The Once and Future Captain America: A Secret Empire Hypothesis

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room first. In Marvel’s House of Ideas anything goes these days our good guys act like bad guys and our bad guys are now good guys. Sure, it can be an interesting plot device to make what we consider good and virtuous, evil and rank, because it humanizes our heroes. Deep down inside all of us, although we want the good guys to be moral and virtuous, we also sadistically want to see them fall. Personally, I don’t like this kind of story. In most attempts to tell this kind of story it becomes a cheap plot device and lacks creativity, rarely working, or moving the character forward. One of the few examples where it worked was Superior Spider-man. Being a big Peter Parker Spider-man fan I didn’t think I would like Doc Ock taking over Peter’s brain and becoming the Superior Spider-man. Yet, the story was so well written, I couldn’t stop reading. That made it all that more rewarding when Peter dramatically came back. However, this is no Spider-man story, it’s about the fall of Captain America.

Nick Spencer is a good writer, his stories are well done, and he was an appropriate choice to follow Rick Remender. I love the Captain America story arc Rick Remender wrote. It was fresh and I truly believe it moved Captain America foreword and gave him a new purpose. Here are some of the plot points from his arc I believe are critical to Captain America’s story today. One, Steve defeated Zola in Z world with the help of Sharon and their newly adopted son Ian. Ian would later take on the mantel of Nomad. Two, the battle with the Nail left Steve de-powered and elderly, but the end result was that old man Steve Rogers now oversaw S.H.I.E.L.D. and he was finally able to focus on his relationship with Sharon. It seemed Steve had finally been given an opportunity to grow up a little and etch out a life for himself. Three, Steve passed on the mantel of Cap to Sam Wilson.

I was so excited to see the direction Marvel would take the Wilson character. The Rick Remender story that lead up to Secret Wars was brilliant. Remender introduced Sam Wilson as Captain America, the Infinite Elevator and the death of Nomad. His death was a surprise wrinkle to the story, but it wasn’t the end. We find out in Rick Remender’s Secret Wars story, Hail Hydra, that Nomad did not die, but he jumped into the Infinite Elevator at the last second before the building exploded and ended up opening the elevator in a part of battleworld. It is my opinion Rick Remender set up all the plot devices needed to satisfy Nick Spencer’s current Secret Empire storyline. This leads me to one of many Secret Empire theories I want to discuss today.

For me, it all begins with Pleasant Hill, but before we can get into that part of the story I need to give you some background information. First the story begins with Maria Hill, who was the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. She had a secret reality shaping weapons program called “Kobik.” The information about the weapons program is leaked six months prior to the events that take place in Pleasant Hill by a hacker named Whisper, also known as Rick Jones. If you don’t know who Rick Jones is, google him and you will find out that Rick has been a sidekick to the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and Rom the Spaceknight. He has a great amount of knowledge and experience in the Marvel Universe. Anyway, back to Kobik. Whisper release all the details of the program, explaining that it was S.H.I.E.L.D.’s intent to use the Cosmic Cube fragments to reshape all reality to make the world a safer place.

After being relieved as director Maria Hill promises to shut down the program, but she doesn’t and like all super spies she lies that she did, even to Steve Rogers. The Kobik program continues in secret and ends up explosively creating a sentient Cosmic Cube, named Kobik after the program. In the comic book “Standoff: Welcome to Pleasant Hill” it is explained that Kobik is made up of fragments from many different Cosmic Cubes with many masters. Kobik in this story is a sentient, reality warping, Cosmic Cube and not the first Cosmic Cube to gain sentience. There was one already in the Marvel 616 universe whose name sounds very familiar namely Kubik. I will talk more about this point later as I reveal my theory. Kobik’s creation causes a couple different effects, number one the Winter Soldier, Bucky Barnes returns after guarding the Earth from Cosmic threats in space. He attempts to find a Cosmic threat on Earth. This leads him to Pleasant Hill ultimately warning Steve Rogers about the threat. This leads Maria Hill to come clean with Steve Rogers about Pleasant Hill and Kobik. As this is happening, Whisper (Rick Jones) is also led to reach out and meet with Captain America, Sam Wilson. He wanted to tell him about Kobik and Pleasant Hill. Captain America calls in his Avenger Squad, because he expects trouble. Steve Rogers and Maria Hill arrive in Pleasant Hill first and she introduces Steve to Kobik and Dr Selvig.

Maria Hill explains to Steve Rogers the experiment involving Pleasant Hill. They have tried many diverse types supervillain prisons and they always become revolving doors, with the supervillains that go back to the streets wreaking havoc on society again. She tells Cap she took a queue from the Steve Rogers playbook and she rethought the Kobik program. Coming up with a smaller scale plan. Instead of reshaping all of reality she decided to only reshape the lives of the captured supervillains. Pleasant Hill is a real town, but the people who live there have had their reality shaped by Kobik to be the mild-mannered folks. Basically, all the supervillains are imprisoned within themselves and Hill uses only a small contingent of S.H.I.E.L.D agents and a Stark-tech force field to keep them from getting out. What could go wrong there? Steve somehow perceived it would not work as she planned.

Unknown to them Phil the Mechanic, also known as the Fixer, in his spare time dabbles in creating devices. Usually he is compelled to destroy them. However, before he can destroy one of these devices he accidentally creates one that restores his memories. Another anomaly happens with a prisoner named Jim, who is without memories of his life at Pleasant Hill at all. This causes him to not accept the reality and he attempts to escape repeatedly. Finally, he meets a young girl, named Kobik, in the forest and she basically tells him that he needs to find his purpose to be happy. Phil, because of his restored memories, finds Jim, knowing who he is, and exposes him to his memory restoring device. When he is exposed we find out, Jim is none other than Baron Helmut Zemo and the device does not just restore memories, but has the power restore reality. If you were wondering what could go wrong. This is pretty much what could go wrong. This is how the prison town of Pleasant Hill became a catastrophe.

As Maria Hill clarifies all the virtues of Pleasant Hill, Baron Zemo and the Fixer are restoring more and more supervillains. Almost as a karmic payback for what Hill did, one of the residents walks into her office and without warning changes into Nitro and explodes injuring Steve Rogers and Maria Hill. To make matters worse they are then captured by Baron Zemo and the rest of his supervillain gang. I am omitting a bunch of Avenger’s stuff that is unimportant to the explanation of what happened to Elderly Steve Rogers and has nothing to do with the point I am trying to make about what happens to him. Shortly after they are captured the Red Skull makes an appearance, telepathically disguised as the resident priest Father Patrick. He convinces Zemo to release Director Hill and Steve Rogers for medical help. We later find out it was Red Skull’s intention to get Steve alone and put him in danger.

Kobik seems to have disappeared after the blast. After attending to Maria Hill, Steve Rogers goes in search of Kobik and he finds her in Stuckey’s Bowl, her favorite place in the town. Also, we find out later this is same location that Kobik was indoctrinated by the Red Skull as Father Patrick. However, as soon as Steve gets in there, Crossbones who previously was reshaped to be an employee of the bowling alley, is returned to his original form. A battle to the death with Crossbones ensues in the bowling alley. As this elderly, de-powered Steve Rogers fights to protect Kobik, we see Crossbones is beating him to death, Caps memories flash before his eyes. Memories of the Marvel Universe as we have known it to be and not memories of some Hydra propaganda life he lived. Right as he is about to die Kobik appears to give him back his life, youth and restore him back to peak health. Here is the moment that is both the beginning and the end of the Steve Rogers we know. This is where I also begin to theorize who the newly rejuvenated Steve Rogers really is.

Catelyst
Catelyst

This is where my theory begins. First, we know that Kobik is not the cosmic cube from earth 616 or what is called the original Marvel Universe, but shards from many different Cosmic Cubes potentially from many different universes. I speculate that those shards were placed here by Franklin Richards when re-creating this universe. The Franklin Richards and Fantastic Four connection is drawn from the end of the most recent Mega Marvel event called Secret Wars. At the end of this series we see the Richard’s Family working outside space and time to restore the multi-verse. I further speculate the reason Franklin would leave these shards in the 616 Universe it is because he would believe they would be safe here, because he knows the Heroes in 616 should be able to handle the power. Perhaps it would be the reason that Heroes from two Marvel Universes exist here. Several Heroes from the Ultimate Marvel universe 1610 now reside in this universe. Also, Franklin essentially is the definitive cosmic cube himself so maybe he could not destroy their power because they are the same as his power. Since it seems the shards are from different universes in the Marvel multiverse, then I could hypothesize Kobik has many different realities flowing in her brain. I will discuss that later. We also know she was drawn to the Red Skull because of his desire for her power, though we know she reasoned because of her child like mind, it was because of love for her. So, when she restores Steve Rogers youth and strength, it is my guess, she brings the Steve Rogers from her original reality into this one replacing the non-hydra trained Cap with one that is suitable to her misguided value system and the desire to please the Red Skull. This value system that Herr Schmidt, Red Skull himself, has been recently re-enforcing in Kobik’s mind.

You may not know the mystery about Dr. Erik Selvig, that he did not exist in the Marvel Comic universe before this story line. It is possible he could be from the Hydra universe we see in the Captain America Steve Roger Comic book. This may also be the reason he appears to kill himself to keep Captain America from getting the fragments of Kobik and my guess is, Dr. Selvig may not have killed himself, but transported himself to Counter-earth, more on Counter-Earth below. We also see what happens to Red Skull’s Daughter Sin when Kobik meets her for the first time in Captain America Steve Rogers Issue Two; Kobik changes her to the likeness she is familiar with, possibly the look Sin had in her memory of the Hydra universe. My final reason why I think she has different universes swimming around in her head is because as the Red Skull is talking about the plan he has for Rogers and how this will be perfect, he still has Xavier’s brain in this head, it is possible he glimpsed Kobik’s multi-dimensional brain and saw what would make him happiest, Hydra Captain America. Kobik is all about pleasing people so when the opportunity comes up she does just what the Skull wants. Ultimately, I do not believe Kobik is evil, just as Maria Hill and Dr Selvig say, she is “broken.” I speculate that she is driven to remake things in her own understanding, with the intention to please those who seem to love her. We have seen flashes of one of Kobik’s reality throughout Captain America Steve Rogers and now in Secret Empire. One specific memory flashback sparked the next part of my theory.

Introduced in Secret Empire zero is the Catalyst or as I like to call it the “Infinite Pool”. It is what sparked the next part of my theory and leads me to my conjecture of how Nomad may return and become involved in the Secret Empire story. The Catalyst reminded me of another device that appears to remove people from space and time of their reality, the Infinite Elevator. As I mentioned above the Infinite Elevator was introduced in the new Captain America series pre-Secret Wars and it has played a key role in that story arc making it hard for our Heroes to track the villains. However, in the most notable last battle between Captain America (Sam Wilson), Baron Zemo and Nomad (Ian Rogers), Zemo is physically defeated by Nomad, but has set the base to self-destruct. So, Nomad sacrifices himself to keep Zemo busy so Captain America can get away to stop the last chemical bomb that is about to go off. We seem to see Nomad die with Baron Zemo, but I think Zemo is dead and the Zemo we see in Pleasant Hill is Kobik’s Hydra centric reality. I believe he was created or brought to Pleasant Hill by Kobik, because he has no memories of the Pleasant Hill and that is what make him the anomaly I mentioned before. Returning to Ian Rogers. We find out in Secret Wars, the Ian Rogers traveled from reality 616, and is not dead, because he made it into the Infinite Elevator before Zemo’s Underwater Hydra base was destroyed. This is where we see him stepping out of the Infinite Elevator into the Secret Wars Battleworld of Hail Hydra. As a side note, if you have not read the Hail Hydra story it is one of the better side stories in Secret Wars. When I read Secret Empire zero and saw the Catalyst, I was reminded that Marvel physics allows for cosmic powered devices to live outside space and time. The Catalyst, which appears to be such a device, led me to remember other such devices like the Infinite Elevator and the lifeboats Reed Richards built to survive the destruction of 616 universe leading into Secret Wars. It is why Captain America, of Kobik’s Universe, had to get into the Catalyst so that he would be unaffected by the Cosmic Cube that the Allies used to change reality to defeat Hydra at the end of that world’s World War II, but more about that later.

Sam Wilson Captain America 7
Sam Wilson Captain America 7

As we see in Secret Empire Hydra Cap enters the Catalyst right before the Allied forces use the Cosmic Cube to change reality. I speculate after the reality shift in his own universe the Hydra Cap was trapped suspended in space time for “x” number of years from 1945 like the 616 Cap was frozen in ice for the same number of years. So, when Hydra Cap is waking up from his sleep in the pool he comes out knowing the differences in the world and he follows his programming from Madame Hydra to live in society until he can restore Hydra. Therefore, he would have many similar experiences as 616 Cap with slightly different outcomes. While defeating Hydra in the open he would be secretly re-establishing them in the background. Finally, he did not experience the battle that left him elderly or even the story how Ian came into this world, because Arnim Zola would not be dead in his reality.

Now !!!Spoilers!!! If you have not read issue 2 of Secret Empire STOP do not read any further.

The shocking surprise at the end of Secret Empire #2 is a panel with another Steve Rogers in military fatigues on the last page. Who is this Steve Rogers? Well my final theory is that is the Steve Rogers of 616. I believe Kobik before the change of Rogers read his mind and just like she did with Maria Hill and in the same way wanting to please the elderly Steve Rogers she did what she said, “I can make you strong again, I can make you a hero again.” I believe she sent him away to a time and place where he could be strong, young and a hero. Steve Rogers instead of accepting that reality has been fighting his way back from there ever since. Two possibilities where Steve Rogers is. One, he is in Weird World, because that is where lost things go in the current Marvel Universe. Two, he is on Counter Earth. What is Counter Earth, well it is Earth in the same orbit as our Earth on the exact opposite side of the sun. We last saw it in Uncanny Avengers Vol 2 where the High Evolutionary has conquered and the Unity Squad must save the creatures of the planet. 616 Steve Rogers is in the last panel of Secret Empire 2, he finds himself battling his way through that world, fighting to protect all those he can. I believe he is being led by some force or drive which will lead him to a specific location. Let me pause right and say, here is where I think Ian Rogers plays a part in the story, you may think I am crazy for speculating this, but here it goes. I think when Steve gets to the location, perhaps an odd-looking door if it is Counter Earth or if it’s Weird World a wall in a cave with strange carvings on it. Whichever it is it will open, Ian will see Steve Rogers and pull him into the Infinite Elevator. Perhaps if Ellie, the daughter of Steve and Sharon Rogers from Hail Hydra battleworld comic, did not die she will be introduced as their first ally.

From there we will find out the Infinite Elevator isn’t working quite right and they are just guessing how to get back to 616 or the current Marvel Universe. This will cause more conflict to the story, but will lead to the gathering the allies as they reach a climactic unforeseen battle with Hydra Cap. Just as Hydra Cap believes he has squashed the resistance and is about to execute the avengers who were leading the resistance the 616 Cap appears from the elevator and a great battle will happen, ending in the triumph of… I think I will let Nick Spencer finish the story off. I should confess I am not pleased with the Heroes I admire becoming the villain in a story I care to read, but it is Captain America so I will give it a chance.

Thanks for reading,

Travis