WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Captain America: Steve Rogers #17
With America under Hydra rule, Captain America's next enemy is America's free press, historians, and scientific community. It's the latest twist in Marvel's continuously escalating Secret Empire, the event which saw Captain America wipe out Earth's heroes in one fell swoop, thanks to some devious trickery, betrayals, and sabotage. In the weeks since Nick Spencer's decision to cast Steve Rogers as Hydra's greatest villains, things have only gotten weirder. Now, it's getting harder and harder to see a path back to reason for the Star-Spangled Man.
In the latest issue, Captain America: Steve Rogers #17, the former Marvel mascot decides it's time to address the public in a highly-publicized TV interview. With ground rules established - he won't face questions about the murder of over half a million people as Hydra turned Las Vegas into a crater - Steve eventually takes the fight to the ones asking the questions. And in rhetoric that's become all too familiar in recent years, Captain America blames the perception of Hydra as an evil institution on liberal dishonesty, a "fake news," self-validating, mainstream media, and bleeding hearts who pretend civil liberties and rights are more important than national security.
It may be the most transparent bit of political commentary (or simple reflection?) in Secret Empire so far, but will put the final nail in Steve Rogers's coffin for those convinced we've passed the argument of Captain America being 'a good fascist leader' into self-righteous supervillain territory.
Captain America Says The Media is The Real Enemy
A brief reminder for those keeping tabs on the story: the world of Secret Empire is one in which the Allies actually lost World War II, with Captain America helping the Nazis to victory. Desperate to save their future, the Allied scientists used a Cosmic Cube (able to reshape reality itself in whatever way its wielder wishes) to change history, making them the victors, and deceiving Steve Rogers into believing he was really an American hero, and not a Hydra spy. With that reality-warping undone for Steve, he has returned to his Hydra roots, and made good on the order's dream of total global order... through total control.
And despite committing the aforementioned mass execution of Las Vegas - the base of the Marvel heroes' greatest remaining resistance - Steve Rogers arrives at his TV interview with Sally Floyd ready to take the moral high ground with every fiber of his being. Floyd, for those wondering, is the same reporter who previously interviewed Rogers in the midst of Marvel's first Civil War event. Understandably, she has a hard time believing that this uniformed, caped tyrant is the same man who once risked everything to stand up for the American ideals of liberty in the face of 'security.'
She's not alone in wondering how Captain America the hero could betray so much.
Still, in story terms, that was the real lie of Steve's value system - somehow the same "core values" Marvel claims will make Captain America the hero of Secret Empire. Steve expands that thinking beyond himself, claiming that the Americans who now embrace Hydra, and the power and privilege that comes with their rule show his way is the true one. As for the media elite? Steve claims they have "force-fed propaganda, manipulated, and isolated" the public for their own purposes, which is exactly why they've followed him.
Because they saw through the "Great Illusion": they knew that as much as the media claimed things were moving forward, they felt it was falling apart. That it was being corrupted from the inside, straying from its ideals, and forcing them to live next door to people who threatened their very way of life. In other words... subtlety is taking a backseat to using Secret Empire as a commentary on the rise of ultra conservatives in modern politics. And the language and parallels being drawn between Steve Rogers and fascist dictators only get more charged from there, with Sally determined to challenge him on every point.
As much as Captain America may claim that he has made the country better for "the people who matter," everyone's gain is someone else's loss... including the city of Las Vegas-- sorry, the crater.
Take That, Twitter
Since Cap's entire argument is based in hypocrisy, ruling the obliteration of Las Vegas 'out of bounds' for obvious reasons, it doesn't take much to get him heated. And when temperatures are high, Sally breaks the rule, pointing out that anyone who lived in Las Vegas was permanently forced out of his ideal society. The facade drops, Hydra cuts the video feed, and Steve has Sally thrown in prison. In response to her protests that arresting journalists won't be tolerated, Steve mocks the outrage the public will spread on Twitter - implying no actual consequence will be possible.
The kind of language being used isn't hard to connect to a number of global elections, as the rise of globalization has made terms like "real citizens," "fake news," and "biased media" commonplace. Most readers won't have to think too long to also imagine a world leader or one hoping to be claiming that the "elites" can't be trusted, and that the feelings deep down in some citizens aren't wrong, but actually something to proudly embrace. Unfortunately, the issue lands as something of a standalone story, reiterating that Steve Rogers is an enemy of freedom and civil liberties, and apparently rationalizing any and all of Hydra's actions like every fascist before him.
It's hard not to read that final "Twitter" jab as coming from writer Nick Spencer directly, as he's shown no fear of engaging with online attacks and accusations that he has 'ruined' Captain America. Whether it's intended as extra motivation and ecnouragement for those who would stand against such rhetoric or tyranny, or an opinion that online uproar is simply bluster... that's for each reader to decide.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #17 is available now.