Notes from the Secret Empire (Number 4)
What actual hell?
***Major, gigantic, huge spoiler alert for the Free Comic Book Day issue of Secret Empire . . . which was already spoiled a couple of weeks ago.***
So, in the Secret Empire Free Comic Book Day special, this happened:
(Are you ready?)
(Okay, you asked for it . . .)
Again, what the actual hell?
Recap: The issue is basically one scene. It shows us a battle between a group of Avengers––Hawkeye, Black Widow, Iron Man (presumably the A.I. Tony Stark), Ironheart, Thor (Jane Foster), a couple of Hulks, Vision, Spider-Man, and a few others––and some Hydra agents. It ends with the arrival of Captain America, who asks the Avengers to make a choice:
We’re going to make the world better, stronger than it’s ever been. Where you failed, Hydra will succeed. But you can chose for that to happen with us as enemies, or as allies.
Obviously the Avengers, led by Iron Man, decline the invitation to join Hydra, and they fight with everything that they have. But somehow (the issue doesn’t make this clear, as far as I can tell), Steve and Hydra “turn [their] most powerful against us, again and again.” All the Avengers fall, and just as he has several times before, Steve reaches out and takes Mjolnir for himself.
How can Steve still be worthy?
Aside from Thor and Beta Ray Bill, Steve Rogers is perhaps the person most well-known for being worthy of Mjolnir. As I’ve argued before, humility is the primary virtue that makes a person worthy to wield the hammer, and even in this new reality, Steve has humility. Most of comics news sites have focused on how villainous Steve has acted. Few people seem to have commented on the fact that this is still Steve Rogers. In many ways, the Hydra Cap still has the same moral character as the Cap we’ve always known. We see this especially in SE #1, where Steve pushes back against the Hydra High Council and when he tries to get Rick Jones to save his own life simply by saying “Hail Hydra.”
On the other hand, shouldn’t being a Hydra believer (even a sincere one who wants what he thinks is best for everyone) disqualify you from being worthy of Mjolnir? “Sincerity” has never made a person worthy (at least to my knowledge). No doubt Spencer wanted to shock the world with the last image in the FCBD issue (and he has certainly succeeded), but the question that bothers me is this: can Hydra Cap be truly worthy of Mjolnir according to the well-established rules of the Marvel Universe, or has Spencer simply disregarded those rules in order to achieve a shock?
“They were powerful . . .”
While the most obviously shocking thing about the FCBD Secret Empire is the last image of Steve lifting Mjolnir above his head, the words of the issue are just as shocking. A monologue by an unnamed speaker narrates the issue (as it does for the other two issues of Secret Empire). (My money is on this being Tony Stark, but it could be any (or all) of the Avengers.)
When the Avengers refuse Steve’s offer and charge into battle, the narrator says, “And so we fought because we believed we were right––and we fell because we were wrong.” It’s a striking and problematic line because of the meanings of the words “right” and “wrong.” By “right,” the narrator almost certainly means that they are morally right. But when he says that they were “wrong,” does he mean that their opposition to Hydra was wrong? After all, he says that they believed that they were right. If so, that has disturbing implications.
You might argue that he doesn’t mean that they’re wrong for opposing Hydra, but instead that they’re wrong for thinking that they could win the fight. The rest of the monologue supports that reading, and that’s what I hope that he means.
The other troubling thing that the narrator says is this:
With the world slipping away around us, we gazed into the face of our enemy, finally seeing them for what they really were. They were stronger. They were more powerful. In that moment––they were worthy.
Worthy of what? The power that they wield? Why? Are they in some sense right? I don’t believe for a second that that’s what Spencer intends.
There is still a lot of story left in Secret Empire. Three issues in, the event has barely even started yet. So it’s probably a little premature to try and make sense of Cap lifting Mjolnir. But the FCBD Secret Empire leaves me with two possible conclusions in sight:
A) Steve lifting Mjolnir is a sign that his true nature is somehow coming to the surface, beating the rewrite that Kobik has done to his history.
B) Spencer is simply disregarding what we know about being worthy for the sake of shocking us.
When the last page of the FCBD issue leaked a couple of weeks ago, some outraged commentators took to Twitter and other outlets to complain that the image was a “white power” icon. In fact, some people seemed to be accusing Spencer himself of promoting “white power” because of the image. I find this odd for a couple of reasons.
First, whatever Hydra has represented in the past, the Hydra that Steve leads doesn’t seem to be a racist organization (in the typical understanding of that term, anyway; they do seem to have it out for Inhumans). Second, the image is essentially a recreation of the famous image of Cap lifting Mjolnir in Fear Itself, which (as far as I know), nobody claimed was an image of “white power.”
I almost forgot . . .
This post isn’t much of a review, so let me say that SE FCBD shows yet again that Spencer is one of the best writers at Marvel right now (and how about that beautiful Andrea Sorrentino artwork?!).