Hydra has taken over the globe within the reality of Marvel Comics’ main universe as part of the just-launched “Secret Empire” event. And so of course, the massive summer story took over a panel during the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (AKA C2E2).
Saturday afternoon, “Secret Empire” writer Nick Spencer took the stage accompanied by a wave of Marvel editorial talent including executive editor Nick Lowe, editor Wil Moss and assistant editor Christina Harrington as well as “Captain Marvel” writer Margaret Stohl and Marvel PR lead Chris D’Lando.
The just released #0 issue for the event set the stage for where the Marvel Universe will be at for the summer as various teams of heroes fighting back against Captain America Steve Rogers’ Hydra invasion spread their adventures across the Marvel line. The panel frequently noted the wild opportunities the Rogers heel turn allows for and the manner in which Spencer is juggling the demands of the story. Stohl even joked to Spencer, “I’m looking forward to when you’re just a regular chump again making fun of Bendis.”
Marvel revealed that as part of their promotional round up, they’ll give away replicas of the Cosmic Cube – though it probably won’t be capable of allowing fans to rewrite the Marvel Universe’s reality on their own.
The panel discussed the various tie-ins to the main series one-by-one, starting with the upcoming issues of “Captain America: Steve Rogers.” Spencer played demure about the final reveals in the book that has driven the Hydra-Cap story. “I’m not even getting close to telling you what’s happening in the final issue [#19]” he said. Though he did promise that a major character moment is in the offing between Rogers and his longtime Invaders ally Namor the Sub-Mariner.
Meanwhile, no-longer-Cap Sam Wilson has his own role to play as part of the Hydra resistance. “Waiting for Sam is a key part of [Steve’s] plan,” said Spencer of where the Falcon fits into the takeover plot. “He’s disillusioned. He’s frustrated. He can’t believe what’s happened to the country…and he’s going to try to find his own way to deal with this. And that’s eventually going to lead him right back into the fray.”
D’Lando expained that incoming “Secret Empire” issues of “Doctor Strange” will bring artist Nick Henrichon to Marvel to work with new-to-the-title writer Dennis Hopeless. “Magic is not in a great place in the Marvel Universe. Much of it has been destroyed,” said Lowe, noting that the good doctor’s goal will be to fight back the powers of the Darkforce Dimension even in his weakened state during the Hydra occupation of America.
Lowe added that in the case of Marvel’s flagship “Amazing Spider-Man,” the timing of “Secret Empire” was perfect as the rise of Hydra just happened to map perfectly to the return of Doctor Octopus. But the tie-in arc arriving this summer by Dan Slott and Stuart Immonen will reach beyond that grudge match as well. “We see Manhattan stuff, but we also see California stuff – the full impact of Hydra taking over America. And some huge, huge ramifications for Spider-Man take place in this arc,” the editor explained.
The mutants of Marvel will work into the story too, but they’ve got their own major villains returning as well in “X-Men: Blue.” Harrington said, “Our young heroes are resistance fighters…all they can do is push back and push back.”
The crossover issues will feature the return of the Hellions and the gun-armed mutant known as Random, but the characters fans would be more interested to hear about returning arrive in issues #8 and 9. That is where fans will see both Emma Frost and Polaris arrive to complicate the lives of the time-displaced mutant team for the foreseeable future. “It was always our goal to bring Emma back into ‘X-Men: Blue,'” the editor said, saying that while Frost has been through some dark times of late, she’s not turned into a villain.
The editor also said that Emma will sport a new costume inspired by her classic White Queen style, and the diamond form of the character will be breaking back out as she clashes with Hydra. Meanwhile, the latest take on Polaris will be very much in her traditional mold as Art Adams cover for issue #9 plays on her iconic Steranko “X-Men” cover.
Stohl said of her “Mighty Captain Marvel” arc, “Carol is getting to do what Carol does best, which is kick ass in space,” she said. “Now that she’s been horrifically betrayed – thanks so much, Nick – she’s really having her ‘Band of Brothers’ moment…fighting for her life and the lives of the people stuck out there with her.” The writer compared the style of the book to the “Five Came Back” documentary on Netflix about Hollywood directors who went to film the action of World War II. After watching footage of D-Day over and over again, she understood the intensity of the story she’s telling. “Carol is at the heart of this classic hero-dom, and the only other character I’ve seen do something like that is Steve Rogers…so it’s really interesting.”
The arc will be drawn by new artist Michele Bandini – a student of Sara Piccheli who Lowe explained is ready for the big time. And also coming in brand new to the book will be some of Carol’s Alpha Flight cadets. This team includes a high-tech Wakandan teen, a Tony Stark-level designer named Glory and holdover from the Black Widow/Red Widow books Stohl worked on. “That’s another thing from World War II – when you realize how young some of these soldiers are…I wanted to see some of it through their eyes,”
Other tie-ins include “Secret Warriors” which will feature characters from Quake’s father Mr. Hyde to the X-Men. Then there are the “Uprising,” “Underground” and “United” which Spencer explained are “filling in little gaps in the main story” around issues #3 and 4. Finally, fans of anthologies can read the “Brave New World” mini series featuring lots of short stories on the Invaders stuff, Hydra Bob and other characters related to the event including the debut of an all-new Patriot.
When fan questions were opened up, Spencer was given the opportunity to both explain his concept and the particulars of how the story has been received. The origins of the event were tied to what Captain America concepts he could pick up from the writer who came before him. “I took over the book from Rick Remender, and Rick had set up a lot of potential stories,” he said. “One of the stories Rick was planning was one where Hydra had taken over a bunch of teams throughout the Marvel Universe.” Spencer thought that Marvel would never allow him to play with a story that big, and so instead he looked for one Hydra plant and decided it could be no one else but Steve Rogers. Surprisingly, executive editor Tom Brevoort approved the story to get as big as it could. “In continuity, it didn’t play out based on what Rick did. It came out of ‘Avengers: Standoff.” But that’s where the inspiration came from. So it wasn’t necessarily by Rick, but you can blame him if you want,” joked Spencer.
A military veteran asked about how Marvel viewed this story in light of the fact that many in her position strongly identify with Steve Rogers personally. “We took this very seriously because Captain America does mean so much to so many people,” Lowed said before Spencer offered his thoughts on some of the more stringent criticism of the story, saying, “It’s a story about heroes having to overcome that. It’s not a story that’s meant to denigrate the characters. Steve is not culpable for what he’s done here. It’s a story about him overcoming adversity.”
As to whether “Secret Empire” is meant to offer commentary on our current political moment, the writer said that he worked hard to push away from any specific references. “I want people to be able to pick this book up in a generation and still have it speak to them,” he said.