You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and angry fans should have known better than to get too hot and bothered about Steve Rogers becoming a deep-cover Hydra agent, because Marvel has pulled an old one out of their top hat. Wouldn’t you know it, Secret Empire is back in the news cycle providing many more questions about ramifications of the event when it’s done. While much has already played out in the first two issues, what will keep people talking -- through at least the release of Secret Empire #3 -- is what happened in the final pages of the last issue.
A subplot was introduced in Secret Empire #2, written by Nick Spencer and illustrated by Rod Reis, where a woman is tailed by the Serpent Society through the woods. Thankfully, she is saved; but in a major twist, by a man dressed in World War II garb, sporting blond hair and a modest beard, claiming to be Steve Rogers. But wait, how could that happen when we have Hydra Cap running around trolling on the Marvel Universe? There are a few theories out there.
1. If you’ve been out of the Marvel Comics loop for the last year, then you might have missed a major Captain America storyline that’s being written by Spencer, which turned America’s symbolic savior and model of patriotism into one of Marvel’s biggest villains. He was drained of his super soldier serum, and is aging quickly into a typical AARP member. In the story, “Avengers: Standoff,” the fragments of the reality-altering tesseract (AKA the Cosmic Cube) should have been destroyed, but instead were reshaped into an entity, which took the sentient form of a young girl named Kobik, who later in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers, restored Cap’s powers after he barely survived a beating from Crossbones.
The events here feed into Secret Empire, as Rogers becomes increasingly more entrenched in the Hydra way, and in Secret Empire #0, Kobik may have altered the history of the Marvel Universe where the Axis and Hydra won World War II, with Steve Rogers as one of their agents. The story goes on to show that the Allies got hold of the Cosmic Cube and changed reality to where they won the war, and Steve Rogers was Captain America and Hydra Cap is just reverting to his original self.
The reveal of a second Steve Rogers has some believing that Kobik created this doppelganger or split Steve Rogers into two halves. One who is drawn to Hydra and their ways, while this bearded one is either the real Steve, or the good half. Or, Kobik / the Cosmic Cube replaced Steve altogether in the first place, hiding the original away for some months, since this Steve Rogers is claiming to be “just trying to get home.” That might get some readers thinking nervously back to visions of Superman Red and Superman Blue, but it could tiptoe around that Hydra Cap is the Steve Rogers we’ve grown up reading.
2. Another theory getting some momentum is that Miles Morales and the Ultimate Universe are no longer off in their pocket world, they exist in the larger Marvel Universe. So either Hydra Cap or this bearded Steve Rogers could be the one from the Ultimates, which if true, could really explain Hydra Cap, since Ultimates' Captain America was a bit of a dick. Jimmy Hudson, the son of Wolverine from the Ultimate Universe Earth-1610, recently arrived as a part of the X-Men Blue team. Spencer is also no stranger to the Ultimate Universe, having written Ultimate Comics Fallout and Ultimate Comics X-Men. So this theory definitely has some traction.
3. Finally a third theory that one could follow is that Secret Wars: Hail Hydra mini-series, written by Rick Remender and Roland Boschi, might have something to do with this because it was a Battleworld domain, which looked at a world that was run by Hydra and was filled with Hydra-versions of Marvel characters.
Any of those sound good to you? Sensible and level-headed longtime comics readers knew that Marvel, and specifically Spencer was going to write a way out of the Hydra dilemma, as long as they let the story run its course. There's still a lot of story left to tell, and I doubt that the biggest reveal and twist would be in the second issue of a 10-part story. Marvel and Spencer have spent a year insisting that Hydra Cap is indeed 616 Universe Steve Rogers, but now what? Just to remind everyone, Spencer told Entertainment Weekly, “This is not a clone, not an impostor, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve.”
That’s a lot of commitment to using the negative headlines, accusations of antisemitism, a popular hashtag #SayNoToHydraCap, Hail Hydra memes, and every hateful name thrown Spencer and Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso’s way, just to get to this point. There was also that day that Marvel Comics asked fans to be patient with the Secret Empire storyline.
Whatever the explanation is, it appears that we will be heading towards at least one showdown between Hydra Cap and Bearded Cap. Let’s just hope they’re not headed down the trope that has both Caps wearing the same costume, and thus requiring both to answer personal questions from Black Widow to reveal which one is the Steve Rogers we love.
Will the real Steve Rogers step forward?