SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains spoilers for Marvel's Secret Empire #10, on sale now.
This week sees the conclusion of what might be Marvel’s most controversial event series to date, Secret Empire. Ever since Steve Rogers uttered the words “Hail Hydra” back in May 2016's Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, fans from every corner of the world have debated the merits of the story, which placed Captain America in charge of Hydra while ostensibly rewriting history. Secret Empire #10 delivers answers to the fate of "Hydra Cap" and the status of classic Steve Rogers, and if you wagered on “Cosmic Cube shenanigans” resolving everything, you’re on the right track.
Our main story is courtesy of writer Nick Spencer and artists Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, Matthew Wilson, Travis Lanham and Rod Reis, with additional art from David Marquez and legendary artist Ron Lim. Once you take into account that this is an extra-sized issue, and the series was extended to 10-parts, it becomes obviously clear why the credits page is as long as it is. (This doesn’t even count the epilogue from artists Paco Medina, Juan Vlasco and Jesus Aburtov.)
McNiven handles the majority of the pencil duties, with inking and coloring by Leisten and Wilson. The completed art is worthy of this series finale. McNiven has a knack for making characters seem larger-than-life when he displays them taking up real estate on a comic page. From the moment Clint Barton gives out the Avengers battle cry to a splash page of the heroes charging towards Hydra Cap, you can feel the intensity from each Avenger, X-Man, Champion, Guardian of the Galaxy and Defender. A comic just feels more important with art by a comics event veteran like McNiven, which is probably why he was chosen to bookend the first and last chapters of Secret Empire.
Another artistic highlight is a splash page from Marquez, showing a Hydra-influenced Marvel Universe after Hydra Cap uses his Cosmic Cube fragments to alter history. Newspaper headlines from the Daily Bugle and New York Bulletin feature the evil organization having a hand in creating staples like the Fantastic Four, Avengers and Spider-Man, along with making martyrs out of Professor X and Magneto. Lim’s contribution is a single panel, but one that longtime fans will immediately recognize.
From the beginning, Spencer has insisted the Steve Rogers in Secret Empire is the real deal. While that’s partially true, we discover that’s not totally accurate after the sentient Cosmic Cube Kobik is revived, thanks to the Winter Soldier. No one can blame Spencer for not revealing vital story details for an event like Secret Empire a year before the series launches, but fans should be forgiven if they choose to be skeptical of what he says in future interviews. On the other hand, of course everything bad that occurred at the hands of Hydra Cap can be brushed aside by blaming it on his evil doppelganger! No matter what happened in Secret Empire, Marvel wouldn’t allow its Sentinel of Liberty’s image to be tarnished beyond repair.
As with many event finales, Secret Empire #10 is filled with major moments that will likely be discussed for years. One example was spoiled days ago when the one true Captain America emerged to face off against Hydra Cap, with Thor’s hammer Mjolnir playing a key factor in the outcome. Another moment that’s just as powerful but is almost glossed over in the issue’s aftermath is the realization that fan-favorite characters Black Widow and Rick Jones apparently remain deceased (although Black Widow has appeared on covers for comics solicited post-Secret Empire, including Iceman). No matter how much redemption Steve Rogers undergoes in the months and years ahead, this will be a pretty hard pill for fans to swallow. And let’s not forget about the destruction of Las Vegas, as it’s unclear if everyone who perished in the city’s attack was brought back to life or not.
A lot is riding on the shoulders of Secret Empire #10. Not only does it wrap up Nick Spencer’s tenure on the Captain America titles, it also kickstarts the current wave of Marvel storytelling by finally revealing how the heroes are sent to the Vanishing Point for their Generation one-shot journeys of self-discovery, along with clearing the deck for the Marvel Legacy era that starts late next month. (An epilogue, Secret Empire: Omega, is out in two weeks.)
The moral of the story may be: no matter how terrible things get, they can always be reversed by harnessing the power of a cosmic deus ex machina.