The second issue of Marvel’s Thunderbolts features Bucky Barnes playing grumpy dad to a child-shaped cosmic cube and four adult criminals.
How will a rag-tag volunteer army in need of a shower somehow defeat a global superpower? How did they emerge victorious from Pleasant Hill, leave the battlefield and find job openings to fill? It turns out they have a secret weapon, an assassin you know and love who’s unafraid to step in! He’s constantly mistrustin’, leaving S.H.I.E.L.D. goons with concussion, everyone give it up for America’s favorite brainwashed Russian! BUCKY BARNES! He took Thunderbolts by the scruff, making diamonds shine outta the rough! BUCKY BARNES! And he’s never gonna stop until… okay. Okay. Enough. Sorry.
Issue #2 of Jim Zub’s Bucky-led Thunderbolts is out today. This series has quickly established itself as a must-read for any Winter Soldier fan, so catch up now, before Civil War II and Hydra!Steve start wreaking real havoc, instead of the usual standard of havoc that pisses Bucky Barnes off on a day-to-day basis.
Previously, in ‘Thunderbolts’…
Thunderbolts picked up Bucky’s story after the recent events of Avengers Standoff, in which the sentient cosmic cube Kobik, who takes the form of a four year old girl, was freed from Baron Zemo’s clutches by the Avengers. In her childish rage she became gigantic and scary (the same scene in which she vanishes Zemo and Dr. Selvig, tying into Captain America: Steve Rogers #1) and Bucky tried to take her out, so she magically threw him out a window and halfway across Pleasant Hill. She later finds him in the woods and they have a bonding moment about what it means to be used as a weapon, and Bucky agrees to hide and protect her. However, on their way outta dodge, they end up helping some of the scattered supervillian prisoners evade capture. In exchange for Bucky’s protection, they agree to commit themselves to the cause of making sure S.H.I.E.L.D. never uses the Kobik Project again, and thus the new Thunderbolts were born.
The original Thunderbolts, who first appeared in 1997, were a superhero team made up of villains initially only masquerading as heroes in order to gain a position of trust and power from which to commit nefarious deeds. However, the Thunderbolts gain a new-found sense of nobility through their actions and actually become the heroes they were pretending to be. Jim Zub’s Thunderbolts of the All-New, All Different Marvel regime features several characters from the original Thunderbolts line-up in a brand new story.
- Erik Josten — Atlas. An indestructible fighter with the ability to increase his size and mass. Erik is an immortal made of “ionic energy,” with superhuman strength and durability even at normal size. He was a relatively quiet inmate at Pleasant Hill, disguised by Kobik as a mailman.
- Karla Sofen — Moonstone. One of Zemo’s allies in the Pleasant Hill siege, she broke ranks when he vanished. Karla is a psychologist who wields the powers of a Kree gravity stone, which allows her to, among other things, fly and zap things with energy. The stone is bonded to her life force.
- Paul Norbert Ebersol — The Fixer. A mechanical supergenius who wears an advanced adaptable tech suit, Norbert discovered the Pleasant Hill secret and invented a way to reinstate the memories and identities of the supervillains. He was tasked by Zemo to revert Kobik to cosmic cube state.
- Abner Jenkins — Mach-X. No superhuman abilities, but due to his skills in mechanics and engineering, he wears a suit of power armor which allows him to fly and fight with super strength. Abe was already redeemed and working for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a Pleasant Hill security guard.
Thunderbolts #1 was basically a standard exercise in scene-setting — we learn about the team dynamics, their hide-out, and their standard missions to gather and destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. intel. It features Bucky inner-monologuing about how he lives his life by the motto, “What Would Steve Do?” but how he worries Steve won’t understand his new mission — going outside the law in order to stop S.H.I.E.L.D. from going above the law. It also features Bucky playing the role of reluctant caregiver not only to an actual, albeit somewhat supernatural, child, but to four bickering adults who have to be scolded into remembering things like using non-lethal force. The best scene combines those two factors, when, after Karla complains about the showers and Kobik uses her powers to turn their underground bunker into a luxury palace, Bucky lays down the law in the others not treating her like a wish-granting genie.
Kobik stows away on the group’s next mission and Bucky is forced to let her accompany them as they follow a signal and discover a nest full of huge human-sized cocoons. Bucky’s cautious decision-making causes Moonstone to question his authority and they nearly come to blows. When Karla challenges anyone to take the moonstone — her idea of power, and the right to lead — from her, Kobik, all-powerful and naive, excitedly does just that, ripping it from inside Karla’s chest and the issue ends with the child transforming into Moonstone herself, with Karla lying bloody on the floor.
Put that thing back where it came from or so help me…
Thunderbolts #2 picks up right at this critical moment, as Kobik delights in her victory as the new “leader” of the Thunderbolts and the guys struggle to keep Karla alive. Bucky, pulling himself together and aware that Kobik can repair her own damage, goes into full dad-mode and reads her the riot act about what she did wrong and what she needs to do to fix it, and once Kobik realizes this isn’t all part of a wonderful game, she puts the moonstone back in Karla’s gaping chest-hole, and heals it up.
Once Moonstone begins to recover, the Thunderbolts must address the original issue at hand — the weird cocoon pods they found when following one of the “threat” signals in the database Bucky inherited from Nick Fury. Karla weakly re-suggests her original plan of burning the place to the ground. Similar to the cocoons that the Inhumans go into when they encounter the Terrigan mist and gain their powers (recently seen in Civil War II), but more uniform, Bucky insists they gather data on what might be gestating inside.
When Fixer uses his tech to draw samples for analysis, the cocoon he’s working on cracks open and the thing inside — a strange and violent purple humanoid — immediately attacks. More eggs hatch and the team fights off a variety of different purple bat-robot-alien creatures, who speak in an unrecognizable language. Bucky orders the situation contained, and Atlas goes on a little side mission when a couple of them escape, which does double duty in inspiring some young teens to seize the day after a near-death experience and in publicly revealing the Thunderbolts’ position.
When the team manages to vanquish their squishy foes and discover that half of the pods are still unhatched, Bucky reluctantly cedes to Karla’s wishes and gives the order to burn the remaining nest. Unfortunately, as soon as they do this, Fixer starts picking up another signal, and the Thunderbolts are immediately confronted by a group of Inhumans, led by Crystal, sister of Medusa (also recently seen in Civil War II) screaming at them: “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
Thunderbolts #2 covers a relatively short sequence of events, but it establishes a couple of crucial points that are sure to cause Bucky a lot of headaches. Firstly, those purple guys were apparently important and the Thunderbolts are now in trouble with the Inhuman royal family. Not sure how Bucky’s going to respond to this one. “Oh, sorry, were you like, saving these for a special occasion or something? My bad…” Given that the Inhumans are already major players in Civil War II, the possibilities of what this effects are endless.
Secondly, managing this team is like herding cats. Their individual personalities are starting to come into play, with Karla quick to anger and vying for dominance with Bucky; Erik is slow and good-natured, liable to make mistakes; and Norbert feeling bitter and short-changed, and very hostile towards Kobik. The slightly frattish Abe is Bucky’s best ally so far, and the team are loyal enough to save each other’s skins, but they’ve got a way to go. Fans of grumpy Bucky will adore the petty grievances that he’s faced with while putting himself in charge of this bunch of criminals — he must be doing the world’s longest, slowest eyeroll. Despite serving as Cap, Bucky is not the most patient or rational guy on his best days, so forcing him into a position in which he has to teach others to be responsible is pretty genius and hilarious.
Still no word on why Kobik’s appearance has been changed from that of a normal pre-schooler to a silver-haired anime protagonist, but I’ll allow artist Jon Malin his indulgences if we get to keep the beautifully slender and androgynous Bucky, who despite his first appearance as a baby-faced boy wonder, some artists choose to draw as a middle-aged roid-rage bodybuilder with a jaw to rival Tarantino’s. The relationship between Bucky and Kobik continues to be the most endearing thing ever — he “parents” her in an admirable way, making sure she understands what she’s being told to do and why — but if this creative team really wants to make a slave out of me, they’ll include a panel of the pair of them doing each other’s hair before some sort of inevitable doom forces them apart.
Most importantly, Thunderbolts #2 hammers home just how dangerous Kobik is — whether Bucky likes it or not, she’s a major liability. Her near-unlimited power and genuine obliviousness make her a cute and innocent wildcard, and the real question is — what’s to become of her? She has no one to look after her besides the Thunderbolts — they’ve sworn to protect her, but they can’t keep carting her around on missions, both for her own safety and literally everyone else’s. Will they take turns staying home with her, lessening the team’s number in the field?
Or does this baby have some fast growing up to do? She asks to help, in the fight, and Bucky does not let her. There’s no doubt that Kobik’s powers could be a huge asset to anyone when channeled correctly, but the likelihood of Bucky actually using her as a fighter is small. After all, the very reason he’s become her guardian is to prevent people using her as a weapon, an issue that he’s understandably sensitive to. Perhaps he’ll be forced to let her make her own decisions, but she is very much four years old. Perhaps she’ll know she’s needed and mature into an older being — she probably has the ability to do this, but I feel like there’s no circumstance in which it would be okay for her to join their ranks as she is now.
Perhaps she just needs some more of Bucky’s off-beat parenting skills in order to understand what’s not allowed, like, for example, ripping out someone’s life force. The incident with Moonstone proves that while Kobik seems aware of the scope of her power, she has no idea of the consequences. As for the consequences of Bucky roasting the Inhumans’ special supply of raw alien eggs? Tune in next month for Thunderbolts #3. Marvel’s official synopsis? “Who needs diplomacy when there are faces that need punching?” Now, that sounds like the Bucky Barnes we know and love.
By the way, if you’re curious about the potential upcoming page-time shared between Bucky and Steve, the Thunderbolts #2 letters page contained a rather interesting comment from writer Jim Zub, in response to last month’s plea for people to write in about how dreamy they found the Winter Soldier and who he should kiss. Chloe Smith writes:
I loved Thunderbolts #1! In response to the questions asked, I (and many other fans) would love it if the Winter Soldier kissed Steve Rogers/Captain America. It can be platonically or romantically, but Cap and the Winter Soldier’s relationship, whether you view it as platonic or romantic, is so inspiring and comforting to so many fans, that it would be amazing to see the relationship reflected through a kiss (if possible), please.
P.S. Also, the Winter Soldier is so dreamy. SO dreamy.”
“Thank you so much for reading and supporting Thunderbolts, Chloe! It’s exciting (and, if I’m being 100% honest, a bit intimidating) to write the next chapter of Bucky’s story.
I know there’s a strong contingent of readers who love seeing the bond between Steve and Bucky onscreen, online and in the pages of their favorite comics. It’s the kind of fan fervor that genuinely warms my heart and reminds me how far-reaching the work we do can be. None of this would be possible without a passionate fan base and all of us on the team know that.
Over the next few months there are going to be cataclysmic events happening here in Thunderbolts, Captain America and The Avengers that will test the bond between Steve and Bucky. I can’t promise a kiss between them, but I can tell you that the drama will be intense and every Marvel reader will be talking about it.”
All in all, a very considerate response — like Winter Soldier creator Ed Brubaker, Zub seems to think it’s perfectly reasonable for us to ship Stucky, regardless of how Marvel chooses to portray their relationship. However, what’s interesting here in terms of actual canon is the promise that Bucky’s story will interact with Steve’s very soon, with emotional results. I wonder what on earth could test the bond between them? Wait, could it possibly be the fact that right now, Steve Rogers is apparently an agent of Hydra and has been his whole life? Could that possibly be it? Surely not.
Thunderbolts #3 will be released on Wednesday, July 20.