WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire #1
If Marvel Comics hoped to make headlines by turning Captain America into the villainous head of their Secret Empire, the mission has been accomplished. Accomplished so well, sparking such uproar and vocal criticism that the company has now released an official statement to assure fans that their complaints have been heard. The universe-spanning event – and Captain America’s role within Hydra – will still continue as planned, with the publisher now “politely asking” that fans wait to see the entire story told before judging them too harshly.
It’s true that no publicity is bad publicity, and in Marvel’s defense, more people than ever are keeping a close eye on the current adventures of Steve Rogers. Even if it’s to roll their eyes in disbelief, more discussion means more issues sold… usually. Unfortunately, this isn’t a repeat of Captain America’s death following Civil War – it’s a twist that plants Captain America on the side of Nazis. The story isn’t actually that simple, of course, but it shows why Marvel needs to ask their fans to hear them out… even if it means (slightly) spoiling the outcome.
There’s a good chance that comic fans following the Secret Empire fall into two groups: those who appreciate and enjoy the twist of hero to villain and total uncertainty based purely in its own context, and those for whom Cap’s descent into executions, fascism, and Nazi-support is simply too crass to enjoy. Honestly, what makes this entire conversation so complicated is that both sides have a case. Nick Spencer’s story has all the weight that so many recent Marvel events were lacking. On the other hand, Spencer and Marvel’s willingness to meet scorn and accusations with similar scorn has driven jilted readers and spectators even farther away.
So as Secret Empire #1 releases to the public, showing Steve Rogers managing his new Hydra regime, killing threats, indoctrinating school children, and drugging public water supplies to make Americans more docile, Marvel is reminding fans that things are really not as grim or horrible as they seem.
Marvel issued the statement (unattributed to any company editor) directly to ABC News:
“With Marvel Comics’ ‘Secret Empire,’ the forces of Hydra have taken over and, due to the villainous actions of the Red Skull, have manipulated Marvel’s greatest hero, Captain America, and forced him to adopt their cause. At Marvel, we want to assure all of our fans that we hear your concerns about aligning Captain America with Hydra and we politely ask you to allow the story to unfold before coming to any conclusion.
The statement illustrates the problems of messaging, beginning with the fact that Secret Enpire #0 began by outright showing Captain America was Hydra to begin with, and not “forced to adopt their cause” thanks to “villainous actions of the Red Skull.” That was the interpretation the comic originally suggested, which freed Steve Rogers of most, if not all of the blame. So either the message of this statement is outdated, or the shocking Secret Empire prologue clarifying Cap’s loyalty was misleading readers – after previously misleading them – and not really a reveal at all.
We have no doubt that the overall story of Secret Empire will make more sense when finished, but the attempts to separate Steve Rogers – the figure chosen to lead Hydra to victory and domination, and aided the Nazis to make it happen – and the “forces of Hydra” he commands – having murdered Red Skull to do so – compound the problem. At the end of the day, Marvel Comics is politely asking readers to let a story of Captain America’s allegiance with Hydra and Nazi Germany “unfold” without taking offense. On story terms, an evil Steve Rogers is fair game. In practice, that’s a little naive.
Captain America frowning as he sends former allies to the firing squad may not be as mean-spirited or outrageous as it appears. Since little introspection or internal monologue from Steve has actually been offered in Spencer’s event-launching issues, there’s no way to know. But asking fans to trust the creators through such scenes is easier said than done.
The readers most easily reassured by Marvel’s statement are likely the ones who never needed it to begin with. Those who’ve seen what strange and silly limits writers and events have taken their heroes and villains to, only to return a status quo sooner rather than later. Those who are on board for the story on its own terms, caring more about an engaging read than the political messages or connotations other readers simply can’t, or won’t see beyond.
For those fans, Marvel assures that Secret Empire won’t make Steve Rogers a lasting villain. His time at the head of Hydra is merely his latest “journey,” and won’t tarnish his “core values” when all is said and done:
“Captain America will always be a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe who will stand up for what is right, and ‘Secret Empire’ will be the biggest challenge Steve has ever faced. What you will see at the end of this journey is that his heart and soul — his core values, not his muscle or his shield — are what save the day against Hydra and will further prove that our heroes will always stand against oppression and show that good will always triumph over evil.”
So there you have it: at some point, Captain America will finally decide that the Hydra Empire he led to total victory wasn’t what he had in mind, and return to his “heart and soul” of standing against that very oppression. He may have embraced the tenets of order, restricted freedom, and even a superhero registration he once stood against in Civil War, but when horrifying acts of terrorism and a fascist state was the fruit they bore, he put aside his good intentions, and returned to his place as a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe.
It’s a good thing that this story is meant to be taken as a thrilling comic book event, and not in any way a political statement or reflection of the world its readers live in. As Marvel’s statement shows, that’s really how it’s best enjoyed by its fan base, trusting that the story will all be worth it in the end.
Source: ABC News
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