REVIEW: Captain America #1

Captain America #1 / Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates / Art: Leinil Francis Yu / Inker: Gerry Alanguillan / Color Artist: Sunny Gho / Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna / Cover Art: Alex Ross / Graphic Designer: Carlos Lao / Publisher: Marvel / July 4, 2018

Hydra’s defeated. Cap’s back. All should be aces, right? Not so fast readers; nothing’s simply black and white anymore. Captain America returns to face the consequences of Secret Empire in Captain America #1, the layered and compelling first issue in Ta’Nehisi Coates’ Winter in America Part 1 arc. Coates seamlessly and unapologetically sets Cap in the middle of a struggling world, brought to life by the precise and potent art of Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Sunny Gho. How do you rebuild a world with broken pieces, people, and ideas? How do you find the hope in relentless hopelessness? Captain America #1 shines a light in the darkness as it seeks to right the wrongs of the past.

There’s no simplistic, easy interpretation of a story like this, especially after the divisive nature of Secret Empire (story and fallout on social media) so, to give this series the thought it’s due, I enlisted the talents of fellow DoYouEvenComicBook family, Theron Couch, to dig deep and review this series together. Two heads are better than one, they say, as long as those heads are not Hydra.

Theron: I’m usually pretty writer-centric, but I wanted to open on the art. I cannot undersell the work Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, and Sunny Gho. Yu and Alanguilan create images with a surprising softness in their lines given the strength the frequently convey. Steve Rogers carries all the visual gravitas out of uniform as he does in uniform, and I credit Yu and Alanguilan with that. Additionally, Gho’s colors add an almost larger than life quality to everything. Because they’re fairly simple, they evoked an almost idealized world—arguably, given the story content, and idealized world gone wrong.

Captain America #1 Cap fights Hydra

Cheryl: I felt that idealized-gone-wrong most strongly in Sharon’s visual development. The stark aging and deep lines on her face are so important. She suffered. She doesn’t get a fresh, young face to meet the world and beat back the bad guys like Cap does. In a medium where women are drawn relentlessly young and without blemish, I found Sharon’s appearance jarring. It’s meant to be. I’m conditioned as much as any other reader to crave the resilience and strength that comes with youth. A wizened old man I’m conditioned to accept. A woman looking worn, tired, and aged? Yeah, that was uncomfortable for me. Through Yu, Alanguilan, and Gho’s art, Sharon emerges and challenges my preconceptions about what she should look like. Her wisdom, gained from a painful experience, would feel less powerful if she’d appeared on the page fresh-faced and youthful.

Theron: That’ a great point. There was something about Sharon that felt so wrong to me despite knowing the plot behind it, but I couldn’t put my finger on it—perhaps because it doesn’t speak to me as personally. Still, the art conveyed something powerful in her few scenes.

Cheryl: I think it speaks to the fact that consequences can last, that things cannot be wiped away as easily as we’d hoped. Cap experiences that in how others react to him wanting to help; he’s not truly trusted yet.

Theron: This! Comics so often have no consequences, or when they do, characters kind of wink at the audience, knowing they won’t last. This is a brutal consequence for Sharon, and she doesn’t pretend otherwise. In a way, it now makes me wonder if Sharon is the more realistic of her and Steve.

Captain America #1 Sharon Steve

Theron: Captain America #1 feels like a huge step up for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ style—though admittedly I haven’t read his Black Panther in some time. Captain America #1 is so minimal in its dialogue and narration that what is said is given extra weight by all the things not said. Further, Coates digs into Cap’s head better that anyone I can think of lately and faces the consequences of Secret Empire head-on, which were largely brushed under the surface.

What do you think? Are you any more familiar with Coates, and am I way off base on my thoughts?

Cheryl: I feel Coates slipped nearly effortlessly into this character and story compared to his Black Panther launch. Black Panther felt slightly stilted, and it took longer to take hold and take off, if that makes sense. It can be easy to fall into the heavy-handed preachy feel with Cap. In a less proficient writer, that could easily happen. After this first issue, readers should feel confident in Coates’ storytelling skills. There’s no hiding from Secret Empire, no emotional dancing around it, no hand-holding. In the Captain America stories since Secret Empire ended, the writers kept a wider berth from directly addressing those events. I was okay with that at the time because I needed a break from the viscerally negative reaction I had to HydraCap and all that followed. Now, however, I’m really ready to engage in the consequences for Steve, his friends, and the rest of that world. Coates balances the weight of the guilt Cap carries, generally revealed through is interactions with others, and Cap’s inspirational (and aspirational) voice that I’ve come to love. I’m confident Coates found Cap’s voice.

Theron: What surprised me the most about Captain America #1 wasn’t that Coates used the Secret Empire aftermath as a metaphor for some of the strife but that he featured two opposing sides. The opening bad guys Cap beats are anti-Hydra. Later, we see street fights perpetrated by pro-Hydra young men. In the background, Coates drops in instances of the new president pardoning anti-Hydra people such as von Strucker and Ross. Coates could have made this a black and white issue, linking one side of political discourse with Hydra and the other side with Cap, but instead, he portrays a world in grays, which is more similar to the one we live in. In Captain America, it’s unlikely any character will ever say the two sides are equally bad. However, it seems equally unlikely that Coates will make it easy on his readers and spoon-feed them a belief.

Cheryl: I, too, am grateful Coates didn’t go the simplistic route of Hydra vs Cap, pick your side. What I find interesting is the messiness of picking up the pieces. Early in the issue, Cap says something about the war never really being over, even though Hydra has been defeated. The dominoes will keep falling and trying to rebuild with what remains will be a challenge. The scenes in Russia, the fights on the streets in DC, all those groups evolved as a consequence of coming into contact with Hydra. I’m interested in seeing how Cap and the crew try to rebuild when everything they are working with has been tainted, corrupted, or exhausted. Knowing Coates’ writing outside comics, I trust him to explore the big ideas of this story.

Knowing full well the American flag is inextricably connected to the character of Captain America, and that Captain America #1 would launch on the 4th of July, Coates’s exploration of the flag in a post-Hydra world is powerful. What happens when Americans with very different end goals claim the flag as their own? How can three colors sewn in a specific pattern inspire such vehemence and excuse violence in its name? It was jarring to me to see huge, angry white men with American flags painted on their faces gunning down other Americans. Is that pattern of colors more important that the inherent humanity in each person? Coates keeps the reader in the gray area, an uncomfortable place to be, in how he uses the flag in this story.

Captain America #1 flag
Theron: Coates uses the term “broken” to describe what happened to America after Hydra. When I read that, I couldn’t help but look up, think of all of us, and feel that’s what’s happened to the country Captain America stands for. It’s like something went wrong and no one can put it together again.

Cheryl: It would be easy to let that hopeless feeling permeate this issue, but it’s a Captain America story. Thankfully, Cap recognizes that hope when he sees it. I’m thinking of the scene with a young boy at the end of the fight in DC. Cap can operate as the hopeful symbol to the other characters in the story, even to us, but the power is in regular people finding it for themselves and working to push back that hopelessness and powerlessness. Why can’t I find something to dislike about Captain America #1?

Theron: I couldn’t nitpick this issue, and I expected to be able to it. Coates’ deft writing can be enjoyed on two levels: the surface Cap & Hydra story and the deeper metaphorical undertone. That will depend on the reader. If there truly is something to take away from this issue that applies to the real world, though, it’s that events have consequences. Perhaps the events are not Captain American leading Hydra or a spy’s body prematurely aging but that all of life has consequences, and Coates’ made clear that his book is about consequences.

Verdict:

Theron: 5 of 5 stars
Cheryl: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a curious, creative, comic(al) woman. I am unapologetically Team Cap, but not HydraCap because there is a line in the moral sands of the universe and that whole thing is on the other side of it. I teach high school students all about the joys of mythology through comic books, graphic novels, and films. I wandered into the comic book world in 2015 and is a proud member of the #DoYouEvenComicBook gang.

I'm a curious, creative, comic(al) woman. I am unapologetically Team Cap, but not HydraCap because there is a line in the moral sands of the universe and that whole thing is on the other side of it. I teach high school students all about the joys of mythology through comic books, graphic novels, and films. I wandered into the comic book world in 2015 and is a proud member of the #DoYouEvenComicBook gang.

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