C2E2 2017: Secret Empire is Footloose and Context Free
Thanks to the clutchness of my former podcast co-host and current Comicosity writer, Terrence Sage, I got a front row seat to the Secret Empire panel at C2E2 on Saturday where editors Christina Harrington, Nick Lowe, and Wil Moss discussed Marvel‘s summer event with writers Nick Spencer and Margaret Stohl in addition to PR guy, Chris D’Lando. The panel solidified my idea that Secret Empire is a series that will be filled with twists, turns, and various summer blockbuster flourishes, but is unaware of the context or larger world around. Throughout the panel, Spencer stressed the fact that Secret Empire is apolitical even though it is clearly about the secret rise of fascism in the Marvel Universe with references to the Axis Powers starting on page one of issue zero. This is pretty painful because both Captain America’s co-creator Jack Kirby fought in World War II and the cover of Captain America Comics #1 famously featured Cap punching Adolf Hitler although the United States was still neutral.
But the panel wasn’t all negatives. Thanks to Steve McNiven and Andrea Sorrentino, Secret Empire is going to have some glorious artwork. On the tie-in front, there was talk about the rise of the Blue team of X-Men and Matthew Rosenberg and Javier Garron’s Secret Warriors as the de facto antifa resistance. Mighty Captain Marvel writer Margaret Stohl was the hero of the panel as she redeems Carol Danvers from being an authoritarian herself in Civil War Ii and back to being one of the Marvel Universe’s greatest soldiers in the upcoming “Band of Sisters” storyline. In keeping with its name, this storyline was inspired by watching documentary footage of World War II, including the Battle of Midway and the D-Day landing.
The panel kicked off with Chris D’Lando and Nick Spencer doing a two man PR spiel for Secret Empire and its core tie-ins, Captain America Sam Wilson and Captain America Steve Rogers. Spencer stressed that this story was his own idea that he came up with in early 2015. Secret Empire didn’t come out of Marvel editorial retreat, and Spencer pitched it personally to Tom Brevoort. I can definitely respect Secret Empire coming organically from Nick Spencer’s work on the Captain America titles and Avengers: Standoff. However, he use our favorite magical MacGuffin, the Cosmic Cube quite a lot. This reality warping thingamabob could offer an instant reset with its cosmic abilities although Spencer stressed to fans that he wouldn’t “walk back” anything in this storyline.
Divorced from any kind of historical or sociopolitical context, Secret Empire has some cool things going for it with a two front war with Captain Marvel, Alpha Flight, and the Guardians of the Galaxy taking on the Chitauri, heroes like the Defenders, Dr. Strange, and Cloak and Dagger, battling in the Dark Dimension, and the rest of the heroes fighting HYDRA in Washington DC. Secret Empire #2 will contain the reveal that Steve Rogers is evil in the form of a beautiful mosaic double page spread from Andrea Sorrentino while issue 3 will take place in space. It’s the big heroes vs villain event that many fans have been looking for, but the biggest villain of them all happens to be the former moral center of the Marvel Universe. Oh, and there’s going to be mini Cosmic Cubes to promote the event that look kind of cute and are better than comic book store employees dressing up like mythological creature themed Nazis.
Spencer, D’Lando, and Marvel executive editor Nick Lowe teased some of the tie-ins too. Captain America Steve
Rogers will focus on Cap as basically dictator of the United States and feature guest appearances from the journalists of Civil War: Frontline and Namor. Two of those three things are excellent, and the friendship between Namor and Steve as members of the Invaders in World War II has always fascinated me. Doctor Strange #21 marks the debut of a new creative team of Dennis Hopeless and Nico Henrichon, artist of Pride of Baghdad as well as lots of monsters in the Dark Dimension. I haven’t followed the new Doctor Strange series, but the combination of excellent art and guest appearances by cast members from the late, great Spider-Woman means I’ll give the new run a shot.
Lowe also mentioned Amazing Spider-Man #29, which stars the Superior Octopus, or Dr. Octopus in a new body working for HYDRA. It looked like Richard Spencer’s ultimate wet dream as drawn by the talented Stuart Immonen. There will also be an anthology series called Secret Empire: Brave New World starring obscure, yet insanely awesome Marvel characters, like Blade, Domino, and of course, Bob, Agent of HYDRA from Deadpool. Some highlights of Brave New World‘s creative team included Ethan Sacks (Formerly of the New York Daily News) writing a story from the POV of the Daily Bugle and Kim and Kim creator Magdalene Visaggio doing a Starbrand one.
Editor Christina Harrington cheered up some of the X-Men fans in the room by teasing X-Men Blue #7 and the first look at #8 and #9, which will focus on the return of Emma Frost and Polaris. In the Q and A, she said that Emma will be “back in white” and hinted at her having her diamond form too and also hinted at other guest stars in the run. Nothing was mentioned about Holocaust survivor Magneto’s role in the fight against HYDRA, and hopefully as the secret team leader of the X-Men’s Blue team, he will be beating them up with magnetic things.
Wil Moss followed up with Secret Warriors #1, which will be written by Matthew Rosenberg, drawn by Javier Garron, and have one of the most stacked non-Avengers/X-Men team lineups, including Quake, Ms. Marvel, Moon Girl, Devil Dinosaur, Karnak, and Inferno. It has a fun, yet highly problematic premise of the Secret Warriors traveling across the US and liberating Inhumans from internment camps that are scarily like the ones in Chechnya for gay men. (I discuss this troubling fact with Matthew Rosenberg in an upcoming interview.) Rosenberg has shown a knack for comedy with Rocket Raccoon and We Can Never Go Home was a great road trip story so I have high hopes for this series, which could make fetch, er, Inhumans happen. Also, the X-Men are popping up in Secret Warriors #3
The highlight of the Secret Empire panel was Margaret Stohl’s enthusiasm for Captain Marvel, and hopefully she has a long run with the character like Kelly Sue DeConnick. Stohl that the upcoming arc of Mighty Captain Marvel would get back to what Carol does best “kick ass in space” and set her up as the ultimate soldier of the Marvel Universe like Steve Rogers used to be. But the book won’t just be rah rah and punching as she will also focus on young people’s first experience in combat through the Alpha Flight cadets, including the Wakandan Aki and Dante, who appeared in the YA novel Black Widow: Forever Red that Stohl also wrote. Margaret Stohl’s take on Secret Empire seems more grounded than Nick Spencer’s with her focus on things like the horrors of war and resisting authoritarianism instead of sensationalism and retconning iconic characters.
Usually, the Q&A sessions of most panels are filled with stuttering and long self-serving fan monologues, but the one for the Secret Empire was quite amusing. I did a Storify of my live tweets of it here, but some of the highlights were Nick Spencer’s edgy love Carol Danvers’ idea for a surveillance state, saying that tearing down an iconic character is a “redemption story” and a kid (Possibly a Marvel plant) ripping off a Superman t-shirt so he could read an early copy of Secret Empire #1.
On a more serious note, I was kind of saddened when a veteran told Spencer and the panel that Secret Empire had angered some veterans who look up to Captain America and his service as a soldier. Let’s just say there was much back pedaling involved in Spencer’s response to her showing that Spencer uses the trappings of fascism in his loud, quippy action driven stories like Michael Bay uses American nationalism in his. At least, Spencer has jokes as evidenced by Superior Foes, The Fix, and the Guardians of the Galaxy’s dialogue in Secret Empire #0.
My main takeaways from Secret Empire is that it has some exciting elements, including mass superhero battles, Carol Danvers being a hero again, and Andrea Sorrentino artwork, but it seems divorced from any kind of nuance and real-world relevance. This is troubling when the bad guys are Neo-Nazis and not just “for the evulz” supervillains. But Mighty Captain Marvel, Secret Warriors, and Secret Empire: Brave New World should be fun reads.
(Plot twist: I hadn’t even read Secret Empire #0 when I attended this panel…)