Tomorrow sees the release of Secret Empire #1, and with it the beginning of the end to what may well be the most controversial story in Marvel Comics' 60-year history. Last year, Nick Spencer's Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 shocked the world as it closed with a startling revelation - that #CaptainAmerica, Steve Rogers himself, was an agent of Hydra! Secret Empire brings that story to a close, and Marvel's just issued a statement asking fans to bear with them - and judge the arc when it's complete, not when it's still unfinished.
In a statement to ABC News, #Marvel said:
"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."
#Comics are an episodic medium, which each issue leading on to the next. In the short-term, each issue hopefully triggers a powerful, evocative reaction. But the writer's eye is always to the long game, judging each issue by how it works as a part of his or her arc. Comic book fans all too often focus in on their immediate reaction, failing to see where the writer is planning to take an idea, or how it's going to play out in the long term.
Personally, I can't help wondering how the modern world would react to the likes of, say, the Dark Phoenix Saga. In that arc, the much-loved Jean Grey - one of the original #XMen - went insane and went on a cosmic rampage. She literally went so far as to feed on a star, committing an act of genocide. If you read a single issue on its own, you'd be shocked. Read the whole arc, and the narrative is beautiful and brilliant. It's widely considered one of the best stories Marvel's ever told.
Fans are judging the 'Hydra Cap' twist too soon. We don't yet know the full story. Nick Spencer's writing is excellent, and I'm convinced that the payoff will be tremendous. I'm not saying this will be a classic like the Dark Phoenix Saga, or Superior Spider-Man, another renowned arc that was initially hated by fans, but actually, I wouldn't be surprised.
A Change In Tone
That said, I have to say that Marvel's statement to ABC marks a bit of a change in tone. Up until now, the publisher has been remarkably bullish in its defense of #SecretEmpire. Partly that's because of the pressure they've been under, with writers and editors coming in for an incredible amount of flak on social media, but it's driven the company to be increasingly assertive in its own defense. That hasn't gone unnoticed in the comic book industry. As one retailer observed:
"Both Marvel and Nick Spencer have been very vocally attempting to invalidate the emotions people have been feeling."
What's more, Marvel's seemingly tone-deaf marketing for the event - including inviting retailers to join Hydra and deck out their store in full Hydra regalia - hasn't exactly helped.
In contrast, though, this statement dials back on the assertiveness. It's a calm, considered plea to let the publisher finish its controversial story before you judge it. In a sense, it's an olive branch.
A Promise From Marvel Comics
The statement concludes with a promise from Marvel that should thrill #comicbook readers:
"What you will see at the end of this journey is that [Captain America's] 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."
Marvel's promise is that, when this story is over, Secret Empire will remind the world just what it is that makes #SteveRogers so remarkable. I have no idea how that's going to work out - but that's largely because the story is not yet complete. Marvel's assurance is that they went into this plot knowing exactly how it would end, and that it will demonstrate Captain America's goodness once again.
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Marvel's right. We need to tone down our reactions and recognize that we are not the writers, and we don't yet know how the story is going to end. Personally, taking a step back, I've found Nick Spencer to be an excellent writer. I may not always agree with the assertive way Marvel has promoted this arc, but I'm willing to give them - and Nick Spencer - the benefit of the doubt. I'm pretty sure Marvel knows the character of Captain America better than we do.
Are you planning to pick up 'Secret Empire' #1?
(Credit: ABC News; Poll Image Credit: Marvel Comics)