Secret Empire #0 hit the stands yesterday along with Captain America: Steve Rogers #16 (as well as a couple of other Secret Empire-related titles that I have yet to read). Both are excellent books. In fact, Secret Empire #0 is the most exciting event comic that I’ve read since Jonathan Hickman’s Infinity (which is grossly underrated).
Unlike a lot of event comics in recent memory, lots of things actually happen in SE #0 that really do matter. Where most event comics only promise to Change Everything Forever(!), Secret Empire #0 stands poised to deliver on that promise. There are times when I want to make a voodoo doll of Nick Spencer and light it on fire for what he’s done with Cap, but I have to admit: he tells a damn good, damn suspenseful story. It’s been a long time since a comic has felt so high-stakes.
All that said, reading these two books made me feel exactly as I felt a year ago when Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 came out. Why? Because Secret Empire #0 seems to be telling us that Captain America has always been a Hydra agent—and not just in this new, alternate reality created by Kobik. As told in Secret Empire, the Captain America who appeared in Captain America Comics #1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby was in reality a Hydra agent feeding intelligence to Hydra and to the Axis powers.
How could this be? It’s a fairly complicated story. It now appears that the story of Cap and his mother being indoctrinated by Hydra (the flashback scenes that we have seen throughout Captain America: Steve Rogers) are true memories, and Steve really did go on to work as a Hydra double-agent during World War II. Moreover, in the Marvel Universe, the Axis powers actually won World War II, but the Allies, who had secretly developed a Cosmic Cube, used that Cube to alter reality into the one that we all have known for the last 70+ years. But when the Red Skull used Kobik to turn Cap into a Hydra agent, what he actually did (without knowing it) was to restore Cap’s true past and memories, not change them.
Aside from being pissed yet again (while also reminding myself not to overreact as I did last May), I have a few initial thoughts:
1. Even though I want my Captain America back (I know that Spencer has made the words “not my Captain America” a loaded phrase at this point), I can’t deny it: the Hydra Cap story and Secret Empire have been damn good comics (at least so far).
2. Today a number of comics and pop-culture sites are running headlines that say things like, “Captain America Has Always Been Evil.” I think that such headlines are probably premature, especially in light of the way that this story started. From the beginning, the Hydra Cap story has been full of twists that set up expectations and then further twists that turn those expectations upside down. When the world reacted to the twist at the end of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Nick Spencer and Tom Brevoort insisted, “This is Steve Rogers. He’s not brainwashed. It’s not an impostor.” Then Captain America: Steve Rogers #2 came out, revealing that while he wasn’t technically “brainwashed,” his reality had been rewritten by Kobik.
In other words, Secret Empire #0 has a huge twist in it (as did the book that started this whole business), but it’s only the first issue. We should expect other developments that force us to reinterpret this one.
3. Why should we take this new timeline to be the “true” timeline of the Marvel Universe? How do we know that this new, revised Marvel history involving a Cosmic Cube created by the Allies isn’t itself part of Kobik’s rewrite of Captain America’s past? I might have missed something, but I see nothing in Secret Empire so far that proves definitively that the history it presents is “true.” It might turn out to be “true,” but I don’t see how we can know that right now (if ever).
There’s a lot more to say (especially if it turns out that we should take this new history at face-value), but if CA:SR #1 taught me anything, it’s that we shouldn’t draw any premature conclusions about what Spencer is doing. So I’ll wait and watch.