Whether you loved or loathed the crossover event thus far, there’s no doubt that the fifth issue of Marvel’s Secret Empire is a high watermark for comic book writing.
My heart goes out to Nick Spencer for taking such bold and, some might say, necessary steps in his writing. By taking the decisions that he did, Spencer incurred the wrath of millions, quicker than you can say double agent. Much like a petulant child, the masses frothed at the mouth and tore him to shreds for doing what a good writer really ought to do, which is to ask the ‘what if?’ questions that make readers think. In another example of unwarranted criticism, the poor writer wasn’t even really given the chance for exoneration or redemption. They judged him hastily and mercilessly, without being gracious enough to offer a second chance, or, heaven-forbid, the luxury of the opportunity to tell his complete story. But c’est la vie.
A Newtonian law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, but in this case, the reaction from readers was a tsunami of criticism. Sure, I don’t hold any university degrees in comic book writing to reinforce my statement, but as a fan of interesting and engrossing storytelling maybe you can see my point. Were Spencer’s choices that bad? Were they worse than introducing character traits that seem contrived just for the sake of relevance and to bolster company image? It doesn’t appear so to my eyes. Particularly in issue 5, in what seems to be a case of art imitating life, Tony Stark finds himself bereft of support from those around him who are meant to have his back. Spencer gives the impression that he drew from his personal experiences of trial and tribulation, writing about what he knows to convey the isolation he might’ve felt as he was criticised for his treatment of Captain America. I’m all for calling a spade a spade and giving the devil his due, but looking at issue 5 in this crossover series, the anti-Spencer rhetoric seems unwarranted and severe.
Spencer’s masterful use of various literary techniques underline his calibre as a writer, and argue the case as to why he was chosen to write this summer’s big crossover event. Take for instance the way he elevates a simple email from a concerned father (and author of a treasure trove of cringe-worthy dad jokes) to his daughter into a compelling narrative technique. As readers, we are given insight into the team’s plans peppered with the thoughts and feelings of one of its teammates. The message feels real and not contrived in the least, unlike a killer revealing his motives and methods in a blatant soliloquy a la the one-armed man in the earlier episodes of Twin Peaks. Spencer uses Ant-Man to great effect, declaring quite casually that the heroes are on a hunt for a Macguffin, without it really breaking the fourth wall. But looking at reaction on the all-seeing internet, Spencer remains an unsung hero.
Fans of this series, including yours truly, meanwhile, will undoubtedly await the next issue with bated breath, after the ominous reveal in the pages of issue 5. Overlord/ Supreme Leader Steve Rogers has clearly been reading the 48 Laws of Power and perhaps even Machiavelli’s The Prince, and exudes the air of a field marshal with a secret ace in his deck but still feels like Steve Rogers, if not the Captain America of Mark Millar’s seminal Civil War of 2006. As such, there are a few possibilities for how this story will conclude, with all the nascent treachery and character motives and various battlefields and settings. Maybe there’s more wisdom in being a wet blanket, but for now I live with audacious hope.