Since the beginning of the Secret Empire event, Natasha has been telling her young recruits that they must harden themselves against the future, and that they are a new generation of assassins—the product of a new Red Room. At the same time, Miles Morales has been living with the certainty that he will kill Steve Rogers in the shadow of the Capitol. Even though he has tried to convince Natasha that he doesn’t believe in the inevitability of this action, in Secret Empire #7, it becomes obvious that he’s been lying, and that he is resigned to his fate.
But the Black Widow has other plans, and wants to spare her young charge the trauma of becoming a murderer. On the way to the Capitol she locks him up in the back of a transport truck, trapping him in a cage that is strong enough to contain a Hulk, but Miles cleverly frees himself.
Fully believing in Ulysses’ prophecy, he correctly surmises that he’ll be able to override his containment by guessing the password—and that anything he says will work. He then swings toward his date with destiny.
Natasha is equally mindful of the future of her other protegés, and as the hour of truth approaches she reveals that their true mission is not assassination, but rescue. Their target is four members of Congress, who are prisoners of the regime, and who have been forced to pledge allegiance to Hydra in public, thus legitimizing the takeover.
A Punishing Truth
All of this frees Natasha to proceed with the assassination attempt on her own. Thanks to Viper, she has access to the Capitol building and a clear shot on Rogers. But before she can squeeze the trigger, she is confronted by Frank Castle, who is loyal to Captain America, and who has been tracking her.
Despite his brute force, Black Widow bests the Punisher by spearing him in the shins. But before she defeats him, Frank lays out part of Rogers’ master plan. It seems that his hero is not only seeking to reverse the “Great Deception—the manipulation of history by the Allies, which robbed Hydra of its World War II victory—but that he also wants to bring back the dead; presumably, the fallen heroes of the Marvel Universe… as well as Castle’s family.
He may talk a good game about Rogers making the world a safer place, and providing him with means to win the war he’s been fighting as the Punisher, but Castle’s motivation is clearly personal. As Natasha prepares to take her shot, she chides him as a “closet idealist,” and cautions him: “We can never bring back what we’ve lost. We can only take away more.”
This exchange explicitly reveals a crucial element of Rogers’ plan, and possibly explains why Mjolnir deemed him worthy. Despite the many atrocities he has committed in the name of Hydra, his evil acts are rooted in a desire to do right by his fallen comrades, and therefore in goodness. If worthiness is based on intent, or at least in the belief of one’s righteousness, then he definitely qualifies to lift Thor’s hammer—though whether he still can is in question. But more importantly, the door to redemption is open. At the core, he is still the same Steve Rogers who begged for a chance to right the world’s wrongs despite lacking the strength to enlist in the army.
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