The road to Marvel’s upcoming Secret Empire is quickly running out, and as a result, this week's Captain America: Steve Rogers #13 by writer Nick Spencer and artists Ro Stein and Ted Brandt is spent setting up some of the final pieces of the pieces of the puzzle – including giving us our first glimpse of what Steve’s “Secret Empire” might actually look like.
Spoilers Ahead for Captain America: Steve Rogers #13.
Steve Rogers #13 hopscotches through several different moments in time, all of which are pivotal to the eventual formation of the so-called Secret Empire. In flashbacks, we finally see Steve in action as Captain America in the 1940s. In fact, we jump to the end of his World War II days, when he and Bucky were lost fighting Baron Zemo.
The familiar flashback plays out very differently than has been told and retold since the 1960s however, as Bucky isn't the one to die on the experimental rocket. No, in this post-Kubik timeline instigated by the Red Skull, it is Baron Heinrich Zemo that dies with the rocket - while his son (and Steve’s closest friend) Helmut Zemo looks on.
Blaming Bucky for his father’s death, Helmut snaps. The results aren’t shown, but this is implied to be the moment of Steve and Helmut’s falling out – and if the timeline is connected to the previous continuity, it’s this action that also may have resulted in Steve being froze and Bucky being left for dead, only to be captured by the Russians.
Meanwhile in present-day time, Zemo interrogates a seemingly average suburban man, slowly revealing the secret behind his actions. As it turns out, Zemo plans to recruit an army of villains who were captured and altered at Pleasant Hill (as seen in "Avengers: Standoff!") using data collected by Dr. Selvig to find them. Behind Steve’s back, Zemo and Selvig track down and recruit dozens of villains including the Wrecking Crew, the Serpent Society, the Circus of Crime. This culminates in Zemo bringing an unidentified villain to his headquarters and telling him “You are with your true family now.”
The mystery villain’s identity is never revealed, but the full scope of Zemo’s team echoes the veritable army of Masters of Evil he assembled when he laid siege to Avengers Mansion in the classic 1980s crossover "Under Siege."
While all this is going on, Red Skull and his daughter Sin unearth and seize a forgotten cache of Cold War era nuclear weapons. Finally, the issue ends on a scene of the Thunderbolts training, in which Kobik seems to get a strange look in her eye, possibly implying the Red Skull still has influence over her.
The next issue, Captain America: Steve Rogers #14, is due out on shelves March 22.