For 15 months, fans of Marvel Comics have known that Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, was in league with his former enemies, the world-domination-seeking secret society of Hydra, culminating in Marvel’s 2017 summer crossover event, Secret Empire. This week, the final issue of Secret Empire hits stands, and Marvel appears to have publicized one of the comic’s biggest reveals straight to the New York Times.
[Warning: The rest of this post may contain spoilers for Secret Empire #10.]
The images feature a green- and yellow-clad, Hydra-aligned Steve Rogers confronting — and being soundly trounced by — a Steve Rogers dressed in his familiar star-spangled outfit.
According to io9, in the previous issue of Secret Empire it was revealed that Kobik, the sentient Cosmic Cube whose powers kicked off the whole situation, “has been manifesting parts of the old Steve in something like a pocket dimension of her own creation, while hiding away from the mess that Hydra made her cause by altering Steve’s past.” The panels revealed in the New York Times seem to indicate that Kobik’s “old” Steve will confront her Hydra-Steve.
Though the early threads of the storyline began a year earlier, Secret Empire kicked off in May, with the reveal that Steve Rogers’ reality hadn’t been warped by Kobik until he had become a Hydra sleeper agent in his World War II-era youth. Rather, a reality where Steve was a lifelong Hydra agent was the base state of the Marvel Universe, originally averted in the ’40s by the Allies with their own Cosmic Cube.
Hydra is an organization that has long sat in as a fictional foil for remnants of Nazi Germany’s Third Reich, created in 1951 by Jewish-American WWII veteran and comic industry titan Jack Kirby as an opponent for super-spy character Nick Fury. The long-time fan understanding of Hydra as representatives of fascism combined poorly with the idea of Captain America allying himself with them, especially in the American political climate of 2017. Captain America writer and Secret Empire architect Nick Spencer’s volatile use of Twitter to interact with critical fans didn’t help much either. Backlash against Secret Empire’s plot defined the conversation around Marvel Comics this spring.
Marvel Comics has insisted since spring of 2016 that the Hydra that Steve Rogers now leads is not Nazi-affiliated, the storyline is not meant to parallel any real-world political events, and fans will ultimately be satisfied if they wait for the ending. The company went so far as to release an official statement about the contents of that ending three months ago.
In the reveal this week, Marvel editor in chief Axel Alonso told the Times that parallels between Secret Empire and the resurgence of neo-fascist, white nationalist voices in America are coincidental, and also that Marvel “thought the story had something important to say about democracy, freedom and the core American values that Captain America embodies.”