SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Secret Empire #10, on sale now.
We all knew he was coming back.
Even without Monday’s spoilers (courtesy of Marvel Comics and the New York Times), it was a given that the original Steve Rogers would return at the conclusion of Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire. It’s not just a comic book thing about restoring the status quo; part of Rogers’ M.O. is making his way back from places nobody else could.
After being frozen in ice at the end of World War II, he returned in the 1960s to lead the Avengers. He made his way back from a remote tropical island after the Red Skull used a Cosmic Cube to swap bodies with him, stranding him in the middle of nowhere. He even survived being shot by his girlfriend, Sharon Carter, then being sent back in time to careen from one random moment in his past to another.
How We Got Here
Rogers’ latest return is from an oblivion that began in the pages of Captain America: Sam Wilson #7. Marking the 75th anniversary of Simon and Kirby’s original Captain America, the issue was penned by Nick Spencer with art by Daniel Acuña. It tied in to the Avengers: Standoff event that revealed S.H.I.E.L.D. had built a secret prison for super villains powered by a reality-bending sentient Cosmic Cube named Kobik. After an aged and de-powered Rogers was beaten nearly to death by Crossbones, Kobik — who had taken the form of a four-year old human girl, and who was imbued with the emotional maturity of a child, despite her godlike powers — restored him to his youth, and sent the Super Soldier Serum coursing through his veins once again.
What we didn’t know then was that Kobik, who had previously belonged to the Red Skull, had not only restored Rogers to his former self: She had also altered his reality. Not only had Steve been an agent of Hydra all along, but Hydra had won the second World War. The version of history that we take for granted had been engineered by the Allies, who had built the first cosmic cube in the ’40s, and had used it to reverse their defeat.
But all of this wasn’t just in Steve’s head. Most notably, Elisa Sinclair, the woman who had recruited his mother in his altered past, appeared in the present as the latest incarnation of Madame Hydra. Also, some members of the Hydra Council appeared to have either lived his version of history, or at least to feign a belief it had happened.
At the beginning of Secret Empire #10, Steve Rogers is virtually a god. Even though he’s missing the final fragment of Kobik, the Cosmic Cube that powers his modified Stark armor, the remaining fragments are enough to render him invincible, and also allow him to bend reality to his will.
His plea that his former superhero allies join him, and Hydra, in transforming the world into something better and stronger falls on deaf ears. Led by Hawkeye, who seeks payback for the death of Natasha, the Avengers assemble for a final attack. Their end is swift. Rogers overwhelms them in the present, and overwrites their past. In fact, he rewrites the entire Marvel Universe as we know it.
Or so he thinks.
A splash page reveals this new past through a collage of newspapers behind an armoured Hydra Cap. It shows a Peter Parker who was deliberately bitten by a genetically modified Hydra spider, Charles Xavier and Magneto being executed, and a version of the Avengers headed by a Hydra-compliant Iron Man.
There is also a Fantastic Four led by Doctor Doom, a very clever touch by Spencer. There was some speculation that Secret Empire might conclude with the return of the FF, but there is no Reed Richards to serve as a deus ex machina in Hydra Cap’s reality.
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