Secret Empire Reveals the Secret of Bearded Steve Rogers

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Secret Empire #9, in stores now.

Secret Empire #9 picks up where the previous issue left off, and doesn't leave readers much time to breathe. The Planetary Defense Shield has been disabled. Captain Marvel has destroyed the queen eggs, thus neutralizing the Chitauri threat, and the Darkforce Dimension dome over New York City has been lifted. In a last, desperate push, heroes from all around the world descend on Washington D.C. for a final go at Steve Rogers and Hydra.

The odds, of course, are against them. Despite having the element of surprise, the combined power of the world’s heroes may not be enough to counter Hydra’s vast arsenal. As the clock winds down toward a reckoning, Steve Rogers and his villainous lot still have a few tricks up their sleeves.

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A good chunk of the issue is concerned with the all-out brawl that ensues as the forces of good and evil clash in the Capitol. These widescreen battles are intercut with equally momentous character moments that feel somewhat telegraphed, but Spencer maintains a brisk pace as he moves the final pieces of the puzzle into place.

Let’s take a look at everything that happens in this action-packed issue.

Let's Get Political, Political

There’s not much politics in Secret Empire #9, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t political. This whole storyline has been a jab at the alt-right at its bigoted worst, and once again, Spencer doesn’t disappoint.

Rogers’ desire to publicly execute T’Challa, rather than letting Zemo murder him on the spot, reinforces Hydra Cap as an unrepentant nationalist and a white supremacist. On top of conquering and subjugating an African nation, he wants to instill fear, and play to his racist supporters by executing a man of color in the public arena.

Rogers exceptionalism, however, is tested, as the international community rebels. It starts with Emma Frost, who rejects his demand of surrender. “I can no longer accept you as a Neighbour,” he tells her. “You are a threat to my people and a challenge to our strength…”

Her response is unequivocal. She made a promise to the population of New Tian: “…No mutant will kneel to Hydra.” Her words are supported by none other than Magneto, who appeared to have made a pact with Roger, but who obviously tricked Hydra Supreme.

It is especially gratifying to see the concentration camp survivor—a Jewish mutant who endured Hitler’s worst atrocities—singlehandedly bring down Hydra’s command ship. After all, Hydra isn’t really a bunch of Nazis, except that it is.

The moral here is that history repeats. Today’s tyrants model themselves on the past. One need only switch on the news to see this lesson in action.

Odinson is Mighty Thor at Hydra Cap

As the final battle progresses, Rogers sends out his Avengers to take on the assembled heroes. But the carnage proves to be too much for Odinson. Hydra’s whispers about saving Jane Foster from her purgatory prove to be of little comfort, and he swears off his allegiance to Rogers. He may be unworthy, but he's not a villain. Summoning lightning and smashing Jarnbjorn into the ground in defiance, he sends a signal that the tide is turning.

Upon hearing the resulting boom, Taskmaster and Black Ant sense that Hydra may be facing defeat, so they set Natasha’s protégés free, on the condition that the youngsters speak well of them to the Avengers. Their liberation of the legacy heroes provides a moment of comic relief. As the teenagers run free, Miles Morales turns back and slings a couple of webs at his former captors, gluing their heads to the wall.

The adolescent heroes join their cohorts in battle, and fight for the future alongside the adults.

Viv is immediately confronted by her father, who is battling for Hydra. She senses the virus that has infected him. but cannot remove it completely. Instead she distributes it amongst Hydra’s robotic soldiers, with the fortunate side effect of disabling the walking drones. This allows Bucky and T’Challa to knock out Zemo before he activates an army of sleeping super villains, who Rogers put into suspended animation because they were too dangerous to be allowed to roam free.

Meanwhile, Doctor Strange performs an exorcism on Wanda, who is possessed by the demon Chthon. To knock her out, he requires superhuman strength, and he summons Thor—whom we have not seen since she dropped her hammer in the FCBD issue of Secret Empire. She knocks out the Scarlet Witch, and immediately reverts to her human form, the cancer-stricken Jane Foster.

As the terminally-ill Foster is lifted away by Sam Wilson, Strange cautions Captain America to keep her safe, but close. Mjolnir is keeping her alive, and the mystical hammer is still on the field of battle, in the same spot where Steve Rogers left it after picking it up to signal his worthiness to take over the country. The magical weapon is obviously still in play, and will figure in the final fate of Hydra Supreme.

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