This morning, Marvel Comics dropped a bomb on Captain America fans everywhere with the premiere issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers. (Spoilers to follow, naturally.)
The beloved, all-American superhero has been a staple in Marvel’s roster of characters nearly consistently since his debut in Captain America Comics #1 in 1941, with only a brief discontinuation of his series for a decade following flagging interest at the close of World War II. Ever since his revival in 1964, the star-spangled alter ego of Steve Rogers has been featured in various adaptations for both the big and small screens, most notably in current major motion picture Captain America: Civil War, portrayed by Chris Evans. The Captain America name has been synonymous with patriotic ideals ever since his inception as a supersoldier battling the evils of Axis Powers in the second World War. Enemies of the hero often embody distinctly anti-American values, including Nazism (e.g. Helmut Zemo, featured in Civil War), fascism, communism, anarchism and terrorism.
Hydra, an international and domestic terrorist organization bent on world domination through the installation of a fascist New World Order, has been a formidable foe of Captain America and his S.H.I.E.L.D. compatriots since its first appearance in issue #135 of Strange Tales in 1965. In the rather unassuming description of the debut issue of 2016’s Captain America: Steve Rogers, Marvel writes: “He’s back! The original Sentinel of Liberty returns, with a new shield, a new team, and a new mission! And he’s not the only one who’s back! Like the saying goes— cut off one LIMB, two more will take its place!”
So Captain America fans everywhere were doubtless floored when, in one of the closing panels of the comic, the hero (if we can still call him that) utters two shocking words after an exhaustive battle with Baron Zemo: “Hail Hydra.”
Yes, you read that correctly. It seems that the shield-bearing superhero, who has battled to defend American ideals for more than fifty years, is and always has been a member of the very ruthless terrorist organization he has been fighting since the ‘60s. Marvel executive Tom Brevoort has confirmed that the character who declared his allegiance to Hydra is, in fact, the authentic Steve Rogers and not an impostor or a shape-shifting Skrull. About the groundbreaking decision, Brevoort admitted:
We knew it would be like slapping people in the face. [...] The idea of Captain America means something very primal and very strong to the people of this nation, and they have a very visceral reaction when you get to something like that. You want people to feel and react to your story. So far, so good.
Beyond the initial shock value of the reveal, reverberations of the declaration will be felt all over the Marvel universe. Readers everywhere are questioning what this means for the hero’s current alliances and are surely craving the backstory that explains how Rogers pulled off double agency for so long. Brevoort has explained that, from the point of the revelation onward, Captain America’s mission is to further the mission and beliefs of Hydra, and it’ll be fascinating to watch how his newly-revealed allegiance clashes with his S.H.I.E.L.D. duties and former friends.
Captain America readers are in for a bumpy ride: the earth-shattering disclosure steers the franchise onto a completely novel path after some already-startling changes, like Sam Wilson (better known as the Falcon) being handed the Cap mantle several years ago after Rogers was drained of the super-serum that lent him his powers and transformed into a frail old man. Fans were relieved to find that the original Captain America had been restored at the end of Sam Wilson: Captain America #7, but thrown for a loop again after the newly-rejuvenated soldier divulged his dark side in today’s issue. We’ll have to hang onto our seats for more details until the second issue comes out on June 29.