A lot of is going on in Hydra’s America right now, and it can be hard to keep track of who is allied with who, who is withholding information and who is secretly a traitor working to undermine their own group. Much of that got a lot clearer in Secret Empire: United #1, but if anything, the many revelations contained within the story just raised further questions as the leader of the mutants isn’t quite who people think it is and Steve Rogers discovered he has traitors in his midst working to undermine everything he’s worked for as Supreme Leader of Hydra.
It feels like most line-wide Marvel events post-House of M have excluded mutants for one reason or another and found ways to write them out of the conflict. Outside of Avengers vs X-Men which framed them as the villains, events like Civil War, World War Hulk, Siege, Fear Itself and Original Sin avoided the mutant angle for the most part and concentrated on Avengers and surrounding characters. Secret Empire seems to be correcting that mistake and placing mutants right in the heart of the conflict in a way that will drive the ongoing stories in X-Men Gold, X-Men Blue and the other ongoings for the next few years.
In one issue, Marvel managed to clear up a lot of the questions surrounding New Tian, the sovereign nation ruled by the mutants outside of Hydra’s territory. We saw that Xorn is their king and Beast, Archangel and Sebastian Shaw serve as his advisers. We also learned that not everyone is happy with this arrangement, as Sunfire led a group of rebels to attack the border that separates Tian and America, and Arnim Zola push Supreme Leader Rogers towards all-out war with the mutant nation.
The issue features Sebastian Shaw putting together a team of, in Xorn’s words, expendable-but-capable mutants to break into a Hydra facility and bust Sunfire out before he stokes more tension between the two nations. In doing so, the team (made up of Magik, Boom Boom, Strong Guy and Marrow) manage to take down Hydra’s Avengers and successfully escape with their man which draws Steve Rogers to New Tian to discuss Xorn’s intentions for the future of their alliance.
The big revelation of this issue is that Xorn isn’t the leader of the mutants at all: Emma Frost is, and Steve Rogers is the only person that knows. Emma is using her psychic abilities to control Xorn like a puppet because she’s wanted for crimes against mutant and Inhuman alike from the recent Inhumans vs X-Men conflict. If the mutants learned they were being led by Emma, there would likely be a revolt which would destabilize the nation and jeapordise Rogers’ control over the mutant situation but there are also few mutants cunning and shrewd enough to be trusted with complying with Hydra’s goals.
Furthermore, Emma reveals that a psychic probe into Sunfire’s mind revealed that he and his rebels were brainwashed by Doctor Faustus who was working with Zola to drive the Hydra Nation into war with New Tian by any means necessary. This new development reveals that Steve’s close council of Hydra leaders isn’t quite as united as they may seem and could lead to major problems down the line. Rogers may have assembled the most formidable cabinet of Hydra leaders and higher-ups of all time but they all have their own goals and agendas which aren’t always going to line up, and not many of them are known for playing well with others.
Finally, the issue reveals that the mutants won’t be sitting out of the conflict following this one-shot because Emma Frost has one of the coveted Cosmic Cube fragments and while she’s content to work with Steve Rogers where necessary she’s not in a rush to hand it over to him either. It’s unclear how much power, if any, the fragments have but they have a symbolic power in how much both sides of the conflict want them and depending on what they’re prepared to give Emma Frost and New Tian for it, the mutants could emerge from Secret Empire in a place of prominence within the Marvel Universe which they haven’t had for over ten years.