NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Captain America, Secret Empire, and Deadpool
It would be bad enough for Agent Phil Coulson to learn that Captain America wasn't the hero he always thought he was. But if the fan-favorite (former) star of Marvel's Cinematic Universe were to find out that Captain America was always a villain, it's hard to believe even experimental S.H.I.E.L.D. surgery could save his broken heart. And we simply can't bring ourselves to picture Coulson learning that Steve Rogers helped Nazis win World War II. Unfortunately for him, and us, and sympathetic Marvel fans everywhere, that ship has sailed. Agent Phil Coulson doesn't just know the truth... he may have been the first Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. to suspect something was amiss with Cap at all.
That's the story twist offered in Marvel's new preview of the coming Secret Empire event, thrusting more team and solo comics into Captain America's master plan (be it battling Chitauri in Earth's orbit, evading monsters in New York City, or simply being hunted by Hydra). Included in the preview is a trip backwards through time, following Coulson (modeled after actor Clark Gregg) as he begins to dig into Steve Rogers's strange behavior... eventually becoming the only man able to stop Cap's Hydra takeover. Coulson obviously failed, but it's not for the reason anybody will expect. In fact, that explanation is just the start of Phil Coulson's next superhero team-up.
Cap's Biggest Fan Was The First To Know
The preview pages appear to be set as close as hours before Cap's brilliant plan was launched into motion, with Coulson explaining that he had noticed something "wrong" with his former hero and fearless leader. In hindsight, that was likely the moment that Red Skull used a Cosmic Cube to rewrite history, making Steve Rogers a sleeper agent for Hydra. Steve's behavior became incredibly duplicitous, even coming close to launching all-out war on his teammates before Marvel's Civil War II convinced him to put that plan on pause (a psychic able to see your hostile takeover will do that). Of course, that was all before the recent reveal that Red Skull had merely set reality back to the way it should be: Steve Rogers was always a Hydra agent. Coulson cloned Cap's mobile device to see for himself what the de facto leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. was up to, but what he found was something far stranger than rewritten history.
No, Coulson chased the lead to its source, discovering a collection of eggs and Chitauri Queen. While gross, that plan may need a bit of an explanation. It's actually a sign of how simple Cap's villainy was in its brilliance - he simply concealed a Chitauri nest and queen on Earth, knowing that the alien race would attack Earth, and keep attacking until they retrieved their queen. Then Steve need only plead ignorance along with the rest of Earth's heroes, and create a big enough diversion to help cover his tracks. Well, from everyone but Phil Coulson.
And while we don't yet know just what Coulson suspected Steve was up to - "total villainous global domination" seems a stretch - the hidden Chitauri nest was enough for him to play it safe, and put Cap under surveillance, or investigation. That was the plan, anyway.
Cap's First Attack Against S.H.I.E.L.D.?
No sooner than Coulson's monologue is revealed to actually be a voice recording as Lola hit with anti-aircraft fire, sending Phil and his treasured flying classic car tumbling towards Earth. Coulson accepts that he may not survive the landing, or the forces responsible for stopping his sleuthing. By that point Phil is already having his communications jammed, explaining why he doesn't "sound the alarm" immediately. It would seem that he couldn't actually have "saved" Earth from Cap's plan, if the hero-turned-tyrant has already taken the step of cutting S.H.I.E.L.D. agents off from their colleagues under attack. If he dies in the crash, or is taken out by the enemy soldiers blowing him out of the sky to make sure he tells nobody of Cap's true allegiance or plan, then at least Lola's voicemail will ensure he didn't die in vain.
But it's at this point that we'll focus the reader's attention on the "Continued in Deadpool #31" tag bringing this preview to a close. That's right, it isn't S.H.I.E.L.D. or even an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. series that will tell this tale of the Son of Coul's heroism. That task will fall to Deadpool, as he looks set to share the spotlight with the agent in his own series. Why, you ask? Do we really need to say it?
Nope, Just Deadpool
It speaks to the personality of Deadpool that absolutely no explanation is given for him to launch an attack on Coulson's signature ride, and none is really needed for the preview to sell readers on the story. But given his instant assault on Lola and Phil, we can only hope that the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent was too late to stop the rise of the Secret Empire... otherwise, this entire thing rests on the shoulders of Deadpool, when you get right down to it (Cap fighting for the Axis powers may still give him the edge).
The cover art for the issue shows both Coulson and Wilson with guns drawn, as the ghostly specter of Steve Rogers hovers over them - as he now hovers over every free soul on Marvel's Earth (and that's even before Steve Rogers claims a god's actual power). The tagline for the story suggests that Deadpool still trusts Captain America completely, having shown that he is as big a fan of Cap as Coulson ever was. And since Wade isn't really the "investigating" or "patriotic" type (Canadian, after all), he will apparently be slow to accept that Cap has turned against every single one of his former friends and allies. In his defense, it is pretty hard to believe.
No official word on whether that will make him and Coulson actual enemies in the issue, with Wade looking to hurt or hinder the man apparently turning on his faithful leader. Fans will need to wait until Deadpool #31 is released in May to find more answers, or to gather some clues on where Agent Phil Coulson might be hiding or operating as the Secret Empire gains ground against the opposition.
Something tells us that a potential team-up or battle between Deadpool and Coulson will be worth the wait.
Secret Empire #0 is available now, Deadpool #31 arrives this May.