There are big spoilers ahead for Steve Rogers: Captain America #1. Don’t read this review unless you want to know what happens. Consider this your final warning!
You may have heard that Marvel is doing something shocking today with the original Captain America, Steve Rogers. And if you read Nick Spencer’s interviews, then you know that they are serious about this twist: Cap is not only a secret Hydra agent, he’s murdered one of his sidekicks to preserve his cover.
I don’t buy it for a second.
There’s nothing that Spencer could have done to make us believe that 75 years of Cap’s characterization was just a smokescreen for the ultimate enemy agent. In fact, it’s an entirely unconvincing performance by all of the characters involved. Spencer actually wrote an extended flashback sequence with Steve and his mother that played well, but not as an excuse or a justification for his current actions. That was BS. It just doesn’t ring true, and Cap isn’t the only character who suffers from bad writing in this issue. Since when has Maria Hill ever spoken like this? “Plus side, it looked cool as hell on YouTube.”
Spencer gets a lot of flack from the right wing media for his perceived “liberal bias.” I never really saw that point until this issue turned the Red Skull into a better spoken version of Donald Trump. The Red Skull is still a hatemonger, but it seems like Spencer is overdoing it with his political allegory. There’s no subtlety to it and it comes off as heavy handed and forced. Under the pen of Fabian Nicieza, Baron Zemo was one of the more complex villains in the Marvel Universe. In this issue, Zemo is little better than the buffoons he tries to recruit for his new Masters of Evil.
It’s truly unfortunate, because there are definitely things to like about this issue. Spencer borrows a lot from the Captain America run of the late Mark Gruenwald by bringing back Jack Flag and Free Spirit as Cap’s new support team with Rick Jones. Spencer even manages to generate some sympathy for a Hydra suicide bomber through an extended look into his past. The artwork by Jesus Saiz is the most redeeming factor of the book. It’s easy to overlook a lot of this issue’s faults because the pages are gorgeous throughout. Saiz doesn’t always go in for detail on the faces, but his characters emote very well. Saiz also demonstrates his strong sequential skills on these pages. If Saiz isn’t a comic book superstar yet, then he should be soon.
The very nature of serialized comics means that the remaining issues of the storyline could redeem this opening chapter. But on the whole, this issue didn’t work because Spencer can’t sell us a lie that big. And that’s what it is: a lie. The Steve Rogers we know and love would never do the things in this issue. Even if Marvel lets these events stand for now, some future writer will happily retcon this tale out of existence. We’re willing to give Spencer a chance to tell his story and see where it goes, but don’t tell us that this was the true motivation of Captain America all along. That’s just insulting.
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Images: Marvel Comics