Warning: spoilers for the events in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 are ahead!
Despite comic book movies being all the rage right now, it’s not often that events from the actual comic books make national news. This week was one of the exceptions, and not just with DC Universe Rebirth’s big release. Marvel also received a lot of attention for Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, which continued Steve’s adventure back in the star spangled uniform after a few years of being an old man. However, it’s the final pages of this issue that have sent many people into a frenzy, as it showed Captain America, arguably the most patriotic hero in comic book history, as an agent of HYDRA. It was a shocking turn of events, to be sure, but if this is like previous comic book shockers, then there’s more to this than what’s on the surface in one issue.
After he tossed ally Jack Flag out of a moving plane, readers learned in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 that Steve has been a deep-cover agent for the terrorist organization this whole time, as Steve’s mother was recruited into their ranks back when he was a boy in the 1920s. The man who fought for the U.S. during World War II and has been one of the most beloved Avengers for decades has been a bad guy since the beginning. Even more telling is writer Nick Spencer’s quote to Entertainment Weekly about Steve’s new status. He said:
This is not a clone, not an imposter, not mind control, not someone else acting through Steve. This really is Steve Rogers, Captain America himself.
This revelation has earned Steve Rogers his biggest media coverage arguably since he was “killed” last decade following the Civil War event. More importantly, though, it’s angered many people, whether they’re regular comic book readers or just love watching the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. There have numerous complaints, from saying that Nick Spencer tainted the character’s spirit and legacy to declarations of Marvel being anti-Semitic (since HYDRA has connections to the Nazi party). It’s gotten so out of hand that Spencer has even received death threats, which isn’t okay no matter how much you disagree. Social media has amplified the uproar over this twist, and while I don’t want to take away how important these stories are to many fans or how it’s important that certain characters aren’t disrespected, the fact is that we can’t see the whole picture of this yet.
Anyone who reads comic books on a regular basis knows that they are all about serialized storytelling. For superhero stories, this means nowadays we rarely see one-and-done tales that resolve themselves over a single issue, which was more common in the Golden and Silver Ages. Story arcs last over multiple issues, meaning that there will inevitably be cliffhangers. There’s no way that this HYDRA reveal is the endgame, and we’ll see how it proceeds in the near future. This was meant to throw a wrench into Captain America’s world, and even though in the world of superheroes the status quo will revert to normal, shakeups like these keep things interesting, assuming they’re handled correctly. Besides, this isn’t even the first time Captain America has been turned into a bad guy.
As many have pointed out online, a storyline 1965’s Tales of Suspense #67, written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Jack Kirby, showed a brainwashed Captain America saluting Adolph Hitler, showing how deep Red Skull’s control over him was (seen below). That wasn’t a permanent problem, and Captain America was soon on his Other stories have shown Captain America turned into a Nazi, white supremacist or another kind of villain/detestable figure, but they all have one thing in common: they didn’t stick. Captain America inevitably goes back to being a force for good and fighting for what’s right. The same will happen with this current story arc, guaranteed. Whether Cap’s past as a HYDRA agent will be completely erased or something he must live with in the future, that’s another matter entirely.
So how did this HYDRA development happen? That’s hard to say, and Nick Spencer’s comments above make the matter even more complicated. The main idea that come to mind is that reality itself has somehow been tampered with, either through time travel or other means. Some theorize (including CBR writer Brett White) that the Cosmic Cube, an object capable of manipulating reality that has been part of the Captain America mythology for decades, is to blame. That same Cosmic Cube once allowed Red Skull to survive death by transferring his consciousness to Aleksander Lukin, the Winter Soldier’s then-Russian handler. More recently, a powerful young girl named Kobik used the Cube to change Steve Rogers back into his young, Super Soldier-enhanced self during the Avengers: Standoff! event. Who’s to say that when Kobik did this, other changes in Steve’s past weren’t implemented, either accidentally or purposefully? Obviously this is just speculation, but it’s worth keeping in mind for those who will be following along with the story rather than just judging this one issue.
All this being said, there’s no guarantee the Captain America/HYDRA agent twist will turn out to be an excellent story over its “x” issues. If it sticks the landing, great, and if it doesn’t, that will be disappointing to the folks who are reading the current run. However, I can say with near-100% certainty that there’s more going on with this Captain America story than meets the eye. The Star Spangled Avenger is at the height of his popularity now thanks to the MCU movies, animated shows and other media appearances, and Marvel wouldn’t disrespect his legacy by tossing aside all the good he has accomplished and make him a straightforward villain. He’s been a hero for 75 years, and no matter what specific events happen in his life, he’ll remain that when it counts most.
You can pick up Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 digitally or at your local comic book store, and the second issue will be released on June 29.