After the events of Avengers #503, the Scarlet Witch been driven insane by her powers and attacked the Avengers, causing the destruction of the mansion and the deaths of a few of her teammates. Dr. Strange was forced to shut her mind down. Magneto then took his daughter to Genosha.
Some time later the Avengers and X-Men went to Genosha to decide her final fate (House of M #1). When they arrived in Genosha, the world went white and they awoke in an altered reality unaware that anything had changed.
It seems that the Scarlet Witch had recovered and used her powers to alter history. In this reality mutants are the dominant species on the planet. To keep the heroes occupied she has granted each of them their ideal life to keep them from discovering the truth.
At the New York Veterans Hall, a banquet is thrown for Steve Rogers. As he is introduced by the em cee, it is revealed that in this reality Steve Rogers was not put into suspended animation at the end of the war. Steve Rogers, a man in his early 80s, recalls two critical points in his career as Captain America.
English Channel. April 1945: Cap and Bucky deactivate the bomb Baron Heinrich Zemo had planted on the experimental plane and redirect it to Zemo's castle, killing him and his henchmen. Cap and Bucky had jumped into the water after they set the course, watching the explosion from a safe distance.
Berlin, Germany. April 1945: Cap and Bucky lead the Invaders (Namor, the (original) Human Torch, and his sidekick Toro) and the rest of the Allied forces to victory over Germany. The Red Skull died in battle and Hitler was captured in an underground bunker. He was turned over to an international court to be charged with his crimes against humanity.
When Rogers refocuses on the banquet, he realizes that Dum Dum Dugan is at the podium, recounting the final battle in Berlin. Rogers begins to think back and realizes that the last time he saw Dugan was at his wedding. He then remembers the events leading up to that event.
Washington D.C. January 1946. A private meeting with President Truman in which they discuss his upcoming nuptials. Truman congratulates him and voices a few concerns about the Cold War with Russia and the possible need for him again. Rogers assures him that he'll be available whenever he's needed. As Truman walks Rogers out, he begins a discussion about the mutant population.
McCarthy Mutant Hearings, 1951. Cap's loyalties are tested as Senator McCarthy grills him about his relationship with mutants. Cap refuses to answer any questions that might be used against his friends. He's aware that McCarthy has an agenda against mutants and will not be a part of it. When McCarthy states that he's accountable to them just like the president, Cap quits.
1955. Steve Rogers is the first person to walk on the moon. His partner filming the historic event encourages him to say "something newsworthy". Rogers comes up with a variation of Neil Armstrong's famous line: "This is one small step for man ... one giant leap for peace between man and mutant-kind." This was to acknowledge the cooperation between man and mutant minds that led them to reach the moon first. There are many that do not react kindly to his words, specifically his secret agent wife Peggy. They begin to argue over his pro-mutant stance. She admits that S.H.I.E.L.D. spies on mutants and even Buck Barnes understands why they do it. She reminds him that he could have worked for them as well instead of playing astronaut and reveals her disgust at his behavior during the McCarthy hearings.
New York, 1957. Steve and Buck meet at a bar some time after Steve and Peggy's divorce is final. Buck offers his condolences. Steve explains that they were too different to stay together. And she never forgave him for giving up his role as Captain America during the McCarthy hearings. He asks his former partner what he would have done in that situation. Buck is unsure of what he would have done. He reminds Steve that the world isn't as black-and-white as he believes. For every Toro, there's an unchecked mutant that has the power to cause massive death and destruction.
Buck's words prove to be prophetic as the mutant population increases. More and more the mutants abuse their powers. In the early 1970s Magneto rose to prominence as a world leader after he single-handedly destroyed the sentinel program. He began to influence other world leaders policies. Cap saw that Magneto's vision of the future wasn't necessarily peaceful and tried to speak out against him, comparing him to Hitler. He was silenced by the military leaders Magneto now had under his control.
As Steve's flashback ends, it's his turn to speak at the podium. Without anything else to say, he simply thanks everyone that he fought with and those that paid the ultimate price.
As he boards the subway, he is pushed aside by three members of a mutant gang. They antagonize him when he looks at them in a critical way and is forced to back down. As he rides the train, he wonders if this is the world that he and his allies fought and died for. He is both saddened and angry that the mutants would treat humans like second class citizens.
As Steve walks down the street, he remembers something Peggy told him. "You got everything you ever wanted ... if the world didn't turn out how you thought it would, well that's just life." He can't help but think that it should not have turned out this way.
From the shadows some familiar faces are watching him and agree with him. These faces include Wolverine, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, and Spider-Man.
This qualifies as one of the greatest "what if" stories ever written. The "what if Captain America wasn't frozen after WWII" theme has been explored before, but this take offers something different. Instead of having him just fighting Hydra and A.I.M. well into his 50s, this shows an evolution of the character.
As the world around him changes into something he doesn't recognize, Steve Rogers refuses to change. He is as much a man out of time in this reality as he was in the other one.
4.5 webs. This is one of those issues you realize is a masterpiece when you're reading it. This is the mark of a great creative team. They were able to take full advantage of a crossover event and turn out something that stands shoulder to shoulder in terms of quality with the rest of this series.
The reuniting of the New Avengers continues in House of M #5