It doesn't matter if you love it or hate it, the fact of the matter remains: Secret Empire is here, and the repercussions are going to ripple through the Marvel Universe for years to come. Taking Captain America, a die-hard, tried and true hero and American patriot and revealing him as a Hydra spy has been a jarring move, to say the least. It's not helped by the current political climate in America, which is nearly as tumultuous as the one Steve Rogers has created. With the first issue ranking as #1 on Diamond's list of April's top comics (depending on how you interpret those numbers), the clear conceit is that Secret Empire is a big deal.
But where do you go from here? Secret Empire won't last forever, and the simple fact is that status quo is typically restored in comic books. How does the Marvel Universe recover from a Hydra invasion on this scale? How do you redeem the idea of Captain America? Fans are now looking as forward to the ultimate conclusion and what comes after as they are to what comes next, and we're no different. So here are some possible scenarios for how Marvel can SAVE Captain America after Secret Empire.
15 THE COSMIC CUBE
It's the easiest and the most obvious solution. Steve was turned into a Hydra operative in the modern era by Kobik, a small girl who was revealed to be a sentient Cosmic Cube. Manipulated by Red Skull, Kobik rewrote history so that Steve had always been a Hydra spy, biding his time to take over the world. Since the reveal, Kobik was reduced to shards of a Cube, though her keeper Erik Selvig has done something not yet revealed to protect her.
The obvious, easy solution is for the heroes to somehow rewrite Steve's history again using Kobik or a re-formed Cosmic Cube, but this seems increasingly unlikely. In addition to being kind of a cheap, lazy out, writer Nick Spencer has made it clear on Twitter that this isn't happening. Still, it bears mentioning as the most readily apparent solution to the evil Cap conundrum.
14 DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA 2.0
Captain America is not a man, but an ideal. This was the driving force between Fallen Son, the event which saw Steve Rogers assassinated after he surrendered to end the Civil War. Numerous men have carried the shield when Steve Rogers was incapacitated, and taking the mantle of Captain America off him feels like the obvious solution. Doing so with his death feels like the only way it could happen.
In death, all things are forgiven. And as the current shield bearer (until recently), Sam Wilson obviously had a claim and means to restore the image of Captain America. But if it's a man and not an idea, what of the image of Steve Rogers? Siding with Hydra, killing without remorse and betraying his allies -- could even death restore the image of Living Legend of World War II?
13 TIME TRAVEL
Ah, time travel. Tried and true, but unless you're Rip Hunter or Kang The Conqueror, this typically doesn't work out in your favor. That being said, things are pretty dire for the Marvel Universe right now, and desperate times call for desperate measures. Wouldn't it be easy for a team of heroes to travel back in time to the day Kobik rewrote Cap's history?
This is probably easier than it's ever been. After all, the once-villainous Dr. Doom is now the Infamous Iron Man, and he has access to a time platform of his own design. But that's also the time platform that was used in Age of Ultron. In that story, after Wolverine killed Hank Pym before he could create Ultron, the world certainly didn't improve. Time travel is an easy fix, but the consequences may be greater than anyone is willing to risk.
12 PSYCHIC RECONDITIONING
Regardless of how his history was rewritten, Steve Rogers is still a man who breathes, bleeds... and thinks. The decision to join Hydra is one that was made by a series of life events that led him down a dark road, but those events can be changed. Any number of Marvel's high-level telepaths can rewrite Steve's memories and mindset.
We're learning that even without Xavier, the X-Men have powerful psychics. Most notably, the time-displaced Jean Grey has proven she can rewrite minds. In All-New Wolverine, she helped Laura Kinney get past her trauma from her time as an experiment, and helped to rewire her brain to no longer react to the trigger scent. But such solutions can only fix so much, and Marvel characters with rewritten personas have historically always reverted.
11 THE SUPERIOR CAPTAIN AMERICA
The opening salvo of Secret Empire saw Bucky strapped to a rocket and fired off, seemingly to his death. It's comics, so of course, there's no telling what happened, but Bucky hasn't been seen since. He's likely to play a major role in the conclusion of the story, and it's not just due to his relationship to Cap. After all, Bucky once wielded the shield himself.
We know that you can transplant a mind into a new body, as Otto Octavius did in Superior Spider-Man. What if this happened with Bucky? Grievously injured and near death, Bucky's consciousness could be transplanted into Steve's body, allowing Bucky to not only survive but restore his friend's reputation. Of course, the world may not be so forgiving of Steve Rogers' face, regardless of who is in control of the body.
10 CLONE CAPTAIN
It seems almost inevitable that replacing an absent Steve Rogers is the most straightforward solution post-Secret Empire. Cloning is a more viable option than ever, thanks to the recent events of Dead No More: The Clone Conspiracy. Though Ben Reilly was unable to see his perfect clone brought to life, Otto Octavius and Anna Maria Marconi found a way around flaws in Reilly's system.
Could a Clone Steve be made in a similar fashion to those seen in Clone Conspiracy? One that didn't remember Kobik's rewritten history and Hydra allegiance? It would be pretty hard to pull off. The rules from Clone Conspiracy establish that the clone would carry the memories from whenever the sample was collected. Given how long the current Cap has been a secret Hydra operative, this might prove to be impossible.
9 DEUS EX INFINITY GAUNTLET
The Infinity Gauntlet is the solution to pretty much any problem you can think of in the Marvel Universe. Last seen wielded by T'Challa during Secret Wars, the Gauntlet bestows the wearer unthinkable powers, putting them on par with a God. Seemingly disappearing after Secret Wars, the Infinity Gauntlet is almost certainly due for an appearance as the Marvel Cinematic Universe creeps ever close to Infinity War.
There is, however, the possibility that the Gauntlet would be useless against the Cube. Such a thing was implied in Deadpool #250 when Thanos plainly stated the Cosmic Cube was more powerful than the Infinity Gauntlet, though this was a backup story and potentially out of continuity. With the chance that the Cosmic Cube, still in the unstable form of Kobik, is stronger, the Gauntlet may not provide the option the heroes of the Marvel Universe would hope it does.
Things are already pretty bleak for Cap, but he's showing signs of remorse. From his preference to issue statements rather than make them to his hesitation to execute Rick Jones, there's a glimmer of the Steve Rogers fans know and love. He's still, at his heart, someone who wants to do what he truly believes is right. For now, though, that seems to be allegiance with Hydra.
Is there a chink in the armor? Could Steve possibly be fighting his way back? Post-Secret Empire Captain America could easily be Steve Rogers on a quest for redemption, but it seems unlikely. Despite the apparent remorse over his actions, Steve still carried them out and cemented his place as the leader of the new Hydra, making the odds of an about-face for Steve Rogers unlikely.
The upcoming Marvel Legacy is poised to return the Marvel Universe back to its glory days, bringing legacy heroes of old back into the modern era and resuming the numbering of most Marvel titles to their original volumes. One of the many to be coming to the modern era is Steve Rogers, so who's to say he won't stay? Could the pre-Secret Empire, Legacy version of Steve Rogers replace the current one?
It's possible, but again, it's unlikely. No matter the time they pull him from, Steve Rogers' timeline is now that he's a Hydra operative. While it's possible to pull a Cap who acts like Captain America, would it really be him? Or would it be the same nefarious monster biding his time and waiting for the opportunity to launch his attack?
6 ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT
With all that Steve has committed, could he ever possibly continue as Captain America? In the wake of Secret Empire, maybe it's time for a new Captain America? Someone who has never worn the uniform and is able to redeem the title, earning back the trust of the world. But who could be such a Captain America?
There are plenty of qualified people who have never wielded the shield. Clint Barton springs to mind, having proven he could use the shield in Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America. Elijah Bradley is also an option, having fought as The Patriot alongside the Young Avengers for several years. Or maybe someone completely new, someone never before seen could become the new Captain America. But could they really make up for what Steve has done so far? It's been done over at DC with Green Lantern Kyle Rayner. Why not Cap?
5 ULTIMATE CAPTAIN AMERICA
Despite what Secret Wars wanted you to believe, the Ultimate Universe didn't die. At least, not as definitively as originally thought. With the survival of Miles Morales and his family and friends, James Howlett and even Ultimate Thor's Mjolnir, it's obvious that small pieces of Marvel's flagship imprint managed to survive the formation of the Prime Universe.
But what about Ultimate Captain America? The Steve Rogers of the Ultimate Universe is a different beast altogether. Personality wise, he's fairly similar though much more stubborn and more willing to get his hands dirty if need be. It's possible this Steve Rogers survived into the current Marvel Universe, but would such a brash and violent Rogers really be welcomed with open arms after Secret Empire?
4 STEVE'S JUST TOO DAMN GOOD
Steve Rogers is just an inherently good person. It's a fact, dating back to his very first appearance. Typically portrayed as somewhat old-fashioned yet unflinchingly polite, kind and caring, Steve's all-American demeanor and desire to help others made him the perfect candidate for the government's Super Soldier program.
Maybe there's still something of that Steve inside him? Canonically speaking, he kept up the ruse for decades, fooling everyone in his life. How much of Steve's good side was an act? Maybe he's secretly a triple agent? Sadly, it's unlikely. Given the sheer scale and number of atrocities he's committed since the Secret Empire came to light, the odds are pretty fair that Steve Rogers is the Marvel Universe's most evil villain.
3 INVERSION REDUX
There has to be a reason for Hydra's explicit attack on Doctor Strange, sealing him off and tying him up in a Darkforce Dimension. Why would Steve go to such lengths? The obvious answer is because Strange is the Sorcerer Supreme, and in any reality, he's a formidable opponent. But the answer could be because he's the crux to underpinning Hydra's plan.
In Axis, Strange suggested the Inversion spell that reversed the moralities of every hero and villain on site. Such a spell proved to be incredibly powerful and could swerve the minds of not only Steve but of Hydra. Was Strange put out of commission to keep from turning Hydra into a militant force for good over their current evil status? Maybe we'll find out when the good Doctor breaks free of the Darkforce Dimension.
2 NO MORE HYDRA
You can't deny how powerful the Scarlet Witch is. With powers on a level even she isn't certain of, Wanda previously rewrote all of history, creating the Mutant utopia world known as House of M. But more importantly was the fallout. With three words, Wanda changed the direction of the world without even realizing it. That simple cry of No More Mutants, the mutant population dwindled to only a few hundred, and countless died.
What if Wanda turned that power in another direction? Could a cry of No More Hydra work? Could Wanda create a reality in which Hydra was not only foiled but never existed in the first place? Steve would likely be gone in this scenario too, but at this stage, the Marvel Universe may be willing to accept that it's the price they pay to save their world.
1 THEY CAN'T
It should be obvious by now that every possible solution has in common: a reason why it won't work or be worth the cost. No matter what happens, you can't really take back what happened: Steve Rogers, the living legend of World War II, betrayed everyone to allow the organization Hydra to take over the world. There are just some sins you can't come back from.
The future of the Marvel Universe, both for characters and readers, is certainly changed, and possibly beyond repair. How do you fix Captain America when you've established not only that he was always a traitor, but when you put what he's done so far in perspective? The deaths of Jack Flagg and Rick Jones showcase how far gone he is, and highlight what we all sadly know. When asking how you can save Captain America after Secret Empire, the simple answer is: you can't.