This week in Heroes and Villains our selection of new Marvel Comics include a new espionage series, a Hulk in space, and the opening salvos of Marvel’s next big event. Meet me after the jump for my reviews of Nick Fury #1, The Totally Awesome Hulk #18, Captain America: Steve Rogers #16, and Secret Empire #0… be warned, there be spoilers…
I was excited when I saw writer James Robinson’s name on Nick Fury #1, as his classic Starman is among my favorite comics and his recent Scarlet Witch has been superior as well. This issue is pure espionage action reminiscent of old James Bond, but more than that, it’s what the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. should be more like. Highlighted by the art of ACO, which reminded me fittingly of Steranko in its design and risk-taking, this issue was a delight. Exciting, thrilling, cinematic, root-for-the-good-guys action—Nick Fury #1 is a must buy. I loved it.
The Totally Awesome Hulk #18 is the conclusion of the “Big Apple Showdown” storyline, where a chunk of New York City, including the Hulk and a handful of other heroes calling themselves the Protectors, is transported across the galaxy to another planet to be used as food for evil aliens. As far as the name “Protectors,” I had to wonder if Hulk and Ms. Marvel, also members of the Champions, are in the game of monopolizing public domain superhero team names for Marvel.
This issue was a mixed bag for me. I liked the art of Mahmua Asrar, and the battle between the Hulk and the aliens was pretty intense, but the latter was soured by a re-staging of the Times Square scene in Superman II. I also didn’t care for the preachiness of the ending. The morality lesson just went on far too long, coming off as whining rather than observation. Amadeus Cho has lost the charm he had for me under the pens of Fred Van Lente and Dan Slott. This comic is worth a look, perhaps not a purchase though.
Now we come to the evil elephant in the room. Secret Empire is looming, and it begins this week. Following the events of Thunderbolts #12, Winter Soldier has been captured and the Cosmic Cube shattered and lost, but the engine of destruction that is Captain America taking over the planet in the name of Hydra still rolls on. This issue is not as tight and well written as previous Nick Spencer pieces of this puzzle, and it is almost painful to stand by and watch as this all comes together with Cap surrounded by former enemies as partners in the conquest. Reading this made me almost physically ill, and I can’t wait for the real Captain America to return, if he ever does.
All of it leads to Secret Empire. In the zero issue, our heroes (and sadly, in the guise of Captain America, our villains) are confronted by three different threats. There’s a Chitauri invasion from space, an army of super-villains burning New York City, and Hydra is in Sokovia with nuclear missiles. Truly, this could be the end of the world, and it’s this kind of high stakes all-or-nothing conflicts that make crossover events so dismissable in my book. How can I take this seriously when it happens every other week? How can I accept this sort of world crisis when it’s broken up by ads for other comics that have no connection to Secret Empire, yet happen in the same continuity?
Still, despite my disbelief, and my feelings on Captain America as a villain, I tried to have an open mind reading the comic. I can only quote Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, “The horror! The horror!” as I read this issue. Captain America orchestrates the near destruction of former allies and the takeover of the world by Hydra as most of the big gun heroes are trapped in space by a planetary force-field and left to die, and New York and the heroes who survived the villain assault are sealed in darkness courtesy of Blackout.
The killer moment for me was when Sharon Carter finally realizes that Steve Rogers is Hydra. It’s heart wrenching, and here, Nick Spencer shines as a writer, making up for the dreariness of the comic above, and the doom and gloom of this one. Again, I don’t like what happens, but I have to give Spencer props for the emotion he’s pulled out of me, especially in this scene.
Captain America has been revealed, and Hydra has won. The build up had better be worth it, we’ll find out shortly. This one is a tentative buy, but at your own risk.