WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire #1
Marvel Comics fans were just getting used to the idea that Captain America's Secret Empire was here to stay - but it looks like some of his Avengers teammates have apparently followed him in his descent into Hydra-fueled fascism. It's a plot twist that few will expect, and more will likely take issue with. Steve Rogers being revealed to have always been a Hydra agent is one thing... but Thor Odinson, Vision, the Scarlet Witch, and even Deadpool doing his bidding for Hydra's campaign of domination? That's a different story entirely.
It's the plot twist revealed in Secret Empire #1, as Captain America shows he truly has accepted the throne of Hydra's empire, overseeing chemical warfare, brainwashing, and even drugging the American public to increase their willingness to join Hydra's new order. But when the enemy threatening American soil is a massive, killer kaiju... Steve Rogers has to handle that problem personally. Thankfully, he's got his Avengers behind him to act as his iron fist (fists... and swords... and axes).
Making a Deal With a Monster
The monster in question proclaims itself as "Krigorrath," looking like a gigantic squid-zilla with a shark's head and rhino's horn - quite an eyeful for the everyday people of Denver being called to supper by the beast. Proving that no matter his allegiance, Steve Rogers isn't one to back down from a foe, Cap takes a stand directly in fron of Krigorrath. Not to fight... but to bargain. Steve Rogers makes his request for the beast to vacate the premises, and in so doing, keep its life. In the process, he drives home the point that under his Hydra Empire... the heroic adventures of the past are over.
Steve's commentary extends beyond the situation at hand and applies to nearly all comic book superheroes and their lasting villains. He explains that until now, it was the job of brightly-colored superheroes to wage glorious war against monsters such as these, intending to drive them back - knowing that some day, they'll re-emerge and the battle will continue (as comic book fans pick up each issue along the way). That's all going to change now that Hydra - the true Hydra - has taken control.
Hydra values strength. Hydra values purpose. Hydra values order. Which means order must be forced, if it won't be volunteered. No surprise that Krigorrath refuses, but as Cap utters his famous call, two small words bring the beast's demise from the most unlikely of places: "Avengers Assemble."
Hydra Avengers, Assemble?
Before Krigorrath can even react, Thor Odinson comes leaping into action brandishing a massive war axe. Elsewhere, Vision lets loose energy blasts, the Scarlet Witch unleashes magical attacks, and the combined brute strength of Deadpool, Taskmaster, Ant-Man, and the Superior Octopus (Doc Ock's new identity) tear into the kaiju with unrelenting impact. As it cries for mercy, hoping to accept Cap's offer now that it's clear his enemies intend to kill him, Cap walks off calmly.
It's a chilling image upon which to leave the scene, since the heroes best known as the Avengers of Marvel's Cinematic Universe use blades, fists, and blasts to beat a sentient creature to death. Just as disturbing is the later panel showing Krigorrath's corpse on full display, Hydra flasg waving proudly nearby, as crowds of onlookers cheer the victory and action, recording the scene with their smartphones. It layers onto other pages in Issue #1 showing how America's children are being indoctrinated into Hydra's own superiority to all other empires, albeit in a more vicious, bloodthirsty fashion.
The question fans will be left to ask is just why Thor Odinson, Vision, Scarlet Witch, Deadpool, and the rest of Cap's new Avengers would remain loyal to him? Some are easier to guess than others, since Wade Wilson care only about his next payment, and Taskmaster and Superior Octopus have shown... fluid morality in the past. But for Vision, Thor, and Scarlet Witch to enforce Cap's fascist rule given their own origins and allegiances... there's some part of the story we've yet to see revealed.
It's an element of the story that Nick Spencer and Marvel have not yet offered, leaving the already uneasy fan base left to process the fact that not only is Captain America willing to kill the guilty and innocent for his cause, or lock out Earth's mightiest heroes in the coldness of space... but these Avengers heroes are apparently cool with it. Either that, or there's some misdirection at work. Are these truly the Avengers heroes? Are they artificial copies? Are they being forced to fight on Cap's behalf? Or have they been blackmailed or extorted into exercising his will?
Only time will tell. For now, it's just another strange day in Captain America's evil empire.
Secret Empire #1 is available now.