The Hydra Cap storyline has been going on for over a year. Secret Empire will see it's culmination. In the whole period, writer Nick Spencer and various editors at Marvel have assured that this isn't a clone, this isn't an alternate reality Steve Rogers, this isn't mind control. This is the 'true' Steve Rogers, a 'fact' pushed forward with the zero issues revelation that in the Marvel Universe, according to Secret Empire at least, the Nazis won the war and the Allies used a Cosmic Cube to change that (though they didn't use it to stop concentration camps or anything).
This is a fact that the early issues of Secret Empire have been belabouring as the remaining heroes apparently worked their way through all these suggestions and options too, to disastrous effect.
Well, Secret Empire #2 finally sees the penny drop, in a number of ways.
The heroes of the Marvel Universe finally learn the truth of what has happened to Rogers, to some extent at least. We also learn just what the story is going to become, as it essentially becomes a quest story. But lastly, it also finally gives readers a better idea of just what happened to Steve Rogers to lead to Hydra Cap.
And I think it's going to annoy just as many people as the infamous 'Hail Hydra' scene did way back when.
This issue's story gives us a little insight below the Darkforce Dome over Manhattan, as the heroes are overrun with demons attacking them, as well as the Resistance's divide and plans and Captain America and Hydra's quest. But is also ends at a glimpse elsewhere, with a revelation that completely turns the whole Captain America-goes-Nazi on its head: as we see another Steve Rogers, bearded and in a torn WW2 uniform, emerge from the woods to save a mysterious woman from snake-men.
Yeah, that's right, a second Steve Rogers – but Marvel and Spencer did not lie, this isn't a clone story. Nor is it an alternate reality story. But I do think this reveals that they have perpetrated not so much a misdirection as outright lie on readers, particularly those upset by the Hydra reveal, because I think it's clear now that this is indeed a level of mind-control involved.
The clues are there in the final pages. When the scene changes to this, despite being drawn by a different artist in Rod Reis, there is no caption to let us know where this scene is. This is telling because previously, every scene change to a new location is accompanied by a caption with the location. In fact, the only caption in the first panel of the woods reads simply, 'Hope.'
It's been theorised before that Secret Empire, and the long-haul HydraCap plot, is a look at the insidious nature of fascism. At how it can sneak in, through even legal means, and seize power.
I think this reveal adds a new layer to that, as it shows the insidious nature of fascist ideology. Because HydraCap is the real Steve Rogers – he's every dark thought Rogers ever had about how easy it would be to protect America using the methodology of Hydra. This second Steve Rogers is the idealist, the hope, that allowed him to fight for things the right way. The part of him that is the truest Steve Rogers, buried, hidden away by Kobik – and perhaps now with a chance of fighting to the fore again.
After all, who hasn't had the frustrated thought of 'wouldn't things be easier if everyone just agreed with me?', or even worse, but hopefully, the better part of ourselves can see why such actions are wrong and we work towards the harder, better path. HydraCap is what happens when the voice of hope and ideals is muted, or shouted over. HydraCap is what happens when the frustrations win.
Personally, I think this reveal will annoy plenty. Not just those previously upset by the HydraCap story, but also those who have in fact been enjoying it. I think many will feel that this has now gone beyond the use of misdirection a good writer can use, and more direct lying to the audience, to extend the outrage and upset for marketing effect. I think if this reveal had come much sooner, like say Steve Rogers: Captain America #3, then the upset and anger would not have been so bad.
Whatever the outcome of this end reveal, the issue itself is again written, technically speaking, very well, though I would argue that artist Andrea Sorrentino's panel layouts can be very confusing, though very beautiful. They make for impressive pages, but when the text is added, it can sometimes confuse the reader as to which order they read in. However, it does overall make for a pretty package.
Secret Empire has a way to go yet, but this issue gives us some huge steps in the story and direction of the plot. However, it will be interesting to see how these new elements are received.