With less than two weeks before Secret Empire kicks off with April 19's #0, writer Nick Spencer and Marvel Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso are out talking about the metacontextual nature of the 2017 summer event. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the duo frame this as a clear story of heroes versus villains as opposed to the hero vs. hero struggles of events like Civil War II and Avengers vs. X-Men.
"This isn’t a heroes vs. heroes conflict, it is very much Steve is a villain. Because of what happened with the Cosmic Cube, he is very much on the side of evil in this story," said Spencer. "It’s not an honest disagreement between heroes who want to do something differently. Steve has very bad intentions, he is 100% Hydra thanks to what the Cube has done. Within the universe, Steve Rogers is the most trusted and most looked up to and admired figure in the universe. Especially with where our heroes are at this point in this story, they’re divided, they’re fragmented, they’re at each others’ throats in the fallout of what’s come before."
Coming out of the ashes of the divise of Civil War II, Spencer said that events in Secret Empire's opening pages will have Marvel's heroes giving authority over to Rogers - not knowing of his status as a Hydra sleeper agent.
"Rather than try to come together and work through these things, they’ve been giving Steve more and more power," revealed Spencer. "They’ve decided to just cede it to him, to let him handle these things, and that obviously puts them in a dangerous predicament."
Making Captain America an out-and-out "villain" to quote Spencer is a relatively rare attempt for a major Big Two comic book company, so much so that Alonso said that Marvel wants readers to question if the Captain America character can ever be a good guy again.
"One of the things we want readers asking is not just how are they gonna defeat this evil, but what’s the Cap story in this? How is it possible for there to be a redemptive arc for Cap? Is that Marvel’s intention? That’s what we’re looking at for the next months," said Alonso.
Although for some Hydra has become synonymous with Nazis - with characters in Marvel's comic books and television shows even saying that - Spencer is careful to note that Hydra predated Nazis with similiar, but separate, goals.
"Hydra is a secret society that’s thousands of years old bent on world domination. In terms of their ideology, they are very much driven by the idea of strength at all costs. It’s a very Darwinian belief set," said Spencer. "They believe everyone and everything exists to serve the glory of Hydra, so if you don’t fall in line with that, you’re in a very dangerous spot. It’s this idea of how quickly the world can change. The fact the battle seems over before it even starts is a major scarring moment for the Marvel Universe."
Spencer says writing Steve Rogers as a out-and-out villain while still staying true to the character is "a great writing challenge."
"Steve is still Steve. If he was courageous and inspiring before the Cube did this to him, then all those things still apply. In the same way, Steve as a hero was nearly impossible to defeat and usually came out ahead, that same thing is true now," said Spencer. "That’s stuff I’ve tried to keep in mind at every step of this story."
In the immediate aftermath of Captain America's "Hail Hydra" moment from Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Spencer publicly said he received death threats from opponents of the shocking character change. Now, nearly one year later, he said the reaction is "an incredible thing."
"I think it’s a funny thing. Obviously, we knew going into this story that turning Steve Rogers into a Hydra agent was a controversial thing, that it would upset folks, and it should. It’s a horrible thing that’s happened to Steve here. But at the same time, you can never totally appreciate until you’re in it the intensity of feeling people have for this character and what he represents. It’s really an incredible thing," said Spencer. "The reaction is very much a testament to that. What I would say is not terribly different from what I said back then, which is that at its core, the story is very much about what makes Steve Rogers such a great character, and what can happen if he was pointed in the wrong direction. It now is one of the biggest contests between good and evil that we’ve seen in Marvel Universe. It tries the heroes in ways that they never have been before. Now we’re at the point we’ve been building to from the start."