Stepping out of the events of the “Assault on Pleasant Hill” crossover, Steve Rogers has his youth back once more in Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz’s “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #1. There’s a newly reincarnated version of Hydra making moves, too, and readers who have managed to stay off social media since the issue’s release will discover a surprising connection between the two. This aside, Spencer and Saiz’s issue is a stiff and asynchronous reintroduction, one that’s difficult to read long before the shocking cliffhanger ending.
The issue starts off well enough, with a flashback to Steve as a young boy who witnesses a public and violent dispute between his mother and drunken father. Saiz employs an attractively muted color palette to the scene, save for the red worn by newcomer Elisa Sinclair, a woman destined to (retroactively) shape the future of young Steve. Many colorists opt for sepia tones when flashing back to the early twentieth century, but Saiz eschews this option to good effect.
Spencer’s story quickly falls apart after that, though. The new/old Cap is reintroduced soon enough, but — as laid out by Saiz — the intro seems to want readers to meet Cap’s new shield as much as Cap himself. Spencer clearly lays out the situation via his narration, but the very next page makes an abrupt shift with a lengthy and overly verbose introduction of the foe Cap is about to face. Spencer doesn’t bother to explain the connection beforehand, though, and Saiz’s transition doesn’t help the narrative; this segment of the issue almost reads like the pages of two different comics got jumbled up in production. Readers aren’t really clued in to the reason why they must endure this meandering and disjointed detour until Spencer finally clears it up several pages later.
Spencer reinvents Hydra as a racist-driven ISIS-type organization, but the concept is applied so realistically that it doesn’t feel like something that requires superhero intervention; while a dire real-world threat, suicide bombers don’t really scream Doctor Doom or Magneto-level villainy, at least as it’s established here. The nature of the threat deflates the script and comes across as a fundamental flaw in Spencer’s story. The shock ending eventually provides some degree of plausibility, but — until then — readers are left wondering why Cap is so worried about terrorists all of a sudden, right after coming off of a reality-altering storyline.
The ending does indeed come across as an ill-conceived development, but readers ready to call for Spencer’s resignation should recall that his restoration of Steve did involve the Cosmic Cube, after all. There are clues in place that may explain this seismic shift in Cap’s standing, and the big reveal that everyone is talking about is not the issue’s biggest misgiving. That belongs to Spencer’s script, which — in addition to being uneven and disjointed — suffers from non-existent chemistry between Steve and Sharon Carter, trite and cliched supervillain monologues and downright terrible dialogue; Baron Zemo actually says “Toodles!” after his rant.
Saiz’ art suffers in many places as well; often, his layouts don’t seem to align to Spencer’s script, while letterer Joe Caramagna squeezes way too many word balloons into some panels and not enough in others. Many of his figures are stiff, and the action sequences don’t carry the same kind of punch the characters in them deliver to each other. His aged take on Sharon reads like an unflattering caricature of Mae West in her later days.
Much of the criticism directed at “Captain America: Steve Rogers” #1 seems unfair and off-base, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty it deserves. This comic isn’t typical of the work normally seen by Spencer or Saiz, but the off-kilter synergy of the pair combined with their own individual misses make this one of the most disappointing issues featuring the original Star-Spangled Avenger in a long time.