Spencer: People have certain aspects of themselves that bind them together into larger groups. Some of those qualities we choose for ourselves — our hobbies, religion, who we marry — but others we have no choice in. Our family, race and nationality, and sexuality bind us to like individuals. That doesn’t mean every member of, say, the same religion or race are alike, nor that they’re all friends, nor that they’ll even agree on anything. What it does mean is that they’ve all got one thing in common that no other group understands, and that makes them part of a community. In Sam Wilson: Captain America 10, writer Nick Spencer explores Sam Wilson and James Rhodes’ community, mining unexpected riches from the concept.
Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s been ages since the last issue of Sam Wilson? Standoff and “Hydra Cap” have stolen a lot of this book’s thunder, so Spencer uses the first few pages to catch his readers up on the (as always, eerily familiar, radically political) going-ons of Sam’s life. Then, just as his story starts to build, Spencer swerves, declaring that Sam’s problems are “gonna have to wait.”
This is because a Civil War II tie-in dominates the rest of the issue, turning this line into a clever bit of meta-commentary — not only has War Machine’s death completely diverted Sam’s focus, but Civil War II has done the same to Sam Wilson: Captain America in real life. Regardless, Spencer makes the best of the crossover, beginning by uniting Sam with the group in charge of organizing Rhodey’s funeral. It doesn’t take long to figure out what all these otherwise disparate characters have in common.
Some of these characters barely know each other — Sam points out that even he and Rhodey weren’t particularly close — yet Misty Knight calls them a family, and Luke Cage a “community.” Being some of the few black heroes of note within the largely white Marvel Universe binds these characters together — not only do they share similar experiences and viewpoints, but also similar responsibilities. Civil Wars tend to bring out the petty sides of Marvel’s heroes, so it’s notable that Sam is able to snap his comrades out of their #whatsideareyouon debates by reminding them of their responsibilities to Rhodey and their community; it’s that important an aspect of their identity.
As for those responsibilities, Misty sums Sam’s up rather nicely:
Sam’s community has been there to build him up, and as Captain America, he has a unique opportunity to pay that inspiration back with interest. Falcon and War Machine are important heroes in their own right, but as Captain America, as Iron Man, Sam and Rhodey have had the opportunity to show the next generation of black children that they have just as much right to be an iconic, big name hero as a white child. Spencer and artist Angel Unzueta drive this point home by lovingly rendering the massive crowd assembled for Rhodey’s funeral, showing the impact he had in just one community.
They also further explore this theme with the superheroes they choose to focus on at the funeral as well.
Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, and Nova get no lines and have no bearing on the plot of this issue, but by continuing to highlight them in the crowd shots, Spencer and Unzueta actually make them critical parts of their mission statement. After all, these three young heroes represent the next generation of Avengers, and of the three, not a single one is the traditional “default” straight white male (Miles is Black and Hispanic, Kamala Middle-Eastern, Muslim, and female, and even Nova is half-Hispanic). While neither Cap nor Rhodey ever specifically served as any of these kids’ mentors, it would be impossible for them not to have influenced and inspired them in some way. They’ve paved the way for characters like Miles Morales or Kamala Khan to exist at all, but Sam can’t let it rest at that — without his continued influence, things could easily backslide for further generations.
So, as always, Captain America is perhaps more important as a symbol than he is a superhero; likewise, Sam Wilson’s Cap, as always, doesn’t necessarily stand for the same ideals as Steve Rogers’, but his passions are no less urgent, important, or worthy.
That’s what makes this issue not only a top-tier event tie-in, but an all around terrific issue of Sam Wilson: Captain America; Spencer expertly uses the events of Civil War II to further his own ongoing themes and plots as well.
The idea of “communities” again comes into play as this civilian inadvertently confirms that there can no longer be one Captain America who represents the wishes of an entire country. His Cap may be Steve Rogers, but the citizens of South Philly need a Sam Wilson, while greedy fat-cats mold the out-of-control Americops into their own, personal Captain Americas. The Americops go to show that, when you treat a country like a single unit, it’s those who have the most money, wield the most influence, and yell the loudest who get their way, and anybody who won’t fall in line pays the price.
Communities like the ones we see in this issue, in many ways, exist to protect each other from that, but it’s the fact that they’ve faced such oppression and persecution that makes Sam Wilson’s sheer existence so powerful. Captain America himself is personally protecting, inspiring, and advocating for marginalized communities, and I can’t think of a more significant stance for him to take. That it’s also such a personal stance for Sam just goes to show why it’s so important to have diverse heroes in the first place — it’s the only way to ensure that everybody feels included and protected, and no matter what you may think, that’s damn important.
I gotta admit, Michael, I wasn’t expecting a story this dense and powerful out of a Civil War tie-in. Were you as impressed as I was?
Michael: I’m right there with you Spencer. Sam Wilson: Captain America 10 is my favorite kind of tie-in: one that compliments the current big event without losing sight of its own series’ narrative. Sam Wilson: Captain America 10 had my mind going in a bunch of different directions, but first we’ll start with the funeral itself.
As far back as I can remember, my father has been the designated eulogizer of family funerals. As great of a speaker as my father is, often times his speeches tend to simultaneously focus on his own life experiences along with those of the deceased. Under the talented script of Nick Spencer, Sam Wilson is very much doing the same thing, albeit a little more intentionally than my dear old dad. Sam’s speech about the self-doubt, fears, and importance of being a black superhero work perfectly in tangent with the story Spencer has given us so far as well as with the beginning of Civil War II. Acknowledging that he didn’t know Jim Rhodes all too well, Sam instead focuses on the significance of Rhodes as a black superhero symbol.
Symbolism is one of the reasons these superhero myths endure, and having an entire comic book dedicated to the powerful symbols of black superheroes is greatly important. Being the “default” of a straight white male I am of the majority, which sometimes makes me feel ill-equipped to speak on matters of race, gender and sexual orientation inequality. While I will never be able to truly experience the world from someone else’s perspective, I find myself becoming more and more sensitive to the absurd struggles that those people face every day in our country and our world.
This is all to say that Nick Spencer’s writing really resonates with me; from what relatively little I know of him, I can say the same of Nick Spencer. Artists in many mediums often prefer to remain neutral/less vocal about politics in their work, whereas Spencer’s political views are right there for everyone to see; I love that. The political atmosphere of our country is so fucked and so divided at this moment in time. In fiction there is a way to write about the inherent fear and hatred in America in distantly related allegories and metaphors, but Spencer wants to attack it head on. If Captain America was a living, breathing African-American you can bet your ass there would be some angry right-wingers who would want him to hand in the shield. It’s art imitating life in the most direct way.
Sam Wilson: Captain America 10 is bookended by these ideas of political divisiveness – you can sense that Spencer is going to take the story with these AmeriCops to a dark and all too real place. From what I can tell, I think that Spencer was giving that mustachioed protester a little too much credit by assuming that he was being more open-minded to the idea of multiple Captain Americas. The man is holding a sign that says “Not My Cap!” which has the inherent racism of the of the “Not My President” catchphrase that so many of President Obama’s detractors have spewed throughout his presidency. Make no mistake, this is not Spencer having a civilian inadvertently make a profound statement. This is an example of the stubborn white male baby boomers in this country who are afraid of progress because “that’s not how it used to be.” Like I said, Nick Spencer is telling it like it is.
Spencer provides us with the concept of “The Family” – the small fraternity of black superheroes – which is so wonderfully obvious I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before (maybe it has, correct me if I’m wrong). There are countless comic book stories about fallen superheroes and the ever-inspiring pledge that superheroes “take care of their own.” Here that idea becomes even more specific, as there aren’t a whole lot of black superheroes running around the Marvel U. Spencer and Angel Unzueta don’t make a big deal about this family, but instead present it matter-of-factly; it’s something that has been ongoing for a long time. I liked the unease that Nick Fury Jr. felt in being there for several reasons. Since he’s “the new guy,” he is our window into this intimate little group – we are experiencing this for the first time just like he is. The bigger reason I like this characterization is that it has seemed like Marvel has been presenting Fury Jr. as the original Nick Fury in order to line up with Samuel L. Jackson in the Marvel movies. Giving him a little doubt is a great way to distinguish him from his bullheaded father.
With the whole Cap Hydra situation in Steve Rogers: Captain America and the political reflections presented in Sam Wilson: Captain America, Nick Spencer is killing it, in my opinion. The Captain America film seemed to be wary of getting its hands dirty by closely associating The Red Skull/Hydra with the hateful, genocidal Nazi party. Spencer, on the other hand, is taking the symbol of Captain America and using him as a mirror to reveal the parts of our country that we might try to ignore. More please.
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