This week’s Captain America #25 by writer Nick Spencer and artists Jesus Saiz, Joe Bennet, and Joe Pimentel and Secret Empire #8 by Spencer and artists Daniel Acuna, Rod Reis, Sean Izaakse, and Java Tartaglia pack a double-whammy of Cosmic Cube-fueled drama, finally leading to what appears to be the breaking point of the Secret Empire event. With a surprise return, a last minute Hail Mary, and a new chance at victory, Secret Empire is rapidly moving towards its conclusion at the end of the month.
Spoilers ahead for Captain America #25 and Secret Empire #8.
As Captain America #25 kicks off, Steve Rogers, in full Hydra regalia, makes a speech in which he declares war on New Tian and Wakanda, in order to invade those countries and steal their Cosmic Cube fragments.
Steve sends Viper and Gorgon to New Tian, where Beast and Havok fight them to a standstill. Emma Frost reveals herself as the secret leader of the mutant nation, and says she’ll never surrender – but will give Steve her Cube fragment in person so solidify what she calls a “ceasefire.”
Meanwhile, in Wakanda, Black Panther’s forces are easily repelling Hydra’s invading army - until Dr. Faustus shows up, revealing that he has mind-controlled half of T’Challa’s army and some of his closest allies, leading T’Challa to surrender to Hydra, handing over his Cube fragment and being taken away in chains.
After this, we pick up where we last left Sam Wilson and the rebel Avengers at the end of Secret Empire #7. Sam is back in his Cap costume, delivering a rousing speech about heroism that would rival one of Steve’s famous rallying speeches. He musters up a team of Avengers to go liberate an Inhuman camp, knowing it won’t win the war, but wanting to do some good for people who need their help.
In the course of their rescue, the Avengers meet an Inhuman that the others have nicknamed “Barf,” who can regurgitate fully functional reproductions of anything he sees – if his intentions are good. Showing him a scan of a Cosmic Cube fragment, the Tony Stark A.I. coaches Barf into creating a fragment of his own, which Tony quickly discovers has its own reality-warping powers.
Tony forms a plan in which Giant-Man’s time-travel message machine will alert Captain Marvel and the other heroes who are trapped in space of their plan, as well as the heroes trapped under the Darkforce bubble in New York, in which they will use the Cube fragment to break the barriers and end their captivity.
At the end of the issue, Namor laments that he gave the Cube to Steve, knowing it would not appease him. But he’s got one final trick up his sleeve - Bucky, who is revealed to be alive after Steve seemingly killed him, rescued by Namor.
Jumping to Secret Empire #8, a message from Sam/Cap is broadcast in New York, and on the Alpha Flight station. He’s rallying his fellow heroes to strike at that moment with him to bring down the Darkforce barrier and the Planetary Defense Shield. Sam’s plan is to fly over New York and use the Cosmic Cube to power their efforts to break through, which will theoretically overcome the power they’re facing.
As Sam takes flight, Star-Lord and Rocket bring Captain Marvel a "Nullifier Bomb,” which they imply is made from the same tech as the Ultimate Nullifier. They plan to use Alpha Flight Station as a delivery device for the bomb, which will break through the shield. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange has assembled the Defenders as well as Cloak and Dagger with a new spell he has acquired in exchange for his Manhattan brownstone. The spell will combine their powers and let them lower the Darkforce barrier.
But as Sam is flying to his goal, he’s shot down by a Hydra fighter plane and seemingly killed. Both Strange and Captain Marvel’s plans seem to fail. But at the last minute, Sam recovers using the power of the Cube. At that moment, Quasar awakens from her coma, and uses the full force of her powers to bring down the Planetary Defense Shield, after which Captain Marvel rockets off to find the Chitauri egg that is bringing the aliens to Earth in the first place.
Meanwhile, Strange, Cloak, and Dagger struggle with the barrier in New York City. But as Sam wields the Cube, Maria Hill sneaks into a secret Hydra holding facility, finding Blackout, who is still in his Pleasant Hill persona. She says the intel Deadpool gave her about his location was correct, and solemnly kills Blackout, lowering the barrier.
Now that their mission is accomplished, Captain Marvel’s team, Strange’s crew, and Sam’s erstwhile Avengers assemble. Before they can plan the next step, Namor arrives, revealing that he has a plan, and a secret weapon - the recently-returned Winter Soldier.
Then in the final pages, we get a glimpse of second Steve, who has found the glowing woman he was searching for. He recognizes her as a manifestation of Sharon Carter, but she quickly fades, leaving Steve standing in disbelief as he discovers Kobik crying in a clearing.
Secret Empire #9, the crossover’s penultimate issue, hits shelves on August 23.