For the duration of Marvel’s Secret Empire event (which sort-of launches this week with issue #0), I’ll be writing an ongoing series of posts about the story, which sees the Hydra Captain America succeed in leading a Hydra takeover of America.
Just as Secret Empire will be the culmination of Nick Spencer’s Hydra Cap story, these “Notes from the Secret Empire” will be the culmination of a number of posts that I’ve made about Captain America since last summer. In this series, I plan to review each issue of Secret Empire (as well as the related issues of Captain America: Steve Rogers, Captain America: Sam Wilson, and perhaps other tie-in issues as well), and I will also discuss the political and philosophical implications of the series (both for the Marvel Universe and for the real world).
Love him or hate him, Spencer’s work on Captain America has given us some of the best comics that Marvel has produced in a long time: the story has been topical, but it hasn’t usually been clumsy in its handling of current sociopolitical themes; the pacing of the series from issue to issue has been very well-handled; the art has been reliably good in both books and from artist to artist; and even though the premise of a Hydra Captain America could easily be clunky in the hands of a lesser writer, Spencer has managed to make this Cap both believable and—in an often disturbing sort of way—sympathetic.
But here at the outset I’d like to point out a problem with how topical the story has been. The Hydra Cap story tries in many ways to be a story about America in the age of Trump; about a GOP that has abandoned many of its core principles for Trumpism; about an America that has seen its two political parties become so polarized that we now barely function as a society; about an America that is ripe for the rise of an oppressive regime (or might already be one). In case this wasn’t clear to readers from the beginning, Civil War II: The Oath beat us over the head with the idea:
The problem with this reading of the Hydra Cap story is that the resemblance between the Hydra Steve Rogers and Donald Trump is . . . well, there isn’t much resemblance. I try to avoid outright partisanship on this blog, so I’m neither going to defend or attack Trump here. But the idea that Hydra Cap is analogous to Trump is very difficult to defend (if for no other reason than this: Steve Rogers is more intelligent and seems to have a more coherent and workable plan than Trump has ever had).
And I doubt that the Hydra-ruled America depicted in Secret Empire will somehow be analogous to America under Trump, either. Trump’s America might not live up to the ideals that lie at the heart of our nation. It might even be a terrible place to live. We might have abandoned our principles in favor of something reprehensible. But it didn’t take jackbooted thugs waving Hydra flags to get us to where we are now. If we (living almost a hundred years after the horrors of twentieth-century totalitarianism and after decades of movies, books, and comics about villains inspired by the Nazis) are in danger of tyranny or totalitarianism, we won’t see it coming. It won’t come dressed in the Hydra symbol or a Nazi symbol, and its authorities won’t dress in military uniforms.
But none of that means that Secret Empire won’t have something valuable to say about us or about the country we live in. If CA:SR and CA:SW are any indication, it undoubtedly will. But I think that it will be a mistake to see Secret Empire as some kind of analogue or allegory of America in 2017.
More later this week after Secret Empire #0 and Captain America: Steve Rogers #16 are released.