Marvel Comics knew the twist at the end of last month's Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 was going to turn heads, but they admittedly didn't know just how big it was really going to be. It's not a spoiler a month later to say that Steve Rogers, the original star-spangled Avenger, is back and prime fighting form... and that he's a Hydra agent.
After being aged and de-powered, a strange confrontation in even stranger circumstances led to a sentient cosmic cube (personified this time as a little girl named Kobik) restoring Steve Rogers to his super-powered youth. There are now two Captain Americas (Sam Wilson is still the 'main' one and using the iconic round shield) and each has their own comic series.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Captain America: Steve Rogers #2.
That issue coincided with the release of DC Rebirth #1 and managed to steal some attention away with its controversial cliffhanger, which of course, sent some fans and people in the media into furor. There were even death threats sent to writer Nick Spencer over "ruining" Captain America, because it was okay to turn Cap into a werewolf in the '90s (see: Captain America Vol 1 #405), but the idea of him being involved in one chapter of a story where he may or may not by Hydra just doesn't compute. Again, this is only after the first issue of an ongoing series...
As expected, that rage from people who clearly don't read the comics or understand storytelling was entirely unfounded. As was the followup rage yesterday claiming that Marvel Comics somehow changed the whole story in time for issue #2 in the last few weeks alone (when it was written months ago) to address the controversy (see: this nonsense).
Steve Rogers wasn't a Hydra agent before his encounter with Kobik and obviously he hasn't been secretly serving them since WWII. That doesn't make sense. But at the same time, as Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort made clear after #1 came out, this actually is Steve Rogers and not some clone or shapeshifting Skrull, and he's not brainwashed. So, what's up?
Captain America: Steve Rogers #2 is entirely dedicated to recapping prior events from the perspective of The Red Skull, the villain behind it all, to unveil the "secret history of Steve Rogers." Red Skull was the power hungry mad man who wielded the cosmic cube (when it was an actual cube) in the past (the self-titled "rightful owner" of it) and so Kobik has an attachment to him. It was Kobik who prior to the Steve Rogers solo series launching last month that S.H.I.E.L.D. used to create the controversial reality-altering prison for supervillains (the Pleasant Hill Initiative), but there's another layer to that not being what it seemed.
As it turns out, it was The Red Skull who subtly manipulated Kobik into manipulating genius scientist Erik Selvig into proposing the Pleasant Hill Initiative to S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Maria Hill in the first place. And during the time it was operational, The Red Skull was actually there the whole time in disguise as the preacher, Father Patrick. This reveal explains some of the weird and convenient happenings surrounding the uprising that took place.
Baron Zemo was at the center of that, and while undercover as a hostage at Pleasant Hill, The Red Skull could easily manipulate Baron Zemo (since The Red Skull has the powers of Professor X) into moving Steve Rogers (who at the time was old and de-powered) into his custody. That was all setup in Captain America: Sam Wilson #7 back in March! Father Patrick/The Red Skull even protected them before having them meet up with Selvig (again, already under the control of The Red Skull) who of course told Rogers all about Kobik before The Red Skull let Rogers escape. And that was all part of the grand plan...
"Making you the best version of yourself"
See, The Red Skull knew old man Rogers would be confronted and nearly killed by Crossbones but that Kobik would intervene and that when she does - given her set of beliefs - she'll cure him by making him younger and making him... Hydra.
So, there you have it. The Steve Rogers everyone knows and loves from the past still was that honorable man, but this is a different version of him now - the same as Erik Selvig. They're not clones or alien impostors, but people whose realities/histories were completely changed at the snap of Kobik's fingers into beings that could help lead The Red Skull's warriors. And this only happens because of what Kobik believes at this very moment, meaning it can all change. The Red Skull doesn't have full control over this cosmic cube/girl, so he's had to resort to compassion to use her powers.
This is how The Red Skull "finally beats" Steve Rogers, partly by reading bedtime stories to a little girl, with a healthy dose of mind control and reality altering.
Until next time...
Captain America: Steve Rogers #3 releases July 27, 2016.