Collecting Captain America: Sam Wilson #19 through #22, Marvel has put out the perfect primer for Secret Empire if you ever wanted to know what put Sam Wilson out of business. This volume deals with Rage primarily as he’s been wrongfully accused and sentenced. The fallout is something not even Captain America can recover from.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
When Steve Rogers could no longer wield the shield, Sam Wilson stepped up as an all-new, all-different and very much all-his-own Captain America. The public was divided. And when a reinvigorated Steve returned to share the mantle, the protests grew louder. Sam just kept fighting on, the only way he knew. But is the world big enough for two Caps? And as Sam is pulled into the shocking events of Marvel’s next big event, will he – and the world – have to choose?
Why does this matter?
This is Nick Spencer at his most preachiest, but also at his most poignant. The story deals with the very real issue of black people being targeted and filed away in prisons by an unjust system. Deeply meaningful, this volume also features tidbits associated with Captain America’s allegiance to Hydra.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
If I had to sum up this entire volume (though it’s only four issues) in one word, it’d be “reflection.” It opens with Rage being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and Sam reflects on that. Then later, he reflects on his choices as Rage rots in jail awaiting sentencing. Then it has Sam reflect on the aftermath of it all. Spencer kicks the captions into high gear using them at times densely, but they always get at the core of the wrongness of the world, as well as how changing the system requires many to stand up and fight. Even when fighting seems wrong. There’s a strong message in this volume and I wouldn’t be surprised if it motivated some children and young adults to stand up and fight. Given the politics of today it’s a message that should be shared more often.
This volume also follows a path for Sam as he gives up the mantle of Captain America, but at the start he’s sure of himself in the hero role. Sure, Spencer needed to get Sam out of the way for Secret Empire, but he also gives him plenty of reasons–philosophical and psychological–to drop the mantle. It’s a satisfying conclusion due to the time Spencer spends inside Sam’s thoughts.
There’s also a key scene with Steve Rogers that ties into his Hydra planning that’s pretty choice. I actually never saw this scene till now and it casts him in a very scary light.
This volume has Avengers #326 added to the back matter which highlights Rage’s first appearance. Originally released in 1963, it’s a nice way to remember the good old days (Iron Man and Cap are friends!), but also see how Rage always stood for the little guy. It’s something you don’t see these days with such grand superhero stories taking over the mainstream.
The art in the main story is by Daniel Acuna, Angel Unzueta, and Paul Renaud with Acuna accounting for the first two issues of the four issue arc. It’s clear the art style is going for a darker tone due to the heavy nature of the social commentary and it works quite well. There are some incredible full page spreads throughout this volume that capture the gravity of scenes perfectly.
Human rights are no joke.
It can’t be perfect can it?
It’s safe to say this is a short read at only five issues. It’s also safe to say there’s really no action in the book. This is a courtroom drama, a detective story, and a story about reflection so don’t expect action. That makes the read a bit slow at times. Furthering that slowness is the verbosity in some scenes. Spencer lays on the captions too thickly at times and when it’s laid on that thick, he doesn’t break up all the deep thoughts, making it a slog. This is a visual medium and it could have used a bump in visual dexterity.
Is it good?
This is a book I could see folks holding up in churches, squares, and general places of solidarity to speak on when and why we must rise up and fight even when we are told we should not. Spencer does a great job writing a story like this, though I’m not sure every reader is expecting or even really wanting it. Though, like an uprising you might just find yourself carried away in its pages even if you weren’t expecting it.