When I found out Ta-Nehisi Coates was taking over Captain America I was very excited. His ability to infuse political commentary into his comics makes his work feel pertinent and important for the time. What character is more inherently political than the patriotic Captain America? The series didn’t immediately catch my interest however, as I found it waxed poetic with Cap’s internal monologue, but didn’t go anywhere. The trade paperback is out this week, allowing readers to get the full six issue story arc read in one sitting. Does it hold up, or continue to monologue about patriotism with no direction?
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
It’s winter in America! For over 70 years, Captain America has stood in stalwart defense of our country and its people. But in the aftermath of Hydra’s takeover of the nation, Cap is a figure of controversy, carrying a tarnished shield…and a new enemy is rising! Who are they? And how do they intend to co-opt and corrupt the symbol that is Captain America? Distrusted by a nation that seems to have lost faith in him, Steve Rogers is a man out of time – and out of options! Where can a now-unsanctioned Captain America turn for aid and assistance in order to stem the rise of the cabal of influence brokers known as the Power Elite? Join acclaimed BLACK PANTHER scribe Ta-Nehisi Coates for the next chapter of Captain America’s life!
Why does this matter?
If you’re living in America and unhappy with how the politics are going, you’ll probably like this collection. The villains are Russian, the book subtly talks about the flyover state Americans who were forgotten, and Cap must fight against a bad image and do what is right. It’s an inspiring read since it gets at the core of who Cap is even when faced with enemies from all sides.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This first collection captures Captain America’s struggle very well. He’s a hero who does what is right, but what if the world and his nation don’t want him to? It’s a question posed to him and, almost shockingly, he retorts with his actions, and “so what, it’s in my blood” more or less. It’s partly why Coates fills this book with Captain America’s captions speaking to himself about what he believes and what is right. It’s like a stream of consciousness of his dealing with a new role, but because he’s so damn patriotic and good at heart he can only carry on.
Another major highlight of this collection are the villains. They’re Russian, have a secret mission, and say things that are very scary. They are scary because, given the politics of today and the very real fear of Russian meddling, it feels like it could happen. In a key scene with Sharon Carte, tied down and being talked at by the Russian villain, the villain says, “I know this noble heartland would never oppose our efforts. We would be embraced in America and greeted as liberators.” Given how people attend Trump rallies and cheer whatever he tells them to cheer, blindly following his every move even if it contradicts the last thing he said, these words come very close to him. If Trump is proven to have worked with Russia (and his numerous secret meetings with Putin sure do suggest this is the case) this villain in the comic is probably right.
This book is not lacking in action either. Captain America fights Taskmaster for a good two chapters and it’s fun to see him doubt himself, question Taskmaster’s abilities, and think about the fight at hand. Coates does not lose sight of the fact that Cap is a strategic fighter and you get that in this fight and in early fights with the Nuke cyborgs.
Leinil Francis Yu draws the issue with inks by Gerry Alanguilan and Yu himself and colors by Sunny Gho. There’s a darker tone in the art that suits the undercurrent of gloom and doom. Yu has always had heavier inks on his work and it makes sense for him to draw this series. The angular faces help convey the rage and extreme emotions by the many characters. The colors are a bit subdued too. This is an espionage book that lives in the shadows, and the art shows that.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The slow drone of Cap’s internal monologue, either in frustrations or observations, can grow tiresome. Not a lot happens in the opening issues and overall this is a decompressed story. By the end, the hook is dropped, but as far as I can see there are two fights and some interesting ideas floated, but not much else.
Is it good?
When an espionage style comic can make you truly scared, it has done its job. The political angle is strong and its story is without a doubt inspired by real life. Captain America is one of the only spirits left to keep us safe, but in a world that doesn’t want him to, are we lost?