Marvel fans everywhere were rocked by last month’s Captain America: Steve Rogers #1. Purported to be the highly-anticipated return of Steve Rogers to the Captain America mantle (after having spent some time as an old man while his friend Sam Wilson took up the shield), the issue ended with the unforgettable image of the First Avenger speaking the trademark words of his eternal nemesis: “Hail Hydra.”
At the time, writer Nick Spencer and editor Tom Brevoort told EW that issue #2 would complicate this revelation. “No. 2 rolls back the clock a little bit to further illuminate where Steve’s head is at and how he got this way,” Spencer said.
Their warning fell on deaf ears: Fans were outraged over the shocking twist to a major character, with some even sending Brevoort and Spencer death threats. There are numerous reasons for this fandom-wide meltdown (the movie-enhanced popularity of Marvel’s characters, a possible crisis in fandom), but it’s safe to say the outrage was unfounded: Captain America: Steve Rogers #2, out this week, thoroughly explains the twist, as Spencer promised. Spoilers follow.
The short version: It’s all the Red Skull’s fault. Here’s the longer version, or at least the highlights: the Red Skull, Captain America’s arch-nemesis, recently transplanted the brain of X-Men leader Professor X into his own body, taking control of the legendary mutant’s powerful telepathy in the process. Around the same time, the fragments of a Cosmic Cube somehow fused into a living, breathing girl — one with the cosmic power to change reality at a whim. Because of the Red Skull’s decades-long affiliations with the Cosmic Cube, this living version, going by the name Kobik, was drawn to him. The Skull, ever a master of manipulation, turned to the girl to his side by reading her bedtime stories about the greatness of Hydra. She, in turn, internalized these fables, and eventually used her powers to wipe the mind of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Dr. Erik Selvig (that guy played by Stellan Skarsgård in the Thor movies) into thinking he was a member of the benevolent and utterly fictitious Hydra from the Skull’s stories. The Skull realized she could do this to anyone, and eventually arranged events in such a way that when Kobik transformed Steve Rogers back into the young, vital Captain America, she also gave him the same Hydra loyalty she implanted in Selvig.
That all sounds very comic book-y, doesn’t it? Of course it does. Dramatic plot twists are the name of the game in such a longform, long-running storytelling genre like superhero comic books, where the same old characters and situations have to be kept fresh somehow. Doesn’t mean you need to call anyone Nazis over it, as some did to Spencer and Brevoort.
That said, there’s still plenty of plot left to untangle. Explaining the twist doesn’t negate what happened, and the rest of the Marvel universe is still blissfully unaware of Steve’s current affiliation — even after he killed poor old Jack Flag in the first issue. Though Spencer told EW that Jack’s death “really has long-term story repercussions. It really starts the ball rolling downhill on a lot of things.” Spencer also teased the big roles Sam Wilson (Cap’s former partner and now-unnecessary replacement) and Sharon Carter, his long-time love interest.
“It goes without saying that this is going to have a profound impact on Sam’s story and Sam’s life,” Spencer says. “He’s about to be put through the ringer in a way we rarely see with a character. He’s going to be challenged in fundamental ways. Sam is a huge part of what we have planned.”
Watch out for Captain America: Steve Rogers #3, out next month. This ain’t over by a long shot.