When it comes to analysis and speculation, navigating the downhill slalom of comic book continuity can be a serious challenge. Characters often appear across multiple titles, at different (and unspecified) points in their personal history, and engaged in activities that will have a significant impact on the multiple stories happening around them. It is not always clear when those activities are happening in relation to one another. This week’s Captain America: Steve Rogers is a perfect example of this sort of conundrum.
Last month we learned that Kobik, the sentient cosmic cube at the heart of the Pleasant Hill conspiracy, rejuvenated Steve Rogers and purposely rewrote his personal history in the belief that planting the seeds of HYDRA within him would make him a perfect version of himself. This changed readers’ perspective not just on what’s going on with Steve but also on what’s going on with Kobik and her new guardians, the Thunderbolts. Knowing that Kobik deliberately altered Steve’s history in accordance with the beliefs she had been taught by the Red Skull—something she also did to Dr. Erik Selvig—made it seem more than likely that she was living with the Thunderbolts and getting cozy with Steve’s best friend, Bucky Barnes, for similar reasons. Now, however, it appears that that may not be the case. At the very least, she is not with them on his orders. Indeed, the Skull seems to be under the impression (and quite blasé about the fact) that she has left the earth entirely and is no longer his concern.
This naturally raises questions about Kobik’s true motivations. Has she come to regard the Red Skull as an enemy, to see him as yet another person out to use her? Is she now implementing a complex plan to punish him for this? Or is she acting on her own to advance his aims as she understands them? Given how much Kobik likes to surprise her friends, I think it’s very possible that she may be planning to present the conversion of Bucky and the Thunderbolts to the Red Skull as a fait accompli that will earn his approval. Certainly, if she had decided that the Skull was only using her and that changing Steve was wrong, you have to wonder why she hasn’t reversed the transformation yet. (Although, wouldn’t it be wild if she actually had? I don’t think it’s likely, but that’d be one hell of a double bluff, let me tell you.)
Complicating our understanding of this story is a lack of specified chronology. The story of Steve and Bucky and Kobik is presently unfolding across two different titles, Thunderbolts and Captain America: Steve Rogers, but it is not at all clear when what we are seeing is actually happening. We know that everything takes place after the Standoff! crossover, but that’s about all we know. In this week’s issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers, we see Steve ask the Red Skull about finding Kobik and demurely accept the Skull’s assurance that she is now off-world. But in last week’s issue of Thunderbolts, we saw him discover that Kobik is with Bucky and try to get in touch with them. So which event happened first?
The answer to that question is significant.
If Thunderbolts no. 3 precedes Captain America: Steve Rogers no. 3 in continuity as well as in release, that means that Steve is actively lying to the Red Skull about Kobik—an act of defiance on par with his decision to save Erik Selvig behind the Skull’s back. If this week’s issue of Captain America: Steve Rogers precedes last week’s issue of Thunderbolts, however, the jury is still very much out. Obviously, there’s a lot happening behind the scenes that we aren’t yet privy to—nor should be we, as not knowing is what makes stories exciting—but the plot is thickening in all kinds of interesting ways, and it’s making speculation of any kind a very tricky task indeed.
ETA: One of our eagle-eyed readers has posted a link to a recent interview with Thunderbolts writer Jim Zub that sheds some light on the order of events in Thunderbolts no. 3 and CA:SR no. 3. Check it out in the comments section!