SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Secret Empire #1-3 and Secret Empire: Uprising #1, on sale now.
What happens when a trusted colleague and ally turns his back on all that he believes in while simultaneously causing the death of hundreds of citizens? And what effect will all of this have on the teenage heroes of the Marvel Universe? These are just a few of the many questions the resistance is asking itself in the wake of Captain America’s brutal betrayal, taking control of the terrorist group Hydra and the entire United States in the pages of Secret Empire.
Secret Empire #2 and 3 offer a pair of different viewpoints for dealing with the Hydra Cap situation, and they both come from his former teammates on the Avengers. First there’s Hawkeye, who still believes in his good friend Steve Rogers and will do whatever it takes to reveal that HydraCap is an imposter. The second comes from Black Widow, who chooses to take a more extreme approach to ending Cap and Hydra’s new reign after their assault on the city of Las Vegas. Being a former spy and assassin, Black Widow has no qualms with taking Captain America’s life if it means sparing the rest of the world. After all, it’s simple math; it just makes sense to sacrifice one life in order to save millions.
Black Widow is the only remaining hero who isn’t afraid to get her hands bloody to stop Cap. Even after learning from Rick Jones that Cap’s been fundamentally changed by Kobik, the cosmic cube brought to life, Black Widow remains unphased from her new mission. A rekindling of an old romance between Hawkeye and Black Widow is teased, but ultimately Natasha Romanov embarks on her dark path that can only end with Cap’s death. However, instead of going on a solo mission, she picks up some young recruits along the way in the form of a modified roster of Champions – Miles Morales, Spider-Man; Amadeus Cho, the Totally Awesome Hulk; Viv Vision; Riri Williams, Ironheart; Nadia Pym, the Unbeatable Wasp; and Joaquin Torres, Falcon. In fact, Secret Empire: Uprising’s story involves Black Widow assigning Amadeus and Nadia with the important task of going undercover to infiltrate a Hydra Youth Choir.
Black Widow’s plan is really brilliant when you think about it; no one would think to vet a group of young choir singers that closely. If Nadia and Amadeus can advance to the final group of singers, they’ll have the opportunity to perform in front of Captain America himself. Only a trained killer like Black Widow would pinpoint this type of scenario to take out her target. Of course, our heroes didn’t sign on to become assassins. Spies, maybe, but not assassins.
Nadia, of course, has the requisite training for this mission, having grown up and trained in a Red Room just like Black Widow. However, whereas Natasha will take a life with little hesitation, Nadia is more about embracing life. She somehow has the ability to look at the world – even a Hydra-controlled world – with nothing but positivity. The mission becomes complicated when Hydra enlists the Champions’ foes, the Freelancers, as extra security for the choir tryouts. With the possibility that the Freelancers will recognize Amadeus, the Champions break into the Hydra compound to deliver an image inducer to disguise his face. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned and a fight breaks out between the Champions, Freelancers and Hydra guards. Amadeus reveals Nadia as a spy in the choir’s ranks in order to cement his own spot, thus sparing her from eventually making a difficult choice down the road.
The Champions as a whole will have many difficult decisions in front of them as Secret Empire and Uprising progress. For one, the fact they volunteered for Black Widow’s secret ops mission in the first place is somewhat out of character for the young heroes. Another interesting tidbit took place in Secret Empire #2, when Miles Morales confronted Black Widow. Ever since Miles got a future vision of killing Captain America in the event series Civil War II he’s felt like a dark cloud is hovering over his head. It’s easy to forget, but the future is fluid in the Marvel Universe, so just because a potential future has Miles committing murder on a once-beloved superhero doesn’t mean it’s 100% fated to take place. Even so, Miles is apparently ready to confront his destiny head-on, which is admirable, in a sense. Will he be successful in changing his own future, or, is he only helping to push these events to their bloody conclusion?
The impact of Secret Empire on the rest of the Champions also needs to be considered. Bruce Banner’s death at the hands and arrow of Hawkeye in Civil War II had a tremendous impact on Amadeus. How will he react if faced with the opportunity to kill another longtime Avenger, particularly the one who’s machinations resulted in Banner’s death? Also, Viv’s father, the Vision, is currently a loyal soldier in Cap’s Hydra army. She may hold Cap responsible for Vision’s current state and seek retribution herself.
Noticeably absent in the issue is Riri William’s A.I. co-pilot; Tony Stark’s computer-preserved mind hasn’t made an appearance in the story, though this could be because Riri didn’t spend much time in her armor. If the Champions are in the thick of a battle against Cap and Hydra, would she take advice from A.I. Tony, though, or make her own choices? Even the new Falcon has a bone to pick with Hydra Cap, having worked alongside Sam Wilson during his time wearing the red-white-and-blue uniform. Joaquin has been known to be a hothead, but would he go so far as to end Steve Rogers’ life if given the chance?
You have to respect the Champions for stepping up and wanting to put an end to Cap and Hydra’s rule. However, their innocence and exuberance is blinding them to the harsh reality that Black Widow has put in front of them. Perhaps the heroes feel like they can stop Cap without physically harming him, which is good in theory but may prove impossible in practice.
You also have to consider the irony of their mission; the whole reason for the Champions coming together as a team at the conclusion of Civil War II was because they were disappointed in the actions of the adults who were meant to be guiding and teaching them. The Champions looked out for the little guys; the citizens who were downtrodden and overlooked in life. Secret Empire is their first real test as a team of whether they can stick to their morals in the face of overwhelming odds, and considering they’re already at the beck and call of the Black Widow, they may be well on the road to betraying their values in the name of the greater good.