WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for Secret Empire #2
It's hard for fans of Captain America to believe he can be redeemed after becoming a fascist, murderous tyrant - but the Ultimate Steve Rogers could be the one to bring him down. That's our theory on the latest twist in the ongoing saga of Captain America's Hydra takeover in Secret Empire, coming after weeks and months promising that the former hero's turn to villainy would NOT be undone, or re-written in some 'wave of a magic wand.' In other words: there was no saving Captain America after all he's done.
The arrival of another Steve Rogers in Secret Empire #2 turned those beliefs on their head, leaving fans reeling with confusion, unclear exactly what the new Captain America even means. Given the story's recent commentary on real American politics - with Captain America blaming fake news for making Hydra seem like villains, and using Islamophobic language towards Inhumans, the injection of a 'Steve Rogers doppelganger' may be a somewhat less refined a solution than expected (or hoped).
A return of Steve Rogers from another universe, specifically Marvel's Ultimate Universe may let the company off the hook... but could still leave an odd taste in fans' mouths.
The 'Real' Steve Rogers Returns...?
The appearance of the aforementioned 'other Steve Rogers' came with little warning, after Steve Rogers had already betrayed Earth's heroes, taken over S.H.I.E.L.D., and installed a Hydra dictatorship over the United States. If another version of Marvel's heroic, Nazi-hating patriot was going to arrive to stop these monstrosities, he could have come a whole lot sooner - before Hydra started drugging the public's water supply to make them embrace Hydra more readily, for instance. But judging by his appearance when he did make his return, he's had other problems to deal with.
For those who didn't read this other Steve Rogers's return to Marvel's Universe, the image above is really the bulk of it. After following the inner working of Steve's new regime, the action shifts to an unnamed woman being pursued through the wilderness by the villains of "Serpent Solutions." An unseen figure emerges to rescue her, taking out the modern version of the classic Cap villains with only his fists. Once they depart, the man reveals himself to the woman as 'Steve Rogers.' And he's not looking for thanks, or even an explanation as to America's new leadership.
In his own words: "I'm just trying to get home."
That line may be more meaningful than some took it at first glance, before leaping into speculation over the character's identity, nature, home universe, possible Cosmic Cube connections, etc.. Was this Steve some mystical remnant of the Cosmic Cube's altering of Marvel history? Was this the part of Steve that was still a hero, somehow removed from his evil side and given physical form? Or was this actually the kind of twist writer Nick Spencer and Marvel promised not to make, revealing the villainous Captain America to be an impostor, now destined to be brought down by the REAL Steve Rogers?
It's too early to tell, and as readers have already learned, there's no way to predict Secret Empire's next twist. But the arrival of a new Steve Rogers - and the added detail that this Steve has been tossed far from his "home" - could offer an interesting, not-entirely-magic-wand-ish solution to the Secret Empire takeover. Because as Marvel fans know, there actually was another Steve Rogers starring in Marvel Comics until recently. He was the leader of the Ultimates - the version of the Avengers set in Marvel's "Ultimate" parallel universe - and even before that universe collapsed, he disappeared without a trace...
While the artwork above may show the Ultimate Spider-Man cradling the dead body of Captain America - and image that was, oddly, copied with a different Captain America for Marvel's Civil War II - the image is merely a symbolic one. Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand #4 did feature Miles Morales, and did feature the apparent death of Steve Rogers, but no such scene took place in the comic itself. Steve Rogers of the Ultimate Universe was presumed dead. But judging by Secret Empire #2, he may have survived only to wind up in an alternate world where he hadn't died to save the world... he became a villain to conquer it.
The Promised Return of Captain America To Save The World?
We'll spare readers all the dirty details of Cataclysm and say that the story involved Galactus - the cosmic destroyer of the regular, Earth-616 Marvel Universe - traveling to the "Ultimate" Universe to, well... consume it. Steve Rogers sacrificed himself to distract it while the other heroes saved the day, and in the follow-up comic Survive! the heroes gathered to honor his death. At the time Tony Stark's eulogy seemed fitting... but in hindsight, it may be a playful prophecy from Marvel directly, claiming that the Ultimate Steve Rogers would return "when we need him most."
Some would argue that such a time would have been before the parallel universes of Marvel's catalogue were condensed into Battleworld, resulting in the current Marvel continuity. But that decision was largely an editorial one, not unlike DC's previous attempt to streamline its titles with its many Crises. And with the Ultimate Mjolnir now finding a new Thor in Marvel's current universe, and Wolverine's son joining the X-Men, it's clear the "Ultimate" reality was able to transmit pieces of itself into the new world... so could Steve Rogers be one of them?
If so, it would give the Hydra-fied Captain America an adversary worth fearing: himself. Aside from possessing the abilities and desire to defeat the evil, corrupted Steve Rogers and replace him, nobody within Hydra or the world at large would know the difference, allowing the title "empire" to be toppled (hopefully). Most importantly, the idea that Steve Rogers would survive to see an alternate world where he became the kind of monster he swore to defeat would make a darn good story. And would, as Marvel promised, avoid ending the Secret Empire event by simply 'undoing' what had changed.
Captain America would be "back," but still perceived as a monster to the world, and Earth's heroes. Should we expect a worldwide reveal and battle of the Steves to conclude the event? And perhaps the only question that matters: would such a twist win back those who hated seeing Captain America become a villain, or double down on their disdain? It wouldn't change the fact that Captain America was always a Hydra/Nazi agent, but if our theory is true, fans can hold out hope that Marvel's Captain America will be a hero once more.
Secret Empire #2 is available now.