NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire: Omega & Legacy #1
Fans may have thought that Captain America's return was a happy ending to Secret Empire, but the hero has already turned his back on the Marvel Universe. Not that anyone would blame him, having been forced to watch as an evil version of himself allied with Hydra and the Nazis, enslaved America, betrayed his trusted friends, and killed more than one Marvel hero. As offended fans grew more and more livid watching Marvel drag their hero's reputation through the mud, the publisher maintained it would all work out in the end. But fans may be vindicated in the first chapter of Marvel's new age, with Steve Rogers learning what Secret Empire's critics claimed all along: happy ending or no, some damage just can't be undone.
That's a serious dose of meta-commentary for any comic book story, let alone one that proved far more controversial than Marvel may have expected. It's still hard to say if the fan outrage may have changed Secret Empire's ending, but the idea that Captain America could be resurrected as a hero and return to who he had been before has been shattered. Which means the Steve Rogers who was may be gone for good.
With the launch of Marvel Legacy #1, the first book to set Marvel's new course from here forward, the heroes of Earth are still trying to put the world back together. But they'll have to do it without Captain America.
Some might accuse Marvel of having their cake and eating it too with the heroic return of Captain America, appearing out of thin air to give 'HydraCap' the beating he so dearly deserved. He even raised Thor's hammer as proof he was still a hero... still the hero his defeated and dispirited friends once believed him to be. But the scars of Hydra remained, and in the follow-up Omega issue, Steve Rogers had a face-to-face conversation with the monstrous villain that had corrupted his legacy. The thrill of victory was short-lived, readers learned, as Steve recounted the exact moment that he realized the world would never view him the same.
While digging through the rubble of the massive, disastrous battle that led to his resurrection, Steve came upon a young boy and, as he always had before, extended his hand to help. But the boy saw only the monster the world now knew Captain America to be, unable to grasp the admittedly fuzzy logic of the 'true' Cap's return. And when the boy recoiled his hand in fear, Steve understood how much HydraCap had taken from him. A life spent doing the right thing, being a hero to all, and establishing himself as an undisputed 'good guy' had all been burned to the ground.
What's left instead... well, Steve hasn't decided.
Again, you have to appreciate the poetry of that disappointing conclusion, whether or not you personally agree that Captain America has been permanently tarnished by powers beyond the hero's own control (be it Red Skull, or Marvel Comics editors). So whether you find it poignant or simply the next step in the story, Legacy's continuation of dozens of storylines confirms it's the most uneasy place for Steve Rogers to possibly exist. His answer, it turns out, is to take off his costume, throw on a jacket, and ride his motorcycle into the middle of nowhere.
It's not the least reasonable way to react to finding out the 'evil you' sent Deadpool to kill Phil Coulson. or that you personally murdered the Black Widow (and countless thousands of other casualties of global war). The world has also gotten most of its heroes back on guard, including Steve's former friend Sam Wilson, returning to his identity as the Falcon, pairing up with the new Ironheart, and Jane Foster's Thor to take on top-level threats. Even so, there's no question that the world needs Captain America more than ever - needs him to answer for what happened, or offer some kind of explanation.
Instead, he's riding down a long road towards a destination he has yet to choose.
Who Will Steve Rogers Be, if Not Captain America?
For readers and devoted fans, Steve's real moral state or responsibility is intentionally hard to grasp. The 'good' Steve wasn't swapped out and replaced with an evil doppelganger at a specific point: the Cosmic Cube reshaped reality so that Steve's heroic career remained the same... he was just a Hydra sleeper agent the entire time. The Steve that returned to save the day wasn't held captive, but resurrected from a "memory" of the Steve that existed before. What that makes him is still up in the air, but he knows one thing for sure: being Captain America no longer means what is used to. With the trust of the world gone, it appears Steve Rogers must find a completely new path.
Until he does, the world may have to do without its best-known superhero. And Marvel Comics may have to do without its poster boy. What lies ahead for Steve Rogers, or where he's physically headed is a secret they're keeping for now. The good news, for those unhappy to see Steve Rogers turn his back on the world, is that he hasn't left the shield behind just yet.
But when or why it's pulled from his luggage... well, you'll just have to keep reading to see that question answered.
Marvel Legacy #1 is available now.