The moral world of the Hydra Cap story has been murky from the beginning. Since CA:SR #1, I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position of rooting for the “bad guy.” In part this is because Steve Rogers has always been my favorite Marvel hero, and I want to believe that he can be restored to his true self soon. And in part it’s been because whatever evil he’s done, his intentions have seemed (for the most part) to be good. He wants to restore order and security to the Marvel world after a decade or more of its heroes acting like something less than heroes. That’s not too far from the Cap we’ve all known and loved. What changed was that he’s gone from being the guy who refuses to compromise his principles (even when it means he has to suffer for it) to being an ends-justify-the-means kind of guy.
All this moral ambiguity led into the first several issues of Secret Empire, which has continued to explore the idea of gray areas. While the members of the Underground seek to recover the Cosmic Cube fragments in order to save Cap, Black Widow and the younger heroes plot to assassinate him (well, Black Widow wants to kill him, and the younger heroes want to convince her not to).
This has led more than one commentator to observe that there’s some moral relativism at work in Secret Empire, but I don’t think that’s the case. The fact that people disagree about what’s right and wrong doesn’t equal relativism.
Still, one of the most disheartening things about Secret Empire is seeing the heroes of the world lose many of their moral principles and moral courage. Cap used to be the moral center of the Marvel Universe, so now that he’s been altered by Kobik, things are falling apart.
Like Dagger lighting up a New York trapped in the Darkhold Dimension, though, Secret Empire #6 shines a ray of moral clarity on an otherwise dark world. That clarity comes from Nadia Pym, the new Wasp, who doesn’t want to be a part of Black Widow’s plan any more.
Viv’s assertion that things are “quite complex” seems to be the voice of reason. After all, the world is complex, and the world of Secret Empire is perhaps even more complex than usual. But Nadia, a product (and victim) of the same Red Room program that created Black Widow and Winter Soldier, is the perfect person to respond to chin-stroking and hand-wringing about things not being “black and white.” Circumstances aren’t simple, and sometimes it isn’t easy to decide what is the right thing to do. But most of the time, morality is able to help us navigate complicated situations precisely because it is simple. Even with the stakes being as high as they could possibly be, Nadia knows that torture and murder are never justifiable, and that conviction gives her a clear (even if difficult) path.
That’s not to say that a simple conception of morality will be easy for Nadia or anyone else to maintain as Secret Empire nears its end. After hearing about the destruction of The Mount, the rest of the Champions will have to decide for themselves whether or not killing Steve is the right thing to do. Whatever is left of the Underground will have to decide whether or not they should remain committed to saving Steve from himself after the Hydra attack and the revelation that Tony doesn’t really have a means of locating the Cosmic Cube fragments. In the Darkhold Dimension, Daredevil and other street-level heroes will have to decide whether or not they should accept Wilson Fisk’s help in keeping the people of New York alive and safe.
Whatever they do, though, they’ll have to do it with the guidance of sure moral principles. You can’t live in a world like the one of Secret Empire or stand up to an organization like Hydra and think that morality is really relative. If you do, it probably won’t take you long to change sides.