SECRET EMPIRE #0 by Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuña
SECRET EMPIRE #0 sets the tone for Marvel's latest crossover event by displaying the scope of Captain America's master plan. Writer Nick Spencer does an excellent job portraying Captain America's plan. Meanwhile, Daniel Acuña's artwork is at times confusing but overall beautiful with its brushstrokes.
82 %
Game Changing

Ever since the controversial reveal in CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #1 that Steve Rogers’ mind has been rewritten into an agent of Hydra, Marvel has been building up to something truly grand. Over the course of the past year, Rogers’ new persona has been manipulating former friends and enemies alike in order to bring Hydra one step closer to total world domination. SECRET EMPIRE #0, the precursor issue for Marvel’s latest crossover event, showcases the payoff of these schemes as Captain America deals a massive blow to heroes across the globe. This issue is indeed devastating when you consider the scope of Rogers’ betrayal, as Nick Spencer’s SECRET EMPIRE #0 sets the stage for a hostile takeover that will rock the Marvel universe to its core.

Secret Empire #0
Image from SECRET EMPIRE #0, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Taking place immediately after the events of CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #16, we learn that the Planetary Defense Shield, Earth’s main line of defense against the looming Chitauri invasion, has been sabotaged. As the newly elected director of S.H.I.E.L.D., Steve Rogers attends to the “damage” that he allowed to happen before Earth is overrun by the extraterrestrial threat. Simultaneously, Rogers and Sharon Carter must also juggle two new threats on opposing sides of the globe: an attack on New York City by former super villain prisoners from Pleasant Hills, as well as Hydra forces that have taken control of Sokovia. With S.H.I.E.L.D.’s forces divided across the world on multiple fronts, the time has finally come for Rogers, Hydra’s new Supreme Leader, to reveal his betrayal to the world.

Captain America: Super Traitor

This grand master plan that Captain America has organized is darkly brilliant in its long-term manipulation, taking advantage of the recent infighting amongst heroes for his own personal needs. In the aftermath of CIVIL WAR II, the Avengers have found themselves heavily divided over a conflict of interests, choosing to let old wounds fester rather than heal them through conversation. Likewise, with S.H.I.E.L.D. becoming more and more distrusted as an organization, the replacement of Maria Hill with Captain America, a figure whom Americans respect, made sense as a means of regaining lost public favor. Yet as more and more authority was given to Rogers, S.H.I.E.L.D. unwittingly placed him in a position of power capable of ensuring their downfall as an organization. There are some obvious references here to the dangers of giving leaders more power in the name of national security, something Rogers ironically stood against during the original CIVIL WAR arc.

WATCH: Get ready for the release of SECRET EMPIRE #1 with this new trailer, courtesy of Marvel!

Perhaps the scariest aspect about Rogers’ new persona is that, minus his shift in allegiances, he retains many of the characteristics that originally made Steve Rogers a hero. This Captain America still remains a strong fighter. He’s charismatic, a tactical strategist, and, above all, he maintains a strong sense of integrity. Captain America has always been a man who fights for ideals rather than the public figures attempting to enforce those ideals. We saw this back in CIVIL WAR, when he fought against the American government to protect his fellow heroes’ individual freedoms. We now see it here, albeit in a twisted manner, with his loyalty to Hydra. As his murder of the Red Skull in CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS #15 revealed, this rewritten Captain America was never loyal to the Skull or the Nazis, but rather the core values and ideals of what Hydra originally stood for: global dominance through fear and control. As the issue itself acknowledges, freed of the shackles of compassion and mercy from his past life, this Steve Rogers is a legitimate threat to everyone.

Shaky Artwork, but Solid Nonetheless

Daniel Acuña’s artwork for this issue is mostly well-drawn, though there are moments where the images look and feel oddly distorted. Unlike the previous flashbacks, which used black, white, and red colors to convey the warping of Rogers’ memories, SECRET EMPIRE #0’s final flashback utilizes a full-color brushstroke design in order to give the memory a dream-like perception. The remainder of the issue shifts to a harsh usage of lines and shadows to convey the darkness of the Avengers’ current situation. On one hand, this art style highlights a handful of good facial responses from characters, allowing them to display feelings of distress throughout the ongoing conflict. Unfortunately, this also results in moments where certain details (i.e. visibility of eyes, position of figure) can feel wonky and blurred from the reader’s vision. Overall this art direction fits the tone of the series, but it could use some refining from here onward.

secret empire #0
Image from SECRET EMPIRE #0, courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Where some previous Marvel crossover events have come across as gimmicky and done for the sake of combative spectacle, SECRET EMPIRE #0 sets the stage for something that is dark and drastic. You genuinely feel that this issue and its storyline will have long-lasting ramifications for the Marvel universe, with an American cultural icon betraying everything he once stood for as a hero. This is something that will not be glossed over so easily in future story arcs, even if the remaining superheroes manage to restore Captain America’s original identity. With our heroes about to experience failure against a newly-empowered Hydra, it will be interesting to see how the remaining forces will unite in order to stand up to this threat in the near future.

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