been a 1980s graphic novel. I can no longer endorse it.

About Joshua Davison

Josh is a longtime super hero comic fan and an aspiring comic book and fiction writer himself. He also trades in videogames, Star Wars, and Magic: The Gathering, and he is also a budding film buff. He's always been a huge nerd, and he hopes to contribute something of worth to the wider geek culture conversation. He is also happy to announce that he is the new Reviews Editor for Bleeding Cool. Follow on Twitter @joshdavisonbolt.