With the latest issue of Secret Empire by Nick Spencer, Leinil Francis Yu, Rod Reis and Joshua Cassara, we get quite a change of pace from the series thus far.
The story largely focuses on the opposing Avengers teams, the underground rebel Avengers led by the AI of Tony Stark, and the Hydr-Avengers, led in this instance by Steve Rogers, HydraCap himself.
Both teams are on a mission to obtain a fragment of Kobik the Cosmic Cube from Ultron/Hank Pym (Pymtron? Ulthank?) who has apparently taken up residence in remote parts of Alaska, building cities filled with killer Ultron units.
What this story does that really changes the pace though is that it essentially and almost entirely drops the baggage of the fascism storyline entirely. Instead, the story boils down to a quest/hunt type story, and one that sees two teams in a head-to-head situation. There are no worryingly fascist actions taken by Cap in this issue, unlike in other issues. Is he still doing bad things, sure…but in this issue, no concentration camps, no murdering friends – his actions just put him at odds with the other heroes.
It feels more like Marvel's previous events, in a way. The issue seems to be more like heroes with different opinions on a subject clashing, instead of one has become a murderous fascist monster who is suddenly okay with concentration camps.
As a result, this is perhaps the lightest issue in the series so far and it is much more enjoyable as a result. In fact, there's a lot more humour in this issue which lands really well. And while it may be lighter in tone and be a more fun, energetic story as a result, it still manages to cover a fair amount of the thematic topics that make up Secret Empire: there's fun discussion as Ult-Py-(Marvel, seriously, just decide on a name for him now, please?) basically discusses how tiresome the constant ideology clash of heroes has become, and how it's 'destroying' the heroes. That is also a fun bit of meta-commentary, which ironically comes in a massive Marvel event about competing ideology.
This issue still progresses the Secret Empire story, still presents ideas of political analogy bringing people at odds and gives us a fun, action-packed superhero adventure. Granted, for me to enjoy the issue in this way, it came at the cost of exact visual descriptors and inclusions of the kind of political ideology that I take issue with at the forefront in Secret Empire, but it does make me wonder if there was a way to tell this story in a way that felt more like this throughout?
At any rate, the other minor story elements still tick along, in particular the Black Widow/Punisher plot and the mystery (Vanishing Point?) location with the mysterious second Steve (and now second Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes?).
All in all, taking this issue by itself and not as part of the whole, this is actually a very enjoyable issue.