[Contains SPOILERS for Captain America: Steve Rogers #12]
Life as a double agent takes a treacherous but daring nature, careful plotting, and a heck of a lot of luck. But for Captain America: Steve Rogers, his duplicitous existence wasn’t a conscious choice but rather a re-imagining by a naïve Cosmic Cube named Kobik (hoodwinked by Red Skull into believing Hydra was pretty right on). Nonetheless, Cap has truly owned his retconned history, easily becoming one of the Marvel comic universe’s most compelling new villains.
As he builds his “Secret Empire” – without a doubt, Marvel’s most intriguing and potentially world-shattering upcoming event – the layers upon layers of white lies, half-truths, and questionable allegiances begin to stack up around Captain America. Steve Rogers is good, perhaps one of the best there is at keeping his true intentions under wraps. Nevertheless, his new status as S.H.I.E.L.D. director makes him, in all likelihood, the highest-profile double agent in the world and an even higher-profile target. As impressive as he is at keeping his treacherous boat afloat, the slightest mistake (he's only superhuman, after all) is all it would take to poke holes in his carefully constructed and sink his entire operation.
Steve Rogers’ True Allegiances Revealed?
In Captain America: Steve Rogers #12, one of Steve Rogers' most high profile betrayals comes to light. As revealed in the previous issue, Taskmaster and his comrade Black Ant uncovered a bonus flight recorder from the ship carrying the now (not really) deceased Dr. Erik Selvig and (actually) deceased Jack Flag. The secondary recorder, supposedly a near-necessity in crime-ridden Bagalia, managed to catch the defining moment of Cap’s recent and infamous run: his “Hail Hydra” salute. Flag’s death after months in a coma was a tragedy, but it also meant no one else outside Hydra knew Steve Rogers true allegiance, until now anyway.
For the average hero, uncovering a secret this big would shake their sense of morality, perhaps their very foundation, to the core. Taskmaster is admittedly pretty shocked by the discovery, but he’s without a doubt a mercenary at heart. He arranges a meeting with Maria Hill through the netherworld of the internet. Suspecting a trap, she attacks them on sight, before the oft-antagonist calls her off, revealing the possibility of a Watergate-sized bombshell about Captain America. Of course, that means Hill’s going to have to shell out some big bucks, something not easy to come up with on unemployment. The villains are adamant, though, assuming that if she gets her old gig back, she could cut them in on some sweet, over-inflated government contracts.
Maria reluctantly agrees and sets off to secure some documentation, promising to return later. But before she can make her way back, the two information dealers get a surprise visit from Hydra.
Madame Hydra Reborn
As Maria Hill is settling her affairs, ones which could have drastic ramifications for Captain America and the whole world, Steve battles the anvil-headed Awesome Android – whose apparently been hit with a rogue computer virus. While fighting the massive robot, Steve flashes back to World War II and his time fighting alongside the Allies, yet secretly under Hydra’s flag. During a raid on an enemy bunker, Steve sneaks away from Bucky Barnes and connects with Helmut. Before passing along his next mission, Zemo informs Steve that he and his father, the current Baron Zemo, are about to embark on an important mission to "secure" rocket technology from England.
He then hands Cap his next assignment, admitting it’s a potentially troubling one. Apparently Hydra has its own double agent in the folds – none other than Steve's recruiter and personal champion, Elisa Sinclair. Cap is charged with eliminating the threat, which clearly represents a grave danger to his own safety (presuming she rats him out or is "captured" by her handlers), as well as an emotional conflict due to her kindness to him. Although Nick Spencer doesn't reveal the exact outcome of the mission, it seems as though Steve didn’t carry out his mission or was interrupted.
Back in the present, Black Ant and Taskmaster discover that Elisa Sinclair is still very much alive. After they’re confronted by a cadre of Hydra troops, Madame Hydra introduces herself, removing her helmet and revealing herself as Ms. Sinclair. Over the years, there have been a couple different head Hydra women, including Hungarian refugee Ophelia Sarkissian and La Contessa Valentina Allegra de la Fontaine. Fontaine was the most recent leading lady of Hydra, but hasn't seen much action lately. Given Elisa's prominence on a recent "Secret Empire" variant cover (alongside Cap and Zemo), she'll clearly play a larger role in the impending event.
How Sinclair, supposedly a traitor to the organization, became a top operative is unknown, as well as what happened to the previous Madame Hydra. In all likelihood, these changes are thanks to a wayward Cosmic Cube.
Kobik's New Reality?
All in all, Captain America: Steve Rogers #12 is a tense little tale that offers new perspectives on Steve Rogers tenuous status and ever-more curious past. While battling his android foe, he claims not to be a big fan of surprises. Unfortunately, surprises are inevitable. Despite his reputation for ruthless efficiency, his more humane side shows through from time to time, both as a weakness and a strength. It seems as though keeping Elisa alive during the past, whether by choice or circumstances, helped Steve keep his secret from leaking out in the present. In addition, his “failure” to terminate his old friend Helmut Zemo (per Red Skull’s request) has given him a new ally, if an uncertain one, in his fight against Skull.
Saving Dr. Erik Selvig was also of immeasurable value to Captain America's quest. The doctor notes in his personal journal that Helmut Zemo’s sudden friendly turn, after months of minimal response, might be cause for suspicion. At the same time, it could also indicate a new paradigm of their reality. Kobik's reform of super villains at Pleasant Hill was initially thought to be isolated in its scope. Unless Zemo is faking his rapid change of heart, the anthropomorphic cube may have incidentally or knowingly began retrofitting the past to fit her own perception or Steve's slowly unfolding one. If so, it begs the question: what else has the incredibly powerful being altered? More so, is did she set off a causal chain that's still unraveling?
All these curiosities and more will (hopefully) come to the surface as Spencer, Javier Pina, and Andres Guinaldo continue Steve Rogers’ incredible journey in the 13th chapter and beyond, as the“Secret Empire” dawns.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #12 is currently available. Captain America: Steve Rogers #13 arrives March 8.