Secret Empire #1
This issue jumps us forward some time since the Steve Rogers led Hydra successfully took over the United States, and things are frightening. Public schools teach a revised and Hydra-Glorifying history, having burned older records. Inhumans are hunted down by stormtroopers and thrown into concentration camps, and political dissidents are similarly imprisoned. The world’s most powerful heroes are still trapped in space fighting waves upon waves of Chitauri or trapped in the Darkforce, while a new team of Rogers’ own Avengers are used for propaganda.
But Hydra still totally aren’t Nazis, guys, they’re a less offensive fascist 😛
The biggest problem with the otherwise well constructed Secret Empire is that by trying to avoid the bigotry inherent in fascist governments, and by trying to make Captain America – the Supreme Leader – somewhat sympathetic, in that he’s against mind control drugs in the water or smashing resistance cells makes so many things inconsistent and nonsensical.
If Rogers doesn’t want outright shows of force or mind control, then why is he rounding up Inhumans with Stormtroopers and rewriting history? If Steve Rogers has an ethical bone in his body, why is he so clearly an evil fascist who feels he has to lock out anyone capable of threatening him from the planet? This lack of conviction in making Captain America actually evil kneecaps the entire story because none of it is believable. Because the premise is made of one half-step after another, none of its pillars feels consistent with the others. Either Captain America is a fascist, and he endorses or is complicit in every evil act that keeping power under fascism requires, or he’s still a “good guy,” and the entire story falls apart. Nick Spencer, and Marvel, can’t have it both ways.
Black Bolt #1
Saladin Ahmed and Christian Ward successfully guide Black Bolt through the first issue of his first solo book.
Black Bolt wakes up in a prison, and during his escape, pieces together how he ended up there. He also helps rescue a little girl he sees being tortured, and gets into a fight with fellow prisoner Carl Creel, and his jailer.
The smartest thing Ahmed does is tell the story almost entirely through third person narration boxes. It gives him the opportunity to lean into his protagonist’s inability to speak, while also taking advantage of his background in novels rather than dialogue-driven media. His background is also felt in his use of literary repetition that makes the reader feel the sense of being trapped that Black Bolt must by the end. And, funnily enough, the distance of the third person narration helps use feel closer to Black Bolt’s unfiltered thoughts. The narrator informs us on how he really feels, instead of him narrating to us what he wants us to know about his feelings and situation at the moment. Black Bolt acts, and the narrator explains the whys for us. This meta-narrative telepathy also ties into how Black Bolt communicates with other Inhumans in-universe, as he’s not capable of actually talking to them. It’s smart choice.
Meanwhile, Ward brings his inimitable style to Black Bolt’s escape, drawing characters with smooth, almost syrupy lines which he bathes in neon pinks and blues, giving the whole thing a real alien look.
Kate and Jessica continue their investigation into the disappearance of Rebecca Brown, who is now starlet Dhalia Dorian, and which now involves a Dragon, and still involves asshat Brad.
Kate remains the most endearing part of this series, as she’s often the most animated character, hopping from exuberance to restless frustration and back again, every emotion clear as day on her face. This short arc ends neatly, in an almost Squirrel Girl-ian style, where Kate manages to talk down the threat rather than just treat it with a healthy dose of arrows to the face.
Jessica Jones was a welcome straight-woman for this arc, and her leaving definitely leaves a gap, but that should be easily filled by Kate’s growing roster of friends. Also, Lucky is back!
Batman #22 (The Button part 3)
Bruce and Barry land in the Flashpoint history’s Batcave just as Thomas Wayne – the Flashpoint Batman – is preparing to face an Amazon-Atlantian strike team. With the cosmic treadmill broken, the Bat-men have to fend off the strike team long enough for Barry to repair it so he and Bruce can continue along the Button’s path.
An event as short as this one shouldn’t really need filler, but here it is. While it might be cool to see Batman father and son have the chance to team up, that doesn’t actually do anything to advance the plot. It doesn’t even really do much for Bruce; it’s not like this visit gives him any closure or anything regarding the death of his parents. And by the end of the issue, we’re just back to where the end of Flash #22 had us – with Flash and Batman running on the cosmic treadmill, following the button.
This really is just filler, nothing more to say.
With Superman, Jon, Batman, and Robin having gone missing, Lois investigates, and uncovers a few secrets about her quiet little hometown.
This is another welcome addition to the issues where Lois is a BAMF. When the boys are away she goes into town, discovers a conspiracy, and takes matters into her own hands – kicking guns out of people’s hands, using the Bat-armor glove she took from the lunar Batcave, and even taking the Batmobile for a spin.
And because this is Lois, and not a superhero, the book is allowed to feel a bit more Hitchcockian, like a conspiracy horror, which is a refreshing shift in tone.
More solo Lois, please!
Green Arrow #22
Team Arrow is doing their best to assist Seattle’s crippled police, fire, and rescue departments, but with the city being attacked from all angles, there’s little they can really do. Oliver gets a tip of another possible attack, and in stopping it, he meets three of the “four horsemen” responsible. And then, with some help from reporter Victoria Much, he discovers a little more about the horsemen’s connection to Queen Enterprises.
Of all of comics’ recent fascist concerning storylines, Green Arrow’s might be the most frightening; not necessarily because its bad-guys present the biggest threat, but because they’re motivated by the most realistic thing – money. The horsemen and the ninth circle don’t care so much about world dominance and power as they do about the pure capitalist carnage of it all. To them, everybody else is a resource to be spent filling their coffers or polishing their egos. They really just don’t care about people other than themselves – and that’s honestly way scarier to me than a supervillain with passion. They aren’t villains based in ideology or higher purpose, they’re just evil because being evil creates profit.
Green Arrow has also been the rare piece of media – comic or otherwise – where the references to 9/11 and other real world terrorist attacks don’t feel gauche. Because the book isn’t interested in recreating the visuals of those incidents so much as their effects on a city and its people – the strain on public resources and the environment of fear and loss of control – its depiction of terrorist attacks actually feel terrifying rather than just like awful spectacle.
And in a bittersweet twist, Ferreyra’s colors in the back half of the book reminds us that even after a red night lit by the fires of burning homes, the sun still rises, making everything shine regardless of how we feel about it.
Paper Girls #14
The gang reunites, and bid farewell to Wari when they hear a screaming woman and decide to rescue her from The Three Men holding her captive. KJ splits from the party to distract the Men, allowing the other three to rescue time-traveler Qanta Braunstein.
Paper Girls still succeeds almost entirely by its character work and dialogue, with Vaughan able to squeeze single lines for all they’re worth, whether they may be a period joke or the disappointment of not being the first time-traveler like you thought you were.
KJ seems to still be the focus character of the arc, making the gang’s biggest decisions of the issue, and even claiming the center two-page spread. It also feels like Vaughan is laying down some foreshadowing regarding her relationship to another character in a very cool time-travely fun way.
Green Valley #7
Bertwald, returned from the future, catches Ralphus and Gulliver up on what he learned about the “wizard,” and tells them that he’s got a plan to bring him down.
This issue is the happiest that we’ve seen the knights of Kelodia in a while, with Bertwald back in high-spirits after learning that their enemy is just an idiot with fancy gadgets, and eager to reclaim their esteem as heroes once again. That feeling proves to be infectious, providing the knights with an overdose of bro-energy that fuels the rest of the issue; and after a quick song about their previous exploits, the three race off to face the “wizard.”
In contrast, the ending of the book feels very last-minute-climax. Like, the story could have ended at this issue, but Landis wanted to write one more big plot point that will unravel over the next two issues and take the story to a much bigger, more spectacular level. Whether or not it will be worth it, and can find a well to neatly gel with everything else so far is yet to be seen, but as of now, it feels quite tagged on.