Secret Empire #1: OK, here we go.
Before I read the issue, I thought about the task Spencer has before him. Given the string of incredibly disappointing cross-over events Marvel has imposed upon us lately, I have to admit said task seems Herculean. First, he can no longer avoid spelling out why Steve believes in Hydra. So far, Steve has simply stated Hydra can make "us" stronger, but he hasn't ever explained why he thinks we're weak. Is it because homosexuals and women have rights? Is it because Black Lives Matter exists? Does he think Mexicans are stealing our jobs? After all, Spencer has to remember the public outrage over this heel turn comes because he's saying Steve has been Hydra all along. If he was simply under the Cosmic Cube's influence, we could easily accept this cognitive dissidence. But, Spencer has gone to pains to say he's always been a Hydra plant. As such, Steve supported Hydra throwing in its lot with the Nazis, even though they were supporting a genocidal regime. How can he still be worthy of lifting Thor's hammer? Spencer has so far waved his hands in front of the blackboard on that point, but he really can no longer ignore it. Second, Spencer has to improve upon recent history when it comes to cross-over events. Even the likes of Matt Fraction and Jeff Lemire have been brought low by an event that spiraled beyond their control. (Marvel invoking the memory of "Fear Itself" with Steve picking up Thor's hammer may not have been a great idea.) We've already endured "Civil War II" and "Inhumans vs. X-Men" in the last year. Both those events are good examples for Spencer on how not to run a cross-over event. (To whit, if the central conflict could easily be resolved by a phone call, it's a problem.) But, it's been so long since we had a good event that I can't even point to an example for how he should manage one.
The good news is Spencer starts strong, mirroring the excellent first issue of "Age of Ultron" by starting in media res. Instead of Ultron destroying the world, Steve and Hydra taking over the United States is a fait accompli. Steve's top priority is finding the Cosmic Cube to "correct" history, but, in the meantime, he uses his dictatorial powers to impose his version of history on the people. Spencer starts the issue by showing us schoolchildren "learning" it was Arnim Zola, not Abraham Erskine, who created the Super-Soldier Serum; it's suitably chilling. Spencer then goes a step further; when the teacher reminds the students to dime out anyone who could be a traitor, one of the students reports that another students' older brother is acting "weird." It turns out the older brother is an Inhuman; Hydra forces storm his house almost immediately after the report, and he's sent to a detention center for Inhumans.
At this point, Spencer pulls back the camera and we get a better sense of the larger status quo. The mutants have seemingly avoided the Inhumans' fate by creating a nation of their own in the Pacific Northwest; it's called New Tian and seems to be run by Zorn, of all people. Meanwhile, Carol is still stuck outside the Shield trying to hold off the Chitauri, and Las Vegas has become the site of the resistance, led by Hawkeye and Black Widow. Spencer does a solid job of conveying emotion despite this rushed tour of the situation, as Hawkeye starts to crack under the pressure of the war of attrition he's fighting with Hydra. Our eyes and ears here is the new Patriot we saw in "Captain America: Sam Wilson." He has contacted the Champions with information Rick Jones somehow gave him (Spencer doesn't elaborate how). He claims it can save Steve, but Iron Man (or, at least, A.I. Iron Man) is skeptical. Tony exposits for us that they've tried many times to prove Steve was a clone or under Faustus' mind control or something. After suffering many casualties in these efforts, they eventually had to accept reality: Steve is Steve. Meanwhile, the Hydra Council pushes Steve to be more evil than he wants to be, and Elisa puts her finger on the problem: they'll think he's weak if he doesn't take a harder line on traitors, but they'll know he's weak if he does. Ultimately, he does; he has Rick Jones executed, and he orders Hydra to destroy Las Vegas.
Overall, the story...is actually pretty solid. First, when Tony is talking about the various assaults on Steve, McNiven makes the "casualties" indistinct. As far as I can tell, we never see, like, Iceman with a beam through his skull. One of the problems with "Age of Ultron" was that it was pretty clear from the start this reality was going to get rewritten (as cool as it would've been for that not to happen). Here, Marvel seems to hold out the possibility we're playing for keeps. Rick Jones dying isn't that big of a deal; after all, we killed off Bruce Banner and (more or less) Tony Stark in "Civil War 2." Even if we know -- as Marvel has repeatedly told us -- that Steve will be the freedom-lovin' hunk he's always been at the end of the event, it's not to say other parts of the Marvel Universe won't be a smoking crater of woe. The longer Marvel can convince us of that, the more exciting this event will be.
Batman #22: King really dives to the heart of the matter here, as Barry and Bruce find themselves in the "Flashpoint" Batcave and face-to-face with Thomas Wayne. While Bruce and Thomas try to find a way to make sense of the reality in front of them, Flash struggles to rebuild the Cosmic Treadmill. Based on his reading of the vibrational energy (just go with it), Flash realizes this "Flashpoint" isn't an alternate reality but an alternate history. Someone (*cough*Dr. Manhattan*cough*) has kept this history in existence, essentially like a ghost haunting our world. However, this mysterious person (*cough*Dr. Manhattan*cough*) suddenly stops doing so. Flash realizes this history is crumbling and scrambles to fix the Treadmill, which starts fixing itself (I think). Bruce tries to convince Thomas to come with him, but he declines: he tells Bruce to give up being Batman and be happy. As the "Flashpoint" history dissolves behind them, Barry and Bruce are again racing through the timestream. A distraught Bruce wonders why someone would set up this scenario, placing the Button in the Batcave to lead Bruce to his father just in time to lose him. Barry reminds us Wally said someone (*cough...OK, you get it) stole time from the DCnU to hurt them; it's possible he sent the Button simply to hurt Bruce. Before they can ponder why he'd do that, they encounter Thawne on his way to confront the mysterious person. This scene takes place before Thawne is killed, and Flash wonders aloud why the timestream brought them to that moment. (Again, I'm just going to ignore the physics of the timestream consciously sending Barry and Bruce to that moment.) It seems like Barry and Bruce might get a glimpse of Dr. Manhattan in "Flash" #22, which raises all sorts of questions about where we go from here.
Champions #8: I love, love, love that Mark Waid gives Nova a win here by making him the only member of the team not gazing at his navel. Everyone else was acting, well, adolescent, fretting about the Freelancers copywriting their name. Only Nova realized the answer was simply telling people not to buy the stuff. Bam, problem solved! It seemed so simple, but Waid did a really great job of showing us why it was so hard for the rest of the team to get there.
Hawkeye #6: I love everything about this issue. The plot is almost irrelevant. (Dahlia is an Inhuman; she emerged from her cocoon looking amazing, but she's also a dragon. Brad promised her a new body but couldn't deliver. He's an asshat. Kate is going to put her in touch with the Inhumans.) Thompson has given Kate such a very clear voice, it's a joy to spend time with her. Also, Pizza Dog is back! Hurrah! The only thing I didn't understand is how Kate knew about the LMD angle. Thompson shows us Kate's conspiracy board, where the acronym LMDs appear near her father's name. I think we don't yet know why she made that connection; Thompson had to show it to us simply so we knew the connection existed. It's a reminder how deep of a story Thompson is telling, because Kate knows a lot that we don't yet know. But, we all know Brad is an asshat. That part is clear.
Nightwing #20: ALL THE FEELS. I had no idea how Seeley was going to wrap up this arc in an issue, but he really did it. The "Hell of Hells" is revealed to be a telepathic reality Hurt created for Dick where he has become Deathwing. But, Damian appears as Nightwing and reminds Dick what he told Damian when they first started working together: unlike Batman, tragedy doesn't define Robin. Dick breaks from Hurt's influence and rushes to Damian's side. (Damian calmly explaining that he used his abdominal muscles to move his liver so Hurt's blade didn't damage it is classic Damian.) Before Hurt can get revenge, Deathwing himself attacks, inspired by a conversation he had with Shawn about righting wrongs. The two stab each other repeatedly as the temple collapses around them and our team flees. But, the bestest part is the epilogue. Damian is forced to admit he returned to Blüdhaven because he missed Dick. Even more interestingly, Dick tells Damian he considered keeping him when Bruce returned, since he knew he'd be a better influence, but he didn't think he was ready to be a dad. Seeley really nails this conversation, as not only are the boys honest with each other but they can't bring themselves to say the key words, like "I miss you" and "son." They also are relieved when a bank robbery happens, leading to the perfect ending: they leap into the night with Damian saying, "We're still the greatest." Truer words, Damian, truer words.
Nova #6: Ho, boy. Loveness and Pérez reveal the truth about Richard's escape from the Cancerverse. After years of dying at the hands of the Revengers in battle after battle, Rich eventually pours the entirety of the Nova Force into the Cosmic Cube he used to seal off the Cancerverse from our Universe. He uses the revived Cube to open a portal to our Universe, inadvertently leaving behind the Worldmind as he escaped. The Worldmind has now adapted, seemingly taken over all "life" in the Cancerverse. As expected, Sam arrives to save Rich, but the Worldmind has already absorbed him. Rich is in trouble, y'all.
Spider-Gwen #19: With the conclusion of the pretty awesome cross-over event with "Spider-Man," Latour returns to this series' ongoing concern, namely restoring Gwen's powers. The path he lays out here is...complicated. If I'm following correctly, Matt Murdoch secretly recruited one of Norman Osborn's scientists, the foreshadowingly named Dr. Elsa Brock, to examine the radioactive isotope Frank Castle gave Osborn several issues ago. (Latour reminds us Frank agreed to sweep Harry's crimes under the rug in exchange for Osborn unlocking the secrets of the isotope. But, as Murdoch notes, Castle is now a fugitive, so Harry is still out there dangling in the wind.) Brock informs us that Cindy Moon's research into the alien "spider parasites" that infected Jesse Drew (as seen in the "Spider-Women" event) led Curt Connors to develop his Lizard Formula. (I'm not sure if we really have enough information about how Connors developed the Formula to make this connection on our own. Was that also in "Spider-Women?" I guess I should just assume it was.) Given this connection between the radioactive isotope and the Formula, Brock thought she could use the former as a cure for the latter. It worked, but not how she expected. Instead of burning out the Formula's regenerative powers, the mixture created "venom." (DUN-dun-DUN!) It absorbs and amplifies the isotope, but unfortunately kills the host through the radiation it emits. However, Gwen's body is immune to the radiation: if she injects herself with the venom, she'll get back her powers, since its side effect is powers similar to the ones she had. (That makes sense, given her powers and the venom come from the same source.) Murdoch wants to infect Harry with the isotope, use the interaction between the formula in his bloodstream and the isotope to create the venom, and then draw out the venom in the process. At this point, they can then inject Gwen with the venom and everyone's problems are solved: Gwen gets back her powers, the venom has a home, Harry is cured, and Norman is happy. Gwen asks what Murdoch gets from it, but he doesn't answer. At any rate, feeling she has no choice but to help Harry, she agrees and heads to Madripoor, where Matt's Hand has located Harry. In previous series, I feel like it's exactly this sort of complicated plot that made me dislike Latour, because it was rare that I understood all the steps that got us to the conclusion. But, here, I get it, and I'm admittedly excited about it. Latour could go a lot of different directions, building some genuine suspense. Also, Wolverine!
Spider-Man 2009 #23: David gets right to the point, as Miguel travels to May 15, 2019 to stop the disaster that sets the stage for the alternate future he's trying to prevent. (That said, I still don't understand how it's connected to the actual future he's trying to resurrect, since someone clearly happened to turn New York into Nueva York. But, I digress.) He stumbles upon the cause: a terminally ill Tyler Stone wants to release a virus that kills millions, though we're still not sure what his motivation is. (I think it's just to be an asshole.) Miguel tries to stop him, but the future Sinister Six get in his way. However, Honey Bee -- i.e., Tempest in her insect form -- arrives and grabs the vial. She's distracted when she sees Miguel, who she calls Spider-Man, and Tyler shoots her, regaining control over the vial. However, seemingly the original version of Miguel -- in his original costume -- stabs him, and Tyler orders Aisa to release New York against the heroes. It's now "our" Miguel, seemingly original Miguel, and Honey Bee against New York. I'm not sure how the Fist got control over New Yorkers or where we go from here, but it seems like we're getting there soon.
X-Men Gold #3: Guggenheim is really building momentum here. First, Kitty is a bad-ass to the max, from coldly telling the students the rescue mission isn't a field trip (after Rockslide complains she only took him and Armor with the team) to using her powers to save Amara as the Brotherhood's HQ explodes. But, she's at her best when she threatens Lydia Nance. During their confrontation, Rachel gleaned from Mesmero's mind that hired him to form the Brotherhood of "Evil" Mutants to further her own ends. Professor X might've delivered some sort of speech about looking past their differences; Kitty threatens Nance and makes sure she knows she's being threatened. We've got a new sheriff in town, folks.
Also Read: Spider-Man #16
Also Read: Spider-Man #16