Would you believe me if I told you that Marvel’s Nazi-tastic Secret Empire only ran for five months? That’s all it was. Five months. The lead-up was over a year, yes, but the event itself ran from April to, well, technically yesterday with the release of Secret Empire Omega…which revealed that NaziCap is still alive and also pre-emptively pardoned himself and literally all of Hydra because he legally could! Of course, in our era where Poe’s Law is effectively law, you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve been stuck in this note-for-note antithesis of Marvel’s own branding for so much longer. Because it sure as hell felt like it.
Still, it’s over (while DC Bombshells ironically launched its second series) and, surprise, basically nothing changed for the Marvel Universe. Aside from the reveal that, just like our world, there are a ton of nazis running around. Which is super great. If that had been the only thing that came out of this narrative, that nothing changed aside from “btw Nazis,” well, I wouldn’t be here today talking about it. Fine, okay, I would be…just not quite as enraged.
Honestly before the end, it was difficult to point to only one thing that’s just…objectively morally reprehensible about this whole series. I mean, how could I choose between concentration camps for Inhumans, history revision, totalitarian media control, white supremacy, culling entire domestic populations, mass book burnings, a resurgence of the Hitler Youth, attempted public execution of Black Panther, the trains running on time, and just—just pick literally anything from Nazi Germany, and you’ll find it here, folks! You’ll find the greatest hits in Secret Empire!
Like that whole issue that was dedicated to Hank Pym whining about how people only remember him for that time he beat his wife that only served as a transparent allegory of how this is the only thing Nick Spencer will ever be remembered for! And let’s not forget about all of the other allusions to the multitudes of ways readers have rightfully criticized and decried this story that are tossed around at random. Or how about how the narrative never actually frames NaziCap as evil, choosing instead to convey him as a sympathetic villain who is just trying to save everyone, and very consciously reminding us that he ascended to power through legal means (just like Hitler!) and that the vast majority of those who followed his orders did so willingly because they liked the purpose that fascism gave them in a way that looks far too close to endorsing fascism?
Or how about how the good guys don’t use lethal force against Hydra like ever? It is just…it is just the worst possible thing to have right now. Yet, somehow, it gets even worse than that.
Nick Spencer, in all of his…arrogance? Yes, let’s go with that. In all of his arrogance, he ended the Nazi-extravaganza that is Secret Empire in such a manner that I felt physically ill. The gall Spencer must have, the sheer lack of self-awareness and overwhelming apathy that man must possess to write something like this is…well, it’s that of a man who could actually mock the Holocaust. Oh, not intentionally. Never intentionally, but please tell me that this does not betray that he is a man with that capacity:
You know, the whole point of that phrase, the whole goddamn point, was to ensure that future generations did not repeat the same mistakes of the past. That those in power remembered history and understood the how and why of it. Understood the path fascism and true evil takes to consolidate power, as it is always the same path. And where that path inevitably leads.
So with that in mind, in our world today filled with domestic nazi terrorists, a commander-in-chief who just can’t find the words to alienate the Nazi vote, an international community that seems to be collectively forgetting that fascism is bad, a mainstream media that is all but incapable of putting their foot down on the subject of nazis, and about two thousand other markers of our daily insanity, there’s only one real question to ask. The only one that actually matters.
Why did you do it? Why did you do it again? Why did you tell this story? What message, what narrative, could possibly justify corrupting a media icon like Steve Rogers, the creation of two Jewish men, to the point where everything goes Nazi-ed up Battlestar Galactica? You know, that whole “all of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again” spiel. Oh, I’ll tell you why. It has got to be one of the single dumbest and infantilizing justifications I’ve ever seen in media.
Really? That’s what you do? You—you fight the Nazis? Are you sure, Nick? Are you sure that’s what you think about punching Nazis? I mean, you think they should strike first, right? No? Oh, okay. Thank you so, so much for opening my eyes on how I should approach fascism in my community through your thirteen goddamn issue maxi-series. I had no idea that I should fight it! But you have enlightened me, Nick. You have shown me the path to righteousness.
No sale, Nick. You wanted to write a story about heroes fighting fascists; I get that. You wanted to write a story where it snuck up on them, from within. You wanted to write a cautionary tale about how easy it is for fascism to take root. Sure, fine. And then you wanted to have the heroes win to inspire people to take a stand that you’re personally not entirely on board with. Hypocritical, but whatever. I read your story. I read the one-shots, the tie-ins. I know what you seemingly tried to do. You know what the message actually is?
The American ideal that of freedom, equality, and justice is a total fabrication.
It is a lie concocted by the strongest, not in morals but in wealth and political capital. It is propaganda to control the masses, to keep them in a state of near starvation through constant denial of their own aspirations because society tells them that if they just work a little bit harder that they’ll succeed. Sure, one could argue that capitalism itself has been exploited to make the above true in many aspects, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.
Here’s the thing: NaziCap is correct (which is just an amazing sentence to write): the Good Steve is a fake. In-universe, he was nothing but a temporary placeholder for NaziCap. We already know that this is fictional—these characters, this universe—but this takes it that one step farther. Captain America himself is fictional within the reality of the Marvel Universe, and always will be.
His ideals, his morals, and every single person he ever inspired, both in-universe and out, is based on the manufactured rhetoric coming from the mouth of a man who is by design impossible to live up to. Instead of his sense of duty and selflessness being something to strive for, something to look up to…it is something that cannot be matched by anyone no matter how much work they put in.
No individual can ever be as good a person as Captain America, and this is conveyed in a manner that I find almost hostile in its execution. There is a distinct difference between looking towards icons of morality (Superman, anyone?) for the betterment of humanity, and a man who is the very definition of perfection. And Steve only became “perfect” once he returned as a memory, because memory, well, that’s imperfect. If you’re gonna remember somebody, you remember what was best about them and little else if anything at all.
So, yeah. That’s the message, Nick. It’s like a stripped down version of the Sith Code:
Peace is a lie. There is only Passion.
Through Passion, I gain Strength.
Through Strength, I gain Power.
Through Power, I gain Victory.
Through Victory, my chains are Broken.
The Force shall free me.
Oh, wait, my mistake. That’s just fascism. Weird.
And it’s not just the ending the suggests this messaging. The very concept of the Cosmic Cube fragments having the power to slightly change reality—like making a wish—circles back around to wanting to have Steve back. Since that’s basically how they get him “back.” But wait, there’s more! See, the “lie” is actually part of the intentional messaging (if Secret Empire Omega is anything to go by) too! Just…with the other Steve.
Not only is the peace through strength a lie, as well as fear and xenophobia and genocide, but everything else, too! Everything is a lie, but one lie is stronger than the other, and it’s the “good” one even though a reality based on lies is bad, which was Nick’s whole thing about fascism right there so…yeah. It means literally nothing. It’s all one big, fat, stinking lie.
That’s why you did it again, Nick. To say that nothing matters. Which is ironic, since that’s basically what the French reaction to the Second World War was: nihilism.
Basically, Secret Empire actually manages to invalidate its own existence, as well as its justification for existing in the first place. I’d find that funny if everything about it weren’t so disgusting.