Captain America #695
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Chris Samnee
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy
Cover artists: Chris Samnee (regular)/Alex Ross, Mike McKone, Adi Granov, Jim Steranko & John Tyler Christopher (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $3.99 US
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee… Off the top of my head, I can think of only one other active creative in comics today that’s as well suited to one another and as successful in storytelling (Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, for the record). It’s clear that after the tremendous success of their landmark run on Daredevil in recent years, the writer and artist have their pick of projects at Marvel Entertainment. They moved onto Black Widow after DD for a solid, entertaining 12-issue run, but their renegade spy thriller didn’t have quite the same personal impact. While I’m surprised Waid has chosen to return to Captain America (after leaving a lasting mark on the character with his classic run with artist Ron Garney in the late 1990s), I was eager to delve into what he and Samnee had in store for us. After reading the creative team’s inaugural issue, I’m pleased to report there’s definitely the promise of something memorable. And perhaps even more than that; this might be a classic. It’s a relatively quiet and straightforward start, but it’s so positive and idealistic, it’s definitely the right response to the year of divisive, dark Cap stories that preceded it.
Shortly after being revived by the Avengers in his frozen state a decade ago, Captain America visited a small town in Nebraska upon learning of a faction of fascists armed with high-tech weaponry taking a throng of residents, including some kids, hostage. No one knew what to make of the patriotic hero; most hadn’t even heard of the World War II legend, but his daring and skilled rescue left a lasting impression. Steve Rogers learns just how deep a mark he left on the town when he revisits it today, and he finds it a bit ill at ease. But there’s something else happening in the town that’s far more concerning…
Samnee employs a slightly looser, simpler style here that reinforces the brightness and hope that these creators feel Captain America should represent. The action flows seamlessly from panel to panel, page to page. Somehow, despite the simpler, brighter look at play here, the artist does an excellent job of portraying Cap’s costume as real clothing. It doesn’t cling to him like it’s a part of his skin. I especially love the diversity of faces he brings to the mix here. He employs an economy of linework and dots to convey the tender age of kids, and the only adult characters who look like carbon copies of one another are the uniformly (and notably drably) dressed members of the villainous Rampart. Most of all, it’s the expressions on key characters’ faces that grab the reader’s attention. Chief among them is the playful smile Cap shoots the terrified kids to calm them, and the defiant glare young Donna shoots the villains in a climactic moment.
Overall, this is a simple, low-key story, despite the explosive action that opens and closes the issue. Waid’s script is clearly not solely trying to appeal to fans such as me, middle-aged guys who’ve been following super-hero comics for decades. No, incorporating the kids and sticking to the direct motto of “the strong protect the weak” clearly shows an effort to reach younger readers. But it’s not limited there. Waid is reaching out to as wide a demographic as possible with a message of hope, community and selflessness.
The only real disappointment to be found in these pages is the backup story, retelling the original of the titular hero. It’s capably scripted by Robbie Thompson and illustrated by Valerio Schiti, and there’s nothing really wrong with it. Except for the fact that it’s in this comic book, a Cap comic with a main story written by Waid and drawn by Samnee and featuring the same origin story, summed up in a single page rather than three. It didn’t feel like bonus content; it felt like redundant filler.
In the past, Cap, as a character, has avoided politics whenever possible, and that continues here. But given how he symbolizes America and the incredibly divided backdrop of the U.S. in reality, I can’t help but perceive a message. It’s not a political message, per se, but rather a philosophical one. “The strong protect the weak.” Here, it’s borne out as a priority in physical conflict, but I think it’s safe to say it means much more than that. Perhaps that the privileged ought to provide in part for the poor. It could easily be extended to a vision of health care, that the healthy, paying their premiums to participate in the system, are covering the sick. Most importantly, Waid, through Cap, points out there’s always someone smaller than you to protect, and there should always be someone bigger there to protect those who are already strong. Cap flat out rejects that he alone saves the day. He points to others whose actions, though perhaps not as dramatic as his, nevertheless made a huge difference.
This was, as I noted, a simple story that works well as a done-in-one read. My expectation is that a larger, more complex tale awaits us in the issues to come, and I look forward to discovering it. But regardless of any intricacies that may arise, it looks like this creative team plans to maintain a hopeful tone during their tenure on the book. I also hope that in a divided America, they’ll explore common ground rather than one side of the polarized debate that’s running rampant through a country that was once viewed as perhaps the most ideological nation on the planet. 8/10
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