Captain America: Sam Wilson #3

Here's what's great about Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuña's run on "Captain America: Sam Wilson" to date: it's a perfect mix of humor and drama. Spencer, Acuña and Mike Choi bring more of that combination to the page in "Captain America: Sam Wilson" #3, as Captain America continues to hunt down the missing Joaquin Torres, even as we get the return of the concept no one was asking for: CapWolf.

Back in 1992, "Captain America" ran a storyline in which Captain America was turned into a werewolf for several months. Often brought up as an example of the increasingly ludicrous storylines running in the title, it's safe to say few writers since then thought that bringing back the idea was a good one. However, with Spencer's storyline using concepts of gene-splicing and transmutation, suddenly we get the return of CapWolf. But here's the thing: it actually works.

Spencer knows the whole idea of CapWolf is ludicrous. There's a knowing wink to the audience, between Misty Knight's overt jokes referencing "Teen Wolf" and "American Werewolf in London" to lines like, "Earn that Alpo!" Is it ridiculous? Absolutely. At the same time, there's also a level of drama that keeps the book from shifting into self-parody and grounds the overall comic. Having a villain who was last seen being eaten by Carnage isn't the most serious of concept to work from, for example, but it's a sick and horrific experience to hear about it from the person who somehow survived. The craziest concept gets a serious side; this is ultimately a story about body modifications, something that is less fantasy and more reality with each passing year. Along those lines, the final scene where we learn just where this overall storyline is heading may seem silly at first, but -- the second you stop and think about it -- it's far more real than one might think or hope. Spencer's ability to mix the real world with his comic stories is a high point for the book.

Spencer shifts the spotlight between Sam Wilson and Misty Knight; they're a fun duo working together, and -- while they're quite effective -- it's their combined presence that brings some of the earlier-mentioned levity. Over time, I believe this pairing could grow to be memorable as ones like Captain America and Sharon Carter or Diamondback.

Acuña's art is attractive, with a slightly blocky look with smooth edges and deep, attractive colors. Dr. Malus leaping through the air with tentacles emerging from his body is wonderfully creepy even as it kicks the action into high gear, and the visual look of CapWolf manages to be imposing rather than ridiculous. There are also some great layouts going on in "Captain America: Sam Wilson" #3; my favorite is the two-page spread where the bottom two-thirds of the pages involve diagonal slices cutting up the panels. It's not only fun, but the angle gives the panels an extra level of energy. Choi steps in for a few pages in this issue, and it's to his credit that he's able to keep the overall look and feel of the comic unbroken. The characters have a little more texture to their faces, but -- if you aren't looking for the artistic shift -- it's quite possible you could actually miss it.

"Captain America: Sam Wilson" #3 is a very strong comic, and -- of the big relaunches at Marvel this fall -- it's one of the big winners overall. Spencer, Acuña and Choi have given us a nicely paced comic that is serious without being overly so. A dash of fun alongside grim concepts? Big thumbs up. This Captain America is the real deal.

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