Hello all; it’s Tyler, a.k.a. the weekly author of The Pull List here at the Ace of Geeks. I’m here to talk to you about Marvel Comics’ Secret Empire crossover event for the first and final time. Speaking with the full support of the editor-in-chief, I am here to say that the Ace of Geeks will not be covering Secret Empire except as my regular comics subscriptions necessitate mentioning it.
CN: From this point on, this article mentions Nazis and the Holocaust fairly liberally, including quotes from various people engaged in the debate about Secret Empire online, and also mentions the current political situation in the United States.
Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for the Secret Empire event follow and are not marked.
For those not in the know, first of all, congratulations. Secret Empire is the latest crossover event to come out of Marvel, hot on the heels of Inhumans vs. X-Men, which as my reviews of the miniseries may tell you was, I thought, fairly well-executed. Marvel, apparently feeling the need to maintain some sort of cosmic balance, then decided to do the Secret Empire event. The event began in 2016 in the first issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers, with the horrifying and offensive decision to reveal that Captain America is a secret HYDRA agent and has been since his glory days in World War II — in other words, the greatest American hero Marvel has to offer us is a Nazi collaborator and spy. This was the launching point for a much larger event, which from what we know right now appears to be a) a long-con plot by HYDRA to allow them to ensnare and eliminate Earth’s heroes and take over, and b) utterly tone-deaf.
The fan reaction to the reveal about Steve Rogers was strident and clear: We do not like this storyline. Unfortunately, Marvel’s reaction to that reaction was…not great. Check out this article from The Mary Sue for comments from both sides, but bottom line: fans were deeply, viscerally upset, and Marvel treated that as “a good thing” because it meant people were having a reaction to their stories. (What is this, the WWE? -Ed)
To indulge in a baseball metaphor: Strike One.
Then there’s the response by Nick Spencer, the writer of the infamous Captain America: Steve Rogers issue. Basically, Spencer doubled down. This Entertainment Weekly article summarizes it well. In it, Spencer insists that this is “not mind control,” that this “really is Steve Rogers.” By Issue #2 of Steve Rogers this was clearly not true (it turns out Kobik, with influence from the Red Skull, rewrote Steve’s memories), but the fact Spencer thought it was OK to pretend that it was true for even a second is insulting to the fans. (He also explicitly links the Red Skull with Nazism, just in case we want to pretend that this does not make Cap a Nazi.) In addition to this tone-deaf response, Spencer has also gotten rather caustically defensive on Twitter, in a series of tweets that I will not attempt to dig up (many are nearly a year old) but which have gotten a lot of attention in social media circles. For the record, this is the same guy who penned the Captain America: Sam Wilson storyline where that Cap fights villains called the Social Justice Warriors and then apologizes if he ever sounded like them, so Spencer’s understanding of what impact his words have is iffy.
And that brings us to this week, and the beginning of the Secret Empire event, with a few “Opening Salvo” tie-in issues and the zero issue of the miniseries itself. In the story, we learned that Captain America has always been evil, and that the Nazis won World War II, and it was only Kobik’s rewriting of reality that created an Allied victory and the necessity for Steve to be a HYDRA sleeper agent. This is likely an attempt to show Steve’s cosmically edited memories and “bring the reader into the moment,” but seriously, implying that the Nazis “should” have won World War II and the Allies had to cheat is far beyond the borders of tasteless. And outside the story, in the real world, Marvel apparently asked comic store staff to wear special retailer HYDRA shirts. This after a series of tie-in variant covers earlier this year that included someone thinking Magneto, Marvel’s most famous Holocaust survivor, should be implied to be a secret HYDRA agent.
Marvel may want to pretend otherwise, but HYDRA are inextricably affiliated with the Nazis; they started out as a Nazi organization, and while Marvel has made some moves to divorce the two over time (especially in the MCU and its affiliated TV shows [ETA: A friend pointed out that on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the literal and symbolic connection between Nazis and HYDRA has been getting deeper, not more disparate, so maybe not so much…]), it’s hard (if not impossible) to remove the cultural memory of a connection to the perpetrators of the Holocaust. And as for Captain America…the most famous picture of Cap is quite literally him punching a Nazi in the face, and then there’s the little matter of him being the creation of two Jewish men. Making him a secret Nazi is a betrayal of everything the character stands for, not just for comics fans but for his creators and for United States culture as we know it.
We are living in a very dangerous, very scary time because of what is happening in the United States. I won’t attempt to get exhaustive about it for the mental health of myself and our readers, but bottom line: when white supremacists are coming out of the woodwork, hate crimes are on the rise, and racism and nativist fear-mongering are becoming dangerously normalized, making Cap a secret Nazi borders on irresponsible. Treating it like any other “hero turns evil for a while” storyline is recklessly blind to the implications of the story, and suggesting a Holocaust survivor like Magneto is a Nazi spy and asking retailers to dress up like a white supremacist group only hammer home the idea that Marvel has no clue about the impact Secret Empire is having. This is not just another fun storyline that shakes up the status quo and “freshens up” comic book continuity; this is actively harmful and not fun. And sure, this might be a “telling reflection of our times,” but as the Mary Sue article above mentions, shouldn’t superheroes be bigger than reality, above these kinds of failings? And then there were those toxic, later-clarified statements made by Marvel editor David Gabriel about diverse books being responsible for their sales slump…
The Pull List I put out every week is, quite literally, my pull list. I am paying for all the comics I read; with rare exceptions (noted when I review them, as with Kingsway West), the Ace of Geeks is not getting review copies. If I review Secret Empire, it means I am giving Marvel money for it, which means I am implying, even if I roast the stories, that pulling tasteless stunts like this storyline is going to drive sales. Secret Empire is offensive to every sensibility I have, and lacks basic decency. For that reason, and all the reasons given above, I will not be subscribing to Secret Empire, and will not discuss the event unless any comics I already read tie into it for an issue or two. I am also seriously reconsidering every single Marvel subscription I have (which is admittedly most of my weekly pull); I am trying to focus my subscriptions on their more diverse, more socially conscious books (America, Champions, Ms. Marvel, Ultimates2, etc.), and ditching as many series as I can to instead pick up indie works. It means that the Ace of Geeks will miss out on covering a major Marvel event, but I’d rather have a gap in our coverage and retain our ethics than the opposite any day of the week.
Thank you for reading. The Pull List will be back next week.