Strange things are afoot at Marvel to say the least. Anyone who’s been paying attention is already familiar with the controversy surrounding the “Hydra Cap,” with ardent fans going so far as to boycott not only the Secret Empire miniseries but all Marvel products. Yesterday Marvel issued the following statement before the release of the first issue of Secret Empire – a statement only released to ABC< which is also owned by Disney.

“With Marvel Comics’ Secret Empire, the forces of Hydra have taken over and, due to the villainous actions of the Red Skull, have manipulated Marvel’s greatest hero, Captain America, and forced him to adopt their cause. At Marvel, we want to assure all of our fans that we hear your concerns about aligning Captain America with Hydra and we politely ask you to allow the story to unfold before coming to any conclusion. Your passion for the Marvel Universe is what keeps us going every day. We want to keep providing our fans with exciting adventures and presenting characters with dimension.

Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, will always be a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe who will stand up for what is right, and Secret Empire will be the biggest challenge Steve has ever faced. What you will see at the end of this journey is that his heart and soul — his core values, not his muscle or his shield — are what save the day against Hydra and will further prove that our heroes will always stand against oppression and show that good will always triumph over evil.”

Captain America: Steve Rogers #17 cover

In all my years as a comics reader, I don’t recall a publisher ever releasing a statement like this, especially right before the first issue. You don’t have to be the Inhuman Karnak to see the flaws in Marvel’s marketing campaign from it. While Marvel is finally taking the negative backlash seriously, it now faces the challenge of playing defense and doing damage control to deal with these offended readers. If people have to be told upfront that the the evil fascist villains will be defeated by Steve Rogers, there’s something very wrong going on.

As much as Marvel is trying to distance Hydra from any and all associations with Nazis, it only seems to be strengthening the connection. It also doesn’t help that whether intentional or not, much Nazi iconography and images have been utilized in promoting the series. The message gets even more mixed when you have the characters in the current season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. television show point blankly say that Hydra are Nazis. So of course the story turns into a clickbait article title like “Captain America becomes a Nazi.”

It’s a fair assessment to say Marvel has been rather myopic in its marketing of Secret Empire and somewhat dismissive of the consumer criticism. As someone with a master’s degree in marketing, I’m a firm believer in the Outside-In marketing orientation where you develop a product based on the wants and needs of consumers as well as other information. As opposed to the opposite method, Inside-Out where you create a product based on essentially instinct and stay the course no matter what.

Marvel’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Gabriel has said the publisher will be taking a break from big crossover event books after Secret Empire. It will be interesting to see how Secret Empire plays out during the summer, particularly on the retail level.


  1. “Wait until the end before you pass judgment” is often good advice, but we’re talking about multiple interconnected four-dollar-an-issue periodicals here. If I don’t like a comic, I’m going to stop buying it, not keep picking it up and hoping it gets better. (I spent the ’90s doing just that. I’ve learned my lesson.)

    And I think they’re missing the point. The people who are mad about Hydra Cap aren’t mad because they don’t know he’ll be a good guy again at the end of it. Of *course* they know that, and frankly suggesting that they don’t is pretty insulting. They just don’t like the premise in the first place.

  2. It’s been a really tone-deaf idea from the start, but so has been the dorection that they’ve taken a lot of their classic characters. X-men, Spiderman, Cap, Iron Man…I don’t understand any of these characters anymore, really.

  3. Fair essay. I, too, believe where Marvel mostly went wrong on this was attacking criticism of the story’s direction, rather than perhaps maybe commiserating with it, along with a winking eye that things would be put to rights. A lot of misplaced steps here and an unfortunate mingling of legitimate concerns with outright hyperbole on the part of consumers. It did come off a bit heavy handed, particularly from the high ups, not so much the creators involved.

    Anyway, I got the first book and I’m giving it a chance. I wish Marvel didn’t come out at all with the assurances things will come to rights. We should all know that as comic fans. Just misstep after misstep, again, from the higher ups.

  4. I did not get the Secret Empire #1 because I bought and read the #0 and I did not enjoy it. I did not enjoy the depiction of Captain America, just like I didn’t like the way they made Carol Danvers a completely awful person in Civil War 2.

    Should I then go ahead month after month and pay $4 for a story I’m not enjoying because Marvel says, “Wait until it’s over, it will be good?” Their smug dismissal of people who were saying, “I don’t like this.” was also quite off-putting.

  5. I’m a progressive and I’m done with progressive outrage. I’ve been on that side but lately it’s gone overboard with accusing everything of whitewashing, “white feminism” and other bullshit that only serves to dived us further when we’re all on the same side. As if there was a race to be THE MOST PROGRESSIVE who incidentally have to CRUSH all those not who they deem not as “woke” as them.. And now this other bullshit. I’m done, all the constant outrage seekers out there can burn in hell together whether they’re progressives or conservatives. Get a life and let people tell their stories and make their art as they see fit, if you don’t like you can just not buy it.

  6. I haven’t seen a lot of “offended readers.” I’ve seen a lot of complaining, and the completely separate group of people who have actually been reading Captain America: Steve Rogers.

  7. Sorry. I already read the first six issues’ worth of Steve Rogers. It was an awful book, through and through. No distinguishable character voices, forced dialogue, and a hideous, tactless premise to boot. Structurally, it was interesting, but the art was a mess after the first two issues — a shame, too, as I generally like both Jesus Saiz’ and Javier Pina’s work — the whole endeavor seemed both rushed and meticulously insulting. I have not been led to believe I should expect anything different from Secret Empire, so why should I give it a chance, especially at next to five bucks a pop for the first two issues?

  8. “It’s been total crap up till now, but please keep plowing through it and eventually we’ll give you something good as a reward for enduring this misery we’re putting you through!”

    Why should we? You haven’t given us anything to make up for the misery you’ve inflicted on us. Give us something NOW, TODAY, to atone for what you’ve done to us before asking us to endure months more of suffering.

  9. I feel particularly bad for the LCS that have the difficulty ordering the crossover with the tie-in books.

    I only have one book that will be part of it and probably wont even read them when i get it. Which underlines Marvel’s events. I know it makes money but do it Valiants way, put out some one shots that dont interrupt the normal flow of the monthlies. Seems to me a win-win for everyone.

    And this is why I will have only bought one crossover since Infinity and that was Secret Wars. the rest meh. dont care.

  10. While I’m not against the story per se, I do hope Secret Empire sales tank just so Marvel will lay off on the non-stop, simultaneous event and xover cash grabs.

    The combined cost for buying the floppies is getting ridiculous. I’m on the brink of just forgoing the floppies and steering clear of all Marvel spoilers to read solely via the 6-month delayed Marvel Unlimited.

  11. Honestly I think the statement is meant more for the FCBD crowd than weekly customers. Also if it’s a slow news weekend this could be another PR mess for Marvel. I understand the whole point of FCBD is to get people coming back to their LCS after sampling the promotional issues, and promoting an event is financial sense for both the LCS and Marvel. The thing is though Marvel already saw the reaction to Stevedra over a year ago. Seriously who thought making their highest profile book about a beloved hero leading Nazi analogous group in an armed take-over of America, and for a day commonly seen as introducing kids to world of comics.

  12. As far as fan backlash goes, there’s always fan backlash. Superior Spider-Man received negative reactions (although people bought it) and actually ended up doing something interesting with the concept of Spider-Man. When DC killed Superman, there was backlash. So to ask “why are they doing this?” shows a lack of memory–they’re doing it because messing with characters generates buzz and interest and sells books. The first issue of Steve Rogers flew off the shelves once the controversy started.

    That being said, Nazis are a historical fact, a real-life horror that casts a shadow on today’s America. So I can imagine people being turned off by a comic that ignores the connotations of playing with Nazi iconography just for the sake of a comic book story, and one that aligns a character who is supposed to be a symbol of the United States with a group (Hydra) that has ties to Nazis. Of course, everything will turn out right in the end and Cap will shake off the influence that has brought him to this point. But it more than likely comes down to whether you feel that “playing” with a toxic, historical evil in this way goes beyond an intellectual/entertainment exercise and constitutes and insults to those who suffered under the Nazis and those who fought and died to defeat them.

    I have been reading the Steve Rogers series and will read Secret Empire because I want to see where it goes, not because I have been enjoying the books, which are rather dry and often uneventful. The thing I have found Marvel struggling with these days is building a human connection between their characters and readers. There is no connection between the reader and Steve Rogers/Captain America at this point. I feel nothing for him or about him. I just observe his actions. This is also a weakness of all of these events Marvel has devote itself to. When you fill a book with dozens of characters, you can’t focus on any of them in a way meaningful to readers.

    So Marvel has to accept that in addition to fans pulling away from the premise of Secret Empire, they may also be pulling away because the storytelling thus far has not been great.

  13. 2 Problems with Secret Empire and Nick Spencer Captain America run

    1) It bloody hard to tolerate a writer, the book itself and Marvel when they openly refuses to accept their own massive plot hole and controversial nature of their story.
    In issue 2 of CA;SR the plot hole is introduced. Its the Nazi Red Skull who teaches Kobik about Hyrda and orders her to brain wash Captain America into being a Hydra Agent. All their attempt to distance Hydra from Nazi’s are in vain because of this massive plot hole!
    You could of avoided controversy by simply having someone else teach the Kobik about hydra or have a different organisation. But Marvel and Spencer wanted Controversy and they wanted something people who’ve only seen the movies would get. They won’t own up that fact.
    And from this, they want us to feel sympathy for Cap or understand that he’s conflicted conflicted about sending his friend to firing squad (Which by the way makes no sense? What was Rick going do? Reveal Captain America is Hydra agent to world? I think that cats already out of bag) or drugging population or ordering the slaughter the population of Las Vegas.
    2) The story at the same time has zero stakes because Spencer and Marvel have already revealed their get out jail card – the Cosmic Cube. This of course, does not mean that spencer should be allowed to indulge in nazi fantasies. Nor does it excuse poor writing. Spencer does not know the magician trick of distracting the audience while you sow the seeds of your big reveal. Spencer literally tells you his plot points. Issue 0 was exactly what Spencer told you Cap would do from issue 3-16. There’s no excitement or surprise to be had because you were already told how dominos would fall. This continues on you secret empire with the cube plot

  14. I was reading an old Captain America comic the other day – from the early 2000’s I think (by Jurgens and Layton) – and all I could think was “He’s really a Hydra agent and this all a ruse”. Made for an interesting and unexpected reading experience.

  15. I leafed through Secret Empire #1 and all I can wonder is…

    What the hell happened to Steve McNiven’s work? Maybe it’s a bad pairing with the inker but the visuals looked rushed and sloppy with a side of occasional McNiven. And those McNiven moments were random pages that had maybe an establishing head shot that were up to snuff but man, that issue looked like a dog.

  16. “Marvel’s Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Gabriel has said the publisher will be taking a break from big crossover event books after Secret Empire.” I’ll be THAT when it happens! While this event has its own share of fan love/hate going on, the real core issue is something that has written about on countless blogs and forums: event burnoout!

    I am one of those “old fans” (I have been read comics for 40 yrs), and while I’ve seen a lot of publishing moves, good and bad, it seems as though the competitiveness between the Big Two has been in “Ridiculous Mode” for some time now.

    DC’s “Rebirth” event shows an effort to try and restore their heroes back to being heroes as well as an emphasis on good storytelling rather than setting up yet another event! And it’s been that angle that has lured me back to DC this year, aiding me in deciding which books to drop (Marvel).

    I was always a fan of both publishers, but Marvel’s frequent reboots, as well as their refusal to bring back the Fantastic Four in comic format (I’ve seen statements saying it’s not related to the whole Marvel/FOX issue, but we all know better!) has just continued to push me further and further away. Now this whole “Secret Empire” (and some recently disappointing writing/characterization of ANW/A.K.A. Formerly-Known-As-X-23) was the final push!

    I hope that Marvel will get out of this slump, but judging by what I am seeing thus far, I think it unlikely..

  17. ” It also doesn’t help that whether intentional or not, much Nazi iconography and images have been utilized in promoting the series.”

    The cover that you have right here on this page has a poster with Hydra goons giving a single arm salute and the logo “Hail Hydra” on it! If you don’t want people to think your “generic fascists” are Nazis, maybe try giving your “generic fascists” some other kind of fascist iconography.

    What’s very likely going on here is that Marvel is giving out Secret Empire #1 on Free Comic Book Day – the one day a year when the mainstream media and non-comics readers show up at comic book stores. And they chose to give away part 1 of a story that hasn’t ended yet where the setup is that Captain America is the leader of a fascist organization with Nazi ties. The ONLY thing that would have made this a worse decision for them is if there was a Captain America or Avengers movie opening this weekend (they can count their lucky stars that they bumbled this in a year when Guardians of the Galaxy is being released and Chris Evans isn’t going to be reprising his role as Cap for another year – the media would have had a field day with Evans response to questions about it and I doubt he would have held his tongue for Ike Perlmutter’s people). Someone in marketing finally realized what a pile of cowdung they have accidentally found themselves stepping into and are trying to do some pre-emptive spinning to try to make the damage hurt less.

  18. The only problem with Secret Empire is Nick Spencer. His personal brand is beyond Toxic with so many readers, that its impossible to give this a fair shot. Put any other name on the book and people would give it a chance because they’d trust in the intentions of the writer. They have a branding problem more than a content one.

    In terms of Hydra=Nazis. Um, the Marvel movies, esp the first Captain America film established that as a permanent thing. Can’t be undone.

    Personally i think the concept is pretty interesting, but I can’t help but think the writer is forcing an Alt-right fantasy and i want no part of that.

  19. This backlash is the cumulative effect of event fatigue. Not all events (at any publisher) have been hits and this particular event seems like Marvel is ready to revert to the status quo.

    The worst part of the statement is that it seems like Marvel is saying, “Go ahead and buy all the issues of this major event, and then decide if you like it.” Sorry, but with serialized fiction if I don’t like one issue, I don’t buy the next.

  20. People have to stop talking for Jews and Jack Kirby here. If you’re offended by the comic, fine, but if you speak for Jews, who the hell are you anyway? That’s more anti-semitic than a thousand Hydra turns. Jeez.

  21. I have it easy with this because there are writers I won’t read. Currently, there are three of them Rick Remender, Dan Slott and Nick Spencer. He’s on the list so he’s books are out regardless of what he writes. Marvel Comics hasn’t put out a decent Captain America book in years. I see no reason for them to start now. Luckily, Cap has been around forever. There are plenty of great stories to read without this toxic piece of crap.

  22. To the people upset with the story, they already HAVE read all of the story content.

    And that story content are the sensationalized click bait headlines themselves.

  23. People who are buying Secret Empire and tie-ins are ignorant of the Marvel Universe since 1963, and not understanding that Disney/Marvel is catering to younger people and not loyal fans since 1963 or whatever that make up 90% of their fan base. Young people don’t buy that many comics unless they have a parent that grew up with comics that buys it for them.

    So you have Marvel/Disney crapping on loyal fans by taking straight white male characters like Steve Rogers and making them evil or a villain. While Hydra has Nazi roots and has ex-Nazis in their organization, Marvel is trying to retrocon the origin of Hydra yet again to where they are no longer Nazi based but more like what Cobra was for GI Joe.

    Can I predict the ending? Nick Fury Sr. returns with another Cosmic Cube and wishes everything away. Steve Rogers is put into Ice Again, Allies won WW2, Nick Fury Sr is back running SHI(LED and young again with the Infinity Formula. New Captain America is now a lesbian black woman, Hillary Clinton is President and passes equal right laws for all genders, etc. Everyone in Hydra is deported out of the USA and put into an International Prison. UN joins the Kree Empire and others to make a Federation and get protection. Hydra is out of business Red Skull is dead again, and his daughter Sin takes over as the New Red Skull. Peter Parker dies and The Superior Octopus takes over for him.

  24. The whole idea that the people complaining are not the ones reading it is ridiculous. I’ve been reading Captain America since the Brubaker run uninterrupted, including adjacent books like the first Secret Avengers series; that means I’ve also read both Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers, Avengers Standoff and I fucking hate the premise.

    I got the benefit of being able to read the issues for free since the library gets just about every marvel floppy every week — so I’m not hating it on a vacuum, simply because some headline told me to be outraged — I truly despite this comic.

  25. Marvel are idiots. You judge it as soon as you start reading it. Why would someone keep wasting $4-$5 on a story they aren’t enjoying! I am not going to spent $40 before I pass judgement.

  26. You cannot throw people shit they don’t want and say ”Oh just buy this awful thing you don’t want and will probably Tie-in to EVERY MARVEL BOOK FOR MONTHS AND RUIN CHARACTERS/STORIES and maybe we will give you a small payoff in the end”…which never been worth it in the end. I mean just look at the past HUGE events. Every time, after such an event, things were a mess and I had less and less interest in the new ”status quo” they set every 5 to 6 months.

    Characters have become unrecognizable and people I didn’t wanna read anymore. No person would change 5 times in a year unless they have some mental disorder or something.

    And yes, I find Steve Rogers turning into Cap Hydra insulting and won’t support such a story with money. Don’t care about the payoff. Those things he did and will do as Hydra will remain in the stories and my memory. You cannot wipe reality in the real world so you cannot restore ”reader status quo”. So yea, I will care more about what they are throwing at me NOW rather than thinking about the ending after a horrible journey that will not make it worth anything.

    I mean honestly, what kind of ending would justify and redeem this event ? Hydra beaten and Steve getting back to his old self ? How will that justify the casualties and awful ANGST that will follow up the upcoming issues and taint many heroes and characters we love ? Not to mention the dead ones.

    Oh they will re-write reality again to fix things but at that point, what was THE POINT of Secret Empire other than FACIST SHOCK SALES. It is simply disgusting.

  27. Wait for the end?Sorry marvel.Not gonna keep breaking open my wallet just to see another character turn into a nazi.The story is basically an injustice port.

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