Captain America #1
“Winter in America: Part I”
Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates
Pencils: Leinil Francis Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Cho
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Joe Caramagna
Cover artists: Alex Ross (regular)/Adam Hughes; Joe Jusko; David Mack; Frank Miller; Paul Renaud, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby; Marko Djurdjevic; Ron Garney; Mike Zeck; and John Cassaday
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Publisher: Marvel Entertainment
Price: $4.99 US
We got a little taste of what writer Ta-Nehisi had in mind with this title in one of Marvel’s Free Comic Book Day offerings this year, but it didn’t really hook me. I felt rather the same way about the first couple of issues of his Black Panther run, as I felt it relied so much on Priest’s contributions to the character that it paled in comparison. With this first full issue of Cap, though, Coates has piqued my interest. He explores the notion of a broken America beset upon by a foreign power through the lens of the super-hero genre, and there’s a great deal of potential in it. My only qualm with this issue is the scant amount of exposition that really would have made for a more accessible read, given the amount of recent continuity that factors into the script.
In the wake of Hydra’s near-takeover of the United States of America, the country’s psyche is cracked, especially in light of the fact that the populace believes its beloved Captain America led the brutal coup. Cap — backed up by his and his allies Sharon Carter and the Winter Soldier — is determined to restore the public’s trust in him and to continue his mission to protect the people and the American Dream. But when an army of disillusioned cybernetic soldiers, bearing the flag on their faces, runs amok in Washington, D.C., the Sentinel of Liberty fears restoring order and faith may be too great a task. Meanwhile, two metahuman warriors stir up fervor in Russia, using the carcass of Hydra as their call to action.
Leinil Francis Yu’s loose and gritty style works well with the overall tone of the plot here; it conveys the intensity and dark edge of the action and the characters. He’s able to capture a quieter humanity in his characters as well; that’s particularly evidence when Steve and Sharon go to dinner. He conveys Sharon’s age and vulnerability quite well, just as he showed us her strength earlier. I love how he still portrays her as beautiful without sacrificing her advanced age.
However, that advanced age was a problem for me. I’ve been reading a lot of Marvel comics for decades, but I have no idea how Sharon Carter ended up physically older than the Second World War legend whom she loves. I don’t know when this was done, but every time I encounter the idea, it puzzles me, and it takes me right out of whatever story I’m reading. That’s no different this time around. There are other elements that play a role in this story — the events of Secret Empire among them — that I don’t know well enough to appreciate this plot. Coates’s script doesn’t include nearly enough exposition about the recent Marvel history upon which this story is built. Furthermore, I suspect we’re supposed to recognize one of both of the Russian antagonists here; I wonder if one might be an X-Men villain I remember vaguely from the 1980s, but again, the writer doesn’t provide any hint of context.
It merits note that of all of the players in this drama, Captain America is the sole engine of pure idealism. Carter, Winter Soldier, General Ross and the superhuman women manipulating the Russian people are all pragmatists, cynics even. It’s a fitting commentary on the state of America. It’s divided, not just along political and social lines, but within them as well. Even people on the same side of an ideological fight bicker among themselves. Cynicism grows as scandals mount and nothing changes. Everyone’s waiting for the right savior to come along, or the other shoe to drop that will change everything for the better, to restore the original ideals of America and replace the isolationism and nationalism.
Captain America has always played that role in Marvel’s comics over the decades, but I have not idea if that will prove to be the case this time around. Maybe Coates is planning the traditional Cap story, engulfing the hero’s world in flames only to show him rushing in to douse them, to save the day, to build things up again. Or maybe he’s telling us that waiting for that one man or woman to turn things around, waiting for the simple and powerful solution, isn’t the way out of the mess.
Either way, I’m interested to see what the writer has to say, what he has in store. 7/10