Today's Free Comic Book Day release of Marvel's Secret Empire title adds a number of additions to the Secret Empire story that could address many of the concerns critics have had with some of the more troubling optics.
As we've mentioned before, the FCBD issue explains why Vision and Wanda Maximoff, AKA Scarlet Witch, a Romani woman, are part of Hydra's own brand of Avengers. Vision appears to have been hacked, and Scarlet Witch is manipulated (it's not the first time).
Furthermore, it could be surmised that the manipulation of Scarlet Witch, one of the Marvel Universe's most powerful magic users, is also partly responsible for Steve Rogers' ability to lift Mjölnir, even though he is now a fascist.
In all likelihood, it is still linked to the Rogers' earnestness in his wish to do what he sees as what is right and good. Perhaps Mjölnir is manipulated to not see the difference in that conviction? Hopefully, at least — this one is still pretty vague.
What these elements really add, however, is much-needed context. Sure, there is benefit in misdirection, and obfuscation is an important tool for a writer to wield. And while challenging readers — putting the audience through the ringer — can be an effective method in building tension and making the resolution all the more worthwhile, one must be wary of causing unnecessary pain and duress.
We have seen that making a fascist out of a Jewish-created icon of the American dream and democratic ideal — and uniting him with a group that aligns itself with Nazis — has caused a great deal of upset. We saw some similar backlash to Wanda's inclusion in Hydra in the first issue. And the image of a now-fascist Captain America lifting Mjölnir aloft…
But with the knowledge that Scarlet Witch is being controlled? And Vision? And perhaps they are connected to the ability to use Mjölnir now? It makes up for a lot.
Writer Nick Spencer and Marvel pushed back considerably to every concern presented to them, insisting we didn't have the whole story. Marvel recently pleaded for readers upset by the story to be patient and wait for it to end — while still expecting them to keep buying the book.
The problem is, in the periodical nature that is comic book storytelling, why should an audience keep coming back for more when they keep feeling pushed back, unheard, or even insulted? When the context does arrive, who's to say they stick around to see it? And if a change is so huge it feels like it reverses all the things that caused concern, who's to say that won't then upset those who had enjoyed the story so far and the promise of true and absolute change?
This isn't a movie or a TV show — the tease to add hope or deepen the mystery, or even answer it, isn't coming after a three-and-a-half minute ad break. And when response to some concerns voiced — reasonable concerns presented reasonably, not insults extending to death threats (which are always abhorrently wrong) — feel like they are shrugged off or slapped away with sarcasm or harshness, would the context be enough to win them over anyway?
If the FCBD issue was released before Secret Empire #1, perhaps it would have changed how people viewed the troubling image in what was technically a minor scene. In my case, it's certainly toned down my concerns with the issue of Scarlet Witch and Vision joining Hydra; I still have some concerns with that, but it certainly doesn't make me feel like it was as patently tactless and insulting as when I initially read it.
And now we have Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso promising that Secret Empire #2 will have a "big moment" for fans of Captain America. Perhaps there is something coming that could turn around the story for those that felt so insulted by it — but perhaps it's too late.