Retcons, Reboots And Resurrections #35: Will The Real Steve Rogers Please Stand Up?

by Scott Redmond

In life, they say only three things are certain: birth, death, and change. Within comic books, the three things that are certain are that there will be retcons, reboots, and resurrections. Retcons are elements retroactively added to a character’s history, reboots can either be revivals of a character/their title or extensive changes to canon, and resurrections are characters clawing their way back from the afterlife. 

Each week we’ll explore the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to Retcons, Reboots, and Resurrections.

*This week we kick off the beginning of a whole month of Captain America-focused entries that look at various times the star-spangled Avenger has faced retcons, reboots, and resurrections!*

By their very nature, retcons are a truly messy situation. That’s not to say that there are not good ones that were additive to the character or series in the long run, but the fact that they are meant as a way to rework the past of a character or characters often with the subtlety of a sledgehammer can lead to issues. 

For every Moira is actually a mutant or Hank Pym’s daughter Nadia is a hero or Alfred raised Bruce Wayne type of retcon, there are a whole lot more of the Jor-El is Mister Oz or messy Clone Sagas or that whole giant constantly changing mess that is Magneto and the Maximoff twins family connection. These stories can be debated about or grumbled about by fans for months or even years, sometimes still hotly debated decades after they happened and even if subsequent stories wiped them away. 

All of them pale in comparison to the moment in 2017 when Steve Rogers/Captain America uttered two words that shattered everything fans thought they knew: Hail Hydra. 

Yes, let us now take a look at Secret Empire and the infamous time when Captain America was a member of Hydra/Nazi.

The Backstory:

Superheroes turning ‘bad’ is a story trope that has been around forever, and at this point basically, any hero that one can think of in any ongoing story/franchise has taken their turn in the villain seat. Generally, it’s about creating the inverse of what the hero stands for and making them do things they normally would be against. In the case of Captain America, his inverse is the Red Skull/Hydra/Nazis. 

So a bit of backstory to how this change came about. 

All the way back in 2014, Steve Rogers had a brutal battle with a villain known as Iron Nail in Captain America #24 by Rick Remender and Nic Klein. The climax of the battle included the villain stripping Rogers of the super-soldier serum that empowered him and kept him stuck in a youthful state. As a result, of course, Steve lost all those powers and subsequently began to rapidly age to be more fitting of his actual around 90-something-year-old state of being. 

Unable to be Captain America anymore, he turned the shield over to his best friend and partner Sam Wilson/Falcon, who became the new Captain America. Not done being a hero though, Steve stayed on to guide Sam and remained as the active head of S.H.I.E.L.D. which kept him in the superhero game. This remained the status quo on the other side of the universe-altering Secret Wars event of 2015 and came to a conclusion with 2016’s Avengers: Standoff! event. 

Basically, to make a long story short, this event saw Maria Hill and S.H.I.E.L.D. create a town called Pleasant Hill where they stashed supervillains whose minds and appearances were altered through the use of a Cosmic Cube (an all-powerful device that bends reality itself). Not just any Cosmic Cube though, a sentient shard of a cube that took on the name Kobik and the appearance of a young girl. As expected, the villains found out and broke free and heroes were brought in to help and it all went to hell. 

This is where Steve’s old man experience came to an end. As Sam, Steve and Bucky took part in this event and tried to bring chaos under control their old foe Crossbones attacked and was beating Steve to death. Kobik intervened and turned Steve back young and restored his super-soldier serum, allowing him to fight back and stand beside his friends again. 

Unfortunately, Kobik’s intervention was the beginning of something awful, as she didn’t bring back the right Steve Rogers. 

The Nitty Gritty:

Shortly after this event a second Captain America series, Captain America: Steve Rogers, was launched to follow Steve’s return to carrying the shield while Sam still functioned as Captain America in his own book, Captain America: Sam Wilson. In the first issue of Steve’s book, we see him dealing with a variety of things including the emergence of Hydra once again and the return of Baron Zemo. The patriotic-themed heroes Jack Flagg and Free Spirit, as well as original Marvel sidekick Rick Jones, were along for the ride as part of Cap’s new team. 

Then came the end of the first issue, when the internet was broken. As Cap seems to be rescuing a scientist from Zemo, Jack Flagg intervenes and then is promptly thrown out of the jet by Captain America who then turns and yells out “Hail Hydra.” Cue the minds and hearts of many fans bursting at that moment. 

Essentially we find out later that Red Skull had met Kobik in the past and manipulated her into believing that Hydra were the good guys and had always been good. Therefore when she brought back Steve alterations were made to his past that saw a version of events where Steve’s father abused his mother who was saved by a member of Hydra which led eventually to Steve joining them. It made it so that everything Steve had done as a hero over the years was as part of his deep cover, biding time till Hydra could take back control. 

This entire 2016 series followed Steve threading the line and behind the scenes moving Hydra’s plans forward. Eventually, he offed Red Skull and took full control of Hydra before using them and the Cosmic Cube to achieve dominance over the United States. Heroes were lured off-world and then a shield was enacted to keep them off as Hydra took control, including obliterating Las Vegas to get the Avengers and capturing all of New York inside of a Darkforce bubble. 

2017’s Secret Empire event depicted all of these events, as the heroes turned into rebels to push back against a world controlled by Hydra, a fact that some people and places seemed to welcome. Rick Jones was killed by Captain America, and Black Widow also died at his hands, and the heroes were pushed to the very brink by the villain wearing the face of a supposed friend. In the end, it was revealed that the real Steve Rogers was trapped in the Cosmic Cube and Kobik eventually appeared there and helped him regain all his memories and escape. 

There were now two Steve Rogers, one evil and one good, and they fought with the good one prevailing in the end. Evil Steve was locked up, but the damage was done as for a while the world mistrusted Captain America since his was the face of their oppressor. 

That didn’t last too long as many stories haven’t really referenced that again. 

The Verdict:

At its core, this story was flawed. The concept of turning heroes evil isn’t a bad one, because as stated at the beginning it has been done forever, but the execution and choice in this matter were bad. Turning Captain America into a Nazi was never going to go over well, especially since at the time they (writer Nick Spencer and Marvel PR, as well as then Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso) kept pushing that this was the “real” Captain America. 

Yes, one can say they were attempting misdirection to not spoil the eventual conclusion of their stories. Still not great, since it took the better part of a year to reach that conclusion, with them saying it was the real Steve that whole time. So one can easily imagine how pissed fans were at the time. 

All of the public debacle surrounding this event and the way it was handled were part of the overall set of issues that led to Marvel choosing to let Alonso go and instead bring in C.B. Cebulski (a longtime Marvel editor and supervisor who once pretended to be a Japanese man known as Akira Yoshida in order to break their rules about editors writing books, which he has never been punished for) and begin a big reset of their books at the time known as Fresh Start

Spencer though was eventually handed the keys to Amazing Spider-Man, which we’ll get to eventually since that run was wild bonkers retcon city. 

A long way to point out that, it was not great. Not great at all as a story or an event. Best left forgotten. 

Next Week: Captain America’s wibbly wobbly timey whimey death-related adventure.

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