Today, Andrew and Taylor are discussing Captain America: White 1, originally released September 16th , 2015.
Andrew: After being unfrozen from the ice after 7 years, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale have delivered on their long teased series dissecting our favorite Nazi kicking boy scout, Steve Rogers. In line with their color series (including Daredevil: Yellow, Hulk: Grey, and Spiderman: Blue), Captain America: White presents a retelling of what made Loeb and Sale fall in love with Captain America in the first place, focused through a thematic color. Loeb and Sale paint a critical picture of this icon without being cynical. The Cap we’ve seen so far is calm, confident, but above all, naive. He is a soldier but not a leader. He has the enormous privilege of superhuman abilities which separate him from ever truly sharing the average soldier’s experience. This privilege and optimism blinds him to the dangers he puts Bucky through. It’s his relationship and loss of Bucky that is put at the forefront of this issue and what ultimately makes him into the nuanced Marvel character that he became today.
Some of the major lynchpins of the Captain America myth are covered in these scant 22 pages. Steve Rogers first awakens from the ice surrounded by the classic Avengers team drawn in a style hearkening back to their original appearances. You can even see Tony Stark’s skin through his Iron Man mask. Steve grieves Bucky’s death and his loss of a world, and launches us into his final missions before the freeze. A pre-eyepatch Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan are under heavy fire, when an acrobatic Cap and Bucky come to the rescue on a motorcycle, kickin’ the teeth out of the Nazis. Back at their base, Cap refuses to allow Bucky to accompany him to a Casablanca night club with the other soldiers, despite bringing him into war. The night at the club is interrupted by Nick Fury calling them off on an assignment. The plane explodes above the water and Cap watches as Bucky falls to his presumed death in the Atlantic, and he helplessly falls into his icy stasis.
The irony is a bit unnerving that in the same year that we have our first black Captain America, Sam Wilson, a long awaited series titled Captain America: White finally gets its first issue. It’s difficult to completely separate the racial bent of this title, but Loeb touches on this issue in a way that draws that social conflict into the story. A sarcastic comment from a drunk Dum Dum Dugan starts a bar fight with an American Icon. “Look at ‘Im. All blond and tall. Like one of them Nazi master racers.” An interesting point Dum Dum.
Cap’s loyalties are called into question many times throughout the issue by other soldiers of every rank and position. In costume, out of costume, every scene in the issue has Cap being called out by a supposed peer for being fake. His idealism and optimism aren’t even met by the soldiers he’s fighting for, and when he is launched into the future, this mismatch only becomes more vast.
Bucky’s death is presented almost like a scene out of a WWI novel. In the midst of relaxing and trying to take their minds off the war an explosion appears out of no where and launches our characters into the surreal horror of war. Sale’s blocking of this loss does a great job of underscoring the randomness and helplessness of his death.
Sale spins the subject of the last dialogue panel upside down which is hugely disorienting, besides the fact that he’s interrupting his own line with a desperate plea for safety. The circular body of the plane becomes an inevitable pit which opens up into a cloudy maw. Other soldiers are strewn in unnatural positions, their limbs giving the impression that they are being pulled in some other direction out of their control. Bucky isn’t even looking up at where Cap is implied to be. Even though his hand is outstretched, his gaze is fixed on where he can’t help but go. The implied presence of Captain America is crushing, where all of the subjects of vision are implied to be racing away from him faster than he can grasp.
The color white is a color of absence. A color of emptiness, of loss. His times of war are awash with color, but it’s not until he truly understands loss and feels the responsibility of death is he bathed in white. This page occurs at the beginning of the issue, and signifies the beginning of the Cap we know.
I’m one of the few people who truly loved Captain America: The First Avenger, so I’m digging the homage to early Jack Kirby and Joe Simon books mixed with a healthy dose of American propaganda that styles this issue. Returning Cap to a simpler and more discrete time of good guys and bad guys helps us see how this journey to a world of greys can make it so hard to remain white. Taylor, how does the thematic motif of “White” strike you? Do you feel war is being given its just shade of brutality?
Taylor: I feel like war is any shade but white. It’s dirty, bloody, and dark – all which definitely have nothing to do with white unless you’re talking about the tombstones made from conflict. That being said, I feel like “white” is a bit of a misnomer for this title if only because the color has nothing to do with most of the imagines we conjure up when we think of WWII. But supposing the title is given to signify Cap’s loss, I still find it odd since the events leading up to his loss are painted in bubble gum fashion.
Take for example the training montage in the “second issue” of this comic. After Bucky finds out that Rogers is Captain America he begins a training regiment under his longtime friend. His progress is marked, like all montages, by his overcoming a final obstacle. In this case that obstacle is his trainer, Captain America.
I really like the way this page is put together. From Cappy and Bucky running across an inlaid giant fist to the staggered images running up and down the page, it’s just good fun. But then there’s that huge American flag in the background. Like many other Americans, when I see the American flag I feel a lot of things, most of them not quite good. America perhaps once stood for righteousness, toughness, and hope, but those times have kind of passed if they even ever existed in the first place. I feel like the draping of the flag in the background of this panel is supposed to call to mind the above mentioned attributes. But for me, it just doesn’t. I get that Loeb and Sale are purposefully hearkening back to an earlier form of comic drawing, but is this project so self indulgent that it fails to recognize what the American flag symbolizes to the many people, both of and apart of this country, who might have qualms it?
I recognize maybe that’s a harsh stance to take and maybe little heavy handed but it calls to mind the primary complaint I have about this issue. Tonally this comic is really confusing. It’s hard to pin down what is an homage, what is humor, what is ironic, and what is to be taken seriously.
A prime example of this tonal ambiguity comes when the Captain and Bucky first make their appearance in the issue and beat up a bunch of Nazis. It’s all good fun until we see Bucky yell this:
Yes, that’s our hero kicking a German and using a racial slur, all the while with a big smile on his face. Needless to say, this is problematic. I’m well aware that US soldiers called Nazi’s “krauts” and the like during the war. I’m also aware that Bucky’s exclamation is something that could be found in old Captain America comics. So yes, I understand that it’s an homage to times gone by. However, is this something that needs to be glorified in a scene where one of our main heroes is doing work? It would be one thing is this entire issue was an homage to Captain America and bordered on the parody, but it’s not. As you pointed out, Andrew, there are some truly serious and moving moments in this issue. I feel like Loeb and Sale can’t have it both ways here. It’s hard to parody and make fun the intolerance of former generations in one scene while also trying to immortalize their sense of loss in another.
These racially insensitive remarks continue (“Kick Hitler in the Japantz!” “Fritz you’re done!”) and just make it kind of hard to like Captain American and ultimately this issue. I know Sale and Loeb aren’t trying to be offensive, but it some ways that’s what has happened. I’m also not suggesting that they as writers should feel obliged to leave out such things from their stories. In fact, it’s important we do remember those things so we don’t repeat them. But the tone of much of the action in this title is really confusing and I don’t know if I’m supposed to endorse this casual racism or be appalled by it.
So like you said Andrew, the Captain America: White title is kind of controversial, but as it turns out, that’s only the beginning.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?