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Secret Empire Goes International, But [REDACTED] Isn’t Having It

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Secret Empire Goes International, But [REDACTED] Isn’t Having It

It was bound to happen. America was only a stepping stone for Steve Rogers and his Hydra cohorts, and now they’ve set their eyes on the world. Captain America: Steve Rogers #18 sees the Hydra Council go international, as the United Nations convenes an emergency session to be addressed by the Supreme Leader himself. But things don’t go quite as planned, and Rogers encounters some unexpected resistance as he moves onto the global stage.

There’s a lot of politics in the latest chapter of the Hydra Cap saga. There’s also a lot of posturing as Steve Rogers rattles his sabre in front of delegates from around the world. But the story, which is also a flashback that predates the destruction of Atlantis by Hydra, serves as a bit of a cautionary tale about brinkmanship and appeasement.

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Written by Nick Spencer with Donny Cates, with art by Javier Pena and Andres Guinaldo, the issue is bookended by Namor, opening with the King of Atlantis contemplating war against Hydra. “There are those who would tell me to fight, but I held on to hope that another way could be found,” he muses, recalling fighting alongside Captain America as part of the Invaders in World War II.

Namor is then shown holding the closed vessel containing a Cosmic Cube fragment that is being sought by Rogers, remarking that things have changed for both of them. And he’s right; Namor, who has always been an anti-hero, if not an outright villain, rules his people by right of birth. Rogers, considered by many the greatest of heroes, rules his nation by force. The one-time allies find themselves at odds, and we already know that one, if not both, has paid a heavy price.

The action then shifts to Brussels. With its New York headquarters and the bulk of its representatives and officials trapped in the Darkforce Dimension, the United Nations convenes an interim body to hear Captain America’s first major address on international policy. Elisa Sinclair, aka Madame Hydra, believes that the delegates will privately oppose Rogers but publicly acquiesce. Mostly, she’s far from wrong.

When Steve takes the podium he goes from merely menacing to unhinged. “I’ll make this brief,” he begins. “This is not how the world ends—but this is how it changes.” He then proclaims there will be no discussion, nor any questions.

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As the speech progresses, Captain America goes from espousing protectionism — threatening any nation that goes against Hydra with “exile and embargo” — to establishing a de facto new world older. He urges those members of the United Nations who “continue to cling” to their “former sovereignty” to reconsider their stance. “Finding suitable replacements to take your seats will be a time-consuming process,” he glowers.

While he addresses the world’s representatives, we see chaos unfolding everywhere on the planet. An Israeli operative breaks into a Hydra data centre. Euroforce takes on a Hydra splinter group in Paris. High above the South China sea, a group of heroes defends a floating Chinese base called The Circle from an onslaught of Hydra aircraft. These choices are not random. Anti-semitism and Sinophobia represent two of the most dominant forms of prejudice in the United States. Jokes about France are a staple of American late night television.

“Our message is resonating…” warns Rogers. “…throughout history, time and time again, those who have been told that their ideologies are without merit have lashed out violently against the forces who aim to vilify and silence them.” The undendorsed terrorists who wreak havoc in Hydra’s name are an echo of the street toughs who were spurred on by the Red Skull’s rhetoric in the opening issue of the title. They are the very hoodlums that Rogers condemned as going against the nature of the ancient order that he heads. But any pretence of nobility is gone here.

All of this sets up the locus of the issue’s action: As Steve demands the nations of the world behave in a manner that Hydra deems worthy, T’Challa takes centre stage. Projecting his image into the meeting hall, “the representative from Wakanda requests the floor.” The Black Panther then upbraids Captain America, chiding him for sending lackeys to Wakanda to retrieve the Cosmic Cube fragment within its borders.

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He then attempts to goad Rogers into a one-on-one confrontation: “So I have an offer for this man, who claims to have the right to invade our sovereign lands,” he expounds. “Perhaps he would like to stop sending more men for me to kill.” The insult is too much for Steve, who abruptly ends his speech.

There is nothing subtle about this sequence. It’s a massive F.U. to American exceptionalism and white supremacy.

But the trouble doesn’t end there. As Rogers storms out of the assembly, he is confronted by Namor and his royal guard. The King of Atlantis talks tough to Hydra Supreme, but as we already know, it is all for nought. As the flashback concludes, we see Namor, bowed and humiliated, offering his fragment of Kobik to Steve.

The pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers #18 present a man who is unhinged. This is a rageaholic who cannot bear to be questioned, and who rises to any and every provocation. The cool tactician is gone, replaced by a bullying Rogers who relies on brute force and intimidation. Andres Guinaldo draws him with bugling eyes and furrowed brows. He is a scowling wreck who can barely contain his anger, and who clutches at the sides of the dais to keep himself from exploding. This is not a man in possession of himself. Yet he clings to the concept of worthiness in others… perhaps because he no longer sees it in himself.

If Rogers is in fact losing his grip, what does it mean for Hydra? Spencer and Cates have set up a Steve who is looking at global dominion, but he meets with resistance at every turn. Whereas his grip on the United States seems solid for now, even the apparently cowed Namor is scheming against him under the sea.

As a rogue nation, the United States under Hydra is increasingly isolated. As its leader, Steve Rogers seems cut off from everyone but the Hydra Council. If there’s a theme here it’s that might and magic can only go so far when you go it alone.

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