I wouldn't believe that it was possible to tell a story so seamlessly in the past, immediate past, and present, but Spencer essentially puts on a clinic here in doing exactly that.
We learn that Cap and Sam's schism came as a result of a whistle-blower dubbed "the Whisperer." S/he released a tranche of classified information to the public to expose the "Kobik Program," S.H.I.E.L.D.'s plan to re-assemble a Cosmic Cube. Maria Hill defends the decision publicly -- using the recent incursions experiences as justification -- but both Sam and Steve oppose it. (On the incursions, it seems that people may really retain their memories of Battleworld if they remember incursions. Maybe? It's still unclear. This issue is probably the first one where I obviously felt like the story that the author was trying to tell was at least partially compromised by the delay in wrapping up "Secret Wars.")
Anyway, Sam and Steve don't disagree over Kobik: they disagree over Maria's subsequent witch hunt to find the Whisperer. Steve believes that the Whisperer needs to be held accountable, in no small part because some of the other information that he released put agents' lives in danger. Sam believes that Steve has an overly rosy view of the justice system, particularly given that he thinks that the Whisperer will be given the same form of justice that he got when he had to account for his actions during "Civil War." (#whiteprivilege) Sam heads off S.H.I.E.L.D. at the path as they attempt to take in the Whisperer, allowing him/her to escape. It obviously explains the tension with S.H.I.E.L.D. and Steve that Sam now experiences.
But, it doesn't end there. The Whisperer repays the favor by leaking the information about HYDRA to Sam, setting up the battle that we saw in the first issue. We learn that Sam got immunity for his actions in that fight, and it explains why Steve is unable to arrest him in this issue. Before Sam and Steve can resolve their stand-off, one of the Sons of the Serpents grabs the grandson of the woman who called Sam's hotline last issue and uses a short-range teleporter to escape. Sam is understandably suspicious about how such a low-tech group got access to such technology. Use his link to birds, he tracks down the duo and discovers that they're working together: they round up young men crossing the border and ship them to Dr. Malus in New York. Cue the Armadillo, one of Malus' creations who's still mad at Sam for not delivering on a previous promise to help cure him. (I have no memory of this promise, but I'm just going to go with it.) Sam manages to escape and heads to New York to take out Malus.
Again, Spencer really does an amazing amount of stuff in just two issues. Normally, I'd figure that such an arc would've been four or five issues long. Instead, Spencer manages to bridge the gap between the last time that we saw Sam and Steve and the present. He fully updates Sam's status quo, injects it with a tension that makes you think, and still delivers a pretty solid story as a framing device. It's also amazingly fun, putting Sam out there in the public and using humor to skewer the poisonous political environment of today. Spencer has a great ear for Sam's world-weary thoughts, and it's a treat to watch him move through this issue: you can practically hear him sighing. In other words, it's pretty damn good work for just two issues.
**** (four of five stars)