[WARNING: Contains SPOILERS for Captain America: Steve Rogers #7.]
Captain America: Steve Rogers flipped the Marvel world on its head after it was revealed that, thanks to some comic book trickery, the Star-Spangled Avenger was an undercover agent of Hydra. Not content to make Cap one of the most dangerous villains in the Marvel Universe, writer Nick Spencer also laid some of the blame for Civil War II on his hands. If that weren’t duplicitous enough, he also de-unified the Avengers Unity Squad in Uncanny Avengers #14.
Yet, for all the dubious deeds he’s plotted and friends he’s backstabbed, there’s one mission above all the loyal child conscript considers a necessity for the international terrorist order. For the glory of Hydra and its future, the Red Skull needs to die. In Captain America: Steve Rogers #7, his plans begin to come to fruition with the reveal of a shocking ally.
Steve Rogers: Traitor
Since the very beginning, Steve Rogers’ new role has been controversial to say the least. Early on, we learned that Steve Rogers was restored to his former glory thanks to Kobik, the embodiment of the Cosmic Cube. However, Kobik was influenced heavily at the time by Red Skull deluding her into believing he desired peace and prosperity, and wound up remaking Steve with Hydra’s imprint. His altered history has him essentially kidnapped by Elisa Sinclair and indoctrinated by Hydra; Steve has now become a force for great evil – yet still retains some of his better traits (making it tough to hate him completely).
Steve’s youth at Hydra, much like his youth as an American teen, was fraught with insecurity and doubt from his teachers. The disappearance of his mother clearly weighs on the young recruit’s mind, causing him to repeatedly break away from the compound initially. An encounter with Hydra assassin the Kraken convinces him to return with the promise of seeing his mother again. However, even as the young Rogers progresses in the classroom, life in propaganda camp is just as miserable as life on the mean streets of New York – if not more so.
His peers haven't exactly accepted the young American and his favoritism by way of Elisa and the teachers. Several classmates prepare to make things even more difficult for Rogers, but will unknowingly set up an unholy alliance which will shake the very core of Hydra in the future – one where Red Skull's own twisted schemes are about to pull the world into another conflict, and put S.H.I.E.L.D. right in the downward trajectory of his iron fist.
Sokovia Under Fire
After decades of strife and corruption, Sokovia (yes, Sokovia is now a part of the MU as well as the MCU) has hit the skids. Ruled by pitiless tyrant General Kamil Novoty, the people of the country are rife for the charged rhetoric of Red Skull (in an eerily reminiscent role). At present, an army of Hydra forces is besieging the General’s forces and threatening to bowl over the country’s dictatorship. However, Red Skull has more in mind than simply taking the nation by force.
He surprises tyrannical general in in his office, offering him a proposition: Herr Skull will allow the generalissimo to retain the city and even declare victory, but Hydra will keep their foothold in Northern Sokovia. Meanwhile, the General will become a short-lived puppet of the terrorist organization in a bid to push S.H.I.E.L.D. and other international groups into the conflict, tricking them into waging Hydra’s war, as well as pulling their forces into a trap.
It’s a diabolical plan, one which Director Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. fall for, springing an opposition leader from prison and proposing air strikes against the ensconced forces of Hydra. However, another variable exists. No one knows about Steve Rogers’ machinations within the terrorist group and his powerful childhood friend.
Cap Gains an Unlikely Ally
Steve Rogers hasn’t made many friends within Hydra training camp. Being weaker yet smarter than most of his classmates, he’s become sort of a teacher’s pet (despite the initial doubts of his teacher) and is also chosen to orient Hydra’s incoming students – something which his peers don’t much care for. After plotting revenge, a clutch of bullies catch young Rogers out in the barn where he’s drawing a picture of his mother – which apparently is an infraction, since the portrait isn’t Hydra-related. Rather than reporting him, they enact a little vigilante justice, kicking the crap out of Steve.
He struggles to hold his own against their superior numbers until a voice from the shadows interjects in the beat-down. Another boy leaps from rafters, evening the odds. After successfully thwarting the attack, the youth tells young Rogers that he is in fact one of the new recruits to the school who arrived a little early. He introduces himself as none other than Helmut Zemo.
Zemo's introduction is significant in many ways. First and foremost, Dr. Erik Selvig, Cap's only co-conspirator fears their plans to overthrow Red Skull will fail because they are too small in numbers and due to the fascistic leader's psychic abilities (basically, he grafted parts of the dead mutant's brain onto his own). There's simply no way to get close to Herr Skull without tipping him off mentally. Of course, Zemo's still-living presence throws another wrench in the cogs.
In Captain America: Steve Rogers #3, Cap is charged with eliminating the Baron by Red Skull, after he schemes to overthrow their glorious leader. Theoretically, he died in the Quinjet crash which also supposedly killed Selvig. When Steve opens the blast door in their base (one which Doctor Selvig has apparently attempted to hack several times), he reveals that the Baron is very much alive. Rogers’ friendship to Zemo, and both of their anti-Red Skull plots seem to imply a longer, more devious connection within the Hydra ranks, as well as new layers to Cap’s own scheme.
A Tapestry of Lies
The long, warped tale of Steve Rogers, which has angered so many fans, has all the classics of a great spy caper. Some issues of Captain America: Steve Rogers, like this one, have been a little sluggish due to the crosscut timelines and complex plot-building; nevertheless, the story of Steve Rogers’ traitorous allegiances is anything but boring. Nick Spencer has interwoven Red Skull, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, and Cap into this layered tale, and all it will take is one clever snip and each and any of these organizations could unravel, which seems to be Cap’s plan (and Spencer's) all along – to showcase the disturbing undercurrents and the tenuousness of just about any alliance.
Spencer’s Hydra plot twist is an interesting way to frame the discussion of Steve Rogers and what true heroism is, as we see both sides of Cap: killing off old friends and setting up allies for a fall but also been twisted by a brutal life. His story explores the thin line between heroism and villainy, adding an interesting chapter to Cap's history – one which will probably be retconned eventually. For now, it’s fascinating to watch his arc unravel, since Red Skull’s indoctrination imbued Cap with the same scheming skill set. And Cap certainly has big plans for the future of Hydra, ones which don’t include its red-headed leader.
How things fall into place (or unravel) will depend on what Spencer has in mind – and will be highlighted by Jesus Saiz’s crisp, evocative art. Even those who loathe Captain America's new clothes may find themselves sucked into the narrative just to see what surprises lie around each new corridor in this twisted house of cards.
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Captain America: Steve Rogers #7 is currently available online and in print.