In Captain America: Steve Rogers #4, we learn Steve’s true aim when it comes to restoring the glory of Hydra, and it’s not what you’ll expect. Also, he and Bucky keep missing each other’s phone calls.

Super-Soldier. Avenger. Agent of Hydra. In Captain America: Steve Rogers, writer Nick Spencer puts Cap goes through his biggest and most controversial challenge ever when his reality is altered by a cosmic cube and he remembers his “lifelong past” as a Hydra insider. But the Hydra he believes in seems very different to the Hydra of the Red Skull — Steve’s motives remain to be seen…

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Previously, in ‘Captain America: Steve Rogers’…

When the sentient cosmic cube child Kobik restored Steve Rogers to health in the events of Avengers: Standoff, she also added a few little details to help him out, re-writing his reality to make him a lifelong servant of Hydra. Petted, coddled and conditioned by the Red Skull, Kobik innocently believes that being Hydra is the bestest and most funnest thing a person can be, so her act of “fixing” him was one of love, one secretly manipulated and exploited by the Red Skull as the ultimate way to bring Steve down.

Steve went on with his duties, returning to service as Captain America alongside Sam Wilson, and Kobik — who may have twigged that something’s a bit mean about her red-faced father figure — went into hiding with Bucky Barnes and his ex-con team the Thunderbolts. Meanwhile, a new regime of Hydra is on the rise –- in contrast to their blatant, delusional attempts at grabbing power in the past, the Red Skull is taking advantage of the current Trump-tastic sociopolitical climate and appealing to extremists who are already driven by hate to see his own goals met. No-one is more concerned about bringing down this new wave of Hydra more than newly-re-serumed Captain America.

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On a mission to capture Baron Zemo and his hostage Dr. Selvig, Steve’s secret past as an apparent Hydra loyalist was revealed to readers through a series of flashbacks which showed us his introduction to the organization as a child. However, the deeds done by Zemo or the Red Skull done in the name of Hydra don’t seem to be true to the message of Hydra that Steve Rogers believes in, and he’s out to restore Hydra to its former glory, at all costs.

When Steve’s sidekick Jack Flag came to rescue Steve from Zemo’s plane, Steve pushed Jack to a deadly fall, and then crashed the plane into a building, seemingly killing Zemo and Selvig too. However, it turns out that both Jack Flag and Dr. Selvig — also a Kobik-made Hydra double agent — are alive, and that Steve may not be as loyal to the Red Skull as he appears. The Skull has ordered Jack killed before he can wake up and tattle, but Selvig’s survival is Steve’s little secret, and it seems that there are plans between the pair to take a stand against their skinless overlord.

This is what I’ve been working towards every day of my life

In Steve’s secret good-guy Hydra base — a lab he took by lethal force from the scientific supervillain Red Ghost and a bunch of monkeys – he has a long sales pitch for Dr. Selvig about how they’re going to restore the glory of Hydra together, which can basically be summarized as “I’m gonna keep you locked up in here, but my earnestness is gonna convince you that you’re helping me save the world by choice.”

Some of the lab’s extensive tech will be offered to Selvig, and some (what gadgets you hiding, Steve?) will be restricted from him, but Cap is confident that they have what they need to keep their enemy at bay. By enemies, Selvig, good little Hydra loyalist, assumes that Steve means S.H.I.E.L.D., but they’re not his worry. Steve’s betting on them tearing themselves apart from within, a prospect that doesn’t seem that all that unlikely.

A flash-sideways shows us that Maria Hill still refuses to treat the charges against her like a real threat, even when Everett Ross (think Martin Freeman in the new Captain America: Civil War, people) is sent in as her prosecutor, and Sharon Carter lobbies the Senate to pass a bill that will give S.H.I.E.L.D. a potentially unethical amount of power (“the NSA on steroids,” one senator calls it) to wield in the name of fighting the Red Skull’s new Hydra.

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Steve’s happy to leave them to their own devices — his more pressing concern is finding Kobik, in order to tie up “loose ends” about his Hydra secret. Jack Flag, still comatose and watched over by Cap’s sidekicks Free Spirit and Rick Jones, is one such loose end. Another, whether Steve knows it or not, is the wreckage of Zemo’s plane in the lawless city of Bagalia, where the supervillain sheriff Taskmaster is investigating the scene of the crime and knows something looks fishy.

Kobik is a priceless asset for anyone with skin in the game, but I’m actually curious about why Steve wants her — does he want her to “fix” Jack Flag so he doesn’t spill Steve’s secret? Does he actually know that she did this to him? Surely not. Does he want to kill her, or use her to get to the Red Skull? Anyway, Selvig assumes that Steve wants his help locating her, but Steve already knows where she is — and you know what that means. IT’S BUCKY TIME.

Bucky and his Thunderbolts are on a mission in Earth’s orbit, fighting an alien army and bickering as usual, when Kobik, unbidden, demonstrates her immeasurable power by sending all the aliens home and her own new family back to the place she considers home – an instantly-reconstructed Pleasant Hill. True to form, Moonstone and Fixer are ready to wring the child’s neck whereas Mach-X and Atlas just want milkshakes, but Bucky, ever-patient with his weird baby, gets her to take them back to their new base.

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Spencer created the initial bond between Bucky and Kobik back in Avengers: Standoff, and although Jim Zub is doing a bang-up job with my bae over on Thunderbolts, it’s fantastic to see the seeds planted in Pleasant Hill finally grow back together here. As Steve tries to reach Bucky, the connection is cut off — an ongoing theme in both books over the past few issues — and now we see clearly that it’s Kobik purposefully blocking them from one another, for reasons as yet unknown.

Here’s where it gets a little more confusing, leaving me wondering exactly how the timelines of these books sync up and how much Steve has been meddling. Why, when Steve mentions his failed contact attempts and mysterious “other methods,” does it show some of the weird alien cocoons that caused the ill-fated mission that put Bucky’s team back on the grid? Did Steve set that up, specifically to get the world tracking Bucky down?

And what’s the new Quasar, Avril Kincaid who also got her powers during Avengers: Standoff, got to do with anything? She seems to witness the scene, and her trainer, old Quasar Wendell Vaugn, tells her she’s tapped into the “cosmic awareness” — which sounds a hell of a lot like what Ulysses is accessing to make his predictions over in Civil War II. Just how tied in are all of these stories — I’m willing to bet a lot, but what groundwork precisely are we laying here, or what have we missed?

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Time, Steve explains, is of the essence, as he’s not the only one looking for Kobik, and danger surrounds them from all sides – everybody wants a bit of cosmic cube these days, and the fateful mission against Thanos, where Rhodey lost his life, is shown, as Steve goes on to passionately pitch his plan — one he’s been working towards his whole life.

In a flashback that bookends Steve’s train of thought, we return the story of his childhood that’s been unfolding over the course of these issues. After the suspicious death of her husband, Sarah Rogers is packing to run away from her seemingly “new and improved” life, and tiny Steve has no idea why. But when Elisa Sinclair comes over for a chat with a couple of thugs in tow and Sarah confronts her about Joseph being killed, one of her goons snaps Sarah’s neck, which is rather coldly inconvenient for Elisa.

Steve witnesses his mother’s murder from under the bed, and when he tries to escape the apartment, he’s captured by the goons and presented to Elisa, who still has big plans for him. Again, AGAIN, the question is raised — what did Steve grow up believing about Hydra? Will Elisa go on to brainwash him, or has he been a triple-agent the whole time – working since childhood to bring down Hydra from within?

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Finally, Steve nears the end of his rallying speech, about how the world is weak and corrupt and needs the “peace through strength” that the glory of the true Hydra can bring them. The true Hydra, he rants on, isn’t based on blind hatred and intolerance, and it wasn’t built to deify one figurehead. Selvig, Steve claims, knows the truth about “who we are and what we do,” and that he knows Hydra needs to be purified in order to rise again, and that’s why Steve needs Selvig’s help — to help him kill the Red Skull.

Okay. So, I had a feeling that this would be where this book would go – that Hydra!Steve would somehow be responsible for bringing down Hydra as we know it — but there’s still more questions than answers here. Most pressingly — WHAT IS THE HYDRA THAT STEVE BELIEVES IN? CAN YOU PLEASE JUST TELL ME THIS, NICK SPENCER, C’MON, LET’S GO. Kobik gave Steve — and Selvig, presumably — the “Hydra of her stories” and the standard Hydra practices don’t seem to be something that Steve supports. So. What, exactly, is Steve trying to restore?

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Also, Steve sees this task as his destiny — a future that has been foretold – and this statement is presented over a panel of Ulysses, root of all Civil War II drama, running through the woods where he was first found by the Inhumans. What’s going on there? How will that story tie into this one — has Ulysses had visions involving Steve, and could he be the one to reveal Steve’s allegiance? Shouldn’t he be just as much of a threat as Jack Flag?

There’s also the matter of whether Steve actually even IS a Hydra agent — did he actually get groomed and conditioned by Elisa Sinclair after he learned she killed his parents? Is she still the hero to him that he initially implied her to be? Or has he been secretly working against Hydra from within, ever since childhood? If these memories came from Kobik, why would she make something so horrible happen? And why is she cockblocking my Stucky… ahem, I mean, cutting off communication between Captain America and the Winter Soldier? C’mon, Bucky’s weird kid, I really believe in you not being evil! Don’t let me down!

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This issue was allegedly a Civil War II tie-in but nothing about this story involved Steve stepping between Tony and Carol as a peacemaker as the cover implied. Perhaps next month, though? “In another Civil War II tie-in, as heroes choose sides and tragedy strikes, Steve takes steps to end the war. Guest-starring the Invincible Iron Man!”

Captain America: Steve Rogers #5 will be released on Wednesday, September 28.

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