SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Captain America #2 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho and Joe Caramagna, on sale now.
It’s to be expected that superhero characters get put through the ringer; Spider-Man has the ol’ Parker luck, Iron Man struggles with alcoholism, Daredevil’s wives and girlfriends keep getting killed. It’s something that comes with the genre; we like to see heroes brought down to their lowest moment so we can watch them climb back to the top of the mountain. It’s what makes them heroes, after all -- their unwillingness to quit in the face of the harshest adversity and their selfless commitment to saving the world despite the effects it has on their own lives.
Captain America’s had it worse than most in recent years, and is only now just coming through the other side. However, just because Steve Rogers is back to normal doesn’t mean the world around him is and people trust him and the concepts he represents less than ever, and he’s finding himself more conflicted and more unsure than he ever has in his career; not to mention he’s keeping a massive secret from those closest to him which could change everything we know about Steve Rogers forever.
Man Out Of Time
Steve Rogers’ current predicament dates back a lot further than Secret Empire, having roots in Rick Remender’s run on Captain America, where the villainous Iron Nail drained the Super-Soldier Serum from Steve’s blood. The process not only reduced Steve to the skinny, powerless person he was before he became the Sentinel of Liberty, it forced his body to rapidly age to accommodate all the years he’s been alive and in the blink of an eye, Cap was a nonagenarian.
While he took a role at S.H.I.E.L.D., and Sam Wilson took over as Captain America, Steve was eventually restored to his young and virile self by Kobik, the young girl who was actually a sentient Cosmic Cube. However, Kobik had actually changed Steve’s memories and personal history, making him loyal to Hydra at the insistence of the Red Skull. Under everyone’s noses, Captain America slowly took control of S.H.I.E.L.D. and placed himself in the perfect position to be appointed the head of US defense in the case of a national emergency; then all he had to do was create one.
Captain America and Hydra took over America, rounding up Inhumans into concentration camps and forcing any resistance deep underground, while Steve Rogers’ true core personality existed within the Cosmic Cube. It was only through the the Avengers Resistance’s tenaciousness that they were able to free the real Captain America who went on to defeat the imposter. This was no happy ending however, and things didn’t go back to normal as soon as Cap came back. Black Widow was still dead, Las Vegas still decimated and Steve Rogers legacy tarnished, possibly forever.
Following the events of Secret Empire, the hero took off across America on his motorcycle to find the so-called “real America” and see the effects of Hydra’s takeover from a man-on-the-street level. During his journey, he encountered old and new threats but mostly saw that his country was still populated with decent, well-meaning people who just want to look after each other and do their best to get by day-to-day. A brief trip into the far future helped remind Captain America exactly what he fights for, and he returned to the present reinvigorated and ready to continue to fight for his country and the world.