[Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Civil War II: The Oath.]
Over the last year, two major events have rocked the Marvel Universe – the retconning of Steve Rogers into an agent of Hydra thanks to a Cosmic Cube and the schism in the superhero community known as Civil War II. Throughout numerous crossovers, it was revealed that Rogers himself had a fair amount of influence on creating and maintaining the conflict. As a result, the superhero community has never been more divided, and the general public has soured on their supposed protectors and all their destructive in-fighting.
Now is the perfect time for Captain America and Hydra to strike. The events of Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 and Civil War II: The Oath paint a perfect picture of who Steve Rogers is now, and how he plans to dismantle everything Earth-616 knows and loves.
Captain America Unburdens Himself
The opening moments of The Oath revolve around a top-secret meeting – debugged and scrambled – between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark’s comatose form. Strapped to the computerized bed he was last seen confined to during the final chapter of Civil War II, when it was revealed Tony’s unique body modifications were about the only thing keeping him alive. Steve, still much the same man as he was in spite of Red Skull’s “retuning,” regrets the events of the internal strife, but understands that Tony will find a way to fix himself eventually (although not before it's too late).
In the interim, he uses Stark as a confessional of sorts. Never revealing too much of his true nature, Cap rants about the superhero community’s overall failures, which have always been rooted in its ego-driven nature. His one-sided chat also details his disdain for superheroes who, by becoming the “people’s protectors,” rapidly found themselves leaving behind their mandate, in addition to the very people they swore to defend. To a degree, as borne out by the events of Civil War II, Steve is right.
Of course, not everyone would get behind his plan to make things right – although, you never know. Unfortunately for them, the inhabitants of Earth-616 won’t have long to discover his true methodology.
The Oath That Doomed the World?
After a brief interlude with Cap and Iron Man, The Oath drops in on Steve Rogers’ swearing-in as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Writer Nick Spencer (through the broadcasters) also details the near-simultaneous passing of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act into law, which: “dramatically expands SHIELD’s authority within the United States—in areas of law enforcement, mass surveillance, and resource allocation.” The newly ratified Act also gives the spy agency broad policing powers during national emergencies.
Not everyone is in love with the idea of giving S.H.I.E.L.D. a shot in the arm when it comes to authority. Hawkeye, for one, wants nothing to do with it, and Spider-Man Miles Morales is still afraid of the destiny he creates. Even the skeptics are somewhat assuaged in their fears, though, by the guiding hand of Captain America. If anyone can keep the country and the world's best interests in mind, it’s the national symbol of everything good, true, and free, right? Longtime friend and co-Captain America, Sam Wilson, despite his reservations about the agency’s incredible mandate, fully endorses Steve Rogers' guidance in building a better world.
A Better World
Captain America’s speech to superheroes and citizens alike is, without a doubt, inspiring, as well as extremely disturbing to those who know the breadth of Cap’s true vision (just the readers and the dearly departed Jack Flag, sadly). His words, like the greatest of political speeches, allude to responsibility, an end to fear, and of course, a responsibility to do what’s right with his command before returning the power vested in him to the people. In the end, echoing his perturbing intentions, Captain America appeals to the crowd: “to assemble under one banner—from the Avengers to S.H.I.E.L.D. to the United States and our allies in the world security council and the united nations.”
Naturally, The crowd cheers and swoons in response to their inspiring new S.H.I.E.L.D. director, and Cap wraps up by charging the collective audience of millions to build something “better…nobler…truer. Let’s not just save this world, let’s prove this world is worth saving.” As he finishes, readers can almost smell the sulfur tang of gunpowder on the breeze and feel the razor wire wrap around Earth-616 in the shape of a Hydra.
A Chair-Spinning Super-villain in the Making?
As the diatribe ends and the revelry begins, Steve Rogers’ wastes no time in kicking off his next schemes. Even as T’Challa congratulates him on his promotion, he seeks an audience with the Wakandan leader about security measures. After a fight breaks out between Amadeus Cho and Sasquatch – due to Hulk’s pent-up rage at Alpha Flight and Captain Marvel’s part in Bruce Banner and Tony Stark’s tragic fates – Captain America uses it as a segue to discourage Carol Danvers from implementing the global energy field (proposed by former-Director Maria Hill). Although he’s unsuccessful, Rogers, like the Inhuman Karnak, has already began poking at the cracks in her psychological armor.
Fortunately, when it comes to the big reveal, Nick Spencer doesn’t resort to the hackneyed, hand-wringing speech delivered to the captive hero. Instead, he uses Tony Stark’s unblinking coma to merge Captain America’s classic ideals with his retconned Hydra loyalty. He calls out the petty bickering and pointless egotism of the current order of superheroes, blaming them for destroying the public’s faith in their heroes and leaders. Hydra's infernal machine will run on those frustration with being told they’re wrong, they’re foolish, they’re comparatively weak; their fear, distilled into anger, will be the oil which lubricates its bloody gears.
Unlike his former self, this Captain America will “destroy everything you ever built.” Ironically enough, his belief in his Hydra-fied future comes from the fact that he's already seen it happen, in the vision of Ulysses. Stunned by the image of Captain America’s battered body lying beneath Spider-Man’s bloody hands, the rest of his fellow superheroes missed something, a vision which he saw quite clearly: a future constructed with Hydra’s tentacles.
As Civil War II: The Oath closes the massive inter-title event, Steve Rogers has control S.H.I.E.L.D. at the crux of its power. He now has the ability to remake the world as he sees it, and his brave new world won't be particularly friendly to anyone, aside for those loyal to Hydra. In the end (and the beginning) Nick Spencer’s story resounds a cautionary tone: be careful what you wish for.
Thus dawns the Secret Empire.
Civil War II: The Oath is currently available in stores and online.