Review by Frank Plowright
Over the course of Steve Rogers: Captain America Nick Spencer has evolved the idea that due to the Red Skull’s machinations with the Cosmic Cube Steve has been altered, his past rewritten, and his primary loyalty has always been to further Hydra’s aims. He does seem to have an individual interpretation of those aims, though, certainly one contradicting the Red Skull’s vision of a world beneath his heel. In the present Steve has been masterfully manipulative, pushing here and nudging there until in Empire Building everything fell into place. As the title suggests, this content runs concurrently with Secret Empire, weaving in and out of events as they progress. It also incorporates the final chapters of Sam Wilson’s experience as Captain America, although since he gave that up in End of the Line, it’s more to do with his response to Hydra taking over the USA.
When first introduced way back in the early 1970s Sam Wilson was a social worker, and his awareness of social inequality has always been played up by better writers to bolster his personality. With Hydra controlling the USA Sam is acting as a people trafficker to help people escape to other countries, as shown in Sean Isaakse’s sample art. It’s a metaphorical take on real world refugees from Spencer, even if only in passing, but develops into a nicely surprising superhero story reflecting the new world. A subsequent chapter of soul searching starts to dissolve into self-flagellation, but Spencer and co-writer Donny Cates rescue it with a surprisingly effective pep talk about recent events.
All the art is technically good, but some artists don’t manage the correct emotional responses, an example being Andres Guinaldo’s interpretation of Steve Rogers addressing the United Nations, which is too aggressive. Otherwise we have the suitably iconic pin-ups of both Captain Americas, but interestingly presented in different circumstances.
Because these episodes dip in and out of the main Secret Empire continuity, there are leaps in time between chapters, indicating how other events have played out, and teasers leading into plots that occur elsewhere can be annoying. One Sam Wilson story ends with a view of how Avengers enemy Ultron now is, but there’s no further reference to it here. When this graphic novel concludes it’s at just past the halfway point of the simultaneous Secret Empire storyline, and the fates of both Steve Rogers, and to a far lesser extent, Sam Wilson play out there. You only have to check briefly online to see what a divisive project Secret Empire is. Anyone who objects to the basic premise isn’t going to enjoy any tie-ins, but anyone conceding there was good as well as bad should be pleased enough with this graphic novel.