It seems like only yesterday dissatisfied readers were sending death threats to Cap writer Nick Spencer because of his last-panel shocker at the end of the first issue of Steve Rogers.
Some of us were more hesitant to rain down knee-jerk critiques, insisting that this is part of a larger story, and that Spencer would divulge why the former Sentinel of Liberty was acting so out of character (not to mention how he could be associated with a group like Hydra, who has never actually had any affiliation to the Nazi party or agenda outside of recruiting various members of the Third Reich who veered more towards World Domination than genetic cleansing BUT I DIGRESS). Thankfully, the creative team does just that in the second issue.
Nick Spencer crafts a very interesting tale that has both nothing to do with and everything to do with the current Steve Rogers. The issue is narrated by the Red Skull, who is behind this whole scenario, and shows a depth of character that defies recent portrayals of the villain where he is more a caricature of himself; Spencer gives a good examination of how the Red Skull thinks so very little of using simple mind control (he's still got the mutant mind-powered part of Professor X's brain fused to his own) to wreck his arch-nemesis, and instead chooses to put in some serious work.
This issue does a tremendous job of also showing how Red Skull came to be in connection with Kobik, the living Cosmic Cube. Spencer shows just how adept he is at a long con, with seeds of this current story stretching back to not just shortly before Pleasant Hill, but beyond, all the way back to one of the first times Skull gets a hold of a cube. It's fascinating to think how wielding a Cosmic Cube is more than just a one-sided task - Kobik recalls having a connection with Skull, sharing in his delight over having the cube. This is an extremely creative twist from Spencer.
We also get to see a more consistent version of Saiz's art this time around, as his inking and coloring is more on-point - there are no weird colors bereft of outlines or inks that don't quite fit the pencils. Saiz is excelling at what he does best: utilizing physical traits to great effect, and really hitting it out of the park with facial expressions. He makes the Red Skull fearsome and believable, all while giving him a range of emotion equal to the fantastically done Dr. Selvig. This is just a beautiful issue.
Truth be told, this is a terrific follow-up to a very overly-criticised first issue: Spencer gives the reader a treat by showing how deep into this story he is (a slow burn worthy of Jonathan Hickman), and the explanation makes perfect sense within this context: of COURSE Steve supports Hydra now! This was about as good an issue as we could get, and as well-timed as one could hope for....even if I don't like that Cap is associated with Hydra now, it still makes sense in the grander scope of the narrative.
Kudos to Spencer for wading through all that horrible shit and showing that he does, in fact, know what he's doing.