For the past several years, Rogers took on a more administrative role after a confrontation with the Iron Nail left his Super-Soldier Serum inert. Working as the Avengers’ mission control leader, Rogers new role capitalized on his tactical prowess while his appointed successor Sam Wilson took on the mantle of Captain America.
With the new continuity firmly planted, Marvel saw fit to return Rogers to his original role and gave him back his superpowers. The company launched another Captain America title, and the first issue set off a huge clamor when it was revealed that Rogers in this current continuity was actually a Hydra agent. In case anyone thought it was some sort of cheap trick or double-screw flash plot twist meant to last a story arc or two, Marvel explained that Kobik — the living Cosmic Cube — had rewritten Rogers’ origin along with many other aspects of the new continuity.
Even amidst the fan anger and backlash, Marvel made no apologies about the twist. Instead, it worked to hype up the company’s next big event — Secret Empire — which would seemingly put Rogers at war against all of his former allies.
And now, with the release of Secret Empire #0, we’ve come to the edge of the cliff. In case anyone had any notions that Marvel was going to create a backdoor route to resolve the issue of Captain America’s new origin as Hydra’s greatest asset — prepare to be pushed over the edge. In Secret Empire #0, Marvel has not only cemented Rogers’ status as a Hydra agent — the revealed truth is that everything you have ever believed about the Marvel universe is wrong.
I’m not talking about the Marvel universe as it is now — I’m talking ever. Because, as the prologue of the issue will tell you, the truth is that the Axis powers won the war with the Captain on their side. And it was the Allies who used the Cosmic Cube to change the past to create a new reality. Kobik, in turning Captain America into a Hydra agent, was actually restoring him to his original form.
So in case you misunderstood or you think you’ve just read a lot of hooey, here it is again — Hydra won World War II, the Allied forces changed reality with a Cosmic Cub, the Marvel universe was blown up in Secret Wars after 60 years of continuity, and Captain America is finally as he should be: living and breathing as Hydra’s sleeper agent.
I could just end the review there — not that the rest of the issue is worthless. This issue could have been just the prologue, and it would have been enough — no matter where you find yourself standing in regards to the new status quo — because it’s a lot to digest. The rest of the book puts the Captain in a tactical role as he sets in motion all of his plans to rid the world of the Avengers and place Hydra back on top of the food chain. The writing is smart, the pacing is sharp, and the dialogue has punch. Nick Evans, the man tasked with getting people to buy in even if they might completely hate the premise, has a huge mountain to climb up. This will be the story of the year, like it or not, and Evans is up to the task with Secret Empire #0 containing the urgency of a Tom Clancy novel and the surgical suspense of a Michael Crichton book.
Daniel Acuña’s artwork has a cinematic quality in terms of composition, though his rendering has a scratchiness that actually lends itself to the story’s brisk pacing. Acuna’s artwork seems like it was meant to convey the speed of the story and not force readers to stew over the sequentials. Everything is geared for maximum impact so leave your magnifying glass in its case.
Regardless of the technical aspects of the issue, the value of the comic lies mostly in whether anyone will accept the terms of Captain America’s “true” origin. It’s reminiscent of the time Marvel dared to consider wiping away decades from Spider-Man’s history during the Clone Wars debacle. The sales freefall took years to recover from, and this comes at a time when Marvel is no longer the biggest of the Big Two. Mishandling this storyline could lead to long-term consequences. The worst-case scenario sees Marvel losing fans in droves because of the difficulty seeing Captain America in cahoots with the Nazi-affiliated Hydra.
The best-case scenario — is there a best-case scenario?
That’s something that will take a bit of hindsight.
Next Issue: Secret Empire #1