REVIEW: Secret Empire #4 – “Where Did It All Go So Wrong?”

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Secret Empire #4

SECRET EMPIRE #4
Writer: Nick Spencer
Penciler: Leinil Francis Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Letterer: VC’s Travis Lanham 
Release Date: 6/14/17
Price: $4.99

Captain America and the resistance go after the same Cosmic Cube fragment only to end up at the world’s most awkward dinner party in Secret Empire #4. 

Secret Empire #4
Plot: AI Tony Stark and the members of the resistance arrive in Alaska, where Ultron holds a piece of Cosmic Cube. However, they’re not alone in their search and end up facing down a former friend. Meanwhile, Natasha and her team get closer to the truth and closer to crossing the line of what they’re willing to do to win this battle. 

Story: I’ll say something that probably hasn’t been said in a while: Hank Pym was the star of this issue. Well, the Ultron-Hank Pym hybrid. While the book starts and ends with the usual Secret Empire subterfuge and politics, the middle of the book is a healthy therapy session all Marvel readers might need right now. 

Secret Empire #4

Spencer makes Hank the meta-narrator to what’s going on, pointing out how repetitive and predictable the conflict between Cap and Tony has become. Getting Captain America back in the same room with his former teammates, facing a common enemy, gives the reader both a sense of that old excitement about the prospect of an Avengers mission and new grief over the circumstances. Nothing hits closer to home than having a common enemy point out that both sides are contributing to the destruction they used to fight +together. 

Secret Empire #4

In addition to rehashing those old Civil War feelings, Spencer provides some emotional moments with other characters. Watching Pietro spurned by the sister he’s trying to save broke my heart while Natasha’s return to her cold-blooded assassin roots brought a different kind of sadness and regret. Spencer continues to do a good job of balancing the plot of the book with the emotional realities and consequences that give the story a necessary gravity.

That said, while I personally enjoyed the Hank-Ultron scenes, they felt out of place compared to previous issues and even the end and beginning of #4. Maybe Ultron plays a bigger role later, but I couldn’t help but feel Spencer just needed an excuse to get Steve in the same room as Tony. Unfortunately, he used this opportunity to just rehash old battles. 

Art: Bringing in a new artist on this issue was a little jarring, and changing up the art added to the issue feeling a little out of place in the series. Leinil Francis Yu uses less detail and expression in characters in favor of more sweeping scenes. This can work for the issue since there are so many characters to fit in, but leaves a lack of emotional pull in some of the group scenes. In heated one-on-one scenes like Tony’s take down of Hank, the art team picks up the intensity of the expressions fortunately. 

Secret Empire #4

There were some fun details in the panels. like the “Kiss the Overlord” message on Ultron’s chef apron. which add to the book’s fun. A change up in the coloring, done this issue by Sonny Gho, did add a nice distinction from the usual muted color palette. Instead there were more pastels that created the glowing electronic effect of Ultron’s city. Being able to the take the setting to somewhere distinctly different made the events feel more contained and less bogged down by all the crossover plots. 

Verdict: For as much as this book had its highs (witty dialogue, emotional stakes), there felt like an overall lack of action. While there is a twist at the end, the stalemate between both sides almost makes it feel like in the larger scheme of things nothing happened. A tied score can be exciting, but not when there’s so much time left on the clock. Tony and Cap arguing? Been there. Crazy Hank Pym? Also been there (albeit with less Ultron). 

Overall, Secret Empire #4 might end up being one of the weaker issues in a series that has promised high stakes. A casual reader not interested in reading every issue of Secret Empire might skip this. 

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

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