AMERICAN NIGHTMARE1 of 12This week, Secret Empire #1 showed exactly what America looks like under Hydra’s rule – and it ain’t pretty. Steve Rogers has become a flat-out fascist dictator, even murdering his own friends to maintain his power.
But Marvel has assured fans that – even though this is the real Steve Rogers – his evil deeds are the fault of the Red Skull and the Cosmic Cube, making Steve a victim on some level as well.
Sadly Steve’s Hydra corruption is only the latest in a long string of hard times for the Star-Spangled Avenger.
From cloning, to rapid aging, to even lycanthropy, Steve has suffered more than most superheroes, let alone most normal people. What follows is an examination of the worst things Steve Rogers has ever been through.
Strap in – it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
CAPWOLF2 of 12One time, Captain America got turned into a wolfman in a story called “Man And Wolf." This wasn’t just bad for Steve Rogers, it was bad for everyone.
RED SKULL CLONES STEVE ROGERS3 of 12Despite being preserved by his physical alterations for years, Captain America’s greatest foe the Red Skull died of old age, leaving a power vacuum in his organization. However, his ally Arnim Zola preserved his consciousness, eventually transferring it into a new body – a clone made from the DNA of none other than Steve Rogers himself.
In his new body, Skull denounced Nazism, infiltrating the U.S. government and enacting a plan that eventually led to the government rescinding Steve’s Captain America identity, giving it to John Walker, the former Super Patriot, with Steve calling himself “The Captain” and operating outside U.S. jurisdiction.
Steve eventually reclaimed the mantle of Captain America after coming face-to-face with the Skull in his own cloned body. In the ensuing conflict, the Skull accidentally dosed himself with his “dust of death,” twisting his face into the grim visage of a crimson skull once again.
DIMENSION Z4 of 12When Steve Rogers foiled an attempt by Arnim Zola to invade America with genetically modified monsters of his own making, he was trapped in Dimension Z, a world out of time where Zola conducted his experiments. Rescuing a baby that was cloned by Zola, Steve survived for years in the wilderness of this strange land, raising the child as his own son.
After spending years in Dimension Z, during which only a short time passed in the real world, Rogers and his son Ian, now grown, launched a final assault against Zola’s base as Zola once again attempted an invasion. In the wake of the conflict, Rogers was rescued by Sharon Carter, though not before she seemingly killed Ian, mistaking him for an enemy, and was lost in Dimension Z herself.
Sharon and Ian later returned to Earth, with Sharon having aged into a much older woman, and Ian emerging as a full-grown adult who briefly fought alongside Steve, his surrogate father, taking Steve’s former codename “Nomad."
SECRET EMPIRE... NO, THE OTHER ONE5 of 12Writer Steve Englehart’s landmark Captain America run came to its nadir when Steve Rogers discovered that the Secret Empire, an evil organization dedicated to world domination, had placed secret agents in the highest offices of the United States government. The story culminated in a fight on the White House lawn, with Cap pursuing the Secret Empire’s leader, Number One, into the Oval Office.
In their fateful confrontation, Number One revealed himself as the president of the U.S. – writer Englehart later confessed the character was meant to represent Richard Nixon, though his face was never shown on panel – who killed himself in front of Rogers rather than face reprisal for his actions.
During this arc, Rogers gave up the mantle of Captain America, operating for a time as Nomad, an identity later used by his adopted son, Ian Rogers.
The organization known as the Secret Empire also lent their name to the current event in which a Hydra-corrupted Steve Rogers has taken over America.
IRON NAIL6 of 12Everyone knows how Steve Rogers became Captain America. He was recruited to a secret military experiment that injected his body with a Super Soldier Serum that made him the pinnacle of human physicality. Decades later, after operating as Captain America since World War II, Steve lost his Super Soldier Serum when a Chinese operative calling himself Iron Nail drained it from his body.
Steve immediately aged into a much older man, closer to the age he would have been without being frozen for years and preserved by the Serum. He had to relinquish the mantle of Captain America to his longtime partner and friend Sam Wilson, the Falcon, who still operates as Captain America alongside the recently rejuvenated Steve Rogers.
Of course, that rejuvenation led to another terrible turn for Steve – the rewriting of his entire reality to make him an agent of Hydra.
CIVIL WAR7 of 12As the default organizer of Marvel’s heroes and the most well known leader of the Avengers, Captain America is kind of the ultimate team player in the Marvel Universe. But all of that went out the window when a philosophical debate with Iron Man, his oldest ally in the Avengers, turned into an all out war.
Steve and Tony Stark went to battle over whether superheroes should register with the government and disclose their secret identities. Steve believed heroes should continue operating independently, while Tony agreed with registration. Cap led a team of heroes in fighting the regulations until Steve gained the upper hand in one-on-one conflict with Iron Man.
When Cap was prevented from striking the final blow against Iron Man by the very public he was attempting to protect, he realized he was defying the will of the people, and surrendered. Disillusioned, Steve was set for trial for his crimes.
And that wasn’t the worst thing that happened as a result of Civil War… More on that later.
THE DEATH OF BUCKY8 of 12In the closing days of World War II, Captain America and his sidekick Bucky Barnes went on a mission to take down Baron Heinrich Zemo, a Nazi scientist intent on destroying the west. When Zemo launched a doomsday device housed in an experimental drone plane, Cap and Bucky were aboard trying to defuse the device.
When it became clear there was no way to disarm the bomb, Bucky sacrificed himself to foil Zemo’s scheme. Cap was plunged into the freezing arctic waters, where he was encased in ice and preserved by the Super Soldier Serum.
Decades later, his frozen body was discovered by the Avengers and Steve Rogers was revived. However, Bucky was lost. For years, Cap’s greatest failure remained his inability to save his partner.
WINTER SOLDIER9 of 12Though Captain America’s partner seemingly died disarming a bomb set by Baron Zemo, decades later, Steve Rogers discovered that his partner had not actually perished, but was greviously injured, his body recovered by Soviet scientisst and enhanced with cybernetics. Brainwashed and trained by the Soviets, Bucky became the Winter Soldier, a legendary espionage agent and assassin.
When Bucky resurfaced, he became an outright villain to Captain America, menacing him for some time before going on the run. Though Cap’s best friend became one of his greatest foes, this story has a happy ending – sort of. Bucky eventually broke free of his programming and became a hero once again, though the event that codified his reformation is the top entry on this list.
HAIL HYDRA10 of 12If you thought the original “Secret Empire” story was dark… Boy oh boy, has Marvel’s latest story got some news for you.
In Marvel’s current summer event Secret Empire, Steve Rogers has not only been subverted as an agent of Hydra by the Red Skull, he’s actually betrayed the Skull, assumed command of Hydra, and taken over the United States.
Needless to say – much like Capwolf – this is bad news for everyone.
Steve has betrayed the Avengers, stranding Captain Marvel and the Ultimates in space, subverted some heroes to his cause, and sent the rest of the Marvel Universe to ground.
But not to worry, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – sort of. Steve’s Hydra turn was caused by a Cosmic Cube that rewrote reality – including Steve’s history. That Cosmic Cube is still at the center of the story, and will likely be the key that sets Steve back on his heroic path.
And as for whether he can be redeemed after serving his own arch-enemy – well, Marvel has assured everyone that Steve will “stand up for what’s right” in the end. And, moreover, that Steve is a victim of the Red Skull – not an active participant in what’s happening to him.
Still, there’s only one thing we can think of that’s worse than Cap being a Hydra agent…
DEATH OF A DREAM11 of 12After surrendering to Iron Man in Civil War, Steve Rogers was ready to stand trial for his part in the conflict when the unthinkable happened: operating under hypnotic orders from Doctor Faustus, Sharon Carter "killed" Captain America on the steps of the courthouse, sending the Marvel Universe into chaos.
To be clear, Steve wasn’t exactly killed – his consciousness was displaced in time with a special device devised by the Red Skull, living his worst moments (many of them on this list) over and over in a loop. But to the rest of the world, he was dead. This led the newly reformed Bucky to assume the mantle of Captain America, and exacerbated the divide between Marvel’s heroes for years, with Steve’s team from Civil War operating outside the law for years, and Tony Stark spiraling out of control as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.
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