This week, Marvel released new art from its upcoming, mysterious comics event, Secret Empire. The visuals, illustrated by Rod Reis, seem to confirm what many fans suspected: that Secret Empire will satirize white nationalism in contemporary American politics.
Since 1966, “Secret Empire” has referred to the Hydra “tentacle” devoted to destroying the United States from the inside. Hydra’s Secret Empire is anti-mutant, pro-white nationalism, pro-Neo Nazism, and obsessed with weaponizing superhero tech and forces like the Infinity Stones. Meanwhile, the very real white nationalist group gaining power in Washington, D.C. believes the United States should prioritize the needs of its white constituents above any other group. As Professor Eric Kaufmann, an expert in ethnicity and politics puts it, “White supremacy is based on a racist belief that white people are innately superior to people of other races; white nationalism is about maintaining political and economic dominance, not just a numerical majority or cultural hegemony.”
That brings us to what Marvel is doing with “Secret Empire”: While Hydra is a global Nazi-inspired collective in the Marvel Universe, Secret Empire is focused in particular on the United States. Hydra has as much in common with Secret Empire as white supremacists have with white nationalists. Though the ideals and values remain the same, the ultimate goal is slightly different.
Granted, Marvel has not confirmed what Secret Empire will be about, exactly, but the Captain America writer who has overseen the character’s controversial Hydra storyline, Nick Spencer, will helm the event in 2017. New preview art from Marvel suggests that initial speculation about Secret Empire was correct: We can expect a fictionalized depiction of Neo Nazi nationalism taking over the United States government. Because this story is coming from Marvel, mutants will, to some degree, take the place of Americans who are marginalized and in danger today.
The first image from Secret Empire depicts a compromised media, forced at gunpoint to report positively on the Hydra regime. It’s difficult to look at this image and not think of President Donald Trump’s public disdain for the American media. He has called CNN “fake news” multiple times, has said that all journalists are “among the most dishonest human beings on earth” and has even referred to American media, as a whole, as “the opposition party.” It was announced this week that the Trump administration, apparently hoping to change media coverage, will release a weekly press releases listing crimes committed specifically by immigrants, effectively forcing reporters’ hands on certain subjects. Take a look at that Marvel panel above, one more time, as you absorb that information.
Judging by the early art from Secret Empire, Marvel will further emphasize its long-standing metaphor in which mutants stand in for other oppressed groups. The above art puts mutants in a concentration camp, next to a panel in which a child runs from Hydra youth.
However, any progressive or anti-Trump fiction from Marvel comes with a tangled mess of strings attached, as the company’s billionaire CEO, Ike Perlmutter, is a supportive fan of the current administration. Though Perlmutter may not sign off on each Marvel storylines, it’s unlikely that he’d allow his company to launch an explicitly anti-Trump, anti-Alt-Right, anti-Bannon comic book during President Trump’s first year in office.
In addition to Perlmutter’s conflict of interest, Disney CEO Bob Iger has one of his own. Iger was recently appointed to President Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum, which means not one but two of the executives overseeing Marvel’s next move are firmly seated in Trump’s inner circle.
Just how anti-establishment can a comic book be, if it needs allies of the satirized figure in question to sign off on its commentary? When Secret Empire is released this year, Marvel fans will have their answer.