Secret Empire Puts Marvel Comics Into A Political Maelstrom

In February Bleeding Cool broke what now seems to be an even bigger story than it did at the time. That Marvel was to put an end to comic book characters wearing their politics on their sleeve so much – but that Secret Empire would be a kind of last hurrah for that kind of storytelling which had become more popular at the publisher of late.

This seemed confirmed at last week's Marvel retailer meeting, as recorded by Milton Griepp of ICV2, whose phone must have been ringing off the hook all week,

 "We've gone through a period wherein pop culture as a whole (and you guys notice that as much as we do), there's been this massive discussion about inclusion and diversity," he said.  "It was a massive theme at the Academy Awards.  This has swept through our culture, through Disney, and everything.  We were mindful of that.  But Marvel is not about politics. We are about telling stories about the world.  I think we are an extension of what Stan did.  When I look at what we're looking to do, we're looking to tell stories that matter in this time.  That's the most important thing."

While he quotes a retailer saying,

Another retailer described what he wanted to see from Marvel.  "I don't want you guys doing that stuff," he said of political content.  "I want you to entertain.  That's the job.  One of my customers even said the other day (because he knew we were coming) he wants to get stories and doesn't mind a message, but he doesn't want to be beaten over the head with these things."

Talking of Stan Lee… let's hear what he had to say in 1971 in Avengers #87.

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Well, Entertainment Weekly has brought that aspect of the ICV2 articles up again.

Secret Empire shares its name with a previous Marvel event, a '70s Captain America storyline by Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema in which a mysterious evil organization infiltrated the highest levels of American government. Written in the wake of Watergate, the story had high political resonance, but Spencer and Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso insist that this Secret Empire has little to do with contemporary political parallels. It's an age-old battle of good vs. evil, with the top superhero in Marvel history on one side, and all his friends and teammates on the other.

That first story has Richard Nixon in charge of the world's leading criminal organisation, which saw Steve Rogers resign as Captain America. As we pointed out the language seems to have parallels even with today's news headlines.

And naturally, some don't buy the Marvel explanation. Like iO9, "Marvel Would Like You to Know Captain America's Turn to Fascism 'Has Little to Do' With Politics" – which of course isn't what they said. Alonso and Spencer specified contemporary political parallels rather than politics in general.

Here's how I see it. Secret Empire appears to be, to me, about how fascism can sneak in through the back door. Legally, peacefully, unable to be stopped until it's too late. How it can have an insidious appeal that can seem totally justified by events at the time. How only equating Nazism with fascism means you can't recognise it when it doesn't wear a swastika. You put your trust in someone who rewards that trust, who is charismatic, who lets you know everything will be okay. And then it's too late, the freedoms disappear and the bombs drop.

Which, naturally, some people will see in the actions of Donald Trump, especially today. But guess what, Clinton would probably have bombed Syria too. And Obama did, many, many times in 2015.

The argument then, is that Secret Empire isn't about Trump, it would have been written and set up when most people thought Hillary would win. It's about America. It's about the world. It's about us. And that's a harder pill to swallow.

But, hey, at least Spider-Man's in it. And Secret Empire #1's Final Order-Cut Off is in three days. I expect to see it topping next week's Advance Reorder list, don't you?

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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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