[Warning: Contains SPOILERS for Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 and Civil War II: The Oath]
Life isn’t easy for a double agent, especially one as high profile as Captain America. Keeping up his “everything’s normal” routine is especially tricky, given his penchant for methodically stabbing his pre-Hydra-inversion friends in the back, in addition to trying to undermine the world’s governments and the psychically imbued Red Skull. Not one easily deterred, though, Steve Rogers has proven himself to be a master manipulator, one who keeps his friends within striking distance and his enemies just beneath his boot.
Despite his best scheming, though, tiny threads keep unraveling in Captain America: Steve Rogers #10, even as Cap sows the seeds for his brave new Hydra world. His attempt to unseat Maria Hill from the head of S.H.I.E.L.D. begins by placing her on trial, but is soon derailed. Just as Rogers has her on the ropes, Hill comes back with a daring plan to construct a massive energy field around Earth – one which would put a serious damper on Cap and Red Skull’s plans, having softened up the planet for an alien invasion capable of forging mankind into one, Hydra-ruled population.
Help Wanted: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Thanks to Steve's less-than-legal manipulating behind the scenes, Maria Hill is stripped of her position as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (and is about as furious at the move as readers would expect). After Hill is escorted into custody, the council asks Steve Rogers who he believes should lead the branch of covert and militarized operatives. As he had mentioned previously - a sign that his master plan isn't as obvious as lesser traitors would concoct - he puts forward Commander Sharon Carter for the gig. Sharon, ever the booster for the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act proposed to grant even greater authority to the agent in charge, has already popped onto the radar of the person standing opposed to its passing, Senator Townes.
The politician laid out his concerns about the bill, which have been holding up the vote, including fears about states' rights violations, broad policing powers, wire-tapping, and other privacy issues pertaining to the authority the act would grant the agency. Commander Carter, however, reads him the riot act, laying out the numerous dangers, both internal and alien, facing the world these days. She then hits him where it hurts the most: threatening to use Captain America to endorse the Senator's direct political opponent, hence crumbling his majority come election time.
However, Cap and Carter’s campaigning takes a backseat after former Director Hill escapes the helicarrier and soars straight into the arms of Alpha Flight, carrying the schematics for her Earth-spanning energy shield with her.
Desperately Seeking Erskine
As Steve moves to bring his Hydra plot to fruition in the present day, his origin story is adjusted to reflect his new allegiance. Steve Rogers' younger self is working on his first big Hydra mission, attempting to get close to Dr. Abraham Erskine – the creator of the super soldier serum – with little success. Having attempted to join up with the U.S. Army on several occasions, but each time (as fans know) has been rejected as 4F - unfit for service. Out of desperation, he takes a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant that Erskine often frequents and even prepares to poison Erskine's friend, a fellow officer who has been denying Steve's attempts at enlistment.
Before he can go through with it, fate intervenes, as a purse-snatcher assaults one of the servers. Chasing after the man, Rogers corners the thug in an alleyway. The thief, bigger and stronger than him, gives Steve a good working-over. However, the young man returns, battered but triumphant, with her purse. His bravery in front of Dr. Erskine starts everything in motion, as the inventor insists upon making him a test subject for his Weapons Plus program, bringing Steve Rogers' retconned origin story full-circle.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Back in the present, Captain America gets a serious scolding from Red Skull, who threatens to severely punish him meet for losing Maria Hill and her force-field schematics – a serious threat to their plans to use a Chitauri invasion to destabilize the world and damage S.H.I.E.L.D. irrevocably. Thanks to Dr. Erik Selvig, Cap also discovers that his old friend Jack Flag – the very man who uncovered his true loyalties, and Rogers subsequently flung from a helicopter – could recover from his coma thanks to his advanced healing abilities.
Rogers heads to the hospital to make sure Flag never wakes up. Before he can poison Jack (once again), he discovers that Jack is brain-dead. Flag's former partner, Free Spirit, has been granted power of attorney over him, and with his family's consultation, is about to pull the plug – conveniently and tragically snipping one of Steve's loose ends. Afterward, he meets up with Sharon Carter to discover the fate of the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act and whether she received her promotion to director.
S.H.I.E.L.D. Falls into Cap's Hands
Apparently, Commander Carter’s threats worked: the S.H.I.E.L.D. Act passes into law, granting the agency unprecedented reach for its spy networks and phone tapping, as well as emergency control of the U.S. Military and law enforcement during a crisis (certainly no parallels in recent U.S. history there). Carter is also offered agency directorship by the council but chooses to decline. Worried about the amount of power and authority required for the position, Sharon feels the new director must be absolutely trustworthy and thoroughly incorruptible – someone like Steve Rogers.
The wrap-up comic, Civil War II: The Oath, confirms Captain America's new position as head of one of the world's most powerful organizations. During his swearing in, his speech echoes those made by covert (and not so covert) fascists across history (Hitler, Stalin, etc.), not to mention fictional tyrants (Emperor Palpatine, anyone?). The usual claims about power and responsibility abound, but also the failures of the superhero community. Rogers is poised to take on his powerful role with vigor - at least until he remakes the world in his Hydra-fied image.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 and Civil War II: The Oath are a startling and timely reminder that covert loyalties like Cap's are most frightening in an era where image seems more important than truth. While it’s not the first time Captain America has lead S.H.I.E.L.D., this Steve Rogers is a vastly different man, capable of far-greater harm from his perch atop the world. It’s only a matter of time now before the chips fall and Steve Rogers’ Secret Empire unfolds on the MU. Once Hydra is ensconced in America’s seats of power and given unilateral authority, cutting off all those heads (before they grow back twice as strong) will require a Herculean cooperative effort.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #10 is currently available online and in stores.