Sam Wilson: Captain America 1

sam wilson 1Today, Patrick and Spencer are discussing Sam Wilson: Captain America 1, originally released October 14th, 2015.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands:
One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

-The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States of America.

Patrick: Have you ever considered how weird it is that the Pledge of Allegiance is a common fixture at the beginning of the school day? From my first day of kindergarten, until the last day of my senior year of high school, I either recited this thing, or stood silently with my hand on my heart while hundreds of other kids recited this thing in unison. Even without that “under God” jammed in there by Eisenhower, the pledge feels more like prayer than anything else — offering oneself up in the service of a singular benevolent entity. Of course, it’s not quite that simple: liberty and justice are pretty nebulous terms, and what they mean can vary hugely depending on your perspective. I think when I was a kid, I would have just as easily swapped out “liberty and justice” for “law and order” and not given it a second thought. But that’s not the country is really about: we’re founded on revolution, on challenging the status quo, on fighting for what we believe in. In Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuña’s Sam Wilson: Captain America, Captain America embraces the more revolutionary aspects of his mantle, and while he’s certainly fighting for liberty and justice, he is decidedly anti-establishment.

The chronology of this issue is all over the place, but the issue does a great job of framing Sam Wilson’s new direction with an experience we can all understand: being in the middle seat on a terrible flight.

sam is in the middle

Commercial flying is almost the perfect illustration of the empty promises of the American dream: it’s expensive, it’s humiliating, it’s harder for persons of color, you can do something amazing (i.e., traverse the country in mere hours) but the experience will be awful. We watch Sam go through security, suffering the petty indignities of explaining his vibranium shield to the TSA and shoving his bags into just-barely-large-enough overhead bins on the plane.

And we get all of this because Sam is a new Captain America — the kind that is no longer sanctioned or funded by the US Government (or, seemingly, the Avengers). Sam’s road to becoming New Cap is fascinating for a couple of reasons. When the transition starts, Sam is battling Hydra baddies, culminating in a fist-fight with Crossbones that we cut away from before we even see a punch. Fighting Hydra and Crossbones is some Classic Cap stuff — and it’s almost as though Spencer and Acuña don’t have any interest in celebrating that any more. Instead of serving up a page or two of superhero action, they simply yadda-yadda-yadda their way to Crossbones’ inevitable defeat. That attitude echoes Maria Hill’s, who sees this kind of Captain America-ing as archaic. Spencer gets in a great little piece of writing that perfectly summarizes Hills’ opinion of the outdated threats Captain America can handle:

“Cut off one head, two more will decide to go into coding instead.”

The message is clear: we need Captain America when there are Hydra/Nazi guys out there, but in their absence, that kind of rah-rah patriotism doesn’t make sense, and isn’t useful.

That’s where Spencer and Acuña differentiate their Captain America. In a beautiful montage — brilliantly colored in red and blue — we see Sam “picking a side.” Headlines on the next page declare “Captain America Goes Partisan” and at this point in the issue, Spencer plays Sam’s values pretty close to the vest. Instead of outright saying what Cap believes, we get copy about Sam having “deeply held beliefs” and condemning “intolerance and fear,” but Spencer artfully dodges naming Sam’s convictions specifically. On my first read, I found that to be a sort of toothless application of a powerful idea. Like, if what’s important here is the courage Cap exhibits in taking a stand, shouldn’t we expect the same courage of the creative team?

Well, yes and no. I suppose I don’t ask Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to wage a fanatical war against crime, so that might be a false expectation on my part. But Spencer and Acuña do eventually put their money where their mouths are, and take a strong stance on immigration. Sam’s first case is preventing the Sons of the Serpent from attacking, murdering, and kidnapping undocumented immigrants as they cross into the United States. I love how fearlessly Spencer and Acuña depict the Sons as xenophobic, small minded conservatives.

para continuar en espanol, marke dos

It’s ballsy as fuck to equate conservatism with evil, and in so doing, the creative team is allying themselves with Cap, both in terms of ideology and in their willingness to express their ideology.

Spencer, I hope like hell that this series continues along these lines and finds Sam expressing ever more specific views. This way he can represent a real perspective, and not that of the America cheerleader that Steve Rogers embodied. How did you feel about this issue? Also, how about that supporting cast? Good to see Misty Knight land somewhere interesting. Also, I couldn’t be much happier about seeing old, pro-establishment Rogers as the bad guy in this issue — it shows me that Spencer knows exactly why Cap needed to change in the first place.

Spencer: I’m very much excited about the (continued) use of Misty Knight in Sam’s supporting cast, but I am not excited about her new costume.

Misty deserves a better outfit

Is she undercover in an episode of Stripperella?

Fortunately, Acuña’s artwork is otherwise pretty terrific. There’s something really striking and statuesque about his facial expressions — Sam’s hotline pose might as well be Uncle Sam commanding us to buy War Bonds or whatever — and his use of color always pops. In this issue, I especially love how Acuña’s colors emphasize Sam’s shield.

My shiny shield and me

In this panel, the shield stands out as something removed and different from the rest of Acuña’s work. It’s striking, and really emphasizes how central that shield is to Cap’s entire image and persona.

Before I dive head-first into the plot, I do want to talk about Steve Rogers a bit. It breaks my heart to see him and Sam at odds, but I’m very curious to see how Spencer handles their falling out. That said, I’ve never really been a fan of the whole “pro-establishment” take on Steve. The Steve who fought with the Black Panthers in the ’70s, who fought against superhero registration in Civil War, who opposed S.H.I.E.L.D.’s surveillance programs in the films is most certainly not pro-establishment; sure, he’s fine working with the government and other authorities, but Steve always questions them and calls them out when it’s needed. I hope we don’t lose that aspect of the character just to pit him against Sam.

With that in mind, I don’t think Sam’s political views are anything too radical for Captain America; if his actions feels more extreme than some of Steve’s, it’s only because we live in more extreme times. Patrick, you said you felt a bit let down by Spencer not filling us in on what exactly Sam stands for, but I thought it was made rather clear myself.

Divisive politics

Yeah, Spencer doesn’t exactly lay down Sam’s detailed voting policies or his stance on taxation or whatever, but it’s obvious which way he leans and what he stands for. Sam Wilson supports equality, tolerance, and an open exchange of ideas, which is exactly what he finds lacking in modern America. He’s not wrong — just look at the online backlash this issue has inspired (much of it ringlead, of course, by Fox News). It’s scary how quickly these protesters fall into the same roles as many of the characters within the narrative who oppose Sam. Modern politics is more about insisting that you’re always right than actually paying attention to the issues or having any empathy for the people caught in the crossfire, and that’s abundantly clear to me when I see people actually supporting the actions of the Sons of the Serpent. Seriously, immigration policies are completely moot here — anyone who can support Marvel’s equivalent of the KKK kidnapping and murdering unarmed people is clearly beyond reason.

Man, I’m getting a little hot under the collar, and I’ll take that as a sign that Spencer’s political commentary hits home. Fortunately, this book is more than just a Chick Tract — it never feels like Spencer on his soapbox because he not only gives all the characters their own personalities and stances, but breaks the tension with humor wherever he can. Sam Wilson: Captain America may not be humor driven in the sense that Ant-Man or The Superior Foes of Spider-Man were, but Spencer brings out the same funny, down-to-earth qualities in Sam Wilson as he did the characters and situations in his previous efforts. In fact, he manages to wring a bit of this book’s trademark political commentary even out of his comedic moments.

Is this Pawnee?

This scene feels straight out of Parks and Recreation, and it’s just as funny as that high praise implies. Sam Wilson is out to serve the people, but Spencer doesn’t sugarcoat what that actually means — people can be stupid and ignorant and short-sighted, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve rights, and that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be protected. That’s what Sam Wilson stands for, and if that’s what turns the public against him, well then, I guess things are even worse than I thought.

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?

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6 comments on “Sam Wilson: Captain America 1

  1. Patrick, I think you’ve fallen into a trap that a lot of folks have in response to this issue: it doesn’t equate conservatism with evil, it equates menacing defenseless people with guns (and possibly much worse) with evil. Spencer points out how laughable it is for people to see themselves in the Sons of the Serpents (you know, unless those people happen to actually be violent white supremacists), but I think it’s just as silly to see an entire political party depicted here. As political as we’d like to make his actions, Sam isn’t entering a debate over immigration legislation — he’s just putting boots on the ground to make sure nobody gets shot. That’s what Captain America has always done, this creative team just has the guts to look at who the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free actually are.

    • I agree that it Spencer isn’t saying “Republicans are monsters” but the Sons of the Serpent are using language that people who irrationally fear change use. I might be using “conservative” in a broader sense here, which I can see would give the impression you’re picking up.

      Also, I think it’s okay for Sam’s compassion to drive him to take a stance that may come off as political. It’s actually a relief to see Spencer not dance around it and engage the issue, even if on a level that casts one side of the debate as super villains and the other side as Captain Goddamned America.

      • But again, I think Sam’s stance is a moral, rather than political one. I can appreciate that morality itself has become politicized of late (even Sam’s support of marriage equality has a political tang to it, even though I’d argue it’s a moral issue), but I don’t think it’s fair to equate that border militias with conservatives generally. That is, violent white supremacists might be a subset of conservatives, but they don’t really represent the whole. I mean, Crossbones is white, but I’m not going to take that as an assertion that all white people are dimwitted mercenaries.

        • No, and I don’t think you’re actually saying that I’m engaging in that kind of reductionism. The Serpent guys are active players in an issue, and so their perspective necessarily aligns them with people of a similar perspective. Which only means that I think the issue can be critical of that perspective without necessarily saying that everyone who is anti-immigration is a supervillain. If anything, the message of the issue that you shouldn’t be afraid of expressing your values, even if they appear political. I know Spencer is taking a lot of shit on Twitter from people that see him as projecting his own biases into his work (which, duh, that’s how expression works), but I think he should be applauded for letting values show through, even when they CAN be read as political. Like, the politics of it are beside the point that it’s going to be perceived as political.

          Does that make sense?

        • Right. I guess what I mean is that this issue seems to be critical of the notion that a statement like this should be perceived as political, at all. Like, Sam’s position here boils down to “people shouldn’t be treated like animals,” which I tend to think is something everyone can get behind. That a segment of the political spectrum would feel vilified (or that others might see how that segment might feel vilified) is on the reader. We’re quick to see things as attacks and criticisms because that’s the political climate we live in, but this issue really feels like it’s aiming above that. I mean, honestly, if both sides can’t agree that white supremacists are monsters (and that neither party could be fairly painted as white supremacists), then there really is no hope of a productive dialogue.

        • See, I guess that’s where we actually differ. I don’t think the issue is actually critical of that, but rather demonstrates that moral stance will be mistaken for political. If there is a message, I think it’s that you can’t let that inevitable confusion stop you from taking a moral stance.

          As such, I think it’s important that Spencer and Acuna vilify people that they think are taking immoral actions. Yes, the SotS are more explicitly evil than your average anti-immigration nut, but you have to exaggerate in order to tell a superhero story, right? I think it’s more or less calling a spade a spade – people shouting about a border wall or complaining about having to press 1 for English are — at the very least — not being very compassionate.

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