There are days in our own history that forever live in infamy - Pearl Harbor, the bombing of Hiroshima, 9/11. Days when the world suffered a seismic shift. The Marvel Universe endures a day such as that in the #0 issue of Secret Empire. This is where all the story threads that have been building for months in the pages of Steve Rogers: Captain America as well as Sam Wilson: Captain America, Uncanny Avengers and Thunderbolts all come to a head. This is where the secret readers have known for months is exposed to the MU at large. Steve Rogers, the world's most trusted man, is working for Hydra.
Comic stories are often hyped with the promise that "nothing will ever be the same" but that promise could be honestly made about this issue. It's been said that Steve Rogers is the greatest strategist in the MU and he proves it in this issue, catching the entire planet and the entire superhero community off-guard.
This is a very thick issue, packed with incidents, so I'm frankly not even going to try and summarize it in any detail.
In short, Steve has orchestrated a three-pronged attack - the Chitauri are invading from space, necessitating the involvement of Carol and the Alpha Flight team; in New York, all the former inmates of Pleasant Hill are attacking, bringing the street level heroes of NYC out to battle them; and Hydra has taken over the capital city of Sokovia, threatening to unleash Sokovia's small but devastating stockpile of nuclear weapons on European targets unless S.H.I.E.L.D. acknowledges the legitimacy of Hydra's new regime. All these incidents are stretching the resources of S.H.I.E.L.D. and every member of the superhero community to their limit - which is what Steve wants. Everybody is playing the part that he's mapped out for them.
When he eventually turns his cards over, it's a punch to the gut. Even knowing that this was what it would all come to, it's a hard moment to take as characters like Sharon Carter have to process what's happened to them and the sense of shock and betrayal they feel is palatable. This is an unprecedented moment.
Perhaps my favorite line is Steve stone cold words to Carol when the mask is off and the charade is over:
"Goodbye Carol. This will be the last time we ever speak."
To address the biggest question some might have - I believe it's absolutely clear that reality itself was never changed and that we're still dealing with Steve's altered memories. In Steve's new memories, the idea is implanted back in 1945 that his life in service of Democracy was the fake all along - an illusion created thanks to the Allies' use of the Cosmic Cube - and that his new memories of Hydra is the "truth" that's been reawakened in him.
But this is just the way that Kobik has made all this plausible in Steve's mind, the way that he can reconcile the memories of two realities. Because we're seeing this from Steve's perception, some might wonder themselves whether if reality has been altered as he believes but, no, I'm certain that's not the case. This is all just so we can understand why Steve believes what he does - not to make us question the established reality of the MU.
One question that I had here was about the involvement of Iron Man. We see Tony in his classic armor working alongside Riri Williams and I'm assuming that this is just Tony's A.I. inhabiting an armor but I'd like some confirmation on this. Either in story eventually or in an interview with Spencer or Brevoort. It's cool to have him in the issue - I'd just like to know for certain what "Tony" we're dealing with here.
Oh, and by the way - we find out who Hydra Bob really is here. Didn't see it coming. But it's cool.
By the end of this issue, Steve has won. He out-planned everyone and, despite the occasional need to adjust along the way, executed those plans to perfection.
It's a great start to the series and it definitely puts the superhero community in one of the toughest positions that it's ever been in. Taking on the likes of Thanos or Ultron is one thing. But how do you beat someone who's just better at winning than anyone else? Cap is the guy who always finds a way. How do you out think and out fight that person? And how is Steve ever going to be redeemed after putting the world under his rule and betraying everyone around him?
...To Be Continued!