SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Secret Empire: Brave New World #1, on sale now.
Secret Empire: Brave New World #1, the first issue of Marvel Comics' anthology companion to the publisher's line-wide Secret Empire event, features three very different stories by three creative teams, painting a picture of the world under the rule of HydraCap. But for longtime readers, the primary story will be the issue's crown jewel, as it sets up the return of the Invaders, a superhero team that has been around since the very beginning of the Marvel Universe.
Written by Paul Allor, illustrated by Brian Level, with colors by Jordan Boyd, “Sanctuary” is the darkest of the issue's three stories. Jim Hammond and Toro (aka the original android Human Torch and his sidekick) are one-time members of the Invaders, the World War II superhero team headed by Captain America, Steve Rogers. They have travelled to the underwater realm of Atlantis to recruit another former teammate, Namor, the Submariner in their fight against Hydra, now headed by their former leader. But Namor wants nothing to do with their war. As Emperor of Atlantis, he has decided to remain neutral in the conflict, for the sake of his people.
The story begins with an attempt on Namor’s life. He quickly subdues his attackers and orders more safeguards against the insurgents. “Increase checkpoints around the city," he orders. "Extend temporary lockdowns. Crack down on our more inflammatory artists and religious sects. Until the opposition is quelled and the crisis is past.” These extreme measures echo the martial law and various draconian measures being enacted on land by Hydra, and are ironically a reaction to Rogers’ actions. Namor wants to ensure the silence of those among his people who would rise against Hydra, and is willing to go to extremes to ensure that his underwater realm stays out of the conflict.
His resolve is soon tested by the arrival of his former allies, the so-called “Fire Creatures,” who come seeking sanctuary. As an Inhuman, Toro is subject to internment. As an android, Hammond was not susceptible to Dr. Faustus’s psychic manipulation like his fellow S.H.I.E.L.D agents, and is on the run. Namor takes them to the Temple of Ophion, but it offers no sanctuary, as its adherents believe “Mankind will fall of its own accord. After which Atlantis will rule both land and sea.”
The house of worship proves to be a trap. Namor has no intention of helping them fight, nor of letting them go. His priority is his people, and he has no desire to put his realm in Hydra’s superior line of fire. Ultimately, the Submariner walks away from Hammond, who calls him out for his villainy.
But just how neutral is Namor? In Secret Empire #2, we saw that he has in his possession one of the Cosmic Cube fragments that Rogers is seeking. In the next issue of that title, we saw one of his priests murdered for hiding it from Baron Zemo, and a Fleet of Hydra submarines prepared to torpedo Atlantis in reprisal.
Did the attack on his underwater realm drive the Atlantean emperor to take up arms against Captain America, or has he been playing both sides from the very beginning? Is Namor really a villain, or is his tyranny rooted in convenience? Characteristically, he walks the line between good and bad. Also, as we’ve seen time and again in history, it’s a lot easier to collaborate than to fight.
Whatever his logic, we already know from the cover and elsewhere that Secret Empire: Brave New World will see the reformation of the Invaders, with Spider-Man, Black Panther and Captain Marvel joining the original three members as they take on their former leader. The question now is whether Namor will stand alongside or against them.
Take the Long Way Home
The issue's second story is lighter and shorter. Raz Maholtra is a young man whose life fell apart apart when he went into space to provide tech support for the Ultimates. His boyfriend left him and moved to Portland with another man, “who’s a poet but looks like a lumberjack.” His employer closed up shop, and he’s been forced to slum it with friends in Florida, the mercenaries Grizzly and Machinesmith, who go off to work for Baron Zemo in the days leading up to Hydra’s takeover of the United States.
Raz is also the current Giant-Man, and his boss is Ant-Man, Scott Lang. Penned by Jeremy Whitley with art and colors by Diego Olortegui and Andy Troy, “Mile Hydra” is the all-too-familiar story of a young man who has fallen on hard times and must return to the parental home while rebuilding his life. But this is no ordinary time to be moving back in with Mum and Dad. A fascist takeover is in full swing, and Raz’s father has no tolerance for those who would take away his freedom. An immigrant who served in the Indian Army, he refuses to bow down to Hydra.
As a trio of masked goons threaten his parents and sister, Raz makes a triumphant entrance as Giant-Man and quickly dispatches the thugs. He then shepherds his family onto Ant-Man’s jet, and the groups sets off for Las Vegas to join the resistance. The confrontation on his parents’ lawn is a minor skirmish compared to the destruction that’s to come, as we’ve already seen in Secret Empire #1. His father’s refusal to yield to the taunts of the Hydra troopers shows that rebellion and courage aren’t restricted to the superpowered and the uniformed.
At the same time, Raz fields a pang of guilt at hiding his superhero persona from his mother. He's already come out to her once, but perhaps it is best that she doesn't know that he wears a mask.
The third story is a satirical take on totalitarian takeovers, and the way that dictatorships try to control news media. Written by Nick Kocher, illustrated by Tana Ford, “Propagandamonium” stars a clueless Gwenpool, battered news-anchor Peter Pena, cheerleading Hydra Agent #07564, and a man-bat creature in a cheap Spider-Man costume.
In four short pages, the segment savages the notion of propaganda and celebrity opinions masquerading as news. Pena is forced at gunpoint to transform his news program into the “Happy Hydra Information Broadcast for Registered Citizens.” It is his job to interview the captive Gwenpool and the ersatz Spider-Man about superhero support of the Hydra takeover. Gwen, who is forced to play along, finds a “clever” way to reveal her plight to the viewing audience despite her obvious fear.
A starstruck and oblivious team of anti-Hydra insurgents, who appear on the show via remote, adds a dark and delicious twist on the idea of celebrity worship. Their exchange with the ersatz Spider-Man is especially hilarious, as the fake hero constantly interrupts them, spitting out the words “Excuse me!” in an obvious parody of Donald Trump. Their fate is hilarious yet predictably tragic
Although Pena proves to be braver and more resourceful than Hydra’s minions suspected, Gwen hilariously mistakes his cue for action as an invitation to perform some Howard Stern-inspired schtick. She misses her chance to kick some ass but good prevails nevertheless.
Individually and together, these three stories show that bravery takes many forms. While the lead Invaders story takes readers to a very dark place, the back-up stories suggest that, sometimes, the best way to deal with bullies is to laugh out loud.