So you might have heard, even if you don’t read comics, that Marvel has replaced Aryan poster boy (slash All-American hero) Steve Rogers as Captain America with African American hero Sam Wilson, formerly known as the Falcon, for the launch of All-New Captain America, the first issue which hit this week. Aside from his long time status as Cap’s sidekick (he even co-headlined Cap’s title for a long period during the 1970s; for some of us growing up during that period, “Captain America and the Falcon” was as ubiquitous as “Batman and Robin.”) Sam Wilson already has legendary status as comics’ first African American superhero. The Black Panther came earlier, but he is African in origin. Sam Wilson, however, was the first black man from America to be a superhero, so seeing him rise to rank of Captain America is no small thing.
What Marvel has done with All-New Captain America is both super smart and super ballsy. It’s smart because after the immense success at the box office of Captain America: the Winter Soldier in move theaters this year, it’s the perfect time to launch an a new Cap series to gain new readers. So what’s the ballsy part? Launching it with his former sidekick holding the title of Captain America instead of Steve Rogers, whom audiences the world over now associate with Cap. This is a complete departure from what fans — both the casual fans who came to Cap with the movies and long time fans of the comic — would expect on the heels of such a massive movie. I have nothing but praise for Marvel for thinking outside the box on this one.
Despite the change in leads, there are a lot of ways that All-New Captain America is very friendly to fans who might have come into the entire Captain America lore through the Marvel movies, regardless of the change in the man behind the mask; just in this first issue alone, you have baddies Hydra and Batroc the Leaper, both of whom figured very prominently in The Winter Soldier. And of course the Falcon, as played by Anthony Mackie, stole every scene he was in during that movie, and this is now Falcon’s book. I’d feel comfortable giving this issue to any fan who only knew Cap from the first two films without worrying that they couldn’t follow it.
If you haven’t read the previous run of Captain America from writer Rick Remender (who returns as writer for this version) he catches you up pretty quickly with the new status quo. After an adventure in Dimension Z, Steve Rogers has all of his super soldier serum drained from him, making him just another ordinary old man, who probably watches a lot Antiques Road Show and eats at Hometown Buffet. He bequeaths his name and shield to his longtime partner Sam Wilson, and that’s where we find ourselves as the first issue opens. Steve still figures into the title in a big way; although he’s a retired old guy spending his days fishing with his lady, he’s still communicating via comlink with Sam in battle and giving him directions, making for a situation very similar to the “old man Bruce” and Terry McGinnis relationship from the animated Batman Beyond series.
The vast majority of the issue is action, action, and more action, with Cap taking on a Hydra and Batroc, beautifully rendered by artist Stuart Immonen. Immonen has been sort of an unsung hero in comics for several years now. Despite truly amazing runs on titles like All-New X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man and Fear Itself, he’s never become the fan darling that he should have become. Hopefully that changes with this series, because it’s easily some of his most stunning pencils to date. Not to mention, this issue has some of the best action beats I’ve seen from Immonen ever, He knows how to give Sam a real sense of aerodynamic motion, which is harder to do than you might think; let’s face it, a lot of time people flying in comics really just looks like people posing for glamour shots, just up in the air.
Although the artwork steals the show in this issue, the writing from Remender is pretty on point too, as he keeps the dialogue as fun and brisk as the action is. My favorite exchange is when French bad guy Batroc taunts Sam, and says, “Tell me, what is the super power of the modern Captain America? Super obesity? War mongering? Omega level illiteracy?” (It’s kind of hard to disagree with Batroc here.) There are some pretty great exchanges between Sam and his new partner Nomad, who is Cap villain Arnim Zola’s son who Steve Rogers raised in Dimension Z, now all grown up and not too happy that “dad” picked Sam to be the new Cap and not him. This is sure to make for an interesting dynamic as the series continues.
Even though Sam Wilson’s comic book powers and back story have always been a bit convoluted over the years (he was even a mutant for awhile), writer Rick Remender sidesteps a lot of that in this first issue, giving us just the important character beats from his origin. For example, Sam’s father who was a preacher in Harlem who was murdered, causing a young Sam Wilson to lose hope, before finding it again fighting alongside Steve Rogers. Remender skips the whole “Red Skull/Cosmic Cube/sees through the eyes of millions of birds” aspects of his origin, which is for the best. The movie showed us all you need for a cool Sam Wilson is a pair of artificial wings and a lot of maneuverability, and the comic gives us just that, even if his old bird pal Redwing is there.
I guess if there’s one bummer about this issue, it’s just that I know it’s all temporary and fleeting. I applaud Marvel for bringing diversity to their highest profile titles, but I know that within the next year or two Thor will be a man again and Captain America will be good old Steve Rogers. But I can’t worry about that now, and should just judge this issue for what it’s doing right right now. And right now it’s not only bringing in tons of needed diversity to the iconic Marvel heroes, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to read too.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 burritos