Comic Review – Secret Empire: Omega (Marvel Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“The war is over. All around me my country is regaining what it lost. Healing. Rebuilding. So why am I here?” Captain America

Well Secret Empire is finally complete. It’s been a series not without its controversies, from the backlash against Steve Rogers – a character created by Jewish comic book writers turning to the very far right  to issues around Magneto’s portrayal as a pro-Hydra villain on one of the comic book covers (he very much stays pro-mutant, anti-Hydra throughout) but for me I think there was very much value in the story it sought to tell, as can be seen in a previous article of mine – ‘Captain America and the Rise of Hydra’ (warning, contains political rambling!), found here.

I didn’t however, review issue 10 of Secret Empire. This was honestly because I found it a little disappointing. The series finale felt rushed with a ‘Cosmic Cube fixes the world’ ending and for me personally what I saw as the key idea the writer Nick Spencer was trying to get at wasn’t properly addressed, i.e. Captain America going Hydra being a metaphor for the rise of far right populism in America. That was until now. I picked up Secret Empire Omega a little tentatively, at a high price and off the back of an ending which didn’t quite hit the mark but as I’ll explain, for me Spencer added some of the ideological struggle to the epilogue of this story the ending was sorely missing.

This comic was bought to us by:

  • Writer – Nick Spencer
  • Artist – Andrea Sorrentino
  • Additional Art – Joe Bennett with Joe Pimentel
  • Letterer – VC’s Travis Lanham

The plot to Secret Empire Omega is necessarily simple. Now the fighting is over and the clean-up beginning Steve Rogers, both good (Captain America for reference) and bad (I’ll refer to as Captain Hydra for lack of a better term) clash again. This time in an ideological debate rather than hand to hand combat. There’s a line from Captain America that may communicate Spencer’s feeling on this that he himself may have wanted more time to dig into this during the main series – that when he saw his enemy there wasn’t time to talk, only fight and close the series out. Omega also touches on what the longer lasting impacts of Secret Empire will be – Captain America’s emotional scarring and loss of influence globally (think how America will be post-Trump), the death of a significant character and how other characters are coping now its over.

There is a key message in all this as well, if you read Captain Hydra as a metaphor for modern America – You allowed this to happen. Captain Hydra blame Steve Rogers, Carol Danvers, US politicians and pretty much everyone but himself for his rise to power. It’s possible to read this as a criticism of those with influence in the real world where Trump was elected, which was only possible because of the state of the US to begin with.

I was a little cheeky with this review and had a flick through one or two of the other early reviews before writing. There’s more I wanted to say than normal and it helped to see if I was missing any other major points. One of the reviews I read criticised the artwork, that Sorrentino’s portrayal of the two Cap’s out of costume not distinctive enough. I noticed this as well but actually liked that they were less distinctive. They look very similar and that’s the point. They’re the same or at least the same bar ideals and the point made earlier – that Captain Hydra could take the power he did because of the actions of Captain America amongst others means the line between them is currently a little blurred. There’s a sombre tone to the art in this issue, with a grey pallet used for Captain America and red for Captain Hydra. I feel the art was exactly how it should have been for this issue.

Final Verdict

I have complicated feelings towards Secret Empire as a series, but there was an intent with the story which Spencer sought to tell. If you’d asked me before reading this I would have said the point hadn’t been made properly, now it has. On balance, I would rate the series as a whole at 7.5 out of 10, starting close to 10 but moving down to maybe a 6.5. I would have liked to have seen a more optimistic note struck for the other characters than Cap with all this coming to an end as the series does have a fairly downer ending, that isn’t to say it’s bad though. This issue really helped make the ending much more satisfying for me.

Score: 8.25 Legacies out of 10

Comic Review – Secret Empire #0 (Marvel Comics)

Adam reads as many comics as he can afford. Then he reviews one every other week.

This week saw the start of Secret Empire, the latest event from Marvel comics that marks the culmination of over a year of build up in Captain America Steve Rogers. We’ve been assured that this will be the last major event from Marvel for 18 months after this 9 issue series (although I don’t know if this issue counts as 1 of 9, or 0 of 9…), which is definitely a good thing since everyone is feeling serious event fatigue. Not that every event has been bad (Secret Wars was great), but a break in the constant story interruptions, world resetting, series ending and new #1s is certainly welcome. Here is hoping that Secret Empire leads us into that break on a high. Secret Empire #0 was written by current Captain America (both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson) writer Nick Spencer, with prologue art by Rod Reis, main story art by Daniel Acuña and letters by VC’s Travis Lanham. Cover art was provided by Mark Brooks.

Cover by Mark Brooks

Following on from the events started in Captain America Steve Rogers #1 in May 2016 and the Pleasant Hill event, Captain America has had his reality rewritten by the Red Skull and a sentient cosmic cube in the form of a little girl, known as Kobik. You may have heard about it when the internet melted down as a result. In the new reality, Steve Rogers was recruited by Hydra at a young age to be their spy, and so unbeknownst to all of his allies, Captain America has always been an agent of Hydra. Over the last year he has been maneuvering and scheming his ultimate plan to take over the world, now finally revealing himself and his allegiance to all who thought they knew and trusted him.

I won’t go much more into details of the plot, but Secret Empire #0  is action packed and a thrill to read. Spencer has weaved a layered and complex plot with the fall of the greatest Avenger and his betrayal, and the time he has spent with the character really pays off. The most puzzling aspect of this issue is therefore the question of why this is a #0 rather than the opening issue of the event itself? Zero issues typically set the table for the event, and recap the plot leading up to it for anyone that might not have been following. But Secret Empire #0 seems to be essential reading and an integral part of the story, and it would be confusing and a shame for readers to miss out due to that #0 rather than #1 on the cover. Also I don’t know why Tony Stark is back in the land of the living. I read Invincible Iron Man too and as far as I was aware the only Tony was RiRi Williams’s AI. Is this the AI? Because there was definitely a man inside that can at one point. Those quibbles aside, the storytelling in this issue was great.

Art by Daniel Acuña

As for the art, it is consistently strong throughout. The prologue from Rod Reis is a gorgeous and ethereal opener that displays the weight of the story to come. Acuña’s art throughout the main story is similarly incredible, jumping between some fantastic action that stretches from New York, to Earth’s orbit and the skies above Sokovia, and the dark, heavier moments that drive the plot and show the determination and grim resolve behind the master strategist with his efforts aimed at dominating the world rather than saving it. Acuña’s bold art makes these latter character moments really land, with the surprise these heroes are experiencing feeling really genuine.

Secret Empire is off to a good start, with strong art and a story that feels like a real payoff to a year of story. Issue #0 feels like essential reading for the plot, and even then it may be a little impenetrable to new readers. Even so, I definitely recommend Secret Empire #0,  which you can pick up at your local comic shop or digitally now!

Score: 8 Helicarriers out of 10

 

Pick up the first two volumes of Spencer’s Captain America Steve Rogers run here and here!

Captain America and the Rise of Hydra

Kit reviewed Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 this week (check his review here). He also had a few thoughts about how the story reflects the current political climate in the wake of this week’s election.

Spoilers for the current Captain America story are included

Captain America always has been and always will be a political story. From his original conception of pro-American propaganda during World War 2, to his stance on civil rights and personal freedoms during Civil War and the times he has given up the role of Captain America due to the state of American politics. In my view, this is still entirely the case. I would clarify though, that this is only my reading into and what I took from the comic (Captain America: Steve Rogers #7). It may well not be the original intention of writer Nick Spencer to include such a political message in this story, but if that is the case I would argue Barthes’ Death of the Author theory applies (the idea that whatever the reader reads into a story is valid, whatever the intentions of the author).

It is entirely my belief that Steve Rogers’ current conversion to Hydra is representative of the political climate in the US, UK and large parts of Europe. He is the embodiment of what America should be, and now ideologically he’s a fascist. The fact he’s still working with SHIELD and with the governments of the west against the more blatant fascism of the Red Skull really brings home the point that the current ideals of the west have lurched to the far-right. If he was standing by the Skull, laughing manically it would be a more traditional mind control story, but no, this is the story of western ideology being rewritten to support the political far right.

hydra

One of the things that cut a bit close to the bone was the Red Skull’s speech itself. It is not that far removed from what we hear some political leaders say these days. He simply takes it one step further, not just ‘blame the existing establishments for your suffering’ or ‘blame those who are different’ he’s simply added one or two more steps to reach the point of ‘we must tear them down’. This is why this story is important. It is reflecting the current political mood of populist and charismatic leaders acting as if they’re above the existing establishments and by extension the law, hijacking the narrative to say that it’s those who are different to use that are to blame for our misfortune, despite the fact they face the same struggles we do and while pointing to some parts of the establishment glossing over the fact that they themselves are embedded into other parts of it.

There is sometimes a strange idea that fiction and entertainment should remain politically neutral. That has never been the case. It exists to give us a medium to explore ideas and make sense of them. To show us what is happening and make us think about it.

The thing is, reading this story I have no doubt that soon enough his history will be corrected and Steve will be his good old liberally minded self again. And, if like me you think that way and you’ve been despairing at recent political events, it’s worth remembering that this is not the first, and will not be the last time that it will feel like the world is going to shit, that ignorance, prejudice, discrimination and every ugly aspect of society is on the rise. Every time that has happened though, the world has turned, not without pain, but equality, empathy, compassion and kindness haven’t gone away before and aren’t going to go away now, especially if we stand up for what we believe in and try to understand why someone who thinks otherwise does so.

This story will then be seen, if anyone ever looks back at it, as a reflection of what was happening during 2016, something comics can do so incredibly well. From Steve Rogers punching Hitler, to Iron Man fighting Communists and even Captain Planet telling kids to stay in school and pick up their litter. I consider this to be an ugly year, maybe next year and the year after will be too, but the only good thing about a bad year is that thanks to time being linear it ends. Then we’ll move on and away from it and look back at 2016 and simply wonder “what the fuck” or finally prove that up until then David Bowie was the one holding the fabric of reality together.

Kit

Comic Review – Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 (Marvel Comics)

Our pal Kit reviews comics for us! This is one of those reviews.

Warning: minor spoilers.

“I want to restore the glory of Hydra” Captain America

I’ve been meaning to pick up more Captain America comics. He’s one of my favourite Avengers, especially the way he’s portrayed in the MCU. These days things are not quite as rosy in the comics as they are on the big screen. To bring you up to speed with Issue #1 – 6 there is one big thing you need to know. (SPOILER!) The cosmic cube has been used to warp reality so Steve Rogers has always been a Hydra Agent. I’m sure some fans won’t be too keen on this (see what happened last time) but this is the world of comics. People die, reality gets rewritten, and as long as your name isn’t Uncle Ben one day you’ll be bought back to life/un-mind controlled or reality set back to normal if you’re from the main Marvel or DC universe. Issue #7 is picking up a new story arc, so it’s a good jumping on point. Anyway, this comic was bought to you by:

  • Writer – Nick Spencer
  • Artist – Jesús Saiz
  • Letterer – VC’s Joe Caramagna (when does this guy get time to rest? He seems to do every Marvel issue)
  • Cover – Stephanie Hans
cap-7

Cover by Stephanie Hans

The comic is set during two time periods. One, back when Steve Rogers was a young, proud, Hydra Youth back in 1935, and the other the present day. The flashbacks provide an on-going narrative to give the reader context as to why Cap is now the way he is and fills in a brand new, much darker past for our ‘hero’. Meanwhile the Red Skull is rallying the people of Sokovia while he gathers his plans to take on the world, march across Europe and do all of those classic Nazi things. Steve Rogers meanwhile is having none of that. Yes, he is a Hydra Agent, but he wants the Red Skull out of the picture so he can ‘restore the glory of Hydra’. The Red Skull of course has his own plans. He’s going to take on the world and has something up his sleeve to bring down the best of the best.

Although there’s some action in this comic it is absolutely not the focus. There’s plenty of text to read and story to get into. The stage is being set for the Skull’s, and Cap’s big plans and there is certainly the promise of battles to come. Every character has a very strong presence. I’ve read comics where you could switch the villain, give them the same text and get the same impact. Not this one though. The Skull, Cap, and supporting cast each fulfill their roles as only they can.

cap-interior

Art by Saiz

There are two predominant art styles throughout. The present day and the flashbacks. The present day art itself comes in two tones. When Cap is involved colours are brighter and more intense. When the focus is the Red Skull the pallet is muted and greater attention given to the detailed line work. During the flashbacks Saiz has opted for a more colourless, greyscale pallet, with the exception of school ties and badges. The school kids definitely have a Slytherin-ish feel about them, which fits the setting. They are Hydra, and even at a young age pretty evil afterall.

Saiz has taken on a hell of a lot, doing the entirety of the art for this issue. Are his hand drawing skills up to scratch? With the limited action in this comic the majority of the hand drawing is done to support conversations, communicating power through the Red Skull, nervousness through General Novty and defiance through Steve Rogers. I’d like to see what Saiz can do in a fight scene or two and look forward to the next issues to see. It’s a very solid effort this time around. 8/10 for hand drawing skills!

Final Verdict

One review for this comic dropped it a couple of points for the lack of action and how much text there was. Personally, for the first issue of a new arc I’m don’t think these take away from the issue at all. The characters are given a chance to develop and the stage is now set for what I hope will be a fantastic new arc in Captain America’s story.

Score: 8.5 Unsupervised Creative Expressions out of 10

 

Kit had a few extra thoughts on what the current arc of Captain America represents in the wake of this week’s US Election, the current global political climate and the role of art and fiction have when discussing politics. They are well worth checking out, which you can do right here!

 

Comic Review – Astonishing Ant-Man #1 (Marvel Comics)

Kit is taking over the weekly comic book review because Adam is in the unenviable position of attempting to finish off his PhD.

“I get to see the Ant die…”

“Well, you certainly would—If this weren’t merely a trial demonstration.” – The Power Broker

Warning: minor spoilers.

It’s me again! Carrying on the cover of the Weekly Comic Book reviews whilst Adam continues to procrastinate get LOADS of work done on his thesis. Fortunately I still have it pretty easy pickings, with the continuation of the ‘All New All Different’ Marvel. I’ll be covering another first issue this week, The Astonishing Ant Man #1. Why this? Well it’s brand new and with the recent film – which I loved – it will likely have a fair few interested new readers. Don’t worry DC fans, I’ll pick up a new DC issue soon. After Squirrel Girl #1 (again?) next week.

So, on with the review! The Astonishing Ant Man, written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Ramon Rosanas, like the film follows the Scott Lang incarnation of the hero. We’re introduced to him in a single panel, with a very similar history to the film version of the hero. He’s an ex con, he’s now a hero, he has an ex-wife and a daughter. However in this world his daughter is a teen as opposed to a child. This is what I want in a first issue comic, especially one with a huge amount of back story and history kicking around.

Ant Man 1The story begins fleshing out the Ant Man of this world, and his companions, someone in a bear suit and a talking computer program, with a taste in topless men! The team are down on their luck, trying to make it as a security firm. It seems an ex-hero called Miss Patriot bankrolled them early on, and wants the money the team owe her!

Scott goes to ‘visit’ his daughter, who’s a basket-balling teenager in this comic. We learn that she once had the Pym Particles in her, and has had the powers of Ant Man before. We also learn that Scott is more stalking, than meeting his daughter, spying on her as opposed to talking to her. It turns out he blames himself for a past ‘sickness’ she had, where her heart was apparently stolen by a mad businessman? Yeah. Whereas I felt Spider-Gwen was a little too heavy handed in the flash backs, Ant Man could maybe have done with a little more.

We then get to meet said mad businessman. Mr Cross, who owns Cross Technologies, and now has the Pym Particles inside him, although he doesn’t have entire control over them it seems. We also get to meet Power Broker, a grey man who wants Mr Cross’s business. It seems Mr Cross needs better henchmen, and you know what, there’s an app for that!

A seemingly obscure (at least I’d never heard of) villain is contracted to bring down Ant Man. And the battle begins, just when Scott is off trying to impress a new client! We get to see two battles play out, the one physical one with Ant Man and the henchman and the business ‘battle’ between the Power Broker and Mr Cross.

The comic of course looks great, Ramon Rosanas packs a lot of detail and expression into his panels.

Final Verdict

This is a well written start to a new series. It refers to A LOT of past adventures and heroic escapades compared to Spider-Gwen and Dr Strange. Which would be my main criticism of it. These first issues are supposed to be the jumping on point for new readers, new readers who are often put off by the massive amount of back story out there for each hero. The first page did a great job in setting up the premise of this Ant Man though. If you want to see more antics like the film, and a slightly satirical look at modern super heroes, this is a great series to begin on!

Final Score – 8 Pym Particles out of 10!