There are honestly times when I wonder if Marvel Comics even likes their characters. Over the last few years we have seen them nearly destroy long-standing characters in the name of a summer crossover. Peter Parker gave way to the Superior Spider Man and for some Spider-Man has never been the same. Cyclops of the X-men turned his back on Charles Xavier’s dream(not to mention killing him) becoming the worlds worst mutant terrorist and the character never recovered.
Now it is Steve Rogers turn. Through the summer most of Marvel’s books will be immersed in the Secret Empire crossover. No longer our Captain America, Rogers is now Captain Hydra. Not surprisingly there has been quite a bit pushback against this storyline.
Basic premise is simple. The Red Skull manipulated a sentient Cosmic Cube into fundamentally changing Steve Rogers into being a secret double agent for Hydra.
It is not unusual to try to put a character in uncomfortable situations or even fundamentally place them in situations that go against their true nature. Sometimes it can work wonderfully and show the depth of these characters we have grown to love over the years. It simply does not feel like this is one of those times. The trick is sticking the landing.
One of the problems many fans have is simply Cap secretly being a member of Hydra. Regardless of the story reason it is hard for fans to choke down. Hydra is not simply a villainous organization that Captain America has battled over the years, they are the comics stand in for the Nazis from World War II. Captain America more than any other character has represented the United States fighting the evil that the Nazis have always represented. Turning that on its head is flat-out offensive to many fans.
And no matter how many times Marvel and writer Nick Spencer try to insist that Hydra no longer equals the Nazis no one is buying.
The end game is the other problem. The Secret Empire story could be great and horrible at the same time. There are interesting ideas being put out here. The idea of how devastating a villain Captain America could be is intriguing and frankly devastating. The question is what is next?
To make the story great they would have to destroy the hero of Captain America utterly making him the premiere villain in the Marvel Universe. The usual method of returning things to some semblance of normal with Cap as the great American hero…I am not sure there is a way to walk things back. He has killed, he has murdered. Not random characters but friends, heroes that look up to him. That is not something simple brushed aside.
I have friends who insist this storyline makes Cap a tragic figure(as if he was not from the get go). I do not see it. If it was brainwashing or a dozen other comic related tropes maybe. But they used the Cosmic Cube. Marvel Comics ultimate deus ex machine. So not only does Rogers think he is loyal to Hydra. He is fundamentally changed to the core. He does not think he is loyal to Hydra, He is.
Ultimately changing him back to the Cap we all know and love in such a way will feel…it will feel like Bobby Ewing stepping out of the shower in Dallas-it was just a dream. That might actually be worse than making him a villain.
At the end of the day Steve Rogers will be damaged goods.