The character of Captain America experienced some tumultuous years as of late. Thanks to the fallout a Secret Empire it’s been tough for some fans to get behind the star-spangled soldier outside of the character’s portrayal in the films. It makes sense,r then, that when Marvel first announced that writer Ta-Nehisi Coates (Black Panther, We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy) was taking the reins of Captain America and re-launching his title there was a ton of buzz.
Coates is a firebrand writer who doesn’t hesitate to bring his own worldview on the political landscape of today into his comic work. He often crafts smart, biting commentary on social issues by utilizing pop culture‘s greatest fictional heroes, and with Captain America #1 Coates does it again, turning what could’ve just been another punch fest into a quiet meditation on patriotism and how the sins of our past paint our present and trying to stop them from painting our future.
To be fair Coates isn’t necessarily bringing anything new to the table with Captain America. The notion of Steve Rogers seeing the country he has pledged himself to go in a direction he doesn’t necessarily agree with or understand it’s something that the character has had to reconcile with many times. It’s also something that many members of the armed forces go through. But Coates and artist Leinil Francis Yu (Superior, New Avengers) handle the subject with compassion and finesse.
Now, again, for readers who are looking for the old-school punch-em-up Captain America comic, this may not be your bag. The issue begins with an explosive fight between Captain America and a gang of Nukes (because, you know, comics are weird) but the skirmish is rather brief. Once the dust settles, the reader is forced to take a closer look at the fallout of an all-out terrorist attack and what it means for the mental stability of the people who survived through it, Steve Rogers included.
Captain America often works best as an espionage book as proven by writers like Ed Brubaker. But Coates is well aware Cap also works well as a parable for how multiple ideologies, be they extreme or subtle, can exist under the same flag. To claim ownership of that flag because you feel an ideology is correct compared to another is dangerous territory for anyone to be in, even if you’re superhuman, and it’s obvious Steve Rogers will be dealing with this in the months ahead.
Throughout the issue, Yu is firing on all cylinders; his line work is clean, and the way he sequences the opening action sequence evokes the best Hollywood blockbusters. The quieter scenes between Steve and Sharon are rendered well, the emotional turmoil in their relationship reading like poetry in the lines of their faces and the backs of their hands.
Captain America #1 isn’t without its faults, however. The comic definitely has something to say, and there will be chunks of comic fans who may not want to hear it. It doesn’t matter the character has been a political pop culture sieve (and even a tool of propaganda) since his inception in the 1940; the messages in Captain America #1 will be seen as ham fisted and one-sided by some. Fortunately, the comic is asking questions and not necessarily shoving answers down your throat (for the most part). Are those questions a little leading? Sure, sometimes. But any comic book that makes you explore a line of thinking outside your wheelhouse, or pushes you out of your comfort zone, is a worthwhile piece of fiction — not just fiction within the graphic medium, but fiction in general.
It’s safe to assume this book being released on the Fourth of July was definitely part of its marketing. But despite its release being a little bit on the nose, we’re sure a lot of you already had this one in your pull list. In that sense, recommending it is almost an act of futility. You’re probably going to check this comic out, and we’re really only assuring you that you really should. It’s a solid first issue in a new chapter in the ongoing saga of America’s greatest superhero handled by two pros at the top of their game. What’s not to love?