Marvel couldn’t have planned this better if they’d tried, as July 4th is, of course, the perfect day to launch a brand new series of Captain America. This relaunch is one of the most exciting in years, too, with writer Ta-Nehisi Coates taking over the reins. An American author and journalist, over the last little while, Coates has become one of the most important comic book writers at Marvel. His Black Panther run had a massive impact on this year’s blockbuster superhero movie and now, he’s taking over Captain America and teaming up with artist Leinil Francis Yu – one of the company’s best.
The sad truth though is that Marvel has backed themselves into something of a corner when it comes to Captain America. Last year’s “Secret Empire” event saw Steve Rogers transformed into a Hydra leader, and he actually led a terrifying attempt to take over the world. Now, Marvel’s still attempting to redeem the character, whose brand seems to have been substantively damaged by that controversial plot.
Coates faces the challenge head-on, as his entire story is set in the aftermath of the Hydra invasion. “Hydra conquered the United States,” the comic states, “following a leader with Steve Rogers’ face. Captain America returned, and Hydra fell. So the war is over… right?” The writer doesn’t even try to dodge the bullet. He accepts straightaway that Captain America’s identity, his very role in the Marvel Comics universe, is in a state of flux right now.
Cap’s first enemy in this issue is a group of terrorists who wear the flag on their face. It’s a smart, politically conscious decision; an acknowledgment that America’s own self-identity is damaged in the real world, that there’s a political and social battle taking place to define what it means to be American. The flag is being claimed by men and women of all political persuasions, including by a number of extremists. Naturally, in such a troubled context, Steve Rogers will wrestle with the truth of what it means to be Captain America.
Coates is a master storyteller, and a few brief scenes paint the relationship between Steve Rogers and his supporting cast – Bucky Barnes and Sharon Carter. Although both these characters are complex people, Coates tells readers everything they need to know about the status quo in a few brief panels of dialogue. It’s smart writing, to say the least.
The difference between Cap and the Winter Soldier is a particular focus of this issue, too, as Cap won’t kill, but he’s allying with a man who will. There’s a subtle dynamic in play here that not many writers have actually grasped, a moral and ethical dimension to their friendship that inevitably means each will challenge the other. Again, Coates doesn’t dive deep into it. Rather, he settles for a subtle contrast, one that shows the difference between these two men.
It seems the key villain in this new series of Captain America will actually be an X-Men foe, Selene Gallio. She’s taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the fall of Hydra, and is proceeding with an unknown plan of her own. This may well be the first time Selene has been the villain in a non-X-Men book, too, so it’s a fascinating decision on Coates’s part. Selene has always been one of the mutants’ most sinister and dangerous enemies. Essentially an immortal vampire, she feeds on the life-energy of others. No doubt Coates has integrated her into his plot because he has a powerful arc in mind.
Captain America #1 is complemented perfectly by an artistic team who are firing on all cylinders here. Yu’s work is stunning and effective, giving this comic a sleek and polished feel, while color artist Sunny Gho is a perfect fit for the book. Visually, this is one excellent comic and while Ta-Nehisi Coates is faced with a difficult challenge in trying to redeem the titular hero, we’re certainly willing to come along for the ride to find out if he’ll be able to succeed.
Captain America #1 is a welcome first step along the journey, and it'll be exciting to see what comes next.