WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire #7
Marvel's villainous Captain America just keep on killing, with his latest victim now confirmed to be Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. It's not the first famous face from Marvel's Cinematic Universe that Steve Rogers has killed in the rise of his Secret Empire, after revealing that the hero known as Captain America was a Hydra spy all along. As the rest of Marvel's heroes try to undo the cosmic twist that turned Steve evil, the body count continues to grow - as it turns out, Agent Phil Coulson was just the first MCU fan favorite to die.
But where Coulson was killed because he knew too much, and killed indirectly by Deadpool, Steve Rogers has done the latest deed with his own two hands. Well, to be more specific, he took the life with his signature shield. It wasn't the Avenger he set out to kill, but with killing blow left little doubt about the victim's survival. There was a chance that it was simply a twist - one of the now-mandatory bombshells in each Secret Empire issue - but with the story marching on, it seems certain. Black Widow is dead, and Steve Rogers just can't stop killing.
As we mentioned above, the hero that Cap kills isn't the one he thought he would have to. Marvel fans will likely recall the bombshell vision of the future that helped ratchet the recent Civil War II event to new heights, when an Inhuman prophesied that the Spider-Man Miles Morales would kill Captain America. The vision left fans stunned, unable to imagine how the heroic teen could commit murder - and kill a hero who wasn't even at the center of the conflict. But when Captain America's Hydra loyalty was revealed, it made a LOT more sense - to both readers and the heroes of the Marvel Universe.
In the days since, Steve Rogers has continued his campaign against the countries of the world. And with every new mission or demand - that countries submit to Hydra control, and his memorable resurrection of the Hulk to act as his enforcer - Miles Morales has felt the pressure of what seems to be, now more than ever, his true destiny. It's the reason he and his friends join up with the Black Widow to learn what skills they will need to do what's necessary. (They actually seem unwilling to murder even as they train to murder Cap, but that's a fairly common contradiction in the event so far.)
And in Secret Empire #7 the mission was finally launched to kill Captain America before he could commit more atrocities.
For all her tough talk and determination to kill Captain America while her colleagues were still looking for ways to 'save him,' Black Widow still does everything she can to keep Miles Morales from doing something he'll never be able to take back. Again, that raises some questions about her decision to put him and his fellow young heroes through the 'Red Room' training that made her a trained killer. But assuming that Natasha was simply trying to train them up to work as a unit - especially once she was gone - the plot isn't a major problem.
The problem comes when her attempts to keep Miles locked up so that she can kill Steve Rogers (probably equal parts sacrifice and personal revenge there) fall apart, since destiny has already stated Miles will kill Cap. And when he arrives to face Steve Rogers himself, Widow has no choice but to put down the high-powered rifle aimed at Cap as he slowly strolls up to face off against Miles. Leaping to ground level and rushing to stop Miles from cursing his life, Nat almost makes it in time - almost.
But Cap has launched a killing blow at Miles before she can stop it. Meaning all Widow can do... is take it for him.
Yes, as Black Widow manages to shove Miles back from the fight, Steve slams the point of his shield squarely into the side of her neck. Thanks to the X-ray details from artist Andrea Sorrentino, fans can see that the blow shatters Nat's jaw, part of her skull, and comes to a stop buried in the vertebrae of her neck. It stops the exchange of blows as her blank face falls to the ground, in what we now know are her final moments. And just that quickly, Captain America has - unintentionally, it might seem - killed another colleague he used to call a friend.
Secret Empire #8 makes no mention of Natasha having survived, being given medical treatment, meaning fans are left to accept this as her true, honest to goodness death. Miles soon unleashes his full strength and anger on Cap, bloodying him and carrying him to the spot he should kill him... but refuses, choosing to honor Widow's wishes for him to live on by staying his hand. Some might argue that Nat really would have wanted someone to kill Steve for having killer her, too, but fans are given a reason to hold out hope.
In his efforts to sway people to his side, Steve has apparently suggested that when Hydra has assumed total control, he will use the power of the Cosmic Cube to resurrect those who died in his takeover. Whether that's true or another lie isn't clear. But if that's how Marvel suggests that this fascist Captain America can still be the hero of the story, there is reason to doubt. We can imagine that some of Marvel's dead will be understanding about the need to kill them... but Black Widow? Not so much.
Secret Empire #7 & #8 are available now.