Looking To Check Out Marvel’s Next Big Event Secret Empire? Catch Up Here First

Last week Secret Empire #0, the prologue to Marvel’s most controversial event in recent memory, hit comic book shelves. But since Marvel and writer Nick Spencer has been laying the storytelling foundation for Empire for a few years (including during some previous big events), you may need a bit of a primer to bring you up to speed on what’s been going on with the Marvel Universe and its Star Spangled Avenger. So we’ve summarized everything you need to know before diving in, and kept it as chronological as possible (when possible).

Before We Get Started . . .

The first thing you need to know is that when this all started to go down, Steve Rogers had been drained of his secret soldier serum and was now old enough to qualify for the senior citizen discount at Denny’s. Former protégé/partner/spandex member Sam Wilson had adopted the mantle of Captain America though Rogers remained an active member of the super hero community. He maintained a limited role with S.H.I.E.L.D and was a civilian liaison to the Avengers Unity squad. Which brought him to . . .

A Little Place Called Pleasant Hill . . .

In a nutshell, the events during Avengers Standoff: Pleasant Hill set Empire in motion (kind of, I’ll explain later). S.H.I.E.L.D director Mariah Hill had used a sentient Cosmic Cube (a sort of omnipotent dues ex machine storytelling device) named Kobik to alter the minds of dozens of the world’s most dangerous super villains, convincing them that they were regular folks living in a sleepy little Rockwellian town called Pleasant Hill. But after breaking free of the brainwashing, the villains staged an uprising that attracted the attention of more Avengers than you could shake a stick at. During Standoff Kobik used her reality warping powers to restore Rogers’ youth, returning him to his crime fighting physical prime.

Shortly after Pleasant Hill, Rogers’ began exhibiting subtle signs that something was . . . off. After last year’s reveal that he was a HYDRA double agent, many fans believed Kobik had also altered his mind or memory. Others thought that he was under the influence of his arch-nemesis the Red Skull (who came into possession of Professor X’s vast telepathic powers following Avengers Vs. X-Men). As it turned out neither of those were the case, but before we climb that mountain we need to discuss . . .

Civil War 2: The Vow . . .

The Vow was Civil War 2’s epilogue and it managed to tell a far a more cohesive and entertaining story in a single issue than the entire Civil War 2 mini-series and its two dozen tie-ins. Following CW2, the super hero community was divided, many were disillusioned while others were significantly changed (such as Tony Stark, whose body was “killed” in the event’s penultimate battle with Captain Marvel, though his consciousness was downloaded into a super computer). Bruce Banner was dead and the man who killed him (Hawkeye) had turned his back on global heroics and was trying to fix the world at a grass roots level. Speaking of Captain Marvel, despite her stratospheric popularity among he American people, Col. Danvers was beset with doubt and uncertainty. Following the events of Civil War 2, the public (with few exceptions like Danvers), no longer trusted the heroes it once worshipped. Enter Captain America.

There are two things main takeaways from The Vow. One was that the American government, with the complete support of the American people and the approval of many of its heroes, handed the keys to its entire intelligence and security establishment to the only hero people still revered; Captain America. Cap now had access to every secret in the western world and a mandate that allowed him to take legal control of pretty much every super hero, spy, soldier and cop in the United States during emergencies.

The second was a heartfelt monologue Rogers delivered to Tony Stark’s body (preserved in suspended animation until his mind can be restored). The comatose Stark was essentially Rogers’ priest as he unburdened his soul in confession. The world had become a cauldron of chaos and tragedy and fear. People no longer had faith in their leaders or the super powered guardians who kept them safe from monsters and aliens and rampaging space gods that devoured entire worlds. The public now viewed the world’s heroes with suspicion and saw them as self-centered narcissists who bickered among themselves with little regard for anyone else. It was a void ripe for HYDRA to fill, with Rogers leading the charge. (Seriously though, The Vow is definitely worth a read even if you didn’t care about Civil War 2 or have no plans to check out Secret Empire. It’s some of the best dialogue and foreshadowing in super hero comics today.)

What We’ve Learned Since . . .

Cap has spent the time since setting up the necessary dominoes for his inevitable takeover, which included killing the Red Skull (Skull had actually hijacked leadership of HYDRA, embedding a rogue faction with Nazi values. With him gone, Rogers united HYDRA under his unquestioned leadership). And along the way he revealed the truth of his new reality. Steve Rogers’ identity wasn’t changed by the cosmically omnipotent Kobik, nor was he mind controlled by the Skull. In Earth’s original reality, HYDRA was a secret society determined to impose its will on the world (a la the Illuminati,) and Rogers was always a HYDRA disciple. Kobik simply restored him to the conqueror he always was.

It was HYDRA (not Nazi Germany or the Allies) who was on the verge of winning Word War 2 (thanks in no small part to the Allied intelligence Rogers fed them  as Captain America). Rogers was always a part of HYDRA and becoming Captain America was a single step of a grand Machiavellian plan.

But the Allies came into possession of a their own Cosmic Cube and used it to rewrite reality. The Allied victory and Rogers becoming a paradigm of American idealism and one of the greatest heroes the world had ever known was all part of the cosmic rewrite. Kobik merely undid Rogers’ specific chapter.

The hero was complete fiction.

At the end of Secret Empire #0, Captain Marvel, The Ultimates, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Alpha Flight and other cosmic super heroes are trapped on the wrong side of Earth’s planetary shield with millions of invading aliens heading their way. Dozens of other heroes and the entire city of New York are trapped in a demonic dark zone while a fleet of S.H.I.E.L.D helicarriers under the control of HYDRA descends on a vulnerable Washington D.C.

And Steve Rogers is pulling all the strings.

Consider yourself caught up.

Secret Empire #0 is on sale now and issue 1 (of nine) hits comic book shops May 3rd.

Image Marvel Comics