Secret Empire #1 review: Dystopia done right


Secret Empire establishes the United States as a fascist dystopia under Captain America’s Hydra rule, but Nick Spencer leaves enough hope to keep us hooked.

Secret Empire #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Steve McNiven
Published by Marvel Comics

Cover by Mark Brooks

Last month’s explosive zero issue set the stage for Secret Empire‘s fascist dystopia. Now, under Steve Rogers’s command, school children learn Hydra’s revisions to history. Unregistered Inhumans hide from armored enforcers. Heroes like Dr. Strange and Captain Marvel can’t join the fight. And to keep his seat at the head of the table, Captain America has to order the unthinkable.

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But hope’s not lost. The brave teens of The Champions, under leadership of classic Avengers, help people from their secret base. Shame that can’t last too long…

Steve McNiven’s grounded art highlights the horror of this dystopia. Apart from some work on a fight between Hydra’s twisted Avengers crew and a giant monster, the rest of the issue looks ready to appear on your evening news. It’s the most iconic work he’s done since the original superhero Civil War, and I think the link to that work means something. Ten years ago, Steve Rogers lost his life defending the unregistered from Iron Man’s government. Now, Iron Man’s hiding out while a corrupted Captain stomps on the American Dream.

Nick Spencer knows how to thrill in his stories. His work across multiple titles carefully led to this. The dystopian introduction, a dreadful scene of mounting tension set in Hydra’s new education system, makes a welcome pivot from the bombast of the zero issue’s multiple crises. And the scares this time focus more heavily on the emotional torture of this hostage nation.

Next: Catch up on the zero issue!

To see Captain America sacrifice the people who love him – that’s so much more awful than the Kirby-Lovecraft behemoth trying to eat Denver this issue. In fact, that’s how I feel watching the political debates of the last two years. For many of us, America feels lost, stolen, possessed. And before we can enjoy our heroes saving the day, we have to know that the writer understands our fear. This issue makes his case. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.