“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unite a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes?
You know, I generally would present a small set-up for the point I’m trying to make. You know, I have to dangle the bait to get you to try to see my point of view. However, in this circumstance – and because the amount of backlash I’ve seen from fans has been absolutely baffled – I’m going to complete eject an introduction and just get right into it. Tell me, true believers – just what the hell is wrong with the latest Marvel Comics event Secret Empire?
What, is it because Marvel plotter Nick Spencer changed your favorite beloved hero? Because he made you invest time into discovering what Cap’s goal was all this time? By having to wait to see the dominoes fall? No, no, I get it. He made Captain America a villain. An unlikable cold-hearted plotting bastard who has spent decades lining up all of the parts of his scheme. This all is part of a story that started well over a year ago. What, you’ve been hibernating? You didn’t know good hearted Steve Rogers was no longer a man of the red, white, and blue? Follow along here, I’ll keep it short but brief, because I want to be sure you’ve got the most important details down.
The long-running story began way back in March 2016. During the four-issue limited series Avengers: Standoff! You see, to keep things short, what you need to know is that a Pleasant Hills, a docile town in the middle of rural America, was housing some of the world’s worst super villains. To keep them docile and in control S.H.I.E.L.D. was using an entity named Kobik, created of Cosmic Cube fragments and in the visage of a four-year-old girl. She only had the best of intentions and sought nothing but wholesome goodness. Now, imagine someone as nefarious as the Red Skull taking the time to become buddy/buddy with the girl, tricking her into thinking that Hydra wasn’t born of evil but actually of virtue.
You got it – Kobik was tricked. And what better way to rewrite history than have a being born of the Cosmic Cube alter a fragment of history?
During the Standoff! run, which printed last March and April, Captain America (who was significantly aged and stripped of his super solider serum) was knocking on death’s door. As magic typically happens in comic books Kobik restores Steve Rogers back into a younger, more vitriolic self, his abilities bestowed upon him again. For most of Marvel Now Steve Rogers had existed as a more an elder statesman with S.H.I.E.L.D. whilst Sam Wilson served as Captain America. In good measure Marvel was launching a new book in honor of Rogers’ return to normalcy. Fans were excited.
Then last May, in the very first issue of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1, Nick Spencer finally revealed the seedlings of what was to come for good ole Steve Rogers.
Ooh, what a bombshell! I recall sitting on my recliner seeing the news unfold and actually feel somewhat giddy. Some of my beloved characters had compelling story arcs pop up throughout the years, but none as chilling and heinous as Cap’s essence becoming corrupt. I knew that Red Skull had tampered with our star-spangled hero when he requested Kobik change the course of history. Would the move be permanent? Of course not! The move was temporary, I could see the writing on the wall, but there was a storyline envisioned and I was excited to see what the result was.
Fans, though? As fickle and fearing as they can be, the backlash was almost near instantaneous.
I don’t understand the hatred for what Nick Spencer is doing with Secret Empire one bit. Watching the shade that supposed “fans” of comics throw at a writer who’s simply unfurling a master plan? Come on, people. Over the years we’ve had plenty of other writers, between television and film and comic books, map out elaborate plans to shake up the status quo on characters we’ve become fanatical about. What, you want proof positive of my claim? Why sure, let’s take look at AMC’s The Walking Dead. The same fans who were rabid for the long-running comic book have become fixated on the seven season television series that is only becoming enriched in character as the years pass. You same fans who’ve got a problem with Captain America currently have taken issue with Eugene joining Negan. Nevermind that Eugene is a work of fiction and is a richly-conceived character who flows with the changing tides to ensure his hide remains alive in a world of the undead. No. Instead, you fans have latched onto Josh McDermitt, a actor, who simply portrays the guy. And you unleash taunts, tirades, even death threats at a man who is as normal as you or I.
Because of the inability to discern reality from a fable, instead McDermitt has had to remove himself from every form of social media. Because you can’t allow a story to run its course and for Eugene to actually find a way to redeem his atrocities against the Alexandria crew, you’ve pushed a very humble and big-hearted man away from a medium that he employs daily to connect with fans the world over.
How do you think Nick Spencer is taking this? Sitting curled on his couch sipping on a cup of coffee and waiting for the tide to subside? No, in fact, you all have taken this vitrolic behavior so far that Marvel Comics themselves had to issue a statement informing all of you that the Captain America you know and love will return to his roots by the time Secret Empire has run its course. You just need to have patience. For once in your rabid fanboy lives, just inhale deeply and exhale slowly. When you see what the endgame is, you’ll be at peace and realize, hey, why were we being trolls in the first place?
Listen, folks. Listen good. Every great publisher conceives long-gestating sagas that have an ending you’ll love by the final issue. What, you all think Bruce Wayne would never come Batman after Bane broke his back twenty-plus years ago? Well, if you want to go there, did you honestly believe Bruce Wayne was trapped in time and Dick Grayson was Batman permanently? That Superman wouldn’t arise from the dead in Dan Jurgens’ Death Of Superman storyline at some point? That somehow the Wolverine we know and love won’t one day return to Earth 616 to reclaim his mantle instead of Old Man Logan dishing out punishment?
What has – and still makes – comic books the best form of storytelling is the amount of work and care given in the set up of these storylines. Rome wasn’t built in a single day. Neither was Napoleon’s vast-reaching empire. Hell, not even America came together in a day, despite what alternative facts may tell you. All great things take time. Countries. Leaders. Stories. You build and study that foundation then work your way onward and upward. To anoint yourself in the annuls of history, sometimes you need to take the slow and steady route. Yes, the waiting part is the most frustrating, to get to the denouement when we live in a society that is too impatient to let a great adventure simmer. No, we need it now, we want it now.
In case you’re too young to remember the stunts both Marvel and DC both are guilty of from the 1990’s, let me go on and recant a couple of more notorious tales for you. For example, let’s take a gander at Wolverine in one of the more shocking changes. During the fantastic X-Men mega-crossover event Fatal Attractions that ran from July to November 1993, an event that served to commemorate the franchise’s 30th anniversary, Magneto and The Acolytes returned to the forefront of the franchise to confront the X-Men in one last bid to conquer mankind for the mishandling of mutants for years. Of course, Magneto’s followers couldn’t pull off their plan alone. First The Acolytes attempted to recruit Quicksilver, who declined out of disdain for his father Magneto. However Colossus found himself switching teams, as he had just buried his younger sister Illyana and was heartbroken from the anger and pain engulfing his spirit. (What better way than to deal with your sister’s loss than by becoming blinded and joining the bad guys?)
The UN Security Council attempts to halt Magneto’s assault by implementing a satellite system – which fails, as Lensherr cripples the world’s electrical systems. With the Earth reeling Professor Xaiver gathers a small team in one last bid to halt Magneto’s plan. The group is whisked away to Avalon, a space station in orbit over earth, to deal with The Acolytes. Wolverine, not one for being diplomatic, abrasively guns for Magneto to take him down, severely slashing the villain. In a scene that has become iconic thanks in part to Adam Kubert’s pencils Magneto, in turn, pulled every inch of Logan’s adamantium skeleton out of his body from every crevice possible.
The result? Wolverine, no longer fused with his adamantium skeleton, found his own iota degrading into a more feral-like state. That’s right – Wolverine become more beast than man.
What’s that, you want one even more baffling? Sure. Not even DC can be spared of delving into new stunt storylines to boost sales. Poor Superman, he may have had it the worst in the late 1990’s. In 1997, at a time when Marvel was still in the throngs or Chapter 11 bankruptcy and DC Comics was reeling from the effects of event series Zero Hour (which was honestly a dud when you think of the lasting impact), Dan Jurgens was busy writing the adventures of the Man of Steel. Hell, even today the comic book wunderkind is still with DC Comics penning Superman’s adventures. In March of 1997, Jurgens began his grand scheme for the Last Son of Krypton. At first Superman lost his powers altogether but, when he finally did recover his superhuman abilities, Superman lacked control over himself. His powers were erratically unstable, eventually leading to the revelation that he was transforming into a pure energy-based being and, in order to harness his unstable molecular state, would don a “containment suit” to ensure his body wouldn’t dissipate into thin air.
And then – to throw the proverbial monkey wrench – this happened.
Mercifully, the storyline didn’t last too long and readers eventually got their Superman back in his classic duds. Of course, many an avid comic book lover’s memories were scarred by the simple idea of flipping Superman’s status quo on its head like a soccer ball and a soccer player laying all his might into one thunderous kick. (Well, kick to our heads.)
Oh, and should I mention New 52? No? …you’re sure? Okay, good. The less said, the better. At least DC is finally getting their books back on track but took far too long to comprehend the number of fans feeling alienated.
But you want to know the best part of Secret Empire? Of listening to so-called comic book admirers bemoan of their distaste for modern storytelling? If everyone would have just ridden out the storm, like any good person does in knowing there is an endgame afoot, you all would ceased your carping about the grand scheme of Nick Spencer’s story. Go on, go out and read the second issue of the event series that hit newsstands and comic book shops last week. What’s that? A twist ending more fitting of a M. Night Shyamalan movie and, truthfully, better conceived? An ending that really veer off in any direction and will keep you postulating?
You’re damn right. For as intently I’ve watched the tale of this immoral Steve Rogers walk about Earth-616 with nary a person on his heels to stop him cold, not even the creative writer embedded in my nerd soul could have foreseen Spencer’s gotcha-moment. Now, I’ll refrain from spoiling that moment for you but I’ll at least add this – Spencer was so busy plotting and aligning his vision that a tenth issue of the event series was now added for August. After that, Marvel will segue into Marvel Legacy which will finally (and thankfully) reboot their books with the next event series, Generations, in the aim to balance the Marvel universe to a somewhat stable harmony. Though, as soon as Marvel announced that current characters would team with their past incarnations, I found the very idea to be riveting.
Listen – it’s no secret that both publishers are wedged in a corner. Yes, both have lucrative movie franchises on the big and small screens. The problem is accessing readers new and old. Story ideas will get recycled, hell, even shared by both. Everyone hits this lull. DC is trying to relaunch. So is Marvel. In order to have characters hit relevancy again, you need to shake things up. What, you think Steve Rogers is always going to be a miscreant? No. In the same way that the marriage between Clark Kent and Lois Lane was always destined to stand, Steve Rogers will be virtuous again. You need to be patient and follow each chapter. What, you can’t even sit still to read the latest novel from (insert your favorite author)? Let me guess, you want to jump behind the counter at your favorite diner to cook your dinner instead of the cooks too, right?
Listen here. Every great event series, dating back to the 1980’s to now, isn’t just slapped together and published without careful consideration of the lead-in, the implications of the finality of the story, and the ramifications that will unfold across multiple books. Though some events have been satisfying and cataclysmic, others haven’t. You can be as pissy as you want at Secret Empire and the changes being made. First of all, none of the changes are going to stick. Hydra isn’t always going to rule the United States. Fallen heroes will become resurrected. Somehow the Resistance will obtain the Cosmic Cube and fix reality. But until that day comes in two months, for the love of God, please stop being the bad fans you are and give the story a damn chance. What’s going to happen when you find out that the Watchmen are involved with the New 52 being totally negated, huh? Will you cry fowl then? Or will you just shrug? Enjoy a damn great story while it lasts. The key wording here is “while it lasts.” Nothing lasts forever. Be patient. Keep an open mind. And for the love of Stan Lee, be positive.
Now – bring on the next chapter of Secret Empire. I’m ready to see what you got planned next, Spencer. In the immortal words of a a creature who inhabits a pineapple under the sea;
Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel,
cult 80’s and 90’s television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and…holy overload. He’s still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a blue police box.