WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire: Omega #1
Marvel's Secret Empire is finally over, but if readers were hoping that meant the end of the evil, Nazi-supporting Captain America, think again. For all the controversy that came with re-imagining Steve Rogers as the mirror image of everything he believed, killing thousands and oppressing millions, it seems the publisher isn't ready to close the book on his role in the Marvel Universe just yet. In fact, the forces loyal to Hydra may be larger in number than ever before... even if the change in American government means they're keeping their loyalty a secret until 'HydraCap' can rise again.
That's the note on which the event officially concludes in Secret Empire: Omega #1, a wrap-up issue following the fall of Hydra upon the real Captain America's return. That climactic battle saw Steve Rogers restored to his former, heroic form, putting down his fascist, evil, tyrannical doppelganger with a single blow from Thor's hammer, Mjolnir. Writer Nick Spencer intentionally left the fate of the evil Cap in question, but Omega explains exactly where he now resides in Marvel's world.
Though he may have been beaten, and many readers may have found his politics offensive, HydraCap's argument was convincing enough to establish him as a future threat - not a vanquished one.
Evil Captain America is Behind Bars... For Now
For those who may have missed out on the finale of Secret Empire, or simply missed an important detail, the version of Steve Rogers that led Hydra in its takeover of America and the world is NOT a doppelganger in the sense that he's a 'false' copy, or a copy at all, really. He is the Steve Rogers resulting from the Cosmic Cube's twisting of Marvel's main Earth. So as easy as it would have been for this corrupted Steve to be simply written out of existence and replaced with the reborn, heroic Steve, that's not how Cosmic Cubes work. Good Steve has been made real from the Cosmic Cube's memory... but the villainous version must be incarcerated in a prison capable of holding Captain America. As is revealed in Omega, that means HydraCap is now the sole occupant of 'Shadow Pillar,' a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. prison in an unknown location.
It was inevitable that the restored Steve would want to speak with his replacement, but when he does, it's revealed that bringing HydraCap to 'justice' for his crimes against America and the world is more complicated than one might expect. After all, Captain America's evil plan to take over S.H.I.E.L.D. was a sophisticated and clever one (executed over an extended period of time). The whole point, he explains, was that fear and power manipulated America into volunteering all authority to Steve Rogers. He never broke a law, he simply exercised democratically assigned power befitting his personal politics.
But for all his tough talk of 'making the villain pay' now that the good guys have gotten their country back, Steve realizes this genie can't be so easily put back into its bottle.
Hydra Lost The War... But Not The Argument
On the surface, Steve Rogers has already realized that going back to 'the way things were before' won't ever be possible, now that civilians who once reached out to him for help will now hesitate, given the war crimes committed by HydraCap. True to his past, though, Steve tries to spin it into a positive: that he has now embodied his message of safeguarding freedom with constant vigilance. If even he can become a threat to democracy, he reasons, then perhaps the Secret Empire was worth it. Of course, HydraCap is all too eager to explain that if that's what Steve is taking away from this battle's conclusion... he's only fooling himself.
Now, HydraCap hasn't made many compelling arguments, at least in a moral sense, in the Secret Empire so far. For every claim that leniency led to weakness, there was a case of him demanding Earth's nations kneel to his commands. But in this final exchange, the villain makes a more compelling argument than ever before (he may have recent trends and controversies in actual America to thank). Where America and citizens around the world had once trusted Captain America's opinion that Hydra's ways were an affront to human rights, they have now seen the alternative.
And the undeniable truth of Hydra's rise is that it, like countless other tyrannical movements and dictators before, convinced more to join its ranks than its enemies would have believed. Steve may not want to believe it... but Marvel confirms Hydra is alive and well in the final page.
HydraCap Will Rise Again?
Once HydraCap's departure from his cell is detected, Steve Rogers makes a fast exit so as not to explains why he's seeking face time with his evil twin. But HydraCap's words echo with truth as the prison guards - those assigned to the most clandestine, off-the-books, maximum security installation S.H.I.E.L.D. has - restrain the man who should be their most despised enemy. Which makes it all the more shocking when the guard subduing HydraCap makes his unwavering loyalty known as only Hydra soldiers can.
The "Hail Hydra" may strike those critical of the event as a bit far-fetched, but you can't deny the thematic and poetic symmetry. It was Steve Rogers's "Hail Hydra" that began Spencer's unforgettable story of a traitorous Captain America, so it's only right that it should end the same way. Where the first pledge of loyalty showed Hydra had claimed its most devoted enemy, the final pledge confirms the group has survived defeat stronger than ever.
As Steve Rogers departs, he realizes fascism is an undying enemy wearing many faces. And as HydraCap smiles knowing he still has soldiers behind him, Marvel readers know that this face will be back. HydraCap's resurgence is what's being teased... but should Marvel ever actually follow through?
Secret Empire: Omega #1 is available now.