Over the previous two volumes intrusions connected with the crossover Civil War II were unwelcome interruptions to the fascinating story Nick Spencer’s building about Captain America always having been a Hydra agent. It’s refreshing, then, that Empire Building opens with a Civil War II epilogue chapter that actually services Captain America more than the crossover. Spencer writes some very good scenes, inspirational speeches from Cap as he’s confirmed as head of S.H.I.E.L.D. along with some sweeping new powers, a monologue aimed at Iron Man and a fraught discussion with Captain Marvel. Cap’s assessments are so astute in getting to the core of both other characters that there’s the shock of suddenly realising that this is the Hydra agent Captain America speaking.

Unfortunately some of the art on this opening piece is stiff and awkward, with Phil Noto the best of the bunch, and inconsistent art plagues this entire book. It veers from figurative to very near cartooning, and for a series that started with Jesús Saiz installed, standards have slipped considerably. Thankfully there is at least one full chapter of Saiz art, from which the sample spread is taken.

In The Trial of Maria Hill it was disclosed that despite feigning subservience to the Red Skull as head of Hydra, Steve was actually intending to topple him as the means to introducing what he felt Hydra ought to be. Turns out he’s not the only person with that idea as we see two powerful and influential people gathering their own forces. There is a frustration of one villain falling off panel, dealt with in a one page flashback of events that actually occurred in Uncanny Avengers. Even so, there are enough shocks to follow, with all the plans made by the Hydra Cap now in place and ready for both Captain America: Secret Empire and the Secret Empire crossover.