I just wrapped up reading Marvel’s Secret Empire #1, the first salvo in the House of Ideas big summer event wherein Captain America reveals himself to the Universe as an agent for Hydra and we see what the country, if not the world, would look like under his rule.
This isn’t a review of the issue, but more about my reaction to the feeling I was left with when I reached the conclusion of the issue and gazed at the advertisements for the next few months of tie-ins.
I wasn’t filled with my normal brand of fanboy excitement. Even during the more questionable sagas that Marvel has released during the summer; I’m looking at you Civil War 2, I was still intrigued enough that I looked forward to reading through the issues just to enjoy the adventure.
But this time…
…this time was different.
I felt depressed. I felt like I wanted to cry.
It wasn’t a reaction to the quality of the comic. The writing, art, colors…etc, where all top-notch. No, this was a deeper reaction. Something inside stirred and I wanted to put a name on it. I wanted to label this emotion to better understand where it was coming from. After hours of self-reflection and thinking back over the countless volumes of Marvel Comics that I have read in the last year, I reached a conclusion; one that I think a large portion of the fanbase shares:
It was disgust.
I’m disgusted at what Marvel has done to its brand. Not in the way that most fans are usually upset, where they fain internet outrage over a character’s gender or how they would draw and write a particular book. It’s not the typical nerd rage. This is something totally different.
To best sum it up, I would describe it thusly—
Marvel has taken the current political and social events of American culture over the last two years and introduced a reality into comics that not only divides an already temperamental fanbase, but mirrors the more unfavorable elements of our time and age.
Captain America; The pillar of American symbolism has been co-opted and corrupted as a symbol for his lifelong enemy, this is a thinly veiled metaphor for the office of the President of the United States being linked to dirty dealings with Russia. Instead of getting outraged at the underhanded and crooked dealings of Donald Trump, we see Cap selling out his country; breaking any trust that fans have had for the shield slinger.
Nick Spencer has done his best to break the biggest patriotic icon in comics and unfortunately he has succeeded. Spencer has undermined the fabric of Captain America, so much so, that readers will never be able to really trust Steve Rodgers again. This will be an event in the character’s history that will mire his legacy… just like the current presidential regime has embarrassed the U.S. and will have a lasting political impact for decades, if not longer.
Marvel has taken this storyline and pushed it to the forefront of their releases. Marvel is forcing an already tense public to face off with these ideals at a very tumultuous time in our nation’s history. Those in the Democratic party and those who have removed their support for the current Republican ran government; who are still feeling the sting of the events that have transpired since the 2016 Presidential election, are not yet ready to have our escapist form of entertainment pick up and reflect our current events just yet.
It’s hitting too close to home. It’s too much.
I voted for Clinton in the 2016 election. (In full disclosure I also voted for Republican candidates in local races; I am not a hardline voter) I was vocal and staunch in my support as the election drew near. Living in the middle of Kansas, a state that is red as red can be, I was surrounded by political opposition daily. The night of the election came and went, and for the first time since 9/11 I cried for the fate of my country. I was embarrassed and heartbroken.
Marvel has taken that night and stretched it out into a full blown storyline. The bad guy, who we thought was a good guy, has royally f***ed us! The country has been misled. Our American dream quickly spun into a nightmare. Now the fans who are like me, and I’m going to guess that’s about half, are now facing off with these same feelings all over again in our favorite medium, with our favorite characters.
Over the last few years Marvel has been misfiring when it comes to what the fans want… a fanbase who honestly seems to be changing their minds constantly. I wouldn’t want to be an editor right now, it seems that the social climate is so hostile to change that any movement to bring about something new and fresh is met with open derision.
But this latest summer event feels different. This feels like the culmination of one too many mistakes. Cap is evil, Iron Man is a hologram, Hulk is a kid, there are too many Spider-Man titles to know which Spider-Man is THEE Spider-Man, (are we going with Parker or Morales? Pick one Marvel!) There are multiple Thor’s, the Inhumans and the X-Men are off playing in their own universes, and characters like Daredevil and Punisher seem to dance in and out of the main universe’s continuity.
In short; Marvel has gotten too f***king confusing to keep track of. It doesn’t help matters that I don’t know the reading order of titles anymore. Are we still doing the ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT Marvel? Is it now POINT ONE Marvel? Has it changed back to just REGULAR Marvel? I’ve been a Marvel fan for 25 years and I DON’T KNOW HOW TO READ MARVEL ANYMORE!
Take the constant starts and stops, re-launches, re-imaginings, and put them in front of a new fan. Where do you start? Which books have survived the constant reshuffling of the last decade that a new reader can find a foothold into getting into Marvel.
The one good thing that I believe is going to come from the “Secret Empire” event is that the cosmic cube that started all of this Captain America madness is going to come back into play and set the Marvel Universe right… But why stop there?
This is a golden opportunity for Marvel to finally a rock solid line-up of titles moving forward. Let’s say that the cube not only corrects the history of Cap, but also removes all of the jumbled mess that has become Marvel’s continuity! In a flash of energy the cube could set right all the editorial missteps and mistakes.
This is an opportunity for Marvel to right the ship. It is a chance to build a friendlier company for the readers. It’s also an olive branch to those of us who are going to be very raw after picking at that already sensitive political nerve after Empire is over.
Marvel will lose fans to Secret Empire. It’s too much reality for readers who are already wrestling with how to confront the real world on a daily basis. I’m sure that as time moves on, away from the current political hotbed, I will revisit this event in full, but right now I’ll be investing my money and my energy elsewhere. I’m guessing that there will be a fair number of fans that will also do the same.
Regardless of my own politics, I urge you to make up your own mind and check out the first issue of Secret Empire for yourself. If you enjoy it, then have fun! I hope that it delivers success for Marvel; I’m not trying to campaign against the company or its creators, but this current product is not for me, no judgment on fans that do like it. More power to those of you who can overlook the political and social aspects of this series and just enjoy it as the comic that it is.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Let me know what you think in the comments below.