After Steve Rogers ascended to contol the United States in Secret Empire #0, Secret Empire #1 jumps forward in time to the heart of Rogers’ regime.
To say that 'heavy is the head that wears the crown' would be an understatement for Steve Rogers, as writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve McNiven paint a picture of Hydra’s America that looks bleak from all sides - with a The Man on the High Castle vibe. But a pair of fateful decisions may seal Steve’s fate.
Spoilers ahead for Secret Empire #1.
Secret Empire #1 opens well into Steve Rogers’ regime as Hydra’s supreme leader and soldier. In Hydra’s America, test scores and discipline are on the rise - but so are Inhuman sightings and rebel activity - two things that undermine Hydra’s rule. The Champions, working as part of an undergound resistance in Las Vegas, meet with Rashaun Lucas (presumably the new Patriot), who has something in his possession he says can end the war. Meanwhile, Steve’s ersatz Avengers - consisting of Deadpool, Odinson, Taskmaster, Black Ant, Vision, Scarlet Witch, and the Superior Octopus - destroy a Monsters Unleashed-era monster who is invading Denver.
After these parallel events, Hydra’s inner circle deliberates over what to do in Las Vegas, where the latest appearance from the Champions is causing an uprising. Arnim Zola, Dr. Faustus, and Baron Zemo all offer plans to swiftly control the populace, including mind control and displays of force, which Steve rejects, saying he doesn’t want to rule a “prison state.”
Steve then meets with Sharon Carter, who tells him flat-out that he is a villain and a fascist, to which Steve tells Sharon “it’s complicated.” She asks him for a sign that the Steve she knows and loves is still inside him somewhere, requesting Steve spare Rick Jones, who has been imprisoned for hacking into Hydra’s files and leaked the truth about the Cosmic Cube to none other than Rashaun Lucas.
Steve visits Rick Jones, begging him to swear allegiance to Hydra - even if he doesn’t mean it - so he can spare Rick’s life and save face. Rick refuses, telling Steve he believes Steve will find a way to beat what’s made him betray his allies.
Rashaun delivers the information to the Tony Stark A.I., who sets it aside, dismissing it as a hoax. Rashaun becomes angry with the A.I., who explains that the heroes have had many tips about how to beat Steve - including theories that he is a clone, or has been mind controlled, which turned out to be traps. Rashaun reluctantly relents, rejoining the Champions and the the underground's leadership - Clint Barton and Black Widow, who seem to have rekindled their romance.
Steve meets with Elisa, the current Madame Hydra who has guided Steve since childhood. She reminds him that all the people who are pulling him in different directions - Faust, Zemo, Zola, even Rick Jones - are all irrelevant to their larger mission of finding Kobik and “reversing” the use of a Cosmic Cube to prevent Hydra from winning World War II - new wrinkle to the story dropped in the opening of Secret Empire #0 that explains Steve's non-Hydra allegience during the intervening years.
Newly resolved, Steve decides to make a show of force, executing Rick Jones by firing squad on live television and dispatching Hydra ships to raze Las Vegas for harboring the Champions.
Secret Empire #2 is due out on shelves May 17.