By Jesse Schedeen Sept. 13, 2017
Secret Empire ended on a frustratingly bland note, so the prospect of an epilogue issue is a mixed one. On one hand, most readers are probably eager for this event to be finally and completely over. On the other, it wouldn't hurt for writer Nick Spencer to perform a little damage control and try to salvage something from Secret Empire #10's formulaic final battle. To an extent, he's successful with Secret Empire: Omega.
As the Avengers attempt to pick up the pieces of the recent conflict and rebuild, this issue hinges mainly on the reunion between Steve Rogers and his twisted doppelganger. Frankly, the idea that there are two versions Steve Rogers at all is disappointing, and speaks to the idea that Secret Empire never lived up to its initial promise. This story only had weight as long as Steve's reputation and very existence were on the line. That Steve compares his doppelganger to a clone or Skrull only highlights the idea that this story didn't have the lasting impact on the character and his journey it should. The fact that this issue also directly undoes one of the few lasting developments from the main series only makes matters worse.
But at the very least, Spencer does take pains to illustrate how there is some lasting impact for Steve. The standout moment in this issue comes via a poignant flashback as Steve recounts how an injured child flinched when he offered his hand in assistance. For all Secret Empire's inability to capitalize on the idea of a tainted Steve Rogers, at least there's a sense that Cap's reintroduction into distinguished society won't be as clean or painless as it seemed in Secret Empire #10. His formerly squeaky clean reputation has taken a hit. And Spencer even explores how that's not altogether a bad thing, with Steve reflecting that it was never wise for the public to put total, blind trust in any hero.
There's a certain self-aware quality to the script that helps this issue feel like more than just another epilogue. Spencer is clearly using Cap's new status quo as a commentary on the state of the US and its damaged world standing. And in true Watchmen fashion, there's the running theme that nothing ever truly ends, and that one superhuman conflict always feeds directly into the next. It's a stark contrast from the early issues of Secret Empire, which emphasized how dramatic and significant Secret Empire is compared to most Marvel events, but obviously appropriate given where the story headed after that point.
Visually, this issue is every bit as inconsistent as those from the main series. There's a very jarring and frequent shift between Andrea Sorrentino's moody, stylized art and Joe Bennett's cleaner, more traditional pages. Sorrentino's approach to page design is impeccable, with a number of striking pages that use Hydra motifs to full effect. But the fact that so much of this issue plays out as a conversation between two versions of the same man draws attention to the limitations of Sorrentino's style. Out of costume, neither version of Steve Rogers is a very distinctive character. They could just as easily be any other blond, muscular white man Sorrentino has drawn over the years, be it Clint Barton or Oliver Queen.
Sorrentino obviously relies a lot on photo-referenced figures in his work. Usually that fact is far less distracting than with other artists, because his heavy blacks and generally surreal approach give them a texture and flavor all their own. But at some point Sorrentino may need to consider drawing from a wider range of reference material or using additional models to bring these heroes to life.
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