[Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Captain America: Steve Rogers #9.]

Trials and tribulations abound in the pages of Captain America: Steve Rogers. Each subsequent chapter brings new and startling revelations about the Hydra-retconned Avenger and his relationship to the world around him. Since detailing his nefarious plan in the previous issue, the utter deviousness with which Rogers unwinds his elaborate scheme has been one of the standouts cliffhangers from the Marvel Universe over the past year.

Getting 2017 off to a slow but intense start, contemporary Steve Rogers actually bows out from Captain America: Steve Rogers #9 to a larger degree. The events told within primarily depict his growth within Hydra as a youth and the trial of controversial S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Maria Hill (is there ever a non-controversial head?). After a number of questionable activities, including the supervillain conversion facility at Pleasant Hill and her fascistic overtones (along with Captain Marvel) during Civil War II, her enemies and detractors are looking to unseat her from her directorship.

Maria Hill – A Danger to Society?

Captain America Steve Rogers 9 Cap Maria Hill Marvel SHIELD Wants to Build a ‘Shield’ Around Earth

As the hawks circle, Agent Maria goes to court to defend herself. The prosecutors chip away at her defenses with a succession of expert witnesses who bring up problematic situations, her “reckless behavior,” and her participation in the Superhero Registration Act as detrimental. Of course, Hill counters by parading a group of survivors and others who’ve benefited from her actions, including a former villain named Slyde, who’s actually remained reformed, even after the events of Pleasant Hill. But the prosecution isn’t about to roll over just yet. They bring in their star witness: Captain America himself.

Beginning his testimony with an ironic statement about not liking to get involved, Steve derides Hill in part for using the Cosmic Cube during the Pleasant Hill debacle, but mostly for nearly letting Baron Zemo get ahold of Kobik (once again, ironic in light of certain recently revealed friendships). He fears Director Hill’s judgment is flawed – especially if the U.S. Congress gives S.H.I.E.L.D. more power – and “reluctantly” asks for her to be removed from power, even hinting that Sharon Carter would be a suitable replacement.

Director Hill’s Daring Plan

Captain America Steve Rogers 9 Planet Shield Marvel SHIELD Wants to Build a ‘Shield’ Around Earth

In light of the accusations and the testimony against her, Agent Hill begins her closing statement, not with excuses but with a proposal. She begins by running down the continued threat posed by alien beings like Thanos, Galactus (although he’s a little more lighthearted as of late), and the Chitauri. Rather than suggesting the reasons she’s the most qualified candidate as director, which she does point out, Hill pitches a plan for a massive S.H.I.E.L.D. energy shield. Capable of absorbing or deflecting even the most powerful energy blasts and halting trans-dimensional travel and teleportation, Hill’s defense option is as powerful as it is brazen.

Of course, a court hearing isn’t really the optimum place to pitch a force field (much less one she merely dug out of the S.H.I.E.L.D. archives); however, it does make for some interesting courtroom drama – and clearly has the intended effect: confusing the issue and freaking the heck out of the delegates. In spite of Director Hill’s tactic, her fate still hangs in the balance, in part, because Steve Rogers is doing his best to tip the odds against her.

Captain America: The First (Hydra) Avenger

Captain America Steve Rogers 9 Cap Minster Dalton Marvel SHIELD Wants to Build a ‘Shield’ Around Earth

Captain America, of course, has been on a mission of his own during most of Hill’s trial, during which he and second-stringer Union Jack battle a cult of Darkholders in Scotland. At the conclusion of their mission, He kills the creepy critter, reclaiming the mystical Book of Lies. But there’s something fishy about the whole deal. After looking into Dalton and his background, Rogers discovers that the politician has ties to a mining company, whose fracking operation just happened to release the monster they’d just fought.

The minister managed to pull in S.H.I.E.L.D. to cover up his company ties and transgressions but can’t pull the wool over Steve Rogers’ eyes. Cap apparently explains the situation to the Darkhold cultists, who don’t take kindly to Dalton’s scapegoating, killing him and conveniently knocking out a vote which might have saved Maria Hill’s job – and kept the force field project from moving forward, dashing Steve’s alien invasion plans.

The latest chapter then returns to the past, where a young and still relatively frail Steve is selected by Daniel Whitehall, a.k.a. the Kraken, for his first secret mission – one of vital importance to The Keep and Hydra’s leadership. Roger’s first assignment will take him back to his homeland and have him tracking down Dr. Abraham Erskine, the inventor of the Super Soldier Serum. For what purpose, fans can take a few wild guesses at. Seeing as Captain America in the present is endowed with all of his classic characteristics, though, it seems he’ll get his superhero injection fairly soon (or at least steal the secrets behind it).

Secret Empire United We Stand SHIELD Wants to Build a ‘Shield’ Around Earth

Captain America: Steve Rogers #9 also appears to dovetail into the beginnings of the recently-teased Secret Empire event, presumably launching during the spring. Secret Empire threatens to bring together some of Marvel’s biggest heroes, pulling plot threads from Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz’s Captian America: Steve Rogers, the Thunderbolts, and the Uncanny Avengers, and (likely) other books.

Although the House of Ideas has been light on the details, perhaps the Cosmic Cube does fall into the wrong hands. Perhaps Spider-Man, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and the others come together in the (unwitting) service of Steve Rogers, to fight against it, or after uncovering hidden operatives. No matter what happens, from here on out, it gets real.

Next: Marvel Teases Captain America’s Secret Empire Event

Captain America: Steve Rogers #9 is currently available in stores and online.

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