The second issue of Thunderbolts dropped last week, and there’s a lot to like.
Rather than throw the audience into an overly intricate plot, the story thus far involves a series of missions with easy-to-understand parameters that have enabled both the writer and the readers to explore developing relationships between the title’s assorted characters. And we’ve already gotten a taste of some very interesting character dynamics—most notably between Bucky Barnes and his surrogate cosmic-cube daughter, Kobik, and between Bucky and his would-be second-in-command, Karla Sofen (a.k.a. Moonstone).
It’s still early days, of course, but at this point the most compelling relationship in the series by far is between Bucky and Kobik, two people who each need something from the other that neither completely understands yet. Kobik is a being of infinite power, and yet she is reined in by her desire to prove to Bucky that she’s not a bad person. Bucky, on the other hand, is a non-powered superhero (unlike his cinematic counterpart, he was never given any version of the supersoldier formula) who feels compelled to protect this hyper-powered child: not just from outside threats, but from herself. He does not want her to kill; he does not want her to be forced into a position where she must use her powers for defense or offense. He wants her to be able to be a child. Or, at the very least, as much of a child as she can be under the circumstances.
This desire to protect Kobik—to keep her both out of harm’s way and out of the position of sacrificing her childhood to the fight—might derive from Bucky’s memories of his own defunct childhood, when he trained to kill and fought a war before he was old enough to shave. It is a desire at odds with Kobik’s own need to prove herself to Bucky, however, and it will undoubtedly continue to be a sticking point between the two of them going forward—a sticking point that is complicated by both external and internal factors. Because in the midst of his fledgling attempts at parenting, Bucky is also called upon to maintain his authority in the face of powerful associates, in particular the delightfully morally-flexible Karla Sofen.
It is Bucky’s battle of wills with Karla that lead to his most fraught confrontation with Kobik. In the series debut issue, Kobik—ill-advisedly allowed to come along for the ride—rips Karla’s gravity stone out of her body after an argument about who should be the leader of the Thunderbolts breaks out in the middle of a mission. In the second issue, Bucky is forced to handle the situation, and quickly, and his order of operations was very telling—both of his experience with children and of his concern for his teammates’ well-being. First, he tries ordering Kobik to return the stone to Karla and save her life. Doing so only makes Kobik cry, however, and sends her into tantrum mode. Next, he tries reasoning with her, but that does no good as being yelled at has already driven her to tantrum-inspired levels of stubbornness. So finally, Bucky is left with only one option: an ultimatum that will put the fear of god into Kobik.
And he doesn’t like it one bit.
At the same time that Karla complicates Bucky’s relationship with Kobik, Kobik complicates his relationship with Karla and the other members of the Thunderbolts. The dispute between Bucky and Karla was only taken to such deadly lengths because of Kobik’s failure to understand the facetious nature of the ridiculous tough talk that superheroes tend to engage in whenever they get their backs up. Without the volatile component of a small, infinitely-powered, child on hand, Karla Sofen would never have been in mortal danger. She and Bucky might have fought, and it might have been a typical superhero shit show, but he would never have actually attempted to take the stone from her—knowing, as he does, what it is and how her body is dependent on it for life.
Thus, Kobik functions not just as an integral character in the story but as a powerful narrative device. In her responses to situations that comic book characters and their intrepid readers typically take for granted, she offers a lens through which the reader (and perhaps the characters themselves) can view the sillier aspects of costumed-hero bravado—and the uncomfortable reality of that silliness’s potential consequences. As much as her antics threaten to pull them apart, Kobik has the ability to bring these rogues far more closer together than they would otherwise have been, and while Bucky is perhaps the only person on the team who sees that right now, I expect that the others will eventually follow suit.