WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire #5
The Hydra Empire of the current Captain America can't finish off Marvel's remaining heroes all alone - for that, he's bringing the Incredible Hulk back from the dead. It's hard to imagine that any comic book or Marvel fans can still be shocked by the Secret Empire event, after Captain America killed Phil Coulson, and despite being a completely immoral fascist, convinced heroes and villains to join Hydra - while somehow proving himself worthy of Thor's hammer. All things considered, the latest reveal that he has returned Bruce Banner from the grave is hardly worth a raised eyebrow.
Still, the fact that Hulk's death launched Civil War II means the character's death carried more weight than usual. But in Secret Empire #5 writer Nick Spencer continues his run of jaw-dropping, shocking final page reveals by reuniting Steve Rogers with Bruce Banner. The good doctor may be confused, disoriented, and bound to return to the grave before long... but before he goes, Captain America has a plan for him. Well, a plan for the Hulk, if you can call being used as a doomsday weapon a "plan."
It turns out that Steve Rogers isn't above using a dead friend to destroy the rest of his former allies when his Hydra troops can't get the job done.
Captain America's Final, Secret Weapon
The bulk of Secret Empire #5 is actually a break from serious fighting or conflicts (with Iron Man's fruitless mission to collect Cosmic Cube shards relegated to montages). But that isn't to say that Steve Rogers is taking the week off. No, Captain America is out to conquer the world with as much determination and dedication as ever. Instead of a vacation, Issue #5 follows Steve Rogers as he builds toward... something. Even if he and his allies won't put their finger on exactly what Steve's next move may be, it's made obvious that it's a potential gamechanger.
And by 'gamechanger,' we mean a move with the possibility of crushing his enemy resistance once and for all. The seeds of betrayal and intrigue behind the Hydra lines are sown, but in the game of espionage and spy craft, Steve is already one step ahead. He's got a mole in the final collection of heroes making up the resistance alongside Hawkeye and Iron Man. Once his informant leads his command ship and heavy weaponry to the final hiding place of his former friends... he lets the cannons fire.
Powerful as his War of the Worlds-esque walkers may be, Steve knows that he can only make a crack in The Mount's defenses. That's more than enough for his secret weapon-- sorry, secret hero resurrected to act as Steve's instrument of wrath. Fans know him better as Dr. Bruce Banner.
The Resurrection of The Incredible Hulk
Yes, Captain America heads to the bowels of his command ship to reveal his most important prisoner: the former Avenger capable of turning from a brilliant scientist into an Earth-shattering Hulk. It's the payoff to a number of exchanges hinted at or included in Issue #5, including Steve's claim that he wouldn't need Thor's hammer, Mjolnir to "play god," as the X-Men Hank McCoy suggests. Fan can decide whether that means Steve sees the unleashing of the Hulk as even more devastating, or he's embracing his divine ability to resurrect the dead.
The process of bringing Bruce Banner back to life isn't outlined in the issue, but it's not the first time, either. After taking an arrow to the head and launching Marvel's Civil War II, the incredible Hulk was brought back to life before his mystically-gifted friends could finally give him eternal peace. It would appear that Steve has undone that kindness, through unknown means. The most obvious answer is that the Captain America who was restored to Hydra by the Cosmic Cube has used that same power to rewrite reality - allowing Bruce Banner to still be alive.
Unfortunately Steve only has a handful of Cosmic Cube fragments in his possession, meaning no such changes should be possible - perhaps why his ally Arnim Zola explains that Banner's resurrection is "temporary. His condition will degrade quite quickly." If Steve's secret weapon is the willingness to desecrate his friend's memory and return him to life just long enough to use him to kill their other friends... well, then Captain America is beyond redemption, no matter what Marvel says.
Then again, it was Captain America's plan to have Hulk killed in the first place, so what's a do-over for good measure?
Secret Empire #5 is available now.