Spencer: Civil War II has killed the momentum of a lot of books, but its Steve Rogers Captain America tie-ins are an especially interesting case of this because the title never really had a chance to establish its momentum in the first place — writer Nick Spencer was still in expository mode, exploring how Steve’s new Hydra backstory changed him, when the title was dragged into a major event. Thankfully, Spencer and artist Javier Pina have been able to continue that exploration even throughout these event issues, but the moments tying directly into Civil War II feel unmoored in comparison.
It should be no surprise, then, that Steve Rogers Captain America 6‘s flashbacks are its strongest moments, as they’re the one element of this title that is unaffected by Civil War II (colorist Rachelle Rosenberg’s stark, eerie gray and red palette carries over from the previous issues as well, further emphasizing the flashbacks as a familiar element to regular readers). The young version of Steve Rogers readers see here is essentially the quintessential Steve we all know and love — intelligent, if still physically weak at the time, strong-willed, fiercely independent, and compassionate. It’s tough, then, to watch the Kraken not only indoctrinate Steve, but to do so with an approach that seems entirely plausible.
Later in this issue Steve will use his father’s memory as a tool to manipulate Tony (which, in a way, means that he grew up to be just like Kraken), but here it’s still a wound that’s fresh in young Steve’s mind. Kraken and Hydra are using a tool many real life terrorist organizations (up to and including Donald Trump and his ilk) commonly use to manipulate and recruit new members: they’re preying on their weaknesses, disadvantages, and flaws in the system.
After all, Kraken isn’t entirely wrong about the circumstances that drove Steve’s father to abuse and alcoholism (although those circumstances certainly don’t excuse it). Steve has legitimate gripes against capitalism, and even America. Kraken’s next move, then, is to present a “better way,” a way to fix those problems and live a better life — a way to “Make America Great Again,” you could even say.
Again, Kraken’s line of reasoning in that first panel isn’t entirely unappealing. It isn’t until the second panel that he plays his hand, showing that Hydra’s idea of “acting together” basically amounts to the mass murder of anyone who doesn’t fit their definition of “strength.” By that point, though, he’s already planted a seed of discontent and possibility in young Steve’s head, and that can be hard to look past. This isn’t too different from modern-day Hydra’s indoctrination methods, but showing it take hold of Steve Rogers instead of some random kid shows the true, horrific power of the methods — which I’m going to assume was Spencer’s goal with the “Hydra Cap” plot from the very beginning.
We can still see the effects of Hydra’s teachings in the modern day story, where Steve gladly considers the loss of his life worth it if he can advance Hydra’s goals. Unfortunately, Steve’s goals here are otherwise rather murky. It’s funny; we praised issue 5 for its ability to use Civil War II‘s story to showcase this new Steve’s ruthless competence, but that effect doesn’t really translate over to issue 6. I think it comes down to motives: in issue 5 we knew exactly what Steve was hoping to accomplish by manipulating the Civil War, but in issue 6 his motives are more opaque. Sure, he apparently wants Tony’s side to lose, but why? Normally I’d be okay with the “wait and see,” but this issue is actually the final Civil War II tie-in — next month begins a new story featuring the Red Skull. Yeah, sure, I’m also reading Civil War II, but it’s still frustrating to be expected to follow the story over to that title to see the resolution, just as it’s frustrating to spend several of this issue’s pages on word-for-word recreations of pages from Civil War II 6, even if Pina does draw a very pretty Miles Morales.
As much as I like Pina’s take on Spider-Man, though, there’s something off about the composition of this page. It’s a recreation of the final page of Civil War II 6, so let’s take a look at that in comparison.
Miles’s stance is slightly different, and Civil War II artist David Marquez approaches the shot from a low angle. I’m not sure what angle Pina is using — it looks like the camera is looking at Miles straight-on, but viewing the Capitol building behind him from a high angle. That doesn’t really jive.
The strangest thing about Pina’s version, though, is how he’s almost zoomed in on Marquez’s page: the camera is so close to Miles that the top of his head and his entire right arm don’t even fit in the panel. I’m not sure what that’s accomplishing; if anything, it made me feel like I was missing something, like this was half of a two-page spread and somehow the other half got accidentally cut from the issue. Even the way the dome and flag of the Capitol building are framed in between Miles’ body and arm in the center of the page feels misleading; this composition and Steve’s earlier speech about paying attention to the details of Ulysses’ vision had me looking for clues here that just didn’t exist. A cliffhanger should have an impact, and Pina’s work here is a bit too muddled to hit as hard as it should.
Michael, did the present-day half of this issue work better for you than me? Do you have any idea why Steve wants Tony to lose the war? Most importantly: how did we get six issues into Civil War II without asking the question that’s been on my mind since this event was announced?!
Rick Jones, asking the important questions.
Michael: Spencer I’m unsure if I have a definitive answer for you, as far as the present day stuff goes. Civil War II is a boring and disappointing mess, but Steve Rogers has been and continues to be the x factor that captures my interest. Since his Hydra “outing” Rogers has popped up in several Civil War II books it’s always made my imagination run wild with what his actual intentions are. Do his Hydra plans align with his perceived mission at hand? Does he mean what he says? Is he just gonna try to kill everyone? It’s a fascinating and unique scenario that I don’t recall having experienced in a comic before.
I totally understand your frustration with Cap’s Civil War II motives continuing to remain vague here, but unfortunately it’s just one of those comics circumstances where one book can’t show its hand (Steve Rogers: Captain America 9) because it will spoil the other story its loosely-tied to (Civil War II.) If I had to guess, I would think that we’ll either find out Steve’s plans after Civil War II has wrapped or possibly within the pages of Civil War II itself. These types of situations are tricky, however. I typically feel slightly robbed when something major happens to a character within an event book instead of their own ongoing (Spider-Man unmasking in Civil War for example.) I kind of doubt that we’ll be seeing some Steve resolution within Civil War II, however. First off, Nick Spencer has his own plans for Steve Rogers and his Hydra business, and more importantly, Steve hasn’t really been positioned as a major player within the Civil War II event.
I’m spinning off into more Civil War II territory here so I’ll make this brief: I wish we would see Steve plan to kill Miles Morales. Let me be clear here: I don’t want Miles Morales dead, but I do want to see more of a proactive response from Steve upon seeing the vision of Miles killing him — likely due to his treasonous ties to Hydra. So we don’t have anything as exciting as America’s superhero sweetheart saying he wants to kill a teenage superhero, but we do get to see Cap play Iron Man a bit. Though we don’t really have much of a clue as to what Cap is going for here I found myself enjoying his little game of subterfuge. With the Winter Soldier storyline, Ed Brubaker effectively aligned Captain America with the spy/thriller genre — something that has stuck with the character in the movies. Here, we have that espionage setup again but we just happen to be (kind of) rooting for the bad guy spy to not get caught.
I know that Spencer was a little on the fence about the Steve/Hydra reveal but I’m all on board and look forward to where Nick Spencer takes us. I like to see how far Nick Spencer will take the character away from the hero we know while simultaneously maintaining some serious reverence to the kind of person that Steve Rogers has always been. It’s so clear to me that Nick Spencer has such respect for the character yet still a vocal minority of comic book fans thinks he’s ruined the character. Since he’s working for Hydra, Steve is technically “the bad guy,” but it’s also evident that he’s a victim of circumstance. He starts off as the same strong-willed, weak-bodied boy that we’ve read about time and time again only this time he is advised and mentored by pretty terrible people.
Those flashbacks we read could’ve gone a whole lot differently: instead of seeing young Steve get on board with Hydra from Day 1 we see that he is not so easily manipulated; he’s still a person of great thought and conscience. But as Spencer noted, even the strongest of kids can manipulated. Sidebar — I loved that The Kraken showed up — in his full gear, no less.
One thing that strikes me when I read Captain America: Steve Rogers is that even though Cap has an alternate Hydra origin, we are still living in the Marvel Universe that we know and love. I was reminded of this during Steve’s conversation with Tony, where they talked about being on opposite sides of the first Civil War. This had me questioning all of Steve’s decisions in recent history and what they would mean under the lens of his Hydra loyalty. If Nick Spencer wrote an entire revised Hydra Cap history would I read it? Yes, yes I believe I would.
In conclusion Spencer — we are all Rick Jones.
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