Captain America: Sam Wilson 7

Alternating Currents: Captain America: Sam Wilson 7, Drew and Patrick

Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Captain America: Sam Wilson 7, originally released March 30th, 2016.

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

George Santayana

Drew: Perhaps its ironic that I never knew the origin of the oft-paraphrased quote above, but it actually comes from the first volume of Santayana’s The Life of Reason, published in 1905. In its original context, the quote seeks to balance progressivism with retention of the past. Of course, it’s possible to take that too far, and some might argue that superhero comics are too obsessed with their own history to make any meaningful progress. It’s a difficult balance that I certainly don’t envy trying to strike — fans want new stories, even as they want their favorite stories and characters celebrated — but its one that Captain America 7 aims for. Marvel assembles one hell of a creative lineup for this celebration of Captain America’s 75 year history, but circumstances may have put them all in a no-win situation.

There are plenty of cynics who might see Cap’s 75 year history as 75 years of baggage. I certainly don’t expect one issue to resolve the tensions between celebrating the past and reliving it, but I do have to accept how complicated this issue’s relationship to its own history is. Those complications start on the cover, which celebrates Captain America 1 by cheekily recreating its famous cover.

Covers

It’s easy enough to read this as a simple homage, but the density of symbols here is staggering. In particular, I’m baffled at the choice to have Sam punching Steve — not because I think anyone means to suggest that Steve is Hitler, but because that action suggests something much more transgressive than the issue actually backs up.

Indeed, aside from the 8-page prologue, Sam barely features in this issue at all. Instead, this is very much Steve’s story, which is where that devotion to the past becomes so sticky. I mean, I get it: Steve Rogers is a great character with decades of history, and an anniversary of sorts is an entirely appropriate time to reflect on that history. But at the same time, doing so in a series ostensibly about Sam Wilson turns this celebration into a bit of spotlight-stealing. This symbolic gesture becomes all the more troubling when race is considered: Steve’s role as the focus of history only emphasizes his power, and the fact that he can take that focus back instantaneously shows just how tenuous Sam’s power really was.

I’d like to give the creative team the benefit of the doubt and believe that this series was simply the obvious and natural choice for celebrating the history of Captain America. Still, it seems like everyone was at least a little aware of how icky it might be to devote an issue of Captain America: Sam Wilson to a guy that is neither Sam Wilson nor Captain America, basically because he’s old and white. It’s no coincidence that Sam’s name is omitted from that cover, for example, even if that represents its own problematic gesture. More importantly, writer Nick Spencer seems very aware of the awkwardness of the placement of this celebration, giving Sam a more-or-less standalone (if incomplete) adventure before the title page shows us where the real Captain America story starts.

What follows is a 32-page Steve Rogers story, where Sam appears in one panel outside of a flashback montage. Indeed, the Steve Rogers narrative is paced like a standalone story, complete with an opening flash-forward that makes its connection to Sam’s prologue downright confusing. Oddly, Spencer also explicates Bucky’s history with Cap in both the prologue and the main story, which makes me suspect that maybe these were never meant to be read in the same issue. I’m almost inclined to think that there may have at some point been a special anniversary issue planned, and this issue represents a kind of compromise between that and a separate issue of Captain America: Sam Wilson, but I’ll save my conspiracy theories for the comments.

Anyway, like I said, I doubt anyone means for that cover to imply that Steve is Hitler, but given the way this issue highjacks Sam’s narrative, it’s hard not to see Steve as representing the entrenched white male power structures. Unfortunately, nothing in this issue ever deigns to punch such structures in the face. Far from it — the three All-Steve-All-The-Time back-ups serve only to bolster Steve’s centricity. Which I guess brings me to the biggest problem of all: I love all of these stories. Both of Spencer’s stories are fantastic, and I’m particularly enamored of the timeless backups, helmed by all-star creative teams: Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, Tim Sale, and Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins. Spencer manages to give Steve a triumphant return to form, and those backups distill Steve down to his essence.

But — and this is a huge ‘but’ — the symbolism of celebrating Steve Rogers in the middle of Sam Wilson’s story is profoundly troubling. Steve’s inevitable return always represented a kind of existential crisis by-way-of racial appropriation for Sam’s tenure as Cap, but to herald and celebrate that crisis within Sam’s series verges on insulting. I think I could have gotten over the complicated historicity if these stories had a less symbolically-charged venue, but their placement in this issue makes that subtext the text itself, totally derailing any discussion of the content of those stories.

Patrick! I apologize that I didn’t get into any substantive analysis of the actual contents of this issue, but man, I couldn’t ignore the symbolism of the whole thing. Maybe I said enough about that stuff that you can actually comment on the comics (there really is a lot to praise here), but I can’t blame you if you just want to keep parsing this issue’s relationship to its own history.

Patrick: Oh man, Drew, I am sorry, but my take on this issue is even more esoteric than yours! I will agree that it is profoundly icky that an issue that is essentially an entry in Sam Wilson’s series ends up being about the old white man that held the position before him, but I will go so far as to suggest that the ickiness is the point. Further, I don’t think we’re supposed to be thinking about these characters in terms of who they are — ridiculously patriotic superheroes — but who they could easily represent — United States Presidents.

The strings to that metaphor aren’t subtle, but they are brief. Let’s start with Sam, because he does appear to be the victim of this comic’s obsession with the past. When Steve honors Sam with a whopping four panels of flashback exposition, his language is both familiar and a little pedantic.

Sam Wilson - community organizer

Just to make sure we’re all reading it the same way, Rogers calls Wilson a “community organizer,” and that’s one of those credits that President Obama was routinely criticized for bandying about by his opponents. Rogers goes on to take kind of a generous, but still adversarial, view of Wilson, saying “I handed him the shield.” Rogers has the agency in that transfer of power. By comparison, on the next page when he touts Bucky’s history, his language favors Bucky’s agency: “he beat their programming” and “he took the mantle and more than proved he was up to the job.” For Steve, the narrative is clear – Bucky was an obvious and worthy successor and Sam was something he tried and didn’t really love.

But I don’t just think that Steve here represents the American public or anything like that. I believe he’s representing the entire history of American Politics. Before Acuña’s stupendous three-quarter-century-spanning splash page exploring Roger’s history in comics, we get one very provocative image nestled between to very comic-booky panels:

Steve Rogers for President

Cap for President. That’s two nods to the office of the President — one referring to Steve and one referring to Sam. I know it’d be reductive to say that Steve could represent the entire run of old white Presidents while Sam represents the one, current black President, but the parallels are definitely there. Which makes the cover that Drew mentioned, with Steve taking the place of Hitler, and the whole story of Steve regaining his mantle because that matches up with the idiot-dream of a nostalgia-obsessed child all the more powerful and transgressive.

Which naturally loops back around to the excellence of those three back-up stories. All three of those stories hinge on Steve’s natural goodness and down-home values. They’re also notably short on copy (which is a welcome relief after reading Steve narrating his way through Cap’s legacy for 30 pages), but the message is also clear there: Cap was more appealing (and more effective) when he talked less and acted more. From a storytelling standpoint, that’s hard to argue with. But then again, why would Steve Rogers need to articulate his thoughts when these narratives are so fucking clear? There’s no subtlety or complexity in that first story, written by Joss Whedon — Steve demonstrates the power of his shield (and by extension, the United States) to protect people rather than harm them. The black and white morality afforded to the storytellers from the World War II setting allows that kind of straightfoward narrative. The tank’s got a goddamn skull on the front of it — of course it’s going to be great when Steve takes it out.

Ditto the Tim Sale story, which might even be more critical of our constant looking back. Steve infiltrates a Hydra base to retrieve a baseball signed by Babe Ruth from his old footlocker. Again, what makes this story so immediately appealing? Part of it is that Sale is an excellent storyteller and he’s a genius at leveraging some simple iconography to tell this story efficiently, but we’re also being lead down a narrative that we already know. The MacGuffin here is an instantly understood and recognizably old-American treasure. It wasn’t enough for the trinket to simply be anything from Steve’s childhood, it had to be something meaningful to America.

I think all these creators are leaning into the fact that we have affinity for an American history that looks noble and just from one specific perspective. Sam Wilson — or arguably, anyone that could be Captain America — doesn’t have the same luxury. We don’t live in a world with skulls on the fronts of tanks or where a signed baseball somehow represents American exceptionalism. The only reason I’m hesitant to tie this all up into one big bow is that the other shoe never drops in this issue. The status quo — an old white guy we already know and who represents the value of the past is in power — is restored but we peace-out before seeing any consequences. But I think Spencer and Acuña have the same perspective that it sounds like Drew and I share; that this is a harmful, or at the very least childish, development. Take a look at Kobik, who has all the power to decide the next President Captain America:

happy like they used to be

Hey man, she just wants to make America great again.

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34 comments on “Captain America: Sam Wilson 7

  1. What do we make of the masculinity of those backups — it’s not just that Steve is old and white and Amercian; he’s also decidedly a man. The characteristics each keys in on, from being a WWII soldier to liking baseball to NOT liking ballet are all decidedly male. That kind of casts the framing of the list of men who have taken up the mantle AND the presidency stuff in a slightly different light. I’m not sure what, if anything, I make of it. Is this oversight? Is Marvel priming us for a female Captain America? I have no idea.

    • I mean, I think that’s all part of the “old” identity, right? “Male” is just part of the assumed american standard – especially for hero / leader positions. Or, y’know, it was. I’d be surprised if we got a Lady Cap, especially when we’re clearly not done with Sam. But, it would be interesting if Marvel just starts taking cues from whoever’s in office. Old white guy? We keep Steve. Otherwise, Cap to match the president.

      • You’re probably right about not being done with Sam. Moreover, it would be weird to set up Captain America as this weird rotating title that everyone tries on at one point or another. Still, I was trying to imagine who could be a female Cap, and I found the list to be kind of short. I mean, obviously there are a TON of women in the Marvel universe, but relatively few embody the right mix of values and american-ness that all of the Caps have shared, and even fewer have featured in Spencer’s story at all. Black Widow is obviousy not American enough. Maria Hill obviousy doesn’t have enough values. IF there were going to be a female Cap appointed during Spencer’s run, the only one I can really see fitting is Misty Knight.

        • She has such an established brand, though. She may not quite be the top-tier hero Marvel wants her to be, but I’d argue that she’s not so obscure that changing her superhero identity wouldn’t be a bit of a loss. Like, X-23 was obscure enough that becoming the All-New Wolverine doesn’t degrade her brand. I’d probably say the same thing about Sam. I could be wrong about this, but I think Captain Marvel has enough name recognition (and its own legacy status) that Carol leaving that title would require someone else to step up as Captain Marvel in a way that simply isn’t true for Falcon or She-Hulk or whatever other B- C- or D-lister you can come up with.

        • I wonder if not embodying those “american values” could be part of the point though. It certainly seems like Sam has been challenging what “american values” means, to the point where the challenge almost feels like an important part of the Cap identity. But, it still doesn’t appear that we’re being set up for a new, third-party Cap, male or female.

          I’m actually a little nervous to see how this whole story plays out. I kind of desperately want Steve Rogers NOT to be able to reclaim his mantle – even as I respond so automatically to the stories that feature him.

        • Surely the obvious female Capitan America would be Sharon Carter? Black Widow lacks the strong moral conviction – she’s defined by her moral mutability. Captain Marvel has finally been properly defined as the female franchise it always should have been, and ripping it apart to give a female Captain America is wrong. Misty Knight is generally a Hero for Hire character, connected more to Iron Fist. She’s from the wrong mythos – there’s a reason every legacy character used to be a supporting character. Maria Hill is supposed to be the character Captain America yells at, like Fury before her (I have to say, it is interesting how Maria Hill has managed to stay head of SHIELD for over a decade. She’s been temporarily replaced by Osborne and Quake, but there just isn’t a sense that they will ever revert back to Fury. She simply is the head of SHIELD now.)

          But Sharon Carter is exactly placed to be the sort of character who becomes a female Captain America. Part of the Captain America mythos, and a character who can have the moral backbone of Captain America. Her aunt also helps a lot. Firstly, why wouldn’t you steal from the massive success of Peggy Carter in the MCU to make Sharon the best character possible? But also, Sharon’s relationship with her aunt would create really interesting paths to explore the Captain America mythos that Bucky and Sam simply can’t.

          Agent Carter, Captain America, fighting for justice and taking up the mantle of the man who she loves, while dealing with the weight of legacy and the cost of being Captain America (a legacy she feels more keenly because of her close relationship to her Aunt). That’s a pitch worth writing. And Sharon is going to be a key character in the new Steve Rogers book…

          And on the idea of Captain America as a rotating title? I would argue that it wouldn’t be weird. In fact, it would be the single title that truly should be like that. In all honesty, most of the Legacy stuff happening isn’t ‘needed’. It is important that it is happening, for the sake of diversity, and some of the stuff being made because of it is truly great, like Thor.

          But the simple fact is that the idea of handing down Mjolnir isn’t something that fundamentally feels like an important change to the mythos. The story is fantastic and I love it, but if Aaron made Pepper Potts the new Iron Man instead of Jane Foster the new Thor, it would be hard to argue that the final result is net neutral. Same with the Hulk, or Spiderman. If you did the exact same thing with a character of equivalent standing instead, nothing truly would be lost. There are honestly only two characters who I feel that this is wrong.

          First is Wolverine, but only because Taylor is using Laura is scathingly critique a character who has become pretty broken. Positioning the new Wolverine as Logan’s moral superior and ‘Wolverine done right’ means more than it would to do it with, say, Tony Stark (who is also highly flawed, but always written with the understanding that Tony Stark is hugely flawed). On the other hand, the only reason to use Laura as opposed to anyone other character is the fact that she is the only Wolverine character who could pull this off.

          And then there is Captain America. Captain America is supposed to represent America’s idealized self. Making Captain America black is political in a way that making Thor a woman isn’t. And yet, it fits. The idea that the most idealized version of America is represented by a black man, or a woman, or in group of people who, even today, are persecuted is actually a truly powerful addition to the Captain America mythology. That the idealized version of America is represented by the exact same people that Trump attacks in his speeches. You can’t do that with Iron Man.

          Captain America as a rotating title wouldn’t be weird. It would be a truly powerful statement of what the idealized America is. Captain America as a rotating title would say, loud and clear, that anyone and everyone can be the representation of what America should be. In fact, why have a rotating title? Why not just turn Captain America into a team book?

          Think about it. Biweekly book where Steve Rogers, Sharon Carter, Sam Wilson and other new characters are all Captain America, and work as a united front of what America should be, against every possible threat to that ideal. Doesn’t that sound like the thematic ideal that the Captain America should strive for?

        • Captain America Incorporated? That sounds TERRIFYING – but also probably appropriate.

          Honestly, exploring the “what makes Cap Cap” question with you guys right now has me a little uneasy about the whole purpose of the character. He’s sort of an embodiment of propaganda, and we tend to trust that Steve has the soundest judgement in distributing said propaganda. And I think they’re careful to always write Steve as morally correct, but… maybe it’s problematic to think that any single representation of Cap or the American Spirit (or whatever) could be “correct.” The America that 2016 Sam and Steve (and sure Sharon Carter) are in is not unified in its view of what it thinks our values should be. That’s one of the reasons I liked Sam as Cap so much, he put his opinions out there and publicly took shit for it (and then Spencer took that shit in turn). I don’t know if that’s a particularly American experience, necessarily, but I think the idea that you have to stand up for what you believe is right is.

          I dunno fellahs – I’m conflicted about this one. Both of my sisters are in the army and I feel like I’m not particularly enamored with what the country asks them to do in the name of our safety. If pressed too hard, I might suggest that Cap should present American militaristic values – that is what he fought for originally after all. Now, that means spend a lot of money, waste a lot of resources, treat your personnel poorly, perpetuate macho bullshit, protect rapists, breed a culture of gun worship and violence. It’d be a character I’d hate, but that may actually be more in line with what I think of when I hear the word patriotism.

        • I think the thing that stops Captain America from being propaganda is the fact that he often is positioned against America. Yes, he represent America’s ideals, but he is also used to explore how America currently fails at representing those values. Captain America has a long history of fighting, fully positioning himself against what America is. Hell, famously Captain America tracked down the head of the supervillain Secret Empire to reveal that it was Nixon himself. If you look at the movies, the present day movies actually involve him fighting America. The Winter Soldier and Civil War both position Captain America as actually fighting America for its highest ideals. Captain America has always been fighting against America

          It is why Nick Fury/Maria Hill is so important. They represent what Captain America is fighting against. They are well intentioned people, but sacrifice their ideals, doing wrong for the ‘right reasons’. They are who America actually is, and what Captain America truly fights against.

          Lots of people, including me, were afraid of the Captain America movies, out of fear of them being jingoistic propaganda. But instead, he has become one of the most popular superheroes on the planet, because they have made very clear that despite the flag he wears as a uniform, he isn’t walking propaganda.

          Captain America is patriotic, but there are different types of patriotism. In the weekly round-up, Spencer discussed how he is getting wary of fandom. I’m actually the same, getting very tired of GamerGate’s, Batfans attacking comment sections of anyone who refuses to love Batman v Superman (even before they actually watched the movie) and the neo-fascist Rabid Puppies. I just read another article about all of that stuff in the tabletop gaming community. That one really hurts, considering how tabletop gaming is a big part of the community I have developed with nerdy friends – even though I have proof that at least among my friends, we stand against all of that. I honestly get slightly nervous about meeting new nerdy people, out of fear they’ll be a GamerGater.

          And yet, for all my problems with the toxic elements of nerd culture, there is all the elements that make nerd culture great. And it is the same with Patriotism. You have perfectly expressed the most toxic version of patriotism, and it is truly a terrible thing. Which is why Marvel should do more with William Burnside, the Captain America who actually represents that. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is a version of patriotism that doesn’t include all those toxic elements. The view of America based not on unchecked militarism, but on the ideals of equality and opportunity for all. So give me Captain Americas based on that beautiful ideal, and have them beat up William Burnside every couple of arcs to remind everyone that. I honestly think Burnside is really underused, because he is such a perfect representation of what Captain America isn’t.

          My idea of a team of Captain Americas would, by definition of being a Captain America story, be based on them constantly fighting the things that make America bad. And part of the joy of the idea is that each Captain America can express their own opinions, stand up for what they believe is right even as others disagree, and have distinct perspectives. That is a key part of the American Ideal. Everyone has the right to a voice, and you can express it without fear (this is, of course, not a key part of actual America, but that’s where you get a great Captain America story.)

          Captain America’s first issue had, as a cover, Captain America punching a person that, to America at that time, was seen as a pretty great guy. There were protests, angry that they would dare besmirch the name of Hitler. America hadn’t joined World War II yet, and many honestly thought that Hitler was a guy who knew what he was talking about. That was the hero that the world needed. People got so angry that the creators of Captain America actually needed police protection. But that is who Captain America has been since conception. Someone who stands what America believes, because he is too busy fighting for what America should believe.

        • I agree that Cap’s patriotism doesn’t necessarily force him to tow the party line, as it were, but he definitely did for much of his history. Sure, he may have ruffled some non-interventionist feathers with that first issue, but wanting to punch Hitler was hardly a minority opinion in America by 1941. The fear of reprisals was specifically from German-American groups who were pretty far from the mainstream of America. Certainly his commie-busting days in the ’50s represent values very much in line with the politics of the time, which I might argue is opposed to platonic American values like freedom and acceptance. Nixon definitely threw a wrench in that kind of patriotism, forcing Cap to reject nationalism altogether and become Nomad, “the man without a country,” but he’s definitely returned to more-or-less blind patriotism a times over the years. The wake of 9/11 definitely saw the rise of more openly nationalistic interpretations of the character. And, as Patrick suggests, his own history as a soldier asserts some kind of political stance, even if Cap remains silent (or perhaps especially if he remains silent) on issues like DADT or sexual assaults on military bases.

          I guess the real point is: “America” means different things to different people, some of those things might be noble, some might be horrifying (and what’s horrifying to one might be noble to another, and vice versa). I’m certain different writers have different opinions on Cap’s stance on gun ownership, for example, and I think they could make equally valid cases, even if my personal experience of being an American has very little to do with guns. I think there’s room for Cap to make some Americans uncomfortable with his representation of American values, because he’s not representing each one of us individually, but some kind of nebulous average of all of us, collectively.

        • Non-interventionist is a very generous description of the people protesting the early issues of Captain America. They were actual Nazi sympathizers, well financed and actually running pseudo military training camps and held massive rallies. Actual Nazis were outside Timely’s offices, and employees were scared to leave for lunch. Police had to provide constant guard of the halls and offices. You can say that they were a particularly fringe aspect of America, and yet the idea that you can just dismiss a group like that as a fringe is dangerous when that exact same thing is happening today. Fascism is all around in America at the moment, and I’m not just talking about Donald Trump. Such a strong rejection of fascism in its first issue is a powerful act, defining Captain America as representing something other than unbridled patriotism.

          There have been exceptions. 50s Cap was certainly an example, but an example that was seen as so out of character that it lead to one of the very first retcon – that Captain America was actually frozen in ice throughout the 50s, and not running around in the Captain America, Commie Smasher (which then led to the creation of William Burnside, a Captain America who exists to reflect that sort of America). And certainly, after 9/11 we had things like Ultimate Captain America (though it is important to note that Ultimate Captain America very much was not the real Captain America, and even as we have that sort of Captain America, we had Civil War where Captain America went against the government and fought for ideals instead of ‘My country, right or wrong’. This stuff is consistent with who Captain America always was. Quite simply, most comics that don’t are either quietly forgotten, highly controversial, alternate universe versions or actually William Burnside.

          I also feel any discussion of his past as a soldier has to be contextualized with the fact that he was a WW2 soldier. Fighting Hitler is very different to today’s. Notably, has he ever been a soldier after escaping from ice? That isn’t to say he shouldn’t have an opinion about DADT (I would say that he would want it appealed, because the ideals of America is a place of equality), but the fact that he used to be a soldier in a different time does not make him representative

          I think my problem with the idea of Captain America as a ‘nebulous average of all of us’ is that it is nebulous. I mean, let’s use gun rights as an example. If Captain America is ‘the nebulous average of all of us’, what is his actual perspective? Meaningless muddle? Or should he just be given one perspective at random, and then give the ‘opposite’ perspective on another topic, like abortion. I much prefer the idea of Captain America as utterly loyal to the ideals of America. It provides a much clearer idea of who Captain America is. And, unlike what the nebulous average of all of us, someone who represents the ideals is something that is actually heroic (important for a superhero). ‘America as it should be’ is a much better description of a superhero than ‘America as it is’ (and what every Captain America story that people actually care about writes Steve Rogers as). Leave the bad stuff to Burnside, who is designed to represent all the worst parts of America and then get whacked in the head by Steve Roger’s shield.

          I’m not saying Captain America should agree with me. In fact, I would argue that Captain America, representing the ideals of America, should be pro Gun Control. I think the idea of America being forged in rebellion is too central to America’s soul, that I can see Captain America making a speech about how Americans need the ability and stand up and fight against injustice at any time (basically his position in the new Civil War movie) and therefore have guns. I don’t agree with the argument, but I can see that as being in lines with Captain America’s beliefs. And it still leaves us with a character who is truly heroic. Which is important.

          So let’s continue building Captain America, whether they are Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson or Sharon Carter, as someone who strives to represent what America should be. Hell, let’s do what I suggest, and have the team of Captain Americas that represent that idea. An America where all exist in equality, each with their own unique and different perspectives yet work together for a better tomorrow. Because that is what a superhero should be. Leave ambiguous morality and discussions on what America actually is to Omega Men

        • The point of calling Nazi sympathizers in the US in the early ’40s a “fringe movement” wasn’t to dismiss the that they may have posed a threat, just to highlight that Cap’s anti-Nazism was far from transgressive. In fact, it might have recklessly stirred anti-German-American sentiments that were growing in the US at that time. In the wake of 9/11, Marvel smartly had Cap defending Muslim-Americans, even if many Americans would have liked to see him punch Osama Bin Laden in the jaw.

          What I meant about “nebulous average of all of us” is that that’s precisely what America is — it’s kind of the definition of democracy. If Cap is meant to represent American values, even idealized ones, we still have to wonder whose values those are. I mean, our political discourse today is often defined by disagreements about what the “ideals of America” are, and how those are best implemented. There’s no way to represent the most idealized opinion about affirmative action or something without pissing a whole bunch of people off. Which is why I think I like your idea of a crew of Captains America, since that eases the notion that there’s one idealized opinion on many of these issues.

          Already, Spencer has gotten a lot of mileage out of Steve and Sam clashing over things that look a lot like these sticky issues. I think disagreements between Captains America might be a whole lot more interesting than some writer’s opinion over what some abstract idealization of Americanness might look like.

        • When the German American Bund are holding massive rallies, I think it is worth saying strong Anti-Nazi sentiment is a big deal. It can be easy for us to dismiss that for the same reason it can be easy to dismiss Donald Trump. We don’t support Trump, and many of the people we know don’t. And if we do know people who support Trump, we dismiss them as idiots. But this doesn’t change the fact that there is a truly significant level of Trump fans. Quite simply, releasing comics that require you to have police guard and the Mayor of New York to actually declare that he will protect you is a transgressive act. We can talk about negative effects of how German-Americans were seen (just as we can talk about the negative effects of the early Bernie Sanders campaign, before he revealed himself to be just as much of a garbage fire as his fans), but it doesn’t change the fact that it was an important message to the people of America, which was currently non interventionist and had a sizeable population with strong Nazi sympathies (even outside the German American Bund). That’s the difference between Captain America punching Hitler and Captain America punching Bin Laden
          The American population needed to see Cap punch Hitler, because they needed to understand that Hitler was the bad guy, and not someone to ignore/defend.
          The American population needed to see Cap defend Muslim Americans, because they needed to understand that Muslim Americans were not the bad guy.

          What exactly the idealized values of America are is always going to be dependent on the writer. But so is every characterization. That is how these things work. Every writer brings their own version of ‘the idealized version of America’s values’, just as every writer has their own version of Superman, or Batman, or Spiderman.

          In fact, that is why we both love the idea of the crew of Captain Americas. Ideas of Freedom of Speech and not being judged on your beliefs are central to the American ideal. The ideal version of America is a group of people of differing perspectives working together with no judgement to create a better world. People who disagree, but also work together. I still think you should endeavour to make you piss some people off – the Donald Trump supporter should not have a Captain America is this crew, nor should anyone who uses Dogwhistle terms to show support for the Confederate Values.

          Quite simply, while we both agree that the idea of Captain Americas disagreeing and having interesting debates about sticky issues are, there are also some views that, even if a contingent of Americans believe is part of the American Ideals, should not be considered. Quite simply, in the debate between viewpoints we want our Captain Americas to have, you have to decide some viewpoints don’t deserve to come up on stage. Certain viewpoints, no matter how well the other sides debunk them, actually gain legitimacy by being given the chance to be debated.

          We can have our group of idealized version of America debate thorny issues with complex answers without having one of those idealized versions talk about the importance of the Confederate Flag. Leave those versions of the idealized America where they belong, in the heads of people like William Burnside, or Nuke

        • Just to bring your analogy full circle: criticizing Hitler in the US in 1941 was about as transgressive as criticizing Trump today, which is to say, not really that transgressive. The popularity of Trump does not make criticizing him somehow non-mainstream, and the same could definitely be said of Hitler in the US in the early ’40s. I’m not saying they didn’t have support, nor that that support might be significant, nor that it might be dangerous — I’m simply saying that opposing those figures doesn’t mean someone is “positioned against America,” which was the part of your comment that I was actually taking issue with. I didn’t mean to suggest that fringe movements can’t be scary, just that the presence of fringe movements don’t make having and espousing mainstream views a transgressive act.

        • Just because I used Donald Trump as a comparison doesn’t change the other part of my argument, that depicting Hitler as the bad guy was enough to require police protection. When you have that level of threat against you, you are doing something transgressive

        • I think we’re confusing “transgressive” with “brave.” My definition of transgressive is “involving a violation of moral or social boundaries,” and I just don’t consider being opposed to genocide as somehow violating any moral or social boundaries in 1940s America. A witness in a murder case might also need police protection, but that doesn’t make telling the truth on the witness stand transgressive

        • We are using the same definition. I just believe that if you piss a group off just by speaking your mind, you have gone beyond the social boundary. Social convention was not to piss them off, the Captain America Comics had the most American man ever punch Hitler on their cover every month. Regardless of how people thought of Nazis, that wasn’t how you treated Nazis back then. That is what makes it transgressive.

        • I can see how you would get that impression from the way Kirby and Simon talk about it (and the way comics historians have mythologized it), but anti-Nazi sentiment was EXTREMELY common in print at the time. Captain America was no more transgressive than the average political cartoon in 1941 (and to be clear, I do mean before December, 1941).

        • I’ve never read what Kirby and Simon said. Just the knowledge that they needed police protection

          And I do think what they did is different to the average political cartoon. There is a major different between insulting Hitler is a political cartoon hidden away somewhere in your newspaper, and having as your cover multiple times a character designed to represent both Morality and America itself, punching Hitler

        • We might be getting into splitting hairs territory here, but newspaper cartoons were a much bigger deal in the ’40s than they are now — many papers were marketed based on the comics they featured, more than the thoroughness or comprehensiveness of their reporting. Moreover, Uncle Sam, that perennial symbol of America itself, is probably the most common figure in American political cartoons, and was often interacting with Hitler in cartoons before Captain America was ever published.

        • Yeah, we are getting to splitting hairs. Still, I believe placing at the front cover of your magazine an image of a superhero (who even then shorthanded to ultimate moral agent) dressed in the colours and symbol of America (and therefore saying that this guy is only slightly less American than Uncle Sam) and punching Hitler is a meaningful political act.

  2. and, by the way, I read this. And I liked the story, even though I’m avoiding this mini-event.

    However, the cover. Dang, was this cover not good from start to finish. First, and I agree, the symbolism between Cap and Shield being Hitler and Nazis was too great for even me to ignore. (Fortunately?) that wasn’t the theme of the comic, which was weird but a relief.

    Second, I just found the action on the cover to be poorly rendered. Ross is obviously talented to a degree that I find unfathomable, but the angle of Sam’s flight and awkward arm position punching Cap, and Cap’s weird lean back all just looked wrong. Add in the weird symbolism and I found this to be one of the worst comic covers this year from a creative team that usually is outstanding.

    • Yeah – can’t argue with that criticism of the cover. It just goes to show that you can’t put realistically rendered characters into the same composition as you would very flat, graphic characters. Also, that original, while having an iconic image at the center of it, is WAY TOO BUSY, and some of that business makes its way into the recreation.

      • Honestly, it is easy for us fans to celebrate Alex Ross’ work as perfect. I mean, look at some of the stuff he’s done. But no matter how majestic it is when he does his own thing.

        But he has some real weaknesses. He is great when left to do his own thing. But we are so in love with his strengths, that we so easily ignore his weaknesses. Which leads to a cover like this being produced.

        The idea sounds so obvious. Why wouldn’t you get Alex Ross of all people to make a homage to the most famous and iconic Captain America cover of all time? Well, because if you did, you would get this disappointing cover

        • Kirby and Ross just have opposite aesthetics, really. Ross is all about verisimilitude, while Kirby is about exaggeration and abstraction. I tend to think Ross’s stuff looks a little posed and static, which is only highlighted when he tries to recreate such a kinetic image.

  3. I’d been considering what to say here, as I knew there was something I wanted to say, but I also didn’t read the comic. Sadly, it all comes down to the symbolism. The idea that of course the white man has to get the Shield back.

    I have previously discussed how I wanted Sam Wilson to be Cap for a little bit longer before this happened, and that even though he will still have a book, he is going to be the ‘lesser’ Cap. But I have an idea of what they could have done.

    Have a back up for every Captain America, including Sam. In the celebration of 75 years of Captain America, this will mean that we will remember Isiah Bradley, William Burnside and Sam Wilson, instead of just Steve Rogers.

    Imagine a backup reminding everyone that the first Captain America, according to continuity, was a black man whose backstory forces us to acknowledge America’s racism. William Burnside, 50’s Cap in his full toxic white masculinity glory, contextualizes the main comic’s story, by villainizing a white man becoming Captain America in the same issue that celebrates another white man becoming Captain America. And giving Sam Wilson a story actually gives the current Captain America a story in his own book, instead of being forced out for Steve Rogers. Wouldn’t that be so much better?

  4. Wow, Matt and Drew killed it up there, and I have nothing to add other than the skinny paragraphs are a bummer.

    On a lazy Friday at school, I’m thnking about other Captain Americas (even though there is a rich history of other Captain Americas).

    Super-Powered.

    I still stand by Captain Marvel. Her name doesn’t even have to change that much. And I think she’s as B or C list as they come, but that’s mostly because I don’t much care for her as a character, but I like her portrayal in some team books (and Spider-Woman) and I think she’d be fun. Problem: Too closely affiliated.

    She-Hulk: What is more American than a lawyer with some potential aggro issues? Problem: Nobody seems to want to write She-Hulk.

    Spider-Man: Holy shit would he hold that title with reverence. He always looks good holding the shield, too. I’d be very on board with that. Problem: They’d probably lose a title somewhere, although the Spider-Verse is so freaking full right now I’m not sure anyone would notice if a spider-title got dropped.

    Rocket Raccoon: Now that is a symbol we all could get behind. Any artists out there want a commission? Give me a quality Rocket with Cap Helm and armor and shield and a big ray gun standing over a smoldering Red Skull with a blaster hole through his chest and my checkbook would be open!

    Flash/Venom/Symbiote: They’re heading that way a little bit in space, so he being Captain America might be redundant as he’s already Venom:Space Knight. By the way, the new Venom: Space Knight comic is very readable, even more so if you like traitorous Panda Space-Assassins.

    Hawkeye is too close to Cap relationship-wise, and Daredevil is too big of a star, but that actually might really be good in the right hands. He’s definitely the American Dream. I’m trying to think if Waid had Cap in his DD run and I’m embarrassed I can’t remember. I feel like he was, but I don’t know.

    Unpowered:

    The obvious first. J. Jonah Jameson: There is no finer American, just ask him! He clearly knows menaces when he sees them and is unafraid of tackling difficult issues. Give him a dose of super-soldier and watch out! America would be back on top.

    Maria Hill: Is that too incestuous? The Cap/SHIELD/Government relationship is one that’s not interesting to me, and most of the time I don’t care about or for SHIELD stories. I grew interested in her as a character in Hickman’s Avengers and Bendis’ X-Men, as she really seemed to want to do the right thing but had super-powered morons breaking the time stream and hiding incursions. If she HAD power…that actually to me would be interesting.

    • There is no chance in hell that Captain Marvel will ever be Captain America. Marvel are desperate to make her an A-list character (I mean, she is leading a side in Civil War). And honestly, it is working. Captain Marvel is on her way to A-list, and her movie will only cement it. Quite simply, in their mission to create a female A-lister means Carol is only going to be Captain Marvel.

      There something about the idea of Spider-man as Captain America that appeals to me, but it feels like I would want a very specific version of Spider-man. Like an alternate universe where a still young Spider-man picks up the shield after all the Avengers die in an epic battle, and have to reform the superhero community from that moment. The idea really appeals to me, for a lot of the reasons you said. But the grown up, adult Spider-man seems to have missed the moment to really take advantage of that.

      Flash is actually a fantastic idea, though. There is a lot you could do by exploring a Captain America who was a soldier in a completely different war. I honestly really want to see Flash as Captain America.

      Hawkeye was actually Captain America for two minutes, after Steve Rogers died in Civil War (literally two minutes, before Kate Bishop slapped him and he realized he shouldn’t). I’ve always thought Hawkeye would be a decent Cap. Daredevil, though? That’s interesting. I’ve always seen Daredevil as too street level. If I wanted to push Daredevil out of Hell’s Kitchen, I don’t think making him Captain America would work. Honestly, the best way to get Matt Murdock out of the streets would be something O’Neil/Adams Batman inspired. Daredevil doing a worldwide pulpy adventurer thing similar to the classic Ra’s al Ghul stuff.

      Maria Hill would make a great ‘Superior Captain America’. I don’t think Maria Hill will ever be heroic enough to be a real Captain America, but I love the idea of SHIELD seizing the title, because Maria Hill wants to do the right thing, who cares what the Avengers say.

      And I’ve already explained why Sharon Carter is a great choice. As someone connected to Cap’s origin through her aunt, I think there is a lot of potential in someone who knows Steve both in the present and from her Aunt’s war stories.

      But in all honesty, there are only two real candidates. Should the next Captain America be Rocket, of Jameson? No one else could match them

      • One of my students is working on a cover to the comic Rocket Raccoon: Captain America.

        The story is that Rocket and Groot are in space, come back to earth to find that Nazis control the world. They realize that Red Skull, through some means, has gone back to time to sabotage the super soldier serum and thus Hitler was never stopped. So Rocket and Groot go back in time to find the one clean dose of super serum, Rocket takes it, stops Hitler, saves Captain America, and saves freedom.

        Later comics would have Rocket be forced to save the world by getting frozen in ice, Groot being devastated and goes back in time AGAIN to give Steve Rogers a super-raccoon blood transfusion so he would be Captain America and take Rocket and himself back to present time to find that the timestream had been restored.

        I wish I was a writer so I could write the comic Rocket Raccoon: Captain America. Because Rocket punching Hitler should be written.

    • Cap showed up in, like, the second issue of Waid’s first Daredevil run, mostly to get mad at Matt and suspect that he might still be possessed by a demon.

      Matt and Steve teamed up more recently in Soule’s run and things went much smoother, probably because Steve doesn’t remember that Daredevil is Matt Murdock anymore.

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