First up, logistical kudos go out to everyone involved. Every issue came out on time, and they kept it to the number of issues that were announced. No adding on ‘unplanned extra’ issues after it started like Civil War 2 or Secret Wars. And because there were no delays we don’t have the awkward situation of post-event issues coming out before the big story ended and spoiling parts of the ending.
We got the big showdown between Captain America and well…..Captain America, with some timely appearances by Sam Wilson, Winter Soldier and Ant-Man. The final issue had some really cool panels and pages that were direct callbacks to previous events like The Infinity Gauntlet and the first Civil War:
The imagery and the narration throughout this final issue was top notch. I wasn’t a fan of some of the artwork in previous issues but I was on board with it 100 percent here. As for the story itself I thought it was a good wrap up to it all. What the big fight would be had been pretty much given away in issue 9, but the execution on the page was still very well done.
As far as the event as a whole it’s hard to look at it without considering the year long narrative that Nick Spencer built through both of his Captain America books and that was supplemented by other books like Ultimates and the Civil War 2 event that preceded Secret Empire. The story of Sam Wilson struggling for acceptance in his role as Captain America while a lot of people pined so hard for the old Cap that they turned a blind eye to his corruption is an American story and not just a superhero tale, and Secret Empire would not be the same without it. And that has to factor into how you judge it.
To expand on that, Sam was essentially a stand in for any member of a marginalized group of people (racial minorities, religious minorities, LGBT, etc) who has worked to serve their country in some form or fashion, and in doing so tried to help it live up to it’s ideals only to be disrepected, and feel unwanted and unappreciated. Sometimes you want you to throw your hands up and say ‘those clowns don’t deserve to be helped’, sometimes you feel like you’re letting your own group down by trying to assimilate, and sometimes you find the strength to push through for the people who need and admire you. Sam has done all three over the past year and I really enjoyed the way Nick Spencer captured that.
That being said the event part of the story is entirely dependent on over a year of Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson books; without those the context of Steve’s betrayal and Sam’s struggle to decide how he fits in and whether or not fitting in should even be a goal is easily missed. Sam going into and coming out of self imposed exile over the course of the event doesn’t mean as much if you didn’t keep up with the backstory in his solo book. This is different from some past Marvel events that you could just pick up and dig in cold.
And that affects my final judgement here. Overall I call this event good but not great. The Sam and Steve books that both preceded and accompanied it were better than the event itself, in my opinion. But the other tie ins weren’t ridiculous and the character deaths that took place were meaningful and not gratuitous, which gets it points from me. Taken as combination with the Cap books the entire story gets a A from me. On it’s own it gets a B-plus, which may go higher depending on the aftermath and how things stick later.