You might have noticed recently that Marvel comic’s iconic Captain America is kind of…evil.
But what gives? How did the sentinel of liberty go from being an icon of punching Hitler to fascist dictator in the making? As with all things comic book related, it’s kind of complex. And filled with plenty of spoilers, so you might want to avoid the rest of this article. Because I’m about to wax lyrical, yo.
To get to the meat of this storyline, we’ve got to go way, way back to the ancient year of 2013. With Marvel deciding to relaunch their comics yet again with all-new number one issues, Captain America’s latest epic storyline found him stranded in a reality known only as Dimension Z.
Run by longtime foe Arnim Zola, Steve Rogers found himself stuck with no hope of escape whatsoever, spending an entire 12 years in a landscape that resembled Australia on extra murderous steroids. Complicating matters even further? Rogers had initially escaped with Zola’s own infant son, raising him in the barren lands as his own child. Events eventually culminated with Rogers escaping Dimension Z but losing his son Ian in the process, returning to a New York City where only 20 minutes had passed since he had entered Zola’s nightmare dimension.
All of this took a massive toll on Rogers, and led to the next big event that would set the stage for a massive shake-up: The Iron Nail. A deep-cover SHIELD operative who had been working to destabilise the organisation and America for years, Rogers eventually caught up with the maniac and engaged him in a fight to the death. A fight which saw Rogers drained of the super soldier serum which had kept him young and effectively immortal since World War II.
Unable to physically protect the world, Rogers stepped down and named longtime partner Sam “The Falcon” Wilson as his successor to wield the shield. Rogers began operating in the background, leading SHIELD teams and the Avengers Unity Squad. Rogers may have been old as f*** now, but he was still pretty much the equivalent of Vince McMahon at least.
And then it all went to hell
In the Avengers: Standoff series, it was revealed that SHIELD was running a super-duper top secret prison with a twist. All of the super-powered inmates had been altered to somehow believe that they were citizens of an idealistic American town, fulfilling roles as ironic keepers of the peace or public servants. How did SHIELD manage this? By using reality-altering fragments of the Cosmic Cube to mindwipe and reprogram these villains. And of course nothing bad could ever go wrong, right?
Yeah, no. The thing is, when SHIELD’s entire Pleasant Hill program was the result of Kobik, as the Cosmic Cube had gained sentience and had taken the form of a young girl. SHIELD used her powers to create Pleasant Hill and mindwipe more villains, with the plan eventually going completely south and the villains inside breaking free of their programming.
Rogers found himself locked inside Pleasant Hill, and even worse, stuck in a room with longtime foe Crossbones. Too old to put up too much of a fight, Rogers was pretty much down for the count and about ready to finally kick the bucket. And then Kobik saved him, restoring Rogers to his prime super-soldier state.
Yay! The original Captain America was back! And better than ever! Everything is ok again!
Everything is not OK again
And here’s where the real twist kicks in. It turns out that the Red Skull had taken a liking to Kobik, raising her as a daughter and using her powers to his own ends. One of those goals? To have Kobik restore Captain America to his most kick-ass of states, but to alter the memories of his origin massively in the process. Rogers now firmly believes that he has been a follower of the organisation ever since he was a child, that he was essentially raised by HYDRA to do whatever is necessary to see the organisation take over the world.
The memories are properly brutal as well. Steve’s abusive father found himself chucked off the bridge to Brooklyn by HYDRA agents, who wished to recruit his idealistic mother Sarah to their cause, but wound up murdering her instead. Placed in a secret HYDRA training camp, Roger’s was eventually selected as the ideal candidate to infiltrate the US super-soldier program and eliminate the genius behind the fabled serum, Dr Erskine. Which also paved the way for a younger Arnim Zola to install himself into the secret experiment. Weird, right?
And while the Red Skull has finally achieved true victory over his longtime foe, he has also been hard at work within HYDRA, creating a more overt organisation that is quickly gaining support all across the world as an alternative to the governments that had failed them, Rogers was working on a plan of his own. A plan to dethrone the Red Skull and install his version of HYDRA across the world.
Secret plans, Secret Empire
And how does Rogers plan to carry out his vision? By thinning the population of the planet with the mother of all alien invasions, as Rogers had longtime foe Baron Zemo recruited to his cause. A foe who he firmly believes is actually his best friend, a comrade in arms who will help him build a new HYDRA Empire amidst the ashes of our world.
And all of that will kick off in Secret Empire this year. Steve’s secret will be out, as he’ll find himself facing not only the Red Skull but also his fellow heroes. The thing is, Rogers might not even survive to see his vision fulfilled, as the prophetic Inhuman Ulysses foresaw him dying at the hands of the Ultimate Universe Spider-Man, Miles Morales.
Whatever does happen though, I think 2017 is going to be an interesting year for this icon of the Marvel Universe.