Tagged: Secret Empire

Secret Empire #10 variant cover
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The Law Is A Ass #454: Captain America Says Intern Stage Right

When I was younger, so much, much younger than today, Marvel published an epic called “Secret Empire.” It ran in Captain America for seven months back in 1974 and was a classic.

In 2017, not only was I much, much, much older, but Marvel ran another Secret Empire saga. This one ran even more months and made people with class sick.

Yes, that’s an over simplification and not completely accurate. There were many people who didn’t like this Secret Empire, so the odds are in favor of some of them having class. Still, while it’s true that there’s no accounting for taste, I just can’t make anyone liking this story add up. And it’s not because I have no taste for accounting.

The premise of Secret Empire boiled down to this; Captain America’s sworn enemy the Red Skull had a sentient Cosmic Cube, which identified as a little girl named Kobik, alter Cap’s memories so that he was now a sleeper agent for Hydra. Ultimately, Cap became the Supreme Hydra and he and Hydra took control of the United States, turning it into a fascist dictatorship.

Secret Empire had all the sensitivity and feeling of a zombie on novocaine. Marvel currently uses Hydra as a stand-in for Nazis, because Marvel comics and movies are sold globally and many countries have laws making it illegal to show swastikas or other symbols of the Third Reich. So for all intents and purposes other than the symbology, Hydra is the Nazis.

Captain America was the 1941 creation of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two Jewish men who saw what the Third Reich was doing to the Jews in Europe while prominent Englanders preached appeasement and America practiced isolationism. Simon and Kirby wanted to create a symbol who could, and literally did, punch Hitler in the face. To make Simon and Kirby’s symbol of freedom the head of a stand-in for the Third Reich is like driving with a ten-speed problematic transmission.

Secret Empire went on for twelve issues of its own comic, including the zero issue and the aftermath issue. But wait, there’s more. It also crossed over into something like fifty-five issues of other characters’ comics, oh and another forty-one aftermath issues. I think. I could have missed an issue or two along the way. In fact, I know I missed an issue or two along the way. Who could afford to buy all those comics?

Secret Empire ended when the real Captain America, who was inside Kobik’s mindscape, convinced her to fight back. She did. And with the help of the Winter Soldier, Kobik and the real Captain America escaped her mindscape into to the world. Then Cap beat up Hydra Cap and Kobik used her comic powers to restore the world to its natural state. Kind of a deus ex cubus.

During the course of Hydra’s rule over America it did many things including, and this is where my column comes into it, interning Inhumans, so that they couldn’t use their powers against Hydra. At the end of the story, something had to be done with those interred Inhumans. Fortunately, in Secret Empire #10, the newly-reinstated United States government did the right thing; it released the Inhumans. Unfortunately, when it did the right thing it also did something wrong; it released the Inhumans with strings attached.

Before the government gave an Inhuman his or her release, it asked them to give the government a release by signing a form which “indemnifie[d] the United States government for any harm or harassment you were the victim of” during the internment. It also told the Inhumans they could have a lawyer look over the form, but any Inhuman who wanted that would have to go to another line; implying that their release might be delayed in bureaucratic red tape. Most signed. Maybe all. The comic spent all of three panels on this questionable practice, so it didn’t give us actual numbers.

The thing is, the Inhumans had committed no crimes, made no threats, or done anything by which the United States could justify imprisoning them. So the government was sorta, kinda required to release them because of that pesky old Constitution we keep talking about here in “The Law Is a Ass.” Not releasing the Inhumans would have caused much a due about process.

So if the government was required to release the Inhumans – and it was by cases such as Ex parte Endo – which said the US government could not continue to inter a Japanese citizen who was loyal to the government – it wasn’t very nice of the government, if not downright illegal, to coerce the Inhumans to sign a release from liability before they could get a release from custody.

When the government released the Japanese citizens it had interred during World War II, I don’t think it required them to sign release forms. In fact, a few decades back a federal appeals court ruled that formerly interred Japanese had the right to sue the U.S. government in court even though the suits were brought outside of the statute of limitations window. That fact would strongly suggest the government didn’t require signed release forms, but I don’t know this for a fact. George Takei, who actually was interred, might know. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to ask him.

I do know that inmates who are released from prison after introducing evidence that they were actually innocent are not required or coerced into signing release forms before they are released. I know this because many of these individuals who are released for actual innocence, including one who was a former client of mine, sue the government for wrongful imprisonment. Frequently with success, including one who was a former client of mine. If prisoners who didn’t actually do anything wrong aren’t asked to sign release forms, than interned Inhumans who didn’t do anything wrong shouldn’t have been asked to do so either.

Or, to paraphrase the Bard – because who among us doesn’t paraphrase the Bard from time to time – the evil that men did to the Inhumans lives after them; the good Inhumans shouldn’t have been interred with their bones.

Mike Gold: How Are You Getting Your Marvel Stories?

In this very space last week, I suggested there was a reason Marvel’s sales are off that is in addition to the negative reader reaction to such events as Civil War 2 and Secret Empire.

Let’s spread some numbers around. Buying into these mega-events is expensive. Each consists of dozens and dozens of comics — mini-series, tie-ins, one-shots, and so on. Each event takes about 50 or 60 hours to read in their entirety. The post-event comics come out after that, and you might be compelled to check out a few of the ongoing titles where the event changed the characters therein, although Marvel usually abandons those changes around the time the next relevant movie comes out. That’s more money and more time.

The whole thing takes the better part of a year to unfold; longer, as these days each Marvel event tends to segue into the next. You’ve got to work hard and spend a lot of money to complete a satisfying story, even if – as in the case for many with Civil War 2 and Secret Empire, you didn’t find the story all that satisfying.

However, for roughly the price of three individual comic books you can buy a ticket to the latest Marvel movie and get what is usually a satisfying experience — and your friends can join you in that experience. Of course, one should add the cost of an overpriced box of Snow Caps or some such to the tab.

You can watch as many Marvel teevee shows as you can absorb, and many of them are quite entertaining. Or if you want, you can wheel a cooler filled with snacks and drinks into your bathroom, bring in a tablet or a laptop computer, and stream an entire season of one of Marvel’s many, many Netflix series. As long as nobody else needs that toilet, you’re in superhero heaven with a story complete with a beginning, a middle and an end. I, for one, found the recent Marvel’s The Defenders to be very entertaining. Your opinion might differ, but it really shouldn’t.

If you’re already a Netflix subscriber, it’s free. If not, well one month of Netflix costs a hell of a lot less than one week’s worth of the current Mighty Marvel Event and you get enough other Netflix shows and movies to fill the Pacific Ocean. You will spend less time, energy and money following your favorite Marvel media madness than plowing your way through a pile of event comics that are mediocre at best.

So, I ask you this: even this particular competitive environment… who needs to buy all those comic books? And maybe that’s okay by Marvel’s owner, the Mickey Mouse corporation. They understand how to make and how to market movies and video. This comic book stuff goes against everything the bean-counters learned in MBA school – as far as those suits are concerned, everybody in the comics racket talks like Bizarro Number One.

Indeed, the profit of Marvel’s new comic book output for an entire year is dwarfed by the profit from the last Avengers-themed motion picture alone — even if those publishing profits had somehow mysteriously doubled.

I’m not suggesting Disney might not want to publish new comics, but as a return on investment, those resources might be more profitably allocated to the media side.

Shhhh! Don’t tell the Mouse! He can be a real rat, and rats don’t eat staples.

Many wags think someday Mr. and Ms. Consumer will shout enough is enough and demand superhero shows be replaced by… I dunno, maybe westerns or something equally trendy. I’m sure we won’t be seeing half-billion-dollar cape flicks in the theater with the near-monthly frequency we’re seeing now, but who knows? We’ve always had superhero movies and superhero stories, from the Scarlet Pimpernel to Sherlock Holmes to Zorro to Tarzan. The only question is quantity.

Does Disney care? Well, they’ll say they do, but they own all those Disney properties which, these days, includes the Marvel characters, the Star Wars empire, the Muppets, and Pixar. It’s not like they won’t have anything to whenever the superhero trend fades a bit.

Disney did not do much in the way of original Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck cartoons for several decades, and they don’t do all that much with them today. Yet they continue to sell a lot of Mouse and Duck product of all sorts. They do not need to publish Marvel comic books in order to keep Captain America and Groot in the public mind.

Mike Gold: This Empire Strikes Out

Well, it’s over. Or… is it?

Does anybody else remember Marvel’s Kree – Skrull War? It was one of those mammoth, Marvel Universe shifting events: damn near everybody was in it, it had tons of intergalactic action, some serious character development… everything you could want in a major storyline. Of course, its legendary status was exacerbated with a truly stellar list of creative talent: Roy Thomas, Sal and John Buscema, and Neal Adams.

Here’s the part that might stun “younger” (as in “not-geriatric”) readers. The entire story was told in eight issues! No tie-ins, no auxiliary sidebar rack-space-wasting and largely unnecessary crossovers and mini-serieses. No phony “death” scenes and, therefore, no waiting until those dead people were mysteriously resurrected.

Now, let’s compare that with Marvel’s just-sort-of-ended Secret Empire “event.” You know, the one that came close to burning down the House of Ideas.

Putting aside the antipathy and even outrage expressed by those few fans and retailers who prefer heroes with white robes and pointy hats, Secret Empire consisted of 11 issues written by Nick Spencer (yes, I’m counting issue #0), “fleshed out” by what seemed like thousands of additional comic book tie-ins, auxiliary sidebar rack-space-wasting and largely unnecessary crossovers and mini-serieses and phony “death” scenes. And by “fleshed out,” I refer you to Franz Kafka’s short story “In The Penal Colony.”

Here’s the rub. Spencer’s basic story concept is solid. The cosmic cube, given the form of a little girl who just wants to make everybody happy by improving the world, screws up and retcons time so that the pre-Captain America Steve Rogers actually was a Hydra sleeper agent. He still became Captain America and (I think) just about everything that happened in the Marvel Universe still happened, until Captain America wakes up, takes over Hydra and then takes over America.

There’s nothing wrong with that story, and it could have been told in less than 11 issues, preferably in alternating issues of Spencer’s two Captain America titles. The story would have reflected on writer’s vision and not be watered-down and screwed-up by an infinite number of additional hands. The “Crusty Bunker” model only works when you are seriously behind schedule and have no other options. I suspect readers would have enjoyed it, and retailers would have been eager to rack the series.

It’s not even over. There are several epilog issues coming, some as crossovers, some as “stand-alones” – depending upon your definition of standing alone.

Just as Secret Empire really was an extension of Avengers: Standoff and Civil War 2, Secret Empire leads into a whole bunch of remarkably superfluous-sounding events. You want to restore the original numbering to end long-time confusion and create brand-new confusion? Then do it. You want to restore the “classic” characters to their original white and almost-entirely male visages? Then do it. We all knew you would eventually.

But if you want to restore the magic that was Marvel Comics, then stop doing all these meaningless, overwrought and overpublished events. Stop telling two-issue stories in eight. Stop tying in to more comics simultaneously than most readers can afford to buy, even if we had the time to read them all.

Secret Empire could have been a contender. It could have risen to the level of the Kree – Skrull War. It could have brought big ol’ smiles to the readers’ faces and left retailers with a lot less unsold inventory.

There’s at least one additional reason why so many people have soured on Marvel Comics, and I’ll tell you all about it next week… if I remember.

Joe Corallo: A Certain Point Of View

Okay, so I haven’t written musings on my feelings on fandom in quite a bit, so here goes nothing!

Marvel’s Secret Empire event has received a lot of flack for continuing the storyline of Captain America as a secret Hydra agent. Much of that flack has revolved around the notion that Cap being associated with Hydra is an affront to co-creator Jack Kirby, a Jewish man and a World War II veteran. By having Cap be associated with Hydra, it goes against the creator’s intent.

But – how much so we actually care about a creator’s intent?

From my experiences, it seems we don’t really care that much about a creator’s original intent if the story is considered good. A prominent example is how Gene Roddenberry was opposed to the idea of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (or at least some reported it as such) and was made anyway after his passing. The show for many Trek fans is one of. if not the best Trek despite its perceived deviation from some of Roddenberry’s core principles as previously expressed in the show.

A prime opposite example would be George Lucas and how his vision, particularly in the prequels, of Star Wars is viewed less favorably than Star Wars: The Force Awakens despite the fact that George was not a big fan of the film. He felt the movie was what the fans may have wanted, but not the direction he would have gone. There are many accounts, books, and documentaries covering the franchise and Lucas’ involvement in Star Wars where some try to take credit away from him by saying the original film was saved by editing and it was Irvin Kershner who made The Empire Strikes Back the success that it was. Is that because that’s ultimately how it really played out, or is there some stretching of the truth to fit a narrative that the fans want because George Lucas fell out of their favor from the prequels?

Returning to comics, there is quite a lot we can discuss Jack Kirby and his Captain America co-creator, Joe Simon. They also created Cap’s sidekick, Bucky, who went on to become a Russian assassin during the Cold War known as The Winter Soldier. I think we can all agree that was not their original intention with the character. Some of Kirby’s other works like X-Men are largely impacted more now by Chris Claremont, John Byrne, and others than by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; many of which have gone against what X-Men was originally about at its core to much wilder success. Instead of people that were considered freaks trying to get by in a world that hates them, the focus of the X books moved to mostly attractive characters dealing with soap opera type angst. That being said, Jack did do his fair share of romance comics as well.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t put some historical context when we consider these things. It’s absolutely understandable and justifiable for people to react based on those factors with something like Hydra Cap. Perhaps a slightly changed story that struck a different chord with the audience would have had a different result with a similar origin. We can’t know for sure.

One of my favorite Legion of Super-Hero stories is Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Olivier Coipel’s Legion Lost. I think it’s perfectly paced and incredibly compelling. It’s hard for me to not want to read all 12 issues in one sitting. That being said, the story absolutely goes against the original intent of the Legion. These characters were made to be optimistic children following in the ways of Superman. In Legion Lost they are a terrified group in a dark future where everything seems grim and dark. Part of why it works is that there aren’t many stories like this. That’s part of what made things like The Dark Knight Returns stand out before a lot of people wanted to copy that success, despite it not being much like the Batman we knew at the time.

While yes, some people do care about what a creator’s original intent is, it often seems to be much more about the quality of the story telling. If you like the story it just doesn’t matter as much. If you don’t like the story, it’s a reason you can draw from in your argument supporting your feelings. It just might not be a very good or persuasive reason.

Thanks for reading my rant! Maybe next week I’ll talk about shipping characters. I have a lot of opinions on shipping characters.