Every Marvel comic reader knows that Marvel loves their events. Some are small events that are held within a small subset of titles (such as the Spider-Man event of Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy and the Avengers-related story arc of Standoff). More often than not, their events are larger and more world-impacting, such as Inhumans vs X-Men and Secret Wars, the two most recent large-scale events. Now, Marvel is bringing one more event to print in May 2017 with Secret Empire, a story that has been in the works for a while now. So what is Secret Empire? Well, below there be spoilers of what has happened over the last year-plus in a few different Marvel books so if you don’t want to know what’s what there stop reading now.
Well, OK then. Here we go with “The Road to Secret Empire“.
Although there are many points which make sense to go back to in order to identify when Secret Empire began, starting with the mini-event of Standoff makes the most sense.
Pleasant Hill is a small town that exists within the Marvel Universe. In reality, prisons within the United States can be found near small towns, which can result in those towns actual being somewhat prosperous. A similar effect can happen in a fictional universe such as the Marvel Universe (MU), with the town of Pleasant Hill being such a small town. Only this town is not near a prison – it actually is the prison and created in such a way that can only exist in the MU.
Just about every resident is a super villain. But they don’t know that. SHIELD had used the power of a Cosmic Cube – a very powerful artifact in the MU which can effectively do anything its bearer controls it to do – to mind-wipe all of the villains and implant new personalities into them. It recreated everyone ground up – personality, appearance, demeanor… Everything. Now, most times when the Cosmic Cube is used, someone is holding it and making the changes. (More often than not, this has been the Red Skull.) This time, the Cube has sentience and has manifested itself into the form of a young girl name Kubik. Under the guidance of Mayor Maria Hill (also known as Maria Hill, vice-director of SHIELD), Kubik affected the reality of the town’s inhabitants, with the exception of some SHIELD personnel and some other staff members keeping an eye on things (including one Dr. Erik Selvig).
When the villains started regaining their personalities, including such villains as Baron Helmut Zemo and the Fixer, a revolt occurred in town which resulted in the SHIELD head office (aka Town Hall) being attacked. The villains in town started to regain their memories, personalities, and original forms, and starting to come together (as happens in pretty much every good prison-break movie and story ever written).
While all this was going down, the Winter Soldier (aka Bucky, the original Captain America’s partner from the 1940s) returned to Earth from the moon (don’t ask – check out yet another Marvel event called Original Sin for the skinny on what happened there) due to his understanding of an impending catastrophe involving SHIELD. (Said catastrophe being the memory restoration of the villains in Pleasant Hill.) SHIELD, however, did not want the knowledge of who the townsfolk were being released and so took steps to capture the Winter Soldier. Now we all know what happens in comic books when this happens – a big fight scene goes down and Winter Soldier escapes, but not before leaving a message for the current commander of SHIELD – one Steve Rogers, aka the original Captain America, aged significantly to be a man in his 80s.
Rogers follows Winter Soldier and eventually ends up in Pleasant Hill, just as the villains are regaining their memories. Maria Hill is injured, and with the help of one of the townsfolk not changed by Kubik (Father Patrick), Rogers takes her to see Dr. Selvig. With the nature of the injuries, Selvig suggests getting Kobik who can make things better, and Rogers heads out to find her. As he does, he is attacked by Crossbones, the right-hand man of the Red Skull, who beats Rogers within inches of his life. Kobik is around, though, and restores Rogers to his prime. Pairing up with both the Winter Soldier and the current Captain America (Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon, the man who was hand-picked by Rogers to take on the mantle), and they take down Crossbones.
Little did any of them know that Father Patrick was actually the Red Skull in disguise, using stolen powers to hide his appearance from everyone, but being in a position to manipulate Kobik to helping him…
After this ending, 4 series continued the saga of these characters…
Another iteration of the Thunderbolts, with villains teaming up in order to achieve redemption. The players here are predominantly made up of the original Thunderbolts team from 20 years ago – the former Masters of Evil: Moonstone, Mach X/Beetle, Atlas/Goliath, and Techno/Fixer. Later on they are joined by Songbird/Screaming Mimi, another founder of the original team, who has most recently served a stint as an Avenger.
Leading this team is not the same as the original team, but rather the Winter Soldier. He is taking on this team as they have left from Pleasant Hill as his own, hoping to lead them to their own level of redemption. He has also taken on the role of caretaker for Kubik, the sentient Cosmic Cube from above. Although taking care to teach her right from wrong, Kubik remembers her “friends” from Pleasant Hill. During one significant encounter, she shows Winter Soldier an event that showcases her power…
Captain America – Sam Wilson
Once Steve Rogers aged, the mantle and burden of Captain America passed to his longtime partner, Sam Wilson. Alongside his own support team of Misty Knight, D-Man, and a brand new Falcon, Sam has tried to do his best to uphold the role and responsibility of the persona he has adopted.
This series is different, as it deals with Sam trying to deal with the stress. On top of that, all the different activities and threats to his role as Cap continue to mount, and begins to deal with a whole bunch of similar but enhanced stresses: racism, police violence, and becoming the middleman in dealing between the system he represents and the people who he has an obligation to. On top of that, a young hero who Sam had wanted to take under his wing – Rage, both a New Warrior and an Avenger – was arrested and convicted, and then beaten near to death while in prison.
With all of these events coming down, Sam begins to doubt his role as Captain America and questions whether the current regime is right and what he should do about it. There is only one man that he can lean on, who always has the right answers…
Although there are a number of Avengers team out there, this series focuses on the Unity Squad, a team made up of Avengers, X-Men, and now some Inhumans (and even a former member of the FF), showcasing how the different groups can work together. This team has had a number of incarnations over the last few years, but this most recent group (which includes Deadpool if you can believe it, mostly because he has a strong respect for Steve Rogers) which is led by Rogue of the X-Men takes on one of the biggest bad guys in the MU: The Red Skull.
The Red Skull in this series is different than in the past. Although his body is a cloned version of Steve Rogers, which means he has enhanced stamina and strength due to the Super Soldier Serum, but he now has some additional powers. In an earlier iteration of this title, he dug up the deceased Professor Charles Xavier. Why?
So he could remove Xavier’s brain and have it surgically merged with his own, giving him telepathic powers. Which is how he managed to fly under the radar in Pleasant Hill and make such headway into moving his plan forward, which included befriending and manipulating young Kobik. And he most definitely can; after all, no one has had as much experience in manipulating the Cosmic Cube as the Skull.
But what exactly did the Skull do while being Kobik’s friend?
Captain America – Steve Rogers
The final regular series that impacted this arc is the obvious one – Captain America, Steve Rogers. This was the first series to focus on the return of Rogers into character, and the first issue really led up to a cliffhanger that made Marvel fans lose their collected shit:
Yes, it turns out that Steve Rogers has been a long-time agent of Hydra. Wait, what?
It turns out that when Kobik restored Steve, the Skull had suggested that Kobik make changes to Rogers past. This basically made Steve Rogers the ultimate double-agent, working for Hydra the whole time. Little things have crept up that showcases how Rogers has been acting under both umbrellas for some time, especially now that he is the head of SHIELD and has the confidence of the world governments, the super-hero community, and the general populace. No one is more trusted than Steve Rogers.
But remember above when it was mentioned that Kobik had also impacted the Winter Soldier? Well, it turns out she took his consciousness and transported it into his younger body, preventing Bucky from being “killed” by the experimental aircraft that seemingly took his life. But as this played out, Bucky was also made aware of Steve’s alliances with Hydra, showcasing to someone apart from those directly involved as to the deception.
And this brings us up to…
Which leads us up to the upcoming Secret Empire event launching in May 2017. In order to get everyone hyped up, Marvel has now released a new trailer for the event.
Marvel has announced this will be the last event for a while, especially with event overload. This time, Marvel is listening to its fan base and taking a much-deserved break. This is good.
Hopefully they have also listened to their fanbase and made this event good with an ending that is deserving of the attention it is receiving. Based on what I have read in Spencer’s Captain America series’ so far, I have high confidence, but only time will tell.