Much of this volume reads like a masterclass in trolling people who can’t stand the idea of Steve Rogers as a secret agent of Hydra. This time around it’s revealed that Steve is going to have to rely on the help of his best friend in the whole world in order for his plan to succeed. Who is this friend? None other than Helmut Zemo! He also engineers an alien attack on Earth in order to gauge the capabilities of the Alpha Flight program, goes demon-hunting in Scotland to swing the votes in the titular trial, almost poisons comatose comrade Jack Flag, and is revealed to have nearly done the same for the man who made him a super soldier, Abraham Erskine. Mind you, the present-day stuff is being done at the same time as Steve is trying to undermine the Red Skull’s current plan and seize Hydra for himself. Not to be left out in the shenanigans arms race of this volume, Maria Hill tries to save her position as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. by offering up a planet-sized bribe at her tribunal.
I can see how these things would rub a lot of Cap fans the wrong way and that’s part of the fun. Writer Nick Spencer appears to take a perverse kind of delight in putting forth the idea that longtime enemies Captain America and Baron Zemo (Jr.) are actually best friends, and that a pre-”Operation Rebirth” Steve attempted to assassinate Dr. Erskine under orders. He knows he can get away with stuff like this because it’ll all be retconned away by the end of “Secret Empire.” Marvel has even said as much, urging fans to be patient and they’ll get the Cap they know and love back at the end of the event. This doesn’t surprise me since it was obvious that was going to be the endgame for this storyline. Spencer is clearly having fun with it, both in the flashbacks and in the present day where Cap still manages to project an outwardly heroic exterior while advancing his sinister agenda. Jesus Saiz provides some wonderfully textured artwork, with Javier Pina doing a capable fill-in job, and I found the whole thing to be pretty enjoyable. Whether or not you’ll agree with me all depends on if you recognize the trolling going on here and are amused by it too.