Marvel Comics' Secret Empire series was a sweeping event that examined what happens to Earth (and the outer space surrounding it) when an evil version of Captain America takes control of both Hydra and the USA. OF course, that meant it involved a huge cast of characters, while its aggressive shipping schedule meant writer Nick Spencer was collaborating with an all-star team of artists. Those artists brought to life a number of intense action scenes involving costumed heroes and villains, but some of the series most pivotal moments involved an average American (who just so happens to be a new Inhuman) and his little brother.
In part two of our in-depth look at Secret Empire and it's aftermath, Spencer joins us to discuss the importance of the scenes involving those characters, how the simple act of heroes being heroes won the day, working with his team of artistic collaborators, and the final installments of the long form Captain America story he began telling last year: Secret Empire: Omega and the one-shot Generations: Sam Wilson Captain America & Steve Rogers Captain America.
CBR: A number of superheroes played important roles in Secret Empire, but two characters that ended up being pivotal to the event were average Americans; Brian “Barf" McAllister, and his little brother Jason. What can you tell us about the evolution of their characters, and who came up with Brian's unique Inhuman power?
Nick Spencer: [Laughs] I'll take the blame for that. I think when you do these big event stories that involve all the heroes and all the spectacle I think it's really important to give them a human core and somebody at the center of it that's relatable and can show you what this all looks like from the ground looking up. So Brian McAllister was really our way in; to show you in those first pages of Secret Empire #1 just how the world has changed and how much different it is now.
Steve McNiven did an incredible job on that opening sequence. Then we followed Brian through Captain America: Steve Rogers and then back into Captain America #25. Then we close Secret Empire #10 with the reunion with his brother. Hopefully through all that you could see this was the emotional underpinning of the book. You guys did a really nice article about how they really were the heart and soul of the series.
I think it's really important to never lose sight of the fact that we're supposed to be telling stories about heroes saving lives; putting themselves in danger to help others. Sometimes a lot of us here can focus on revenge, double crosses, grudges, and heroes being hunted by some other powers. You can read a book and be like, “Did they ever save any innocent people in that story? Did they ever do any objective good?” That's really important to me. I want to try and find ways, especially in a story like this, to make sure that people know this is what that's about.
If you take the scene where the heroes get to the Inhuman camp and meet Brian, and he vomits up the last remaining Cube fragment totally out of context A) it's ridiculous and B) it looks like we conveniently dropped a Deus Ex Machina on you. It's really more of a Chekov's Gun in that we showed it to you at the start of the story. We tried to play fair and show you that this was out there, but really the point of that part of the story is that Sam Wilson puts the Captain America suit back on, he rallies the heroes, and shows them that nothing that they have a plan for at that moment is going to defeat Hydra, but what they can do is save some people's lives. He says, “There's an Inhuman prison not that far from here. Let's go be heroes. Maybe it will get us killed, but let's go rescue some people.”
That's really what leads to the last Cube fragment. Brian barfing it up is a fun, convenient moment, but really it's the karmic reward for these heroes who after years of infighting decide to do what they're supposed to do, which is go help people. What Brian does does is the reward for that. It's really what turned that ending around and that comes down to Sam Wilson making that call and convincing the heroes to do it.
You worked with a number of different artistic collaborators on Secret Empire, especially on issue #10. None of it felt jarring through. There was a fairly consistent tone throughout. What was it like working with all these different artists?
When you're on a project and working with a high number of artists sometimes it can become very impersonal and you're just feeding pages. That was never the case here. Everybody involved in this took it very seriously, and got really invested in the story. They were all asked to do way more pages than was originally considered. They also had to work on enormously stressful deadlines to make this happen. They came through because they cared about the story and wanted to make sure it was as good as it could be.
I just count myself so lucky to have gotten to work with all of these guys. In particular Steve McNiven, Rod Reis, Andrea Sorrentino, Leinil Yu, and Daniel Acuna who did the lion's share of the work across the series. We had some other great artists contribute to the story too.
So we're talking about an absolute dream team of artists. They really brought their A-game. I'm so thrilled with how beautiful this book has looked from start to finish. It's probably the best looking book I've ever been a part of. That really carried me all through this process. So I count myself really, really lucky to have gotten to work with all of them
In terms of the cohesion of it? We came in with a plan. We knew going in that this was the most aggressively shipped Marvel event ever. So we knew that a lot of artists we're going to be on board for this, and we were able to try and tailor it to them.
There were instances where we switched the order of artists because I would look at things that were coming up. For instance I knew Leinil Yu had to do our attack on the Mount issue because it had a giant Hulk scene in it and I really wanted him to handle that. Then I knew that Andrea would be the best artist for the Black Widow-Punisher fight, and sure enough he knocked that out of the park. So we went in with a plan and we tried to structure the thing to give all the artists their moment to shine.
One of the cool, little artistic elements I enjoyed in Secret Empire #10 was Ron Lim's background newspapers in the scene where Hydra Cap uses the Cube to further alter history.
Yes -- we got some new Ron Lim work in this one, which I was really thrilled about. That was Tom Brevoort and Alanna Smith's idea. I was thrilled to hear it. He was the perfect choice for that bit, and I think it really makes it a standout in the issue.