We're on the road to 'Secret Empire', this year's Marvel Comics Summer Event — and it promises to be a controversial one!
If you've been paying attention to #Marvel Comics for the past year, you're probably aware that writer Nick Spencer has taken the controversial step of transforming Captain America into an agent of #Hydra. The last few months have seen the dangerously compromised Steve Rogers step up to a position of power we've never seen before, even as he secretly works to undermine the Red Skull and become Hydra's greatest leader. Now, in a shocking twist, that arc has come to a head in this week's Captain America: Steve Rogers #15!
The Battle to Lead Hydra
"Cut off one head, and two more shall take its place." Hydra is infamous for the turnover in its leadership; even that famous catchphrase hints at an organization where power is shared between many, and you have the very real possibility of leaders working against one another.
Against this backdrop, though, the Red Skull is easily the most famous of Hydra's leaders. A Nazi super-scientist who survived the Second World War and remains one of the most dangerous villains of the present day, the Red Skull views himself as Hydra personified. Hydra exists, in his mind, to serve him.
Here's the irony; in perhaps his ultimate victory, the Red Skull used the power of Kobik, the living Cosmic Cube, to rewrite Captain America's life. Now, Steve Rogers has become an agent of Hydra — and, in his arrogance, the Red Skull assumed Rogers was loyal to him as a result. He was wrong. Even with his life rewritten, Steve Rogers is a man of integrity, and his loyalty is to ideals above people. The last few months have seen Captain America secretly working to take control of Hydra, carefully undermining the Red Skull's leadership, and manipulating his allies into action against the Red Skull.
It's been a fascinating struggle, not least because the Red Skull has possessed the psychic power of Charles Xavier. It's prevented Captain America from taking action openly, and his supreme strategy has been bringing the Avengers 'Unity Squad' into play over in the pages of Uncanny Avengers. Matters finally came to a head, with the Unity Team extracting Xavier's brain (don't ask), and taking the Red Skull prisoner.
The War for Hydra's Soul is Finally Over
The Red Skull never had a chance. He was caught in a game of chess, out-manoeuvred by a grandmaster he didn't even realize he was playing against. He's unwittingly left an opening, and the Unity Squad has just taken his Queen. Now, Steve Rogers himself is free to come into play, and he's looking for checkmate.
Nick Spencer has penned a fascinating issue, one that explores the rewritten history of Hydra, and shows the Red Skull taking charge. It's a smart move, because it also deals with one of the fundamental complaints against the 'HydraCap' plot; the complaint that Cap has effectively been turned into a Nazi. This issue reassures us that Hydra is not Nazi; instead, it was co-opted by the Nazis in the build-up to the Second World War. Steve Rogers's loyalty is to Hydra, not to the Nazis, and the cover alone represents that very deliberately; it shows the Red Skull and Captain America locked in battle for the soul of Hydra, with the Red Skull at his most Nazi-esque.
(Of course, as clever a twist as this may be, it's slightly undermined by the fact Marvel Television has just pushed to remind us that Hydra and Nazis are the same thing in the #MCU; "Every last one of them." I guess Jeph Loeb didn't get the memo, resulting in mixed marketing.)
In the present day, Spencer has Sin break the Red Skull out of prison, and bring him to Steve Rogers. What follows is a fantastic scene, as Steve Rogers exposes the Red Skull's shallow vanity and pride. In vain, the Red Skull protests that he made Steve Rogers as he now is; Rogers rejects that, refusing to see himself as the Skull's puppet. Steve Rogers launches a crippling attack, finally casting the Red Skull to his death.
Now, these are comics, so this is hardly the first time the Red Skull's died; in fact, the current Red Skull is actually a clone of the original, who died when an attempt to possess Steve Rogers's body backfired! But the key thing here is that it's Steve Rogers himself who kills him — and it's not in battle. The Red Skull is still recovering from major surgery — the brain of Charles Xavier was cut out of him — and he's in no state to defend himself. This is no death in battle; this is a deliberate act of murder on the part of Captain America. Given there was even an era where writers tried to present Cap as never having killed, even back when he was a soldier, this is a pretty dark twist.
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It's over. The battle for Hydra's soul has finally come to an end, and Steve Rogers stands triumphant — ready to lead Hydra into 'Secret Empire', the next Marvel event. The classic battle between Captain America and the Red Skull has come to an end, albeit in a way we'd never have seen coming — as Steve Rogers commits his first murder, uniting Hydra under his leadership. What next for our corrupted Sentinel of Liberty?
Are you looking forward to 'Secret Empire'?
(Poll Image Credit: Marvel Comics)