Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Man Who Rules the Wheel

Secret Empire #0-6, #8-10 (Marvel, June-October 2017, $3.99-$4.99)
I'm not always intrigued or impressed by the big publisher tentpole events (case in point, DC's Convergence), but the very idea behind this miniseries—and resulting tie-ins—written by Nick Spencer is genius. The buildup in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers also piqued my interest successfully.

That idea? Kobik, a Cosmic Cube, rewrites reality so Steve Rogers has always been a Hydra sympathizer and, as Captain America, is its supreme leader, "the man who rules the wheel." I've long loved the machinations of Hydra, and the scale and scope of such a betrayal would reverberate widely.

And it does. These 10 issues—I somehow missed #7—range widely and include several wonderful events and ideas. The Chitauri invasion, the emptying of Pleasant Hill into the streets of New York, and the Sokovian coup (it's like a game of Legendary!) conspiring to divide and conquer the heroes open up the opportunity for Cap to be given control of all law enforcement and military forces.

Add to that a planetary defense shield; Blackout (Cloak and Dagger are put to amazing use here); the resulting police state; the Las Vegas underground; Arnim Zola, Doctor Faustus, and Baron Zemo (!!!); Rick Jones; a Tony Stark AI; the Kingpin; seeking help from the Kree and Skrull; a modified Henry Pym; a reborn Bruce Banner; Doctor Strange's real estate negotiations; and a nigh-unbeatable Cap—so much stuff happens over the course of the series. Characters even make Civil War jokes.

On the whole, the story is your standard smash-and-grab collection plot—the heroes and villains race to collect as many pieces of the Cosmic Cube as they can. Each month, the story tied into nine to 15 additional titles, so there was plenty of side story following the main plot, as well as events Beyond the Shield and in Darkforce New York.

In the end, the heroes are re-established as heroes, the villains as villains, and the world returns to more or less the way it was. Skipping #7 left at least one unresolved plot thread—who was the old man rescued in #5, the original Nick Fury again? An illing Bruce Banner? My favorite issues included #3-4's Henry Pym appearance and #2's Darkforce New York and Kingpin focus, both of which resonate well with the most recent Secret Wars, and the latter setting up recent developments in Daredevil quite nicely.

Availability: Secret Empire #0-9 have been collected.

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