To say the build to Marvel’s 2017 Secret Empire has been controversial would be an egregious understatement. The Marvel Universe has been defined by transformation since Secret Wars, with none more well documented than Nick Spencer’s politically charged run on Captain America.
The progression of Captain America from Steve Rogers to Sam Wilson (most commonly known as Falcon) goes all the way back to 2014 and Marvel NOW!, and continues to serve as the most logical starting point for the various Cap storylines in play.
Below you’ll find a roadmap for comics that will help you understand how we got to Secret Empire. As issues for the event are released, I’ll be updating the guide with an issue by issue reading order.
As always, if you have questions or suggestions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Enjoy the comics!
Related Reading Orders:
Previously: Avengers Standoff
Previously: Civil War 2
Secret Empire Trade Reading Order
The Road to Secret Empire
Collects: Captain America & The Falcon #169 to #176
The original ‘Secret Empire’ story arc is a Watergate era political thriller from Captain America writer Steve Englehart. You don’t need this storyline to understand the current state of Marvel’s Captain America and Secret Empire event, but seeing as it shares a name, it’s a worthy reference point.
Collects: Captain America (2012) 21, 25; Captain America: Sam Wilson 7 (A story), 8; Assault on Pleasant Hill Alpha, Omega; Captain America: Steve Rogers 1-2
As they did with Secret Wars, Marvel has put together a “fast track” prelude guide to prepare readers for Secret Empire.
These prelude fast tracks leave out a lot of detail, and in my estimation really diminishes the impact of the full story. This prelude in particular will explain the aging of Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson (Falcon’s) progression to Captain America, and how Captain America: Steve Rogers was warped to side with Hydra.
Collects: Captain America 16-21
Naturally, starting with issue #16 of Rick Remender’s Marvel Now Cap run will be a confusing plunge into a backstory entailing Captain America’s 15 issue stay in Arnim Zola’s Dimension Z. This is why the prelude includes only Captain America #21.
My recommendation here is to either read the full Remender Cap run, starting with Captain America #1 (2012 to 2014), or to just plunge ahead to the next volume setting up Sam Wilson as Cap.
Collects: Captain America 22-25
Collects: All -New Captain America Fear Him 1-4, Captain America (1968) 280, Avengers (1998) 64
Collects: All-New Captain America #1 to #6
The first Sam Wilson as Captain America arcs round out Rick Remender’s time writing the Captain America universe. These will be less essential than the Spencer comics in terms of Secret Empire, but make for solid reading and set the stage.
Collects: Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 to #6
From issue #1, it’s abundantly clear that Nick Spencer’s take on Captain America will be infinitely more political than the character was during the spy thriller heyday of Brubaker and Epting.
Collects: All-New Avengers #1 to #6
Mark Waid’s new run on Avengers sets ups a team of Iron Man, Thor, Sam Wilson as Captain America, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Nova.
All-New Avengers is less directly tied to the Secret Empire roadmap, but it’s important background to know Sam’s Avengers status.
Collects: Captain America: Sam Wilson 7-8, Assault On Pleasant Hill Alpha, Assault On Pleasant Hill Omega
Avengers Standoff is the first Captain America centric event from Nick Spencer, and is where the road to Secret Empire really picks up steam. This is essential reading to understanding where the Marvel Universe stands.
For full context, check out Comic Book Herald’s Avengers Standoff reading order.
Also, although it’s included in the next Sam Wilson collection, I recommend Captain America: Sam Wilson #9 as an immediate epilogue to Standoff.
Collects: Captain America: Steve Rogers 1-6, Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Captain America) 1
As the “Hail Hydra” collection name implies, Spencer’s creative decision to warp Steve Rogers into an agent of Red Skull and Hydra is the fulcrum for all proceedings here on out. For good or ill, this will unquestionably go down as one of the most memorable moments in Captain America history.
You should only read Captain America: Steve Rogers issues #1 to #3 prior to Civil War 2!
Collects: Thunderbolts #1 to #6
Fallout for Winter Soldier and Kobik (the sentient cosmic cube) following Avengers Standoff!
Only read Thunderbolts #1 to #4 before Civil War 2!
Marvel’s lackluster summer 2016 event does include important developments for the Captain America universe, particularly in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers, and Civil War II: The Oath.
If you want the full event reading order, I recommend Comic Book Herald’s guide to Civil War 2.
For only the Captain America related tie-ins and the main event, I recommend the following order.
Civil War 2 #0 to #1
Captain America: Steve Rogers #4
Captain America Sam Wilson #10
Civil War 2 #2
Captain America Sam Wilson #11 to #13
Civil War 2 #3 to #4
All-New Avengers #13 to #15
Civil War II #5
Captain America: Steve Rogers #5
Civil War II #6
Captain America: Steve Rogers #6
Civil War 2 #7 to #8
Uncanny Avengers #15 to #17
Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 to #10
Civil War 2: The Oath
Collects: Captain America: Sam Wilson #9 to #13
Collects: Uncanny Avengers #13 to #17
Collects: Captain America: Steve Rogers 7-11, Civil War II: The Oath
As noted above, the majority of issues in these collections are part of the Civil War 2 reading order.
Collects: Captain America: Sam Wilson #14 to #18
Secret Empire Begins! (Collected Trades)
Collects: Captain America: Sam Wilson #19 to #22
Collects: Uncanny Avengers #18 to #22
Collects: Captain America: Steve Rogers #12 to #15
Collects: Thunderbolts #7 to #12
Collects: Free Comic Book Day 2017, Secret Empire #0 to #9
Collects: Captain America: Steve Rogers 16-19, Captain America: Sam Wilson 22-24
Collects: Secret Empire: United 1, Secret Empire: Underground 1, Secret Empire: Uprising 1, Uncanny Avengers 24-25
Collects: Secret Warriors #1 to #5
Collects: X-Men Gold #7 to #12
X-Men Gold is part of the X-Men ResurrXion launch.
Collects: Generations miniseries
Issue by Issue Secret Empire Reading Order
Rise of the Secret Empire (Marvel Universe)
Issue 25 of AMS directly follows the conclusion of Spider-Man: The Clone Conspiracy, and while it isn’t mentioned as a Secret Empire tie-in, includes details that set up the event.
Note that the conclusion of Uncanny Avengers #22 flows directly into the opening of Cap: Steve Rogers #15. These two issues also semi-formally kick off Secret Empire.
Secret Empire: Opening Salvo
How Essential is this Tie-in?: 2.0 out of 5
Unlike Thunderbolts and Cap: Steve Rogers, U.S. Avengers has not been a part of the build to Secret Empire, so issue #5 is the first instance we see Roberto De Costa’s unit clearly influenced by Steve Rogers. As you’d expect, the majority of this issue will make more sense if you’ve been keeping up with U.S. Avengers to date (expect that for any new series suddenly tying in to an event).
You can definitely understand Secret Empire #0 without this tie-in, although I suspect it will begin to play more of a role later.
How Essential is this Tie-in?: 4.0 out of 5
Jim Zub’s Thunderbolts comes to a series conclusion with this opening salvo tie-in, and Thunderbolts remains the most heavily connected book not written by Nick Spencer. Essential developments here for Bucky, Kobik, and Baron Zemo.
How Essential is this Tie-in?: 5.0 out of 5
While technically speaking you could start fresh with Secret Empire #0, there’s really no good way around reading Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 to #16 to understand how we got here.
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