Shades of Secret Empire
But Steve is not in Nebraska on a whim. He has intel that the white supremacists are coming back. Sure enough, the costumed creeps disrupt the proceedings with guns, and Rogers swings into action. Donning his classic outfit and wielding his mighty shield with abandon, he takes out the racist criminals but he fails to learn more about the organization. In an echo of Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, the costumed henchman he interrogates turns out to be a suicide bomber.
Waid and Samnee go to town with the notion of Steve Rogers as a man out of time, a core element of his identity since Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived the character in the 1960s. After a one-page recap of his wartime origin, the story switches to a contemporary setting. We see Captain America in his classic outfit, protecting a group of school children and their teacher from a horde of costumed white supremacists who have stormed a police station.
As he shepherds the school group into the safety of an enclosed office away from the fray, their teacher begs him not to hurt the children. “You’re not with them?” she asks. “Who are you?” It is unclear at this point when this is happening. It could well be that, in the wake of the Hydra take-over, she doesn’t trust anybody wearing Rogers’ old uniform. But it turns out that the sequence is a flashback, and she doesn’t recognize Captain America because he had only recently been unfrozen.
Thanks to the magic of Marvel Time, the vignette establishes that the events of 1964’s Avengers #4 transpired just over ten years ago. It also sets up a new group of villains.
The Rampart, as the terrorists call themselves, is a costumed group of white supremacists who have access to some advanced technology, including laser rifles. Its members resemble a low-rent version of Hydra, in red and grey, suggesting a possible connection to a classic Captain America villain. The facial markings of the terrorist cell’s leader hint that he may have scarred himself to better resemble the Red Skull. Even more tantalizingly, these facial features, paired with his beady black eyes, suggest that he may in fact be a Skrull.
The group also predates the establishment of the corrupted Rogers’ fascist regime by years. Its very existence is evidence that the racism that allowed Hydra to flourish in America in the lead-up to Secret Empire has been festering for a long time. Since the group continues to be a problem after the re-establishment of the legitimate U.S. government, one gets the sense that the mysterious Rampart may have a role in Hydra Cap’s inevitable return. After all, as we saw at the end of Secret Empire Omega #1, there are plenty of people who are still willing to help the evil Rogers advance his sinister agenda.
The issue also celebrates what makes Captain America great. In an obvious reference to the Pulse nightclub massacre, a Latinx man, who Rogers rescued from a fire in Tallahassee, reveals that he was inspired to become a first responder in Orlando, Florida. A schoolboy admits that Captain America’s courage empowered him to stand up. A young gay man calls Rogers “crazy handsome.” Another rapturous fan proclaims, “He punches Nazis!”
Captain America is Political
The politics that informed Secret Empire -- and pretty much every great Captain America story -- are very much in evidence in Captain America #695. However, Waid and Samnee also play the political content for laughs.
After he defeats the terrorist cell a first time, Rogers pauses in mid-sentence to correct himself. He stops short of calling the villains “Nazis” and instead refers to them as “these ‘Rampart’ supremacists.” As he ambles through the Captain America celebrations, Rogers is schooled by a conspiracy-minded hot dog vendor who calls him an “icer” and explains in detail how the government fabricated the suspended animation story, then suited up a “modern guy” after it saw how “badass” the Avengers were.
Waid and Samnee also throw in a quick bit explaining the way that the public perceives the recently returned Captain America within the Marvel Universe. As one admirer put it, the real Steve Rogers beat “the hell out of a Hydra criminal pretending to be him.” He also admitted that people were still angry that Captain America let it get so far, but unaware of the Cosmic Cube shenanigans at play, he surmised that Rogers had to “bust out of a trap first.”
Rogers’ status quo may have shifted within the superhero community, but to the everyday folks who saw him restore democracy, he is still very much the Sentinel of Liberty.
The story concludes with Cap getting on his motorcycle and riding off into the sunset. His legacy is secure. His future is wide open, but he still needs some time alone to figure out where he fits in. And isn’t that what all our lives are about? We may not have super strength and a vibranium shield, but we all have something to contribute to the greater good. Sometimes we lose our way and have to find the route back to our true selves. This is the lesson of Captain America #695, and it is a very good one.