The world is a horrible place at the moment. There’s an orange blundering buffoon in charge of the White House, Russia has hooks in everything as if it were covertly preparing for world domination and there’s an honest-to-Gorilla Grodd supervillain gassing innocent people to death in Syria. It’s the kind of setup you’d expect to find in a comic book, but it’s a frightening reality for most of us.
We’re living in a turbulent time, an era where we need heroes more than ever to inspire and lead us. Captain America is not that hero, as his plans for a HYDRA coup de grace finally kicked off this week in the zero issue for Secret Empire. Spoilers below.
So here’s the situation: Building off of several other comic books released this week, Secret Empire began with the Earth in more trouble than ever before. HYDRA has managed to overthrow the government of Sokovia and wrest control of its nuclear warheads from the vaguely European state. Meanwhile, New York has problems of its own as an army of vengeful supervillains have stormed Manhattan in a revenge act for having their personalities rewritten in the Pleasant Hill prison program.
That’s not the worst of it, however, as a third threat has appeared: An army of Chitauri soldiers numbering in the trillions on a collision course for Earth.
It’s Earth’s darkest hour (Again!), and only one man can save the day: Newly deputised SHIELD Commander Steve Rogers. For months now, Captain America has been working his way up the chain of command with an apparent reluctance for the job and the vast powers afforded to him. It’s in that very moment when all hope appears to be lost that Steve rallies the troops and appears to save the day.
Not exactly. Because that one moment of victory, is where the HYDRA-aligned Captain America strikes. New York’s infamous reputation as the capital city of superheroes proves to be its own doing as Steve has Baron Zemo lock the city in a state of perpetual darkness via the magic of the Darkhold, that no hero can escape from:
HYDRA overruns the entire fleet of SHIELD helicarriers thanks to the hypnotic machinations of Doctor Faustus:
Earth’s heaviest hitters are left stranded outside of the planet, stuck between an impenetrable energy shield and an angry army of Chitauri:
Everyone is basically, quite thoroughly f*cked at this point. It’s heavy reading, requiring dips into the latest issues of US Avengers, Thunderbolts and Steve Rogers: Captain America to get the full story. Hell, I’m behind on my Iron Man and I was wondering how Tony Stark managed to un-coma himself to give Riri Williams a hand until I realised that it was, in fact, an advanced AI system that emulates the personality of the shellhead that was walking around in the old Mark III armour. Comic books yo.
Captain America’s clean sweep to world domination may be the main story here, but it’s not the biggest. Right in the opening pages, there’s some actual doubt cast on his current origins. Remember, the Steve Rogers as we know him had his own reality rewritten by the sentient Cosmic Cube known as Kobik, all a grand plan by the Red Skull to have his greatest nemesis become his greatest pawn.
That plan eventually backfired, with the Red Skull himself currently lying at the bottom of a waterfall while bits of his brain leaked out on the ground. Secret Empire throws an extra spanner in the works by suggesting that HYDRA Cap was the true Captain America all along, with a vision of the future and the Allied forces using a Cosmic Cube to end World War II on their own terms and turn Captain America back into the Sentinel of Liberty that everyone believed he was.
It’s…confusing stuff, although I’m chalking this all up to being yet another elaborate lie within a lie to further Cement Cap’s radical shift towards fascism. It’s going to be interesting to see how this develops, but the Marvel heroes have a much bigger problem on their hands to deal with first. They’ve been divided and conquered before, but have always bounced back to win the day. Doing the impossible yet again without Captain America leading the charge, may just be their greatest challenge yet.