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New Releases - Sam Wilson: Captain America

Sam_wilson_captain_americaDo you ever read something and immediately think “Well this is going to cause trouble”?

Sam Wilson: Captain America #1

Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Daniel Acuna
Published by Marvel Comics

The new Captain America lands in the ‘Eight months later’, post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe with something of a bang, and not only in the pages of the comic. We join our hero in an uncertain time: on the outs with SHIELD, working on a shoestring as a private operative in partnership with Misty Knight, and suffering public and media fallout from his decision to stand up. The cause? He's dared to stand up and say that, in essence, things are far from perfect in the US, inequality is rife, and that Captain America’s job is to stand for, and unite, all Americans, not just those with money or power. So you can imagine how well that goes over.

Into this volatile situation, Cap launches a hotline so ordinary people can report matters that need his attention. Spencer’s view of what most people would actually do with such a facility is pretty much in line with my own: neighbours’ disputes, petty grievances, random paranoia and general abuse inevitably follow. But amongst the crap is a report from close to Mexico of a missing son, plus a suggestion that The Sons of the Serpent are involved. Sam heads south to where the Sons (masked 'protectors of the border') are threatening a group which has crossed the border, which leads to a somewhat unexpected showdown.

Let’s get the review part of this out of the way in short order: this comic is great.

Spencer’s storytelling is spot on, framing the whole issue with a scene featuring Sam - stuck in a middle seat on his flight back to New York - and his fellow travellers. By itself this conveys a huge amount of information about Cap’s current status. The comic flits between scenes and points in time, deftly and fluidly - keeping everything moving at a fair old pace. The only criticism I’d make, and it’s minor, because I assume we’ll get more detail over time, is that it’s not clear exactly why SHIELD is so excessively antagonistic towards Captain America. Okay, he’s sticking up for the little guy, but it feels like something specific must have happened to set them against him.

I suspect that Daniel Acuna’s art would probably be considered an acquired taste - I’ve certainly acquired it and I think it does a great job in complementing Spencer’s story. His faces are always incredibly expressive, his action scenes dynamic, and his way with an occasional comedy ‘bit’ is a great addition to the feel of his work.

Cap flies coachIn the "off the page"/"this will cause trouble" side of things though: well, a lot of column inches and airtime (seriously) have already been given over to this, but here’s my take.

First, let’s look at the red rags. The new (black) Captain America takes a public position against institutional power and, specifically, for the victims of the institutional inequality that defines many Americans’ experience. Additionally, he goes out to protect a group of illegal immigrants from an aggressive group of fascist (let’s not even sugar coat it with 'conservative') defenders of the border. Red rags flapping around all over.

So who would that make the bulls. Yep - FOX News and the world of right-wing pundits which I suspect overlaps significantly with this week’s other wingnut contingent, the ones calling for a boycott of Star Wars because it promotes "white genocide".

Amid the calls for Spencer to resign and claims that Marvel has turned Cap into a leftie extremist who would attack Conservative US citizens while protecting lawbreakers lies a typical lack of consideration - both for the actual story depicted (the Sons of the Serpent are violent thugs assaulting and abducting people, so how is a superhero meant not to try to stop them?) and the history of the identity (as distinct from the character behind the identity).

Captain America is an anti-fascist invention. He fought Nazis and punched Hitler, for heaven’s sake. And it’s entirely within precedent for the bearer of the shield to hold himself to a standard that’s more about the ideal of the United States of America than the policies of those temporarily in power. Steve Rogers actually gave up the Cap identity at one point precisely because he felt those two things were at odds. That Rogers and Wilson now seem to be in conflict themselves adds a further dimension to the comic, but back out in the real world, let's face it, if this was Steve Rogers' storyline there'd be a lot less outcry from the currently strident voices.

Spencer has discussed the issue and the reaction to it extensively on Twitter, noting that, over time, his Cap will encounter opposition of all political shades, and, apart from wishing that he didn’t feel the need to explain his work, his comments have me pretty interested for what’s to come. The political and social context he’s painted for the Marvel Universe looks a lot like that of the real world - only with added shields. A comic that’s overtly political, addressing situations that reflect those we see in the (non-FOX) news, is definitely one I can get behind.