Marvel Comics writer Nick Spencer is no stranger to controversy. Back in May 2016, he set the Internet ablaze when he launched Captain America: Steve Rogers in a dark, politically-charged direction. He revealed that Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, has been corrupted by the power of a Cosmic Cube. His life rewritten, the Champion of Liberty is now an agent of Hydra!
For all the fury and outrage Spencer was subject to, sales of Captain America: Steve Rogers have been consistently impressive. In perhaps the most divisive election in the history of the USA, Spencer used the twin Captain Americas — Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson — to quietly ask disturbing questions about American self-identity. #Marvel clearly approved; this year's Summer event is "Secret Empire", launching off the back of this arc.
As we all know, the USA is now governed by President Donald J. Trump. Just one week after Trump's inauguration, Nick Spencer's story has escalated, ready for the Summer event.
Frankly, it rather feels as though Marvel Comics is declaring war on Donald J. Trump.
Captain America Commands The Marvel Universe
Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 resolves a long-running arc; Maria Hill, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., is sacked. At pretty much the same time, Sharon Carter is using Captain America's name to force a controversial new bill through the US government. This bill gives S.H.I.E.L.D. more funding than ever before, and even introduces new powers; in the event of a national emergency, S.H.I.E.L.D. takes command of the armed forces, the emergency services, and even the police.
Steve Rogers's plan was simple; to give S.H.I.E.L.D. unlimited power, and to install Sharon Carter — someone he could manipulate — as Director. Unfortunately, Carter understands how controversial these new powers are, and feels that the public needs someone they can trust. They need a symbol.
They need Steve Rogers to once again become Director of S.H.I.E.L.D..
So it is that Steve Rogers, a Hydra agent, becomes Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., at a time when S.H.I.E.L.D.'s powers have been extended beyond belief.
One week after the inauguration of Donald J. Trump, over in the comics we're seeing Captain America sworn in as Director of this new, dangerously powerful S.H.I.E.L.D.. That takes place in this week's other major release, Civil War II: The Oath (also written by Nick Spencer). This issue draws a throughline from the "Civil War II" event to the upcoming "Secret Empire"; it reveals that Ulysses's visions of the future had a far more significant impact than we'd thought.
One of the key events of "Civil War II" was a strange, unexplained vision that showed Miles Morales's Spider-Man killing Captain America. It seems that's still haunting Miles; but it also seems that Steve Rogers got a lot more than just that. He caught a glimpse of a world in which Hydra triumphed. And if he had to die for that to happen? Well, he was willing.
The Oath is a tremendous issue, one that dives deep into Steve Rogers's mind. Carefully paralleling the end of the original "Civil War" event, Spencer has Steve Rogers give three speeches; one to the public, one to Carol Danvers, and one to the comatose Tony Stark. To say they're chilling is an understatement, but I challenge any reader not to see the political nods Spencer is making. Steve Rogers argues that #IronMan and his ilk have been so busy building a complex world that they've left the people behind, that they've lost the public's trust. Rogers's goal isn't just to change the world; it is to burn down the system and to build something new. Something that, to his mind, is greater.
Don't read this expecting the parallels to get too explicit, of course; the reality is that Spencer's book will have been written a couple of months back, when Trump's victory was known, but certain events — such as his inaugural speech — had yet to happen. So don't read either Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 or The Oath expecting to see conscious nods to those events. Instead, expect to see implicit trends, ones that closely — and disturbingly — mirror the real world.
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The pieces are falling into place for "Secret Empire". Nick Spencer's arc has focused on exploring the confused, contradictory nature of American self-identity; that's set to continue. Spencer, you see, stands proudly in the traditional of comic books with political power; a tradition that runs back all the way to when Steve Rogers punched Adolf Hitler in the jaw, and beyond, to when Martin Luther used sequential images as he called for Reformation of the Church.
With the United States only more divided after that last Presidential election, Nick Spencer — and Marvel Comics — are making very public, very overt, criticisms of Donald Trump's politics. This is sure to anger some, and delight others; but, if sales of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 are anything to go by, it will be as much successful as it will be controversial.
Are you looking forward to 'Secret Empire'?
(Poll Image Credit: Marvel Comics)