(The trade collects all four issues of Captain America/Black Panther: Flags of Our Fathers and Rise of the Black Panther #1. This review is for Flags of Our Fathers. Robert Reed’s review of Rise of the Black Panther #1 can be found here.)
Captain America and Black Panther have a long and storied history. The two Avengers are not only iconic superheroes but are symbols to the people of their respective countries. They have fought side by side for decades and have defeated the world’s mightiest villains. But how did they first meet?
Flags of Our Fathers takes place during World War II. Captain America, Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos are in Germany in an effort to win the war for the Allies while Hitler, the Red Skull, and Baron Strucker are about to get the final part they need to launch a final attack.
Reginald Hudlin weaves a strong theme into the story. Throughout the entire comic are the ideas of equality, identity, and symbols. Flags of Our Fathers is narrated by Gabe, a member of Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos. Gabe is an African American who was hand picked by Fury. Along with Gabe, Black Panther has many discussions with Captain America about what Cap means to America and how he can improve race relations. Most dramatically, the Third Reich has invaded Wakanda and its “inferior” inhabitants.
It is always interesting to hear the thoughts of a normal person in a world full of superpowered beings and Gabe is no different. Along with giving context for the setting, Gabe provides a realistic slant on what is happening. His shock at decisions made by Fury and Cap not only speak to the time but give the reader insight on two of Marvel’s most well-known heroes. He also has moments of hesitation that make sense and his distrust is natural.
Black Panther may be the best written character in the story. He always seems to be a few steps ahead of every other character. Azzuri (T’Challa’s grandfather) is formidable in battle while providing advice to others. How he deals with the Nazi invaders may surprise some, but it is also completely in line with the character. The one downside is some characters will come off as oblivious to the point of stupidity.
This is most apparent with Captain America. It is established early on that he is a noble man who does not see a person’s race as a reason for judgement. Yet, throughout Flags of Our Fathers, Black Panther dances around the subject of America’s racism and what Cap can do to help without Steve Rogers ever seeming to understand. While it stretches believability that Captain America would be content with the racial status quo in the country, a person may be able to make the argument that Cap does not agree with the policies of the time, but it is more important to him to be loyal to the United States.
What is hard to believe is that even though he knows that there will be a change in the country’s attitudes after the war is over, he doesn’t understand how he will fit into it. It’s obvious he looks forward to the change and it makes no sense why he does not understand his importance, especially since early in the book he literally says he is a symbol for the country.
The rest of Flags of Our Fathers is a straightforward action story. The art can be surprisingly poor at times, with Rogers in particular looking oddly proportioned. It is also surprisingly violent with some scenes coming off as superfluous. That being said, the Red Skull looks great every time. He is incredibly detailed and looks menacing.
Flags of Our Fathers is a great idea in theory. Anyone with even a cursory interest in comics would be interested in hearing about the first meeting between Captain America and Black Panther, and the story has an overarching theme that could be interesting — unfortunately, it never rises above mediocrity and is filled with lackluster art, preventing it from being anything special.