Become Loyal to the Dream in Captain America #1
Ta-Nehisi Coates and Leinil Francis Yu’s Captain America #1 serves as the true successor to Nick Spencer’s Captain America run, which was capped off by the polarizing Secret Empire. A terrorist attack launched in Washington DC draws Steve Rogers back into the public eye and the heart of American politics. How will America respond to having a Captain who at one point was leading Hydra to take over the American government? More importantly, how will Coates, an experienced political commentator, fare on the book after it was so panned for how it embraced the politics of its previous creator?
Writing: Secret Empire
Ta-Nehisi Coates is unnecessarily saddled with handling the fallout of Secret Empire despite not actually being its direct successor. This will, sadly, be to the chagrin of new readers, as it seems knowledge of the events of Secret Empire will be virtually necessary to fully understand the introductory issue of Coates’ run. It’s also apparent that Marvel is still intent on backtracking from the presumed original intent of Secret Empire by having Steve Rogers regularly refer to “Hydra using my [his] face.” Despite all this, Coates makes the most of these parts of the issue by using them to introduce the themes that will be most prevalent in his run.
Writing: Winter in America
Coates takes a minute to get on his feet once he is allowed out of the trappings of his predecessor. For a large part of the issue, his Rogers feels like a man playing at being Captain America. He too often spouts lines like, “I took an oath to the flag and I’d die before I betrayed it,” which are at odds with Coates’ almost hyper-intelligent political discourse. He often has Rogers talk in such a self-assured way, only to have him internally narrate nothing but doubts. The two men that readers are presented conflict with each other.
Once Coates is on his feet and readers have recovered from the continuity whiplash, the book actually becomes rather amazing. The centerpiece of the story becomes Steve’s doubt about the state of the American Dream, which in another writer’s hand could feel ham-fisted. Here, under Coates’ pen, it couldn’t hit home more. Questions about America’s commitment to freedom perfectly coincide with softly-veiled metaphors and allusions to current political movements.
There are other questions that the issue teases readers with. Such as, what happens when the staunch symbol of American Exceptionalism is replaced? What does it mean when both America’s heroes and villains wear our colors as a symbol of pride? Should we sacrifice our justice system for safety? It’s all in here along with Coates’ promise to explore it all. Yet it pales in comparison to the implication of Coates’ exploring the relationship between America and Russia. Then the question we should be asking as a reader is… should Russia’s actions in Captain America #1 be seen as good or bad?
There is so much Coates is dealing with in this run. Each individual person deserves to read this for themselves. Readers owe it to themselves to give this a shot.
Leinil Francis Yu was without a doubt the person to take on this Captain America run. Despite not always being exactly his style, the traditional, house style work he delivers does a lot to underline where Rogers is at. The art depicts him as just as much a hero as he sees himself. It’s only the story that puts Rogers’ validity as a force of good in question. Yu is also consistently able to craft beautiful art of people simply sitting around talking. I found myself constantly stopping to marvel at the depictions of Sharon Carter and Thaddeus Ross.
He creates star-spangled spectacular action scenes throughout the issue. Captain America hasn’t very often looked more heroic and inspiring when fending off villainy. He’s also avoided the trap some artists fall into of making the shield look stupid when Cap is just running around with it. My favorite detail, though, is that he accentuates motion lines in an exaggerated red, white, and blue as if Captain America leaves freedom in his wake.
My only complaint isn’t necessarily one of execution. The design of the villainess is outdated. Have we not moved past the leather-clad dominatrix, especially in a book which attempts to be so socially conscious?
There are innumerable reasons why readers should pick this book up. It succeeds valiantly in spite of its context and the occasional failings of its creators. Even if this wasn’t the purely best book I read this week, it will stick in my thoughts the longest. While that can’t necessarily be categorized into a score, know that this book gifts you the most to talk about and that is, in the end, the role of an entertainment medium. I would appeal readers to ignore the opinions of others here and go read Captain America #1 for yourself.
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