Captain America, the purest, most perfect definition of American awesomeness, is actually the bad guy. The cover art for the book tells us so, because when the suit that has defined the noblest of all heroes is torn away on the cover to reveal the Hydra symbol, you know that Cap is not going to be the corny good old superhero of the past.
Secret Empire #0 even starts off by telling us how the scrawny kid from New York, a hero of World War II, become the greatest spy of Hydra. Met by Kraken in the snowy mountains somewhere in Japan in 1945, Steve Rogers was recruited as a boy by Madame Hydra, and now at the end of the war, he is being preserved for the future where he will awake and remember that he has been and always will be a loyal agent of Hydra.
In reality, Rogers’ memory was rewritten by Kobik, a cosmic cube that Red Skull has used to change his memory.
What happens is that the altered Captain America, Director of Shield, manipulates the world into a crisis, and then using his total power, Captain America, the secret weapon of Hydra takes over the world.
Captain America can’t be a bad guy. He’s too good. Steve Rogers is the golden child of the Marvel Universe. Everyone wants to be like him. Iron Man hates him, because Tony Stark knows that he can never be as true and as honest as what Steve Rogers is. Iron Man is the definition of practicality while Captain America is the physical embodiment of an ideal that most people will never be able to achieve.
But the Captain America that dominates every panel of Secret Empire #0 is not the Captain America that we know, love, and idealize. From word choice to how he is drawn, the man behind the mask is obscured. We never see his whole face, or when we do get a full profile of Cap, his colors are filled with small shades of black and grey. Credits to Daniel Acuna and Rod Reis for the work on the artistry behind the book and making a popular character like Captain America show a new side.
This is a standard run of the mill story, laced with dread as the reader joins a world where Captain America sort of looks like what we know, sounds kind of like what we know, but is not the hero that we remember.
The visuals are great, but this issue is just a filler for the wider story. Similar to many stories where the hero that we know is actually the bad guy, Captain America has conspired to create mass confusion and crisis on the global level. A battle in space is being waged between the Chitauri invading force and Captain Marvel’s defense force. The defensive shield which was protecting the Earth, all of a sudden was disabled by a Hydra terrorist. That’s convenient, and been used many times before.
An attack on New York brings out the Defenders to fight off angry escaped prisoners, and Captain America is leading the charge to find a lost SHIELD helicarrier. Iron Man and Iron Heart are working against the clock trying to restore the planet defense shield.
Captain America has manufactured the threats to isolate or neutralize the heroes that would be a thorn in his side. As I said before this plot device has been used a billion times over. The bad guy captures the good guys, and as the comic ends, it looks like Captain America, agent of Hydra is within minutes of taking over Washington DC. Iron Man is trying to lead a charge to save the day, will he make it in time?
A story that has been told countless times in many ways for sure. Remember, this is a comic book, and sometimes we repeat themes and use established story elements to further a series of books along. Why does this familiar story device work here, because Captain America is the villain! He’s never been the bad guy, and as a reader you want to know how it works out. Writer Nick Spencer has added layers to our hero with the shield and we want to know how it all turns out, even if it seems similar to so many other comic books.