It feels like it's been years since we first saw Steve Rogers shove Jack Flagg out of a jet before uttering "hail Hydra" and announcing to the world that he was, essentially, a newly-minted supervillain. But ahead of Secret Empire's conclusion this week, Marvel kinda spoiled how the event's gonna end.
As Secret Empire has played out over the past few months, there have been a number of questions about the story that have weighed heavily on readers' minds. How did Steve Rogers, now the supreme leader of Hydra, manage to lift Thor's hammer? If Secret Empire isn't meant to be a form of commentary on the current state of American politics, then what exactly is its point?
As questions like these have frustrated those who felt as if Secret Empire was irresponsibly making light of the newly-emboldened, literal fascists taking to the streets, defenders of the event have urged everyone to sit tight and wait to see just how everything's going to wrap up. Today, Marvel made the unexpected decision to share a couple of interior pages from Secret Empire #10 with The New York Times, more or less giving away the ending while also leaving a few questions unanswered.
If you've kept up with Secret Empire until this point, then you know that in last week's issue, we learned that while all of the event's main plot has been going on in the foreground, there's been another story happening elsewhere involving Kobik and past versions of Steve Rogers.
It turns out that Kobik has been manifesting parts of the old Steve in something like a pocket dimension of her own creation, while hiding away from the mess that Hydra made her cause by altering Steve's past. While Secret Empire #9 made it seem as if the cosmically-empowered being couldn't stand to face the new reality she'd made, the pages Marvel released today suggest that this "Good Steve" is going to get a chance to kick the arse of "Bad Steve", and he's going to use Mjolnir to do it.
Image: Marvel via The New York Times
Bad Steve, seen here wearing Hydra's signature yellow and green, most recently came into possession of another fragment of the cosmic cube, which he planned on using to power his suit to bring an end to the ongoing conflicts between Hydra and the resistance. This new image definitely evokes all of the classic illustrations of Captain America fighting Nazis, and suggests that Secret Empire will end with the true heroes prevailing. But in terms of what kind of message the art's trying to convey, your guess is as good as mine.
Speaking to the Times, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso insisted (yet again) that Secret Empire isn't meant to be read as political commentary despite the current "heated debate" regarding fascism in the US. Instead, Alonso doubled down on the idea that the key to understanding Secret Empire was waiting for it to be over.
We understood the story would challenge readers, but we also know how it ended. We also thought the story had something important to say about democracy, freedom and the core American values that Captain America embodies.
So we know that Captain America's going to send some time beating himself up for becoming a mass murderer and advocating for the extermination of a persecuted minority. That's... a start, I suppose. But if Secret Empire ultimately ends up being a story about how Nazis are bad — something that every sensible person already knew — then it's difficult to see the event as having really been much more than overwrought torture porn.
We'll see later this week.