Love or hate Marvel Comics’ seemingly constant barrage of events you have to give them props for playing the long game. The dust is only now settling from Secret Empire, but the seeds were planted in the “Pleasant Hill” storyline over a year earlier. These events take time to build up to which can have a richer effect on the story as a whole. It also means characters are always in flux as they get pulled every which way.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
On his 75th anniversary, Captain America is about to face a challenge unlike any other. Prepare for an assault on…Pleasant Hill! Three shield-wielders past and present — Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes and Sam Wilson — find themselves in a standoff, with high and very personal stakes. And as this tense conflict quickly escalates out of control, it draws in three teams of Avengers, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and more! But it all begins in an idyllic community with friendly neighbors…and a terrible, dark secret. What is going on behind Pleasant Hill’s closed doors?
Why does this matter?
This book sows the seeds that setup the “Secret Empire” storyline focusing on the fallout of Pleasant Hill and the eventual misplacement of Kobik. It’s from this fallout that Red Skull was able to plant the seeds in her head to turn Cap into a Hydra agent and it’s further proof good guys shouldn’t meddle with things they don’t understand!
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Where Kobik started.
Pleasant Hill was a part of the Marvel story I chose to skip, but after enjoying Secret Empire it’s nice to read the events that led into that. This is a longer read running at 416 pages, but has pretty much all you need to know what Pleasant Hill is all about (secret prison for criminals) and what happened when the villains took it over. This book collects a wide assortment of comics which include Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #3-4, Uncanny Avengers #7-8, All-New, All-Different Avengers, New Avengers #8-10, Captain America: Sam Wilson #7-8, Illuminati #6, Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #6, Avengers Standoff: Assault on Pleasant Hill Omega #1 — so expect a somewhat chaotic plotting from beginning to end. That suits the story though since much of this book is about the fallout of a prison being upended and the heroes who must fight back.
In large part Maria Hill is the villain here as she is the person responsible for creating the prison after she was told to stop all actions when it comes to the Cosmic Cube aka Kobik. Funny then, that she gets very little blame in the current MCU stories. Time will tell, but she’s portrayed as a bad guy, a good guy, and a bad guy who is doing things for good reasons. That said, Baron Zemo takes a larger role as leader of the bad guys and serves as the main focus of villainy in the closing third of the book.
There are a lot of story beats that are quite good in this like small moments between Falcon and Jane Foster (he’s worried being Thor is killing her) and the turning point when the villains realized they were being brainwashed in Pleasant Hill. The concept of Pleasant Hill is an interesting one and it’s nice to see how most of the heroes are disgusted by it. The villains never seem to be the sympathetic characters though with much of the focus being on the idea itself being awful. That makes the lack of blame on Hill somewhat strange, but given the politics afoot in this volume it’s not surprising. Another interesting plot involves Kobik sticking a bunch of heroes in the prison and Gerry Duggan does an admirable job showing how Rogue breaks free and saves the rest of the Uncanny Avengers after that.
Speaking of writers there are a ton involved in this book. Nick Spencer, of course, is all over this work with some of the best chapters coming when Daniel Acuna draws them. Frank Barbiere gets a shot at showing the tragic fallout of Orrgo wanting to be put back into Pleasant Hill, Mark Waid contributes the strong Falcon/Jane Foster moments, and Marc Guggenheim helms the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bits that involve a pretty cool Deathlock. Joshua Williamson gets a chance at writing an interesting done in one Absorbing Man tale too.
A collection like this has a ton of different artists involved and while some is better than others overall nothing stuck out as jarringly bad. Acuna drew my favorite scenes and those scenes seem to be the most tied to Captain America and thus the most important to those looking for backstory for Secret Empire.
He just wants to be a doggo again!
It can’t be perfect can it?
There are certainly sections that don’t add a ton to the overall story. Al Ewing’s chapters focus in on the American Kaiju which seems to be vaguely connected to the bigger story but really didn’t need to be here. The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. story is also oddly placed and even retells the same scene at one point. It doesn’t help this series seems to be more focused on tying into the TV show than tell a meaningful story. Sections of the Uncanny Avengers also seem to loosely touch on the Pleasant Hill story and seem to be weaved in here to show how the prison affected those not part of any of it. Overall the book doesn’t read like a cohesive story from beginning to end, but many little blips that as a whole are part of everything. That can make the reading experience bumpy indeed.
Is It Good?
This is a fun look back at what spurred the entire Secret Empire storyline. As my first taste of the story involving Pleasant Hill I was surprised by how interesting it was, but also how Marvel can be very good at playing the long game.