I'm going to attempt to summarize the entire series up to this point. You'll need the information if you want to understand the significance of the events in this issue as well as any subsequent ones. Regardless of what I commit to digital paper, you should get this series, it is incredible.
Renegade Russian general Aleksander Lukin attempted to barter with the Red Skull for possession of an incomplete, partially powered Cosmic Cube. The Cosmic Cube allows its owner to alter reality to suit their needs. The Skull refused, stating that it was his alone. Lukin had the Skull assassinated and stole the Cube.
Fury explains to Cap that they have recently learned that Bucky survived the explosion at the end of World War II. He was saved by Russian scientists and reprogrammed as a KGB sniper, code-named "The Winter Solider". He was used for special missions, being put into suspended animation until the next time. He was eventually discovered by Lukin and ultimately used as the Skull's assassin.
He was eventually sent to kill his former partner. During their fight, Cap managed to grab the Cube and restore Bucky's full memory. Overcome with grief for his actions, he destroyed the Cube and went into temporary hiding. He later allied himself with Nick Fury in issue #21.
Following these events, we learn that the Skull - who was holding the Cube when he was shot - transferred his consciousness into Lukin. The two would-be conquerors now share one mind and one body.
Steve Rogers and Sharon Carter's on-again, off-again relationship has been flipped into the "on" position as of issue #16. This was before the Superhuman Registration Act which led to the Civil War series and its many crossover issues.
In the previous issue, Sharon was undergoing a psychiatric evaluation to determine her fitness to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. It seems that she intentionally disobeyed orders to bring in Captain America, misleading them so she could try to talk Steve into joining the pro-registration side. He refused. She also feels conflicted about her feelings toward Steve.
Unknown to her - or anyone else - her psychiatrist is Dr. Faustus in disguise, who insists that he is responsible for her feelings toward Steve. Faustus, in turn, is employed by the Red Skull/Aleksander Lukin.
Under the direct orders of Nick Fury, Bucky breaks into a hidden SHIELD monitoring station. He accesses a secret room where he overpowers and temporarily disables a next-generation Life Model Decoy (LMD) of Nick Fury, used to keep up appearances.
Bucky activates a real-time holographic interface of Nick, who provides him with some remote on-the-fly advice. He injects a nanotech spying device into the LMD and links it with the monitoring system. In the future when the LMD logs in, Nick will know about it and be able to download what it sees through the device. He'll also be able to control it remotely if necessary.
Bucky watches in horror at the stored footage of the heroes fighting each other. He asks Nick how Cap can allow this to happen. He reminds Bucky that Cap's doing what he can to stop it. Bucky poses the question: "what's wrong with fighting the good fight for your country?" Fury replies that nothing's wrong with it, provided it's voluntary. Fury continues that volunteering to serve your country is one thing, but being forced to do so against your will in the name of safety "... ain't the America I bled for".
He reactivates the LMD and leaves the building for phase two of Nick's plan. Using another of Nick's holograms, he brings a small three-man cape- killer squad nearby. He quickly disables them and steals one of their helmets. The plan is to analyze the technology and determine how they can turn it against them; disabling a few hundred at once instead of a few individuals.
Across the world in Latveria, the Red Skull pays a visit to Dr. Doom. In exchange for proof of his future ascent to greatness as the Baron Of Iron in Eisendorf, 500 years in the past, Doom agrees to work on a specific, unnamed device for the Skull.
Doom assures him that the device will be delivered at the pre-arranged location. He cautions the Skull that it will be good for one use only. The Skull accepts the terms and eagerly waits to use this against his enemy.
Overall an interesting issue. The detailed sequence involving Bucky and Nick planting a spy device inside the LMD of Nick took up the majority of the story. This provides an opportunity to learn where they stand on the registration issue.
Nick's obvious anti-registration stance is explained very clearly in a few sentences, which is characteristic of him. Bucky puts more trust in the government's ability to decide what's right than either Cap or Fury.
Despite the fact that the scene was - for the most part - a "talkie" it didn't drag on, nor seemed rushed. Very admirable.
3.5 webs. While nothing "major" happens in this issue, a lot of minor events happen that made it interesting.
Nick obviously has some long range plan in mind; otherwise he wouldn't be tapping into the monitoring station.
The Skull has plans for Captain America as well. The slow build nearly drives me crazy, but I know that this will pay off in the future.
Fury was removed as head of SHIELD and went into hiding following the events in the Secret War limited series.