12:18pm PT by Graeme McMillan
'Captain America: Steve Rogers' Twist Shifts Balance of Power in Marvel's Comic Book Universe
[Warning: This story contains spoilers for Captain America: Steve Rogers No. 15]
Even as Marvel's comic book universe heads toward being overrun by Hydra in this summer's Secret Empire storyline, the latest issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers reveals that one mainstay of the fascist organization surprisingly won't be part of the new regime.
The climax of the new issue of the Steve Rogers series has been building to this month's launch of Secret Empire for almost a year at this point. It sees Rogers — the original Captain America, whose past has been rewritten so that he's now an undercover Hydra agent — confront the Red Skull, who's been in charge of the terrorist organization for some time … and kill him.
The confrontation was inevitable; one of the running plots of the Steve Rogers storyline has been that Rogers has become transformed into a zealot who believes in the ideals behind Hydra, and sees the Skull as someone who has perverted them for his own ends. To make matters more complicated, the Skull was the man responsible for rewriting Rogers' history to make him into a Hydra agent in the first place, a fact he reveals to the onetime hero before his death.
At the end of the issue, Rogers has gathered together a number of familiar supervillains — including Madame Hydra, mad scientist Arnim Zola and Baron Zemo — as the nucleus of the new generation of Hydra that will take over the world in Secret Empire, which begins with an issue released April 19.
The death of the Red Skull indirectly answers a criticism many fans have leveled at the long-running storyline — namely, that Captain America has allied himself with a Nazi organization, even under the influence of others. Although Hydra initially had Nazi-related origins in comic book lore, that has been retconned a number of times so that the organization now significantly predates World War II, with the Red Skull being the largest remaining link between the fictional group and the real-life Nazi Party. Showing Rogers explicitly reject the Skull's leadership — and, indeed, kill the character — is a clear metaphor that this Captain America, even altered, is not allied with a Nazi ideology.
As for fans worried about the Red Skull, don't be; this isn't the first time that he's "died," and going on past evidence, he'll be back within a few years, somehow healthier than ever.
Captain America: Steve Rogers No. 15 is available digitally and in comic book stores now.