PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Comics

Plots, Premonitions, and Pitfalls for an Empire in 'Secret Empire #7'

Images courtesy of Marvel Comics

The cracks in Hydra's empire widen as drama and losses escalate.


Leinil Francis Yu

Secret Empire

Publisher: Marvel
Price: $3.99
Writer: Nick Spender
Publication date: 2017-07-26
Amazon

Every evil empire, from Star Wars to all the organizations in a James Bond movie, goes through a cycle of self-destruction. It's part of a tried and true narrative wherein members of an authoritarian regime tries so hard to secure absolute control that they strain themselves and their resources. It doesn't help that these regimes tend to make a lot of enemies, many of which have little to lose and an abundance of targets. For a Hydra-affiliated Captain America, he's achieved a greater level of success than the Red Skull ever could, but he also made himself a huge target in the process.

Throughout the course of Secret Empire, as well as the events that led up to it, Nick Spencer puts Captain America in a high-risk, high-reward position. He is the unambiguous leader and visionary for Hydra, but he's also the perfect target for his enemies and former friends. His role in Secret Empire is akin to the design flaw in the Death Star. It's not very big and it's surrounded by all sorts of machinery, but the flaw is still there. The Avengers, the X-men, and everyone who doesn't enjoy living under Hydra's boot has a clear target and an easy rallying cry. No matter how powerful an empire is, this kind of vulnerability will create cracks.

With each issue of Secret Empire, Spencer reveals and widens certain cracks. Like the plot that put Captain America at the head of Hydra, the vulnerabilities of Hydra's empire are emerging subtly and steadily. The Avengers understand what they have to do to take Hydra down. Cap understands as well, but also has to contend with growing mistrust and dissension among Hydra's ranks. Like any evil empire, unity and organization is a luxury and not a given.

There are all sorts of conflicting plots surrounding Hydra, Captain America, and the Avengers. A few have a foundation going back to the events of Civil War II. Some of those plots are finally starting to converge as the event nears its conclusion. Secret Empire #7 acts as both a turning point and a clear sign that the cracks in Hydra's world are about to turn into gaping wounds. As far as evil empires go, Spencer makes sure that Hydra is right on schedule.

From the very beginning of Secret Empire, and even a little bit before that, Captain America goes out of his way to make sure he's in a position of strength while his former allies are not. He arguably pulls off the greatest tactic in the history of the Marvel universe, dividing every major hero and using all the trust they ever put into Captain America against them. Nobody not armed with the Cosmic Cube, a time machine, or a cozy relationship with Marvel's editorial staff can hope to match that kind of subversion.

At the same time, however, Captain America's elaborate efforts have an unavoidable side-effect that even the Cosmic Cube can't avoid. It both humbles and enrages the heroes he worked so hard to defeat. From Captain Marvel to Black Widow to Squirrel Girl, every hero opposing Hydra's regime is battered and wounded, both physically and mentally. They're all in an impossible situation where they're fighting more than just Hydra. They're fighting someone who exposed their greatest vulnerabilities and exploited their trust.

It is, by every measure, a major low point for all those not on board with Hydra. Spencer uses this dire situation to give certain characters a moment of self-reflection. For many, it's overdue. For some, it's unavoidable. It's this self-reflection that helps make Secret Empire the kind of conflict that feels both epic and personal. It also hits hard in terms of drama, making the grim situation feel that much more intimate.

Of all the characters who feel the gravity of the situation in Secret Empire #7, it's Captain Marvel and Miles Morales who get hit hardest. Arguably, Captain Marvel's solemn admissions of failure and humility are overdue. For a character who has a movie coming out in two years and always seems too ambitious for her own good, it's a powerful moment that feels reflective of how many heroes feel after Hydra's triumph. It may not make it into a movie, but it's the kind of insight that can only be shown when a character is at their lowest.

For Miles Morales, the stakes are a bit more pressing. Since Civil War II, he lives with the burden of being destined to kill Captain America, according to a vision of the future. Granted, that vision occurs before Captain America is exposed as a Hydra agent, but it still haunts him. He and Black Widow have a chance to change how that vision plays out. It culminates in one of the most dramatic, and bloody, moments in Secret Empire to date. Vision or no vision, it's a moment meant to strike an emotional chord and it succeeds, albeit in part.

It's that same moment that also exposes some of the flaws in Secret Empire #7. While it succeeds in tying the events of Secret Empire with the events of Civil War II, the path the narrative follows is uneven and chaotic at times. While it never feels rushed, it does feel messy in the sense that there's so much going on and it's hard to follow the journey for certain characters. That ensures some of those dramatic moments feel hollow.

It's not that the moment has no impact at all. It just comes off as too easy. Given all the drama the entire Marvel universe endures in avoiding the visions in Civil War II, the choices that characters like Miles make and the impacts of those choices don't strike enough of those emotional chords. It creates connections, but not much else. In the end, it feels more like a teenager who just doesn't want to be told what to do rather than someone making the right decision.

Even with the chaotic plot structure, Secret Empire #7 makes clear that Hydra's hold is weakening. Even Steve Rogers is starting to crack under the pressure. Like so many other evil empires before them, he and Hydra are starting to realize that managing a chaotic world full of angry superheroes who don't enjoy being tricked is not easy. At some point, the chaos overwhelms even the mightiest armies. Hydra may be as powerful as any evil organization, but even they can't micromanage beyond a certain extent.

While certain moments struggle to create an impact, the overall story of Secret Empire remains on track. Like a slow-building firestorm, it's finally getting noticeably hot and the artwork of Leinil Francis Yu ensures it's a spectacle to behold. With only a few issues left, Hydra is facing many headaches and for an army that claims to have so many heads, that's saying something.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.