WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire #10
It's finally happened, Marvel fans: the true Captain America has returned to crush the Secret Empire once and for all. The Steve Rogers fans know and love - before he was twisted into an evil, Nazi-aiding fascist - is back to reclaim his place in the Marvel Universe, and the Hydra Empire that terrorized Earth is gone. But that outcome was never really in question among the fans (a fact Marvel proved when they spoiled Captain America's return themselves). The real question is... how did it actually happen? And more importantly, did it make sense?
Fans who read through Secret Empire #10 may assume that writer Nick Spencer and Marvel editorial waved their magic wands to give this event a happy ending in hopes fans wouldn't mind, but that's not the entire story. There are some plot holes or unanswered questions, as there always are when a story is wrapped up in this clean a conclusion. And while it's possible the added Secret Empire: Omega issue will cover these lingering plot threads, we should first break down exactly how Captain America is alive and well.
Not to mention who really deserves the credit for saving the day, even after the evil Captain America had written Marvel's heroes out of existence.
Evil Cap Wins By Creating a Hydra Universe
When we last left the story in Secret Empire #9, things were looking more dire than ever. Hydra took over America a long time ago, but that was all secondary to Steve Rogers's true mission: collect the broken and scattered shards of the Cosmic Cube, and combine them all into one superpowered, godlike Captain America/Iron Man Hydra armor. Issue #10 picks up just moments later, with Steve absolutely destroying the brief glimmer of hope Marvel's heroes had managed to find in Washington, D.C.. With the Cosmic Cube in his possession, Steve Rogers disarmed and defeated the heroes without breaking a sweat.
What came next was his true goal: using the power contained in the almost-complete-Cosmic Cube to once again alter reality. Where the previous use of the Cosmic Cube had revealed Captain America was always a Nazi ally, Steve led Hydra in hopes of setting history 'right.' In short: correcting history so that Nazis won World War II, Hydra rose to power, and created a perfect (read: tyrannically structured and supervised) new order. And in the first few pages of this final issue, he gets it done.
Thankfully, Bucky Barnes stands with his allies nearby... in possession of the one last Cosmic Cube fragment Steve has yet to find.
Bucky Enters The Cosmic Cube in Search of Steve
Spencer pulls some somewhat effective misdirection by showing Sam Wilson surrender himself and the final Cosmic Cube shard to Steve Rogers, then explaining the actual plan the heroes are carrying out. It's a complicated plan when you get into the metaphysical/cosmic energies at work, but we'll try to keep it simple. When Steve accepts the final shard and combines it with the Cosmic Cube in his chest's armor, Bucky Barnes and Ant-Man make their move. Flinging themselves directly at the Cube, Scott Lang uses his shrinking tech to send Bucky in alone, hoping to get small enough to physically breach the limits of the Cube itself.
The reason why Bucky sees potential in such a plan is that this is no ordinary Cosmic Cube: it's a sentient one, having coalesced its consciousness into that of a little girl named Kobik. Bucky figures that Kobik must be scared given the manipulation and damage she has undergone, and readers know he's right. In the last issue, the strange version of the 'good' Captain America caught in the purgatory of the Cosmic Cube realized the truth: he was only a memory of the Steve Rogers that was, held onto in Kobik's mind, memory, or cosmic diary.
It sound complicated, but Bucky's reasoning is so simple, some Marvel readers will be left with some serious questions. Essentially, he believes that if Kobik could write the good Steve out of existence, she can bring him back. But to make it happen, the surviving heroes have to hand over their last shard to restore Kobik to her full power, and hope she has the desire to take back the mistake she made molding reality to Hydra in the first place. Fortunately for everyone, Steve Rogers was giving Kobik a stirring speech about standing against fascism at the same time.
When Bucky breached the Cube, Steve didn't miss his chance. Even if he gives all the credit to Kobik when they pop back to their starting point in front of the U.S. Capitol Building.
The TRUE Captain America is BACK
With the Cosmic Cube torn from his grasp, the evil, Hydra-loyal Steve Rogers can only scream in despair as he watches his perfect world unravel, reverting to the destroyed, hero-filled version he hoped to erase. The bigger problem, however, was the blue-scaled champion Kobik had brought back into existence. Slowly phasing into reality, and still steaming (literally and figuratively), the Captain America fans have been hoping to see return isn't looking to talk.
Obviously, comic fans are going to be debating the quality, creativity, deception, and borderline dishonesty that surrounded this return - both in the rules of the story's fiction, and the comments made by Marvel along the way. Where fans accused Spencer and Marvel in general of planning to eventually 'undo' the destruction of Steve Rogers, have him return thanks to 'Cosmic Cube magic,' and vanquish his evil opposite, the publisher assured that wouldn't be the case. At least, they claimed parts of it wouldn't be the case.
Semantics will be used as a defense (fairly), but the overall message is clear: no matter how it was going to happen, readers are supposed to view the return of the true Captain America as a moment of victory and hope. And when the smoke clears, and even Steve concedes to his Hydra doppelganger that the rules of his existence are fuzzy, at best, the battle that follows should overshadow any plot holes or evasive answers to preserve the final twist. And what a fight it is, ultimately coming to a big finish when the lie that allowed the evil Captain America to be worthy of Mjolnir is exposed.
As for the heroic, American icon Captain America... well, he's as worthy as ever.
The Secret Empire Falls... But The World is Still Broken
The thrill of seeing Steve Rogers smash the fascist, nightmare reflection of his own values and abilities can't be understated - and the same goes for him returning the famous Captain America shield to Sam Wilson, and Mjolnir to its rightful wielder, Jane Foster. But it's not a happy ending, since Marvel was right in their claim that Secret Empire's ending wouldn't undo all the events and damage of the series to that point. Captain America is back, and Kobik sets the history of Steve Rogers back to the way it was... but Las Vegas is still a smoldering crater - a warning left by Kobik to remind the heroes of the failures they must never repeat.
That may demand some inspection of Kobik's morality, since leaving thousands of innocent people dead is a harsh reminder. That also means that Agent Phil Coulson remains dead. Not to mention Black Widow being killed by Cap too, and too many others to name here. It's likely that the coming Omega issue will focus on the returned Steve coming to terms with what happened in his absence, as the epilogue to Secret Empire sets up the next chapter of the Marvel Universe. Specifically, teasing the moral rejuvenation brought when Kobik took Marvel's major heroes into the Generations event. But for now, it's a time for mourning.
When Secret Empire arrived, fans couldn't have known just how far Marvel would take Captain America's "Hail Hydra." Countless innocent lives lost, fan-favorite characters killed by Hydra, and a planet in no hurry to trust Captain America later, and comic fans can finally judge the event based on the story's beginning, middle, and end. Let us known what you thought of the series, and Captain America's reveal, in the comments.
Secret Empire #10 is available now.