NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for "Civil War II" & "Captain America: Steve Rogers" #5
As Marvel's most patriotic hero is quickly becoming the face of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, things aren't so sunny for the Captain America of the comic book world. With "Captain America: Steve Rogers" #1 revealing Cap to be a secret agent of HYDRA, fans were shocked, outraged, and infuriated (and some got creative with the twist). But those assuming the twist wasn't a total blaspheming of the character turned out to be right, with it all revealed to be part of Red Skull's larger plan to rewrite Captain America's own history.
We've already gone into detail on exactly how and why Steve Rogers became a HYDRA operative, and how the Cosmic Cube that brought Thanos to Earth - and kicked off "Civil War II" - is the same one responsible for the hero's current state. But now that "Captain America: Steve Rogers" #5 has arrived, readers finally know just how instrumental Steve has been in the events - and how one of the devastating deaths was a direct result of his own plotting and betrayal.
Civil War's Cap is Still Working For HYDRA
Readers may have been caught up in all the hero-on-hero arguing of "Civil War II" to remind themselves that the Steve Rogers in the heroes' midst is up to a secret mission of his own. It could be forgiven, since Steve plays an admittedly small role in the "Civil War II" plot (it really is a battle between Iron Man and Captain Marvel). But after Steve caught up to Dr. Erik Selvig in "Captain America: Steve Rogers' #1 - uttering the infamous "Hail HYDRA" - he showed that he was much more than a puppet for Red Skull. Later issues showed him working with Selvig, consciously or subconsciously pursuing his own mission.
Issue #5 shows Steve and Selvig dealing with the emergence of the Inhuman Ulysses, since a boy who receives visions of upcoming attacks, betrayals or murders is... well, an unnecessary risk when you're deceiving most of Marvel's heroes and superteams. The idea of Cap wearing a disguise when making his final strike is brushed aside quickly, and the only real move forward is to shut down HYDRA operations until Ulysses is dealt with. And as it turns out, Cap's strike was a lot closer to happening then "Civil War 2" readers ever realized...
War Was Just a Second Away
Once the opening battle of "Civil War II" was concluded quickly and concisely - basically every Marvel hero united against a Celestial Destroyer - the victorious celebrated in the only way they know how: a party at Stark Tower. The festivities are short-lived, once the heroes start asking exactly how the Inhumans knew that the Destroyer would appear without warning. The bombshell came in the form of Ulysses, a newly-reborn Inhuman able to see the future - and just as quickly, Tony Stark and Carol Danvers set off on their philosophical argument over the reliability or ethics of using such information to, ideally, change the future.
In "Steve Rogers" #5, we see the party from Cap's perspective: waiting patiently as HYDRA forces are dispatched, surrounding a target in Sokovia and poised to breach with rocket launchers and assault rifles. Those plans are brought to an abrupt (and silent) halt once Steve is ushered in to meet Ulysses with the rest of the Avengers with a single command - driving home just how deeply Steve is betraying those around him. Needless to say, once Ulysses was revealed, Steve put most, if not all of his plans on the back burner.
The Almost-Murder Readers Never Saw
After his discussion with Selvig implies that there really is no option but the most obvious, Cap acts surprisingly quickly, and decisively. Sneaking into the Inhumans base to find Ulysses asleep, Cap steels himself, fires up the shield's energy blade for a fatal (and fairly dishonorable) attack... and is once again foiled by the sudden intervention of Tony Stark. This time, it's the conversation seen in "Civil War II" Issue #2, after Ulysses' vision has led to an ambush of Thanos, and the subsequent death of James "Rhodey" Rhodes.
Neither Tony Stark nor Queen Medusa realized that they succeeded in preventing an assassination attempt, too focused on fighting eachother and ultimately triggering hostilities between them. And already the ripples of Captain America going bad are seen, since even stealth missions have stealth missions of their own. But if you're thinking that Cap cowering in a closet as Iron Man unwittingly prevents him from killing an innocent is as bad as it can get... we have some terrible news.
Captain America Killed Hulk (Essentially)
With a direct assassination out of the question, now that Ulysses has fallen into high-profile protection, Steve returns to Selvig with another idea. If the threat posed by Ulysses is him envisioning Cap's betrayal, then perhaps the solution lay not in delaying said betrayal, but putting in motion an even MORE disastrous event (since the seer is mainly seeing massive attacks or mishaps). And in the world of the Avengers, there's no threat bigger, badder, or greener than the Incredible Hulk - also knows as Dr. Bruce Banner. All Steve needs is a bit of gamma radiation research from Selvig to get Banner to bite.
From there, the research is sent to Banner under a false name, with a letter claiming the research is being undertaken to permanently cure any subjects of gamma radiation poisoning, thereby ending Banner's curse once and for all. It's as below the belt as a friend could hit, since Steve knows that the promise, or even suggestion of research that could cure Bruce would be impossible to resist. And it is, since "Civil War" readers know the plan works perfectly. Banner diving back into research raises the possibility of a Hulk episode, which Ulysses sees, and which sends Tony and Carol to Bruce's lab.
After that, accusations fly along with a single arrow... directly into Bruce's brain, killing him instantly.
Captain Marvel Is Wrong
Even if Bruce Banner's death was orchestrated by Steve Rogers unintentionally, the damage is done by the time his body hit the ground. The line was drawn, and Tony Stark made sure he was standing opposite Carol Danvers. From there, Carol took Ulysses' visions into overdrive, using the intelligence to launch countless attacks and preemptive strikes, all with the assumption that said visions were set in stone. But that belief was questioned when Tony completed his research to find that Ulysses' gift was simply to see a possible future - a distinction that, much to fans' lament, went completely ignored by Carol. And the next case she tackled would prove to be the one that brought the house of cards tumbling down.
Arresting a banker on the belief that she would launch an attack on HYDRA's behalf, Carol finds none of the evidence that should have presented itself, instead bullying the woman until she breaks down in tears. Carol is unmoved, and all too ready to begin hostilities when Stark's collected heroes teleport the woman out of custody. Now, thanks to "Steve Rogers" #5, readers know that Carol was, unequivocally, in the wrong. We doubt that will smooth over the controversy of turning a fan favorite heroine into an unreasonable adversary (even if she does have her reasons).
How Cap Chose His Side
As pleasing as it might be for a new reader to pick up "Civil War II" and see Tony Stark and Steve Rogers united on a moral issue, not facing off as they have in the past, the truth is nowhere near as hopeful. In fact, readers learn that while Tony was bringing his findings to Cap on principle, letting his moral compass play a role in determining the superhero community's next move, Steve was stealing Tony's research to hand over to Selvig. How's that for salt in the wound? In fact, Steve's decision to stand with his former opponent isn't even informed by morality or ethics whatsoever.
Steve's allegiance comes directly from Red Skull, a soldier far too obsessed with the occult and supernatural to let a young man who can see the future slip through his fingers. The plan is simple: stick with Captain Marvel, since she's the main figure encouraging Ulysses to not only hone his skills, but work closely with her and her team. But if Steve believes she will lose the coming fight, align himself with Tony Stark. In other words: stick with the side most likely to possess Ulysses when all is said and done. And until Captain Marvel's back-up arrives before the inevitable battle, the odds seems stacked in his favor.
The Twist He Never Expected
The original mission had been to join Tony in a fight against Captain Marvel, and use the ensuing carnage and disarray to acquire Ulysses, and make off with him with nobody the wiser. But before Steve can attempt to pull it off unnoticed, Ulysses' power manifests in a more fantastic way than ever before, entangling the heroes and forcing them to bear witness to a horrifying sight that defies explanation: Spider-Man standing over Cap's lifeless, impaled corpse. Captain Marvel has no choice but to place Miles Morales under arrest, as everyone present wonders what could possibly explain such a scene... except Steve, of course.
Would the revelation that Steve Rogers had been sabotaging, betraying, and indirectly killing his former friends lead Spider-Man to actually kill him? It's hard to say, knowing Ulysses is far from perfect. Regardless, Steve is stumped, and forced to accept that "the world has its own plan" for him. The question now is what effect the vision will have on Cap, now forced to consider that his plan to bring peace (through HYDRA) may wind up killing him in the process.
Somehow, we doubt that Captain America has deceived his last ally.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #5 is available now.