WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Captain America #697 by Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, in stores now.
After the devastating events of Secret Empire left his legacy in tatters, Steve Rogers embarked on a cross-country tour of small town USA, in the hopes of reconnecting with the people he had sworn to protect. With the public's trust in Captain America shaken, Steve made it his mission to find the heart of America, and to fill it once more with faith and hope.
However, Steve's road trip and quest to find himself again was cut short in the most recent issue of the series, Captain America #695, following a battle with a classic Spider-Man villain: Kraven the Hunter.
The issue starts with Steve enjoying his time away from the Avengers and space battles, but along the way, he manages to let his guard down and get himself captured. It isn't long before he awakens, finding himself the newest subject in Kraven's desire to hunt only the most worthy of preys. Ever the resourceful soldier, Steve is able to evade the hunter, but not before we learn that Kraven wasn't acting on his own -- he was merely a hired hand. Spidey's longtime nemesis had actually taken on a contract to take down the Avengers, one that bound him to deliver Captain America alive. But to whom?
The answer, as we quickly discover, is Rampart, the villainous group of white supremacists we met back in Captain America #695, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's first issue on the title. Although the group might have appeared as small fish in that introductory issue, this surprise turn of events positions the hateful militia as a new and important addition to Cap's rogues' gallery. The act of putting Steve Rogers back on ice is no small feat, and it instantly identifies Rampart as the overarching villains in Waid and Samnee's grand plans.
Now, the real question emerges: Why did Rampart opt to freeze Captain America? The original plan was to have Kraven deliver the hero to them. When that falls apart, they decide to "improvise" -- a decision that leads to them using a massive ice canon they had handy on their submarine vessel. What was their original goal? Did they aim to get rid of Captain America, to encase him in ice, knowing that they do not possess the means to kill him? Or do they have grander plans for the patriotic superhero? And why the heck do they have an ice cannon on hand, of all things, in the first place?
Thanks to advance promos, we already knew Steve Rogers was going to suffer the same fate that had once brought him to the present-day Marvel Universe. Now, he's set to move forward in time once more. The solicitations for issue #698 indicate that Steve will wake up in a nightmarish future, one where he teams with a new version of the Howling Commandos to defeat whatever awaits him there.
Could it be that Rampart voluntarily sent Steve to this future, knowing what would befall the country, and possibly the world? After all, Rampart are white supremacists, so it's possible that, in their own warped views, they could consider Captain America to be their one true savior -- their one true leader, especially after the events of Secret Empire and the actions of Steve's evil nazi doppelganger. In a future filled with aliens, hybrids and more, an alt-right style group with enough sci-fi resources could certainly look back to the Secret Empire era and incorrectly surmise Cap would be sympathetic to their cause.
In Captain America #695, Rampart stated that they would usher in a new era for the country. While this read like a by-the-numbers villain monologue, it appears now that there was far more to it. When Cap arrives in the future, will he find Rampart awaiting him with open arms... or something even worse?