January saw the conclusion of Marvel’s Civil War II storyline with the release of Civil War II: The Oath. This issue marked a distinct change from the second half of this event, with a shift back to the reasoning behind people’s stances in the war rather than the all-out battles we have seen, and also worked as an homage to the ending of the original Civil War storyline, while continuing to build on the work of Nick Spencer in the Steve Rogers solo title. Ultimately, this combined to create an incredible conclusion to the event, while also building to a potentially even more damaging storyline to come in the next year.
The issue is largely focussed on a ‘conversation’ between Captain America and Tony Stark, although Stark is comatose following his final fight with Captain Marvel during the Civil War. This dynamic seeks to reflect the fallout of the original Civil War series, which featured a similar scenario, although in that iteration it was Stark talking to the body of Steve Rogers, who was killed shortly after the war ended. The conversation hits on the well-established relationship between Rogers and Stark, with Cap explaining how he knew Tony would oppose the notion of using Ulysses’ visions to prevent catastrophes. However, Steve explains that this was not something he knew because Tony was against profiling, but because allowing the use of these visions as evidence would force Tony to admit that he was not in control of his own future, and he knew this was something Stark could not bear to admit. This demonstrates some excellent writing by Spencer, as it evidences the strong relationship between the two that has existed since some of Marvel’s earliest comics, and the fact that both characters are so familiar with each other that they can understand the psychology of one another.
But Stark’s comatose state, and his stance in the war, are not the only things brought into sharp definition in this issue. It also sets the groundwork for Marvel’s next event that has been teased over the last few months, that of the ‘Secret Empire’. Most have already assumed that this event would focus on Captain America’s secret HYDRA affiliation, and the building of a new covert HYDRA empire led by Steve. However, the groundwork for how this may come about is cleared up in this issue. Following the fallout of both the Civil War and the Pleasant Hill incident, a mass breakout from a S.H.I.E.L.D prison where criminals had their history rewritten by the sentient Cosmic Cube now known as Kobik, Maria Hill was removed as head of S.H.I.E.L.D, and Captain America has now been elected to take this position in an attempt to restore the public’s faith in the institution. Moreover, Steve has been given new emergency powers in his role, that would allow him to have a position more powerful than most areas of the US Government in the event of a ‘national state of emergency’. While this would appear fine to any US citizen within the Marvel Universe, the awareness readers have of Cap’s hidden allegiance to HYDRA makes this revelation all the more concerning.
The issue intentionally makes comparisons and allusions to historical events that have occurred from the outcome if placing mass power into the hands of one individual or institution, hinting at inevitable corruption and abuse of power. The true ramification of this is revealed though at the end of the issue, in which Cap states his intention to destroy everything Tony cares about, and talks about his experience of the vision which shocked most of the heroes seen at the end of Civil War II #5, that of Miles Morales killing Captain America on the steps of the Capitol Building. While at the time this seemed a hint to the outcome of the war, both Steve and Miles in this issue imply that this vision was not necessarily a vision of the immediate future, but of a possible future. However, Steve takes this one step further, stating that while the rest of the heroes were distracted by the image of Miles and Steve, he instead looked around, and saw the future of America.
The future shown is a disturbing one indeed, showing the rise of HYDRA in the US to take control of everything. From the media to law enforcement, from the military to schools, HYDRA seems to be the future of Marvel’s America. Moreover, the images of the future appear to show both Mutants and Inhumans to be targets of this HYDRA regime. One image shows a young boy running from three others wearing HYDRA shirts, possibly trying to attack him for showing a mutant power, while another seems to show both Mutants and Inhumans behind a barbed wire fence. Whether this is a border barrier, an area they are confined to live in, or the more worrying possibility of a camp is currently unknown, but either way the future for these groups does not look promising.
How this Empire will come about is also unknown, but another issue has shown that Cap planned to use an already mentioned event to create the ‘national state of emergency’ needed to start the rise of this empire. This is mainly shown in Captain America: Steve Rogers #10, in which Cap and the Red Skull discuss the idea that the new global defence shield that is being promoted by Captain Marvel to prevent against cosmic threats could prevent an attack from a wave of the Chitauri said to outnumber the Annihalation Wave. In this conversation, it is stated that this was their plan from the start, however this new shield has prevented that outcome, and is forcing a new plan to be formed.
Yet, there seems another loose end to this story, something which seems to put as much fear and uncertainty into this event as another of Marvel’s “Secret” events. This being the Secret Invasion storyline that was published in 2008, again another event referenced by Cap in his list of events that drove the heroes of the Marvel world to become distanced from the people they protect, and more interested in fighting among themselves. In this event, which ran with the tagline of ‘Who Do You Trust?’, Marvel’s heroes attempted to find a hidden Skrull army that had taken the form of numerous heroes whom they had abducted and replaced in order to invade Earth. Captain America’s HYDRA devotion is a change to his history brought about by Kobik when she returned him to his youthful state during the Standoff event, having already done the same to Dr Erik Selvig during the same event.
During the Standoff event, a large number of other key Marvel characters were both present in Pleasant Hill, and a number of them had their personalities changed by Kobik. During this event, not only was Captain America transformed by Kobik, but so were all the villains incarcerated there, a number of whom are now part of the Thunderbolts, along with both the Avengers and the Unity Squad. This could potentially mean that any of these characters may have also been turned to believe in the ideals of HYDRA, and may well help to bring about the new Secret Empire. Moreover, a number of characters including Captain Marvel, Black Bolt and Rocket Raccoon among others, have been shown on a teaser image alongside Steve Rogers. Teasers have also indicated that titles such as Amazing Spider-Man, The Champions and the Defenders will be involved in the event, although to what extent and in what roles are still areas full of speculation.
Overall, Marvel’s teases for the upcoming ‘Secret Empire’ look like they may well be setting to create a drastic shift in the Marvel Universe, and that ultimately Ulysses’ vision of Captain America’s death may well come to pass.
Since this article was initially written, Comic Book Resources has published an official announcement from Marvel on the Secret Empire event, which has promised to be a more classic story with clearly defined ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’, unlike the recent spate of hero vs hero events. That there are bad guys still implies the potential for some heroes to have been brainwashed to Cap’s way of thinking, however it could also simply mean Cap, Selvig and Zemo as a group. Either way, the kick-off of this event will come in April, and I for one am looking forward to it.
Read the CBR article here