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Avengers: Endgame’s best Captain America moment was a nod to comic book controversy

A callback, in context

Chris Evans as Steve Rogers in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Marvel Studios

Avengers: Endgame contains a number of callbacks to the full history of the Marvel Cinematic Universe — which makes sense, given that it’s basically the season finale of a TV show where every episode is a movie.

But one in particular, featuring the Star-Spangled Man himself, Captain America, isn’t just a callback to past movies. It’s also, intentional or not, reminiscent of one of the most explosive moments in the history of Marvel fandom. To find out why all of your comics buddies gasped or groaned instead of laughing at that one part, read on.

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for Avengers: Endgame.]

Marvel Studios’ AVENGERS: ENDGAME..L to R: Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)..Photo: Film Frame.. Marvel Studios

The scene in question occurs in the middle of the Avengers’ time heist, as Captain America steals the Mind Stone, hidden inside Loki’s scepter, from the SHIELD agents who confiscated it at the end of the Battle of New York. Disguised in a nanotech replica of his costume from Avengers (2012), he boards an elevator with the group, standing quietly at their center.

That is, in the middle of rehashing the first Avengers, Avengers: Endgame recreates a scene from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

But instead of turning things into another small box brawl, Captain America takes what he’s learned from the present to do something much sneakier. He knows what won’t be revealed for a couple years yet: Agent Sitwell and Rumlow are allied with the secret Hydra cell embedded within SHIELD. So, when they express skepticism that his orders to take the scepter came straight from the top, he uses a secret code.

With a whispered “Hail Hydra,” Captain America walks out with the scepter.

What a cute way to reference Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s most memetic moment! Well...

Evil Steve Rogers says “Hail Hydra” in Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Marvel Comics (2016).
From the end of Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
Nick Spencer, Jesus Saiz/Marvel Comics

How to explain Secret Empire?

Marvel Comics’ 2017 summer crossover, Secret Empire, revealed that in the original timeline of the Marvel Universe, Steve Rogers had been a life-long Hydra agent and the Allies had lost World War II. That is, until the Allies got their hands on the Cosmic Cube, and used it to change Captain America’s alignment and tip the war in their favor.

Hydra is an organization that has long sat in as a fictional proxy for remnants of Nazi Germany’s Third Reich, created in 1951 by Jewish-American WWII veteran and comic industry titan Jack Kirby (who also co-created Captain America). In almost any time period, the use of Hydra to represent fascism would combine awkwardly with the idea of Captain America allying himself with them, but it went over like a lead balloon in the political climate of 2016 and 2017. Secret Empire architect Nick Spencer’s volatile use of Twitter to interact with critical fans didn’t help much either.

For its part, Marvel Comics insisted that the modern Hydra that this Steve Rogers was leading was not Nazi-affiliated, that the storyline was not meant to parallel any real-world political events, and that fans would ultimately be satisfied if they waited for the ending. The company went so far as to release an official statement about the contents of that ending three months before it was to be released.

The Secret Empire crossover didn’t start properly until a version of the Cosmic Cube was used to alter the Marvel Comics timeline so that Hydra forces were in charge (this was all later fixed by more Cosmic Cube shenanigans). But the lead up to it started much earlier, with the first reveal that Captain America was a secret Hydra agent.

That is, with the infamous and memetic panel above, of Steve Rogers saying “Hail Hydra.”

In other words, there’s a good chuckle to be had out of Cap saying “Hail Hydra” in Avengers: Endgame. But since the backlash to Secret Empire’s plot defined the conversation around Marvel Comics for much of 2017, it’s understandable if it gave your very-plugged-in-to-comics friend some weird flashbacks.

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