Image: Marvel

In the fifth issue of Marvel’s Civil War II, the Avengers, Inhumans, and more were at war with one another over whether they have the right to apprehend villains for crimes that they’ve yet to commit. But their battle stops when everyone is suddenly struck with a vision of Miles Morales, Ultimate Spider-Man, killing Captain America.

The image of Miles gripping Cap’s bloody, lifeless body after seemingly stabbing him through the chest on the steps of the Capitol building was shocking at the time, given that, at the time, Steve Rogers was in good standing with essentially the entire Marvel universe. While tensions left over from the original Civil War event lingered between Steve and Tony Stark, the idea that anyone would be driven to murder Steve was beyond the pale.

But that was before Secret Empire.

In this week’s issue of Secret Empire, Miles and the rest of the Champions set out on a mission to kill Steve and put an end of Hydra’s fascist regime that he helped build. As the issue opens, everyone involved in the mission sees it as the fulfilling of a prophecy they’ve already seen, but by its close, Secret Empire #7 throws a devastating twist into the mix.

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For the past six issues, the Champions have been training with Black Widow to infiltrate Hydra’s youth organization in order to get close enough to Captain America when he’s vulnerable in order to assassinate him. Generally speaking, their plan’s been going as well as can be expected for a group of fugitive freedom fighters being hunted by a super police state.

The team knows when, where, and how the mission is supposed to go down. Black Widow will release Mosaic—an Inhuman with the ability to possess people—who will hijack the Hydra grunts assembled during a public event. Once he makes them attack one another, it should cause enough mayhem to give Widow the chance to take Captain America out with a sniper rifle. The plan is sound and while everyone trusts Widow, they also can’t pretend that they haven’t all already seen the future—rather, a future—in which Miles is the one who does the deed.

Choosing to rely on her own abilities rather than a prophecy, Widow allows Miles to think that he’ll be on the ground with the rest of the team right up until the mission goes into action and she traps him in the team’s armored truck. If Miles can’t be anywhere near Steve, he can’t be the one to kill him.

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And for a while, Widow’s plan seems to be working. The Champions are placed strategically throughout the assembled crowd before Captain America and, when Widow is ambushed by newly-turned Hydra agent Frank Castle, she makes quick work of him by elegantly stabbing him in both thighs.

Marvel is no stranger to prophetic misdirects but, because this isn’t the end of Secret Empire, of course Miles gets out, convinced that the plan can only work if he’s the one to kill Steve.

As Miles makes his way onto the podium, Steve (who has also seen his prophesied death) accepts his fate and welcome’s Miles’ challenge, but the two are interrupted when Black Widow rushes onto the stage to keep Miles safe. And then, as if we needed any more evidence that this Captain America is a tyrannical overlord who will murder in the name of Hydra’s fascistic beliefs, we see Steve take his shield and deliver a blow to Widow’s head that cracks most of her jaw and seemingly severs her spinal cord near the base of her neck.

By all appearances, the blow kills Widow, shocking everyone who witnesses it and drives Miles into a berserker rage leading to what seems like the prophecy’s fulfillment. Miles breaks Steve’s shield in the exact same spot that was predicted and proceeds to beat the shit out of him in one of the more satisfying sequences we’ve seen in Secret Empire so far.

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But just as Miles is prepared to kill Steve, he stops because he, like everyone else around him knows that prophecy or no, he’s never been a killer. Even now. The sequence ends with the Champions being arrested by Hydra agents and dragged away before the book moves on to some of Secret Empire’s less flashy subplots.

It isn’t at all surprising that this issue didn’t end with Miles killing Steve as we were once promised, but in killing Black Widow, Secret Empire continues to be the sort of event that traffics in shock and horror without being able to justify itself. Narratively, nothing is gained from Natasha’s death other than doubling down on the idea that Hydra’s an evil organization with an evil asshole as its supreme leader. This is something that we’ve already known for a while and it doesn’t help that the vision that was the very beginning of this event has been revealed as a fake-out this late into the game.

Secret Empire #7 is comic book-y in the least charitable sense of the phrase. It wants you to think its plot twists are clever when, in reality, they land more like unimaginative first draft ideas. Remember when you thought Miles was gonna kill Cap? PSYCH!!!