Captain America: Sam Wilson 16

capt-america-sam-wilson-16

Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing Captain America: Sam Wilson 16, originally released December 21, 2016.

Patrick: Under Nick Spencer’s pen, both Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers have been intensely political figures in their roles as simultaneous Captains America. The underlying ugliness of both of these series echoes the ugliness we see in modern political system, but the nature of the characters narrows Spencer’s perspective a bit. For as much as he’s been free to comment on racism and fascism and nationalism, Spencer’s Captain America series have been relatively quiet on the subject of sexism and misogyny. Of course, that’s an incomplete picture of American politics, especially as we grow closer to having to salute the Pussy-Grabber In Chief. With Captain America Sam Wilson 16, Spencer and artists Angel Unzueta and Szymon Kudranski tackle a the very really threat of slut shaming and doxing and simplify them through the magic of the Marvel Universe. That simplification may undersell the complexity and sheer hopeless around this issue, but it sure as shit is satisfying to see it punished.

Sam Wilson needs a goddamn break. Of course, he’s not going to be the one to see that, so his partner-in-more-ways-than-one, Misty Knight, arranges for a brief Wilson-family getaway. The whole issue is a balance between the grounded details and the fantastic details, and keeping that balance is of the utmost import; too crazy and the underlying issues are trivialized. Spencer starts by leaning into the most mundane details he can. That means Sam’s going on a road trip to Vermont to watch the leaves change colors. That’s a boring-ass vacation, but it helps sell the grounded reality that we’re based in. Which is good, because we’re about to get a crash-course in Misty’s history, which is anything but grounded.

Spencer does an admirable job of summarizing some of the greatest hits of Misty’s past and Unzueta treats us to a rad visual history to boot.

visual-history-of-misty-knight

There’s a lot to drink in here – including a reference to the recent Defenders series, which was awesome but dealt in some of the weirdest, most out-there characters and concepts you could imagine. Unzueta is unapologetic about his enthusiasm in this spread – that sunburst effect behind everything practically screams “this is so cool!” Plus, check out how many of the Defenders made it on to that page.

Spencer almost immediately walks that back, as though afraid of getting too in-the-weeds about weird Misty Knight continuity. The next page introduces Claire Templeton, who is looking a hell of a lot like Rosario Dawson, the actress who portrays her on the Marvel Netflix shows.

claire

Those pages come one right after the other, by the way. Spencer and Unzueta are asserting in rapid succession that this issue can be both plugged into the bizarre specificity of the Marvel Universe and accessible at the same time. There’s really no other reason that Claire would be in this scene – it doesn’t even logically bear out that she’d be the one to call Misty about what’s happened to Lady Stilt-Man. I mean, she’s got a broken arm or something, but the real issue is that there’s a sex tape out there with Lady Stilt-Man’s likeness all over it.

And that’s the second dose of realness to this issue: sex tapes, doxing and slut shaming. We don’t get any details about how Lady Stilt-Man winds up in that cast, but I think we have to assume that it was from some IRL harassment that came in the wake of her tape being released. It’s the ultra-sinister side of internet harassment, the side that makes trolling un-fucking-forgivable.

In the issue, Spencer has a neat explanation for what’s going on here – organized crime boss The Slug is using LMDs to make these NSFW videos and then selling the rights to those videos to the highest bidder. That explanation is almost a little too neat for my tastes, as it paints the perpetrators of this kind of crime as traditional criminals. Y’know, the kind smashing bank vaults and making off with the loot. Also, it makes the innocent totally clear-able in the eye of the public – there’s no actual sexual act performed by any of The Slug’s victim. So once Misty smacks The Slug around with the shield, Lady Stilt-Man is essentially exonerated.

Of course, the reality is that people aren’t leaking sex tapes for money, but out of some grotesque mix of spite and entitlement. And it doesn’t matter how many gross perverts you kick the shit out of, once a tape is out there, there’s no undoing the fact that it was out there in the first place. Our culture has such a messed up view of women and sex, that the victim is damned no matter what. When Misty is beating up the LMDs of the A-Listers, she makes the following observation:

“These LMDs don’t have the powers of the heroes they copied — just the looks. Pretty sure there’s some subtext to that — but maybe I can educate.”

Maybe the subtext is that admission that this story is a toothless approximation of that kind of horrible shit that really happens. Michael, I did really like this issue, and I’m excited to see Spencer’s focus turn to gender issues, but it does kinda bum me out how cleanly this wraps up. Was that frustrating to you too? Also, what do you think about Kudranski lending his skills to a few scant pages in this issue? He’s got a knack for real ugly violence, and the creative team turns him loose on Misty’s revenge-o-rama.

vintage-kudranski

It’s vintage Kudranksi, but I think it almost draws ugly-focus away from the truly repugnant shit earlier in the issue. Man, if only we had more time with a real Lady Captain America, we could really dig into these problems without magically clean solutions. Misty Knight 2020?

Michael: First off I should state that I adore the phrase “Captains America” and am going to adopt and employ it when and wherever I can. Nick Spencer has been tackling a lot of different divisive political topics that we have been facing, but Patrick is right in saying that he’s been relatively quiet on women’s issues up until this point. I enjoyed Captain America: Sam Wilson 16 well enough initially, but now Patrick has got me questioning it a bit. Are Misty Knight’s exploits “a good start” in terms of women’s issues or should we want more?

Captain America: Sam Wilson 16 is a Misty Knight one-shot, for all intents and purposes – meaning that it doesn’t have the luxury of having multiple chapters to flesh out the plot of this particular story arc. The conflict of the LMD sex tapes does have a pretty clean break however, as Patrick already noted. Patrick also mentioned how Spencer intersects real-world problems with comic book fantasy and science, but maybe it would’ve been beneficial to lean in a little harder on the reality aspects. Instead stamping out potential slut-shaming flames, the issue opts for the “they were actually robots” twist. That is a perfectly fine twist that clears the names of any women involved but perhaps missed the opportunity to allow some Marvel females to have agency in their sex lives but also want privacy.

women

Spencer does have flashes of real-world allegories in the script, like the quote that Patrick pulled above. Another bit of everyday sexism comes when Misty is doing her initial investigation: “Nobody believes them because – hell, does anyone ever believe women when it comes to this stuff?” There are thematic elements of misogyny and slut-shaming in there but that isn’t really the message of the narrative. The narrative of this issue isn’t about women being able to have sexual freedom while simultaneously demanding their privacy, it’s about impersonator robots. Like I said, it would’ve been nice if Spencer had delved into the real-world implications of these topics instead of a resolution that has the same impact of “it was all a dream.”

All that being said, this is a tricky bit of criticism to engage in: the “what if”s and “what might have been”s.” It’s form of criticism that can easily devolve into a hodgepodge of nitpicking and fanfiction. Are there opportunities in Captain America: Sam Wilson 16 that Nick Spencer left untouched? Possibly. But it served as a good one-shot that highlighted/reintroduced readers to the character of Misty Knight. I did enjoy reading Captain America: Sam Wilson 16. However I’m not sure that it stands up under further scrutiny.

Case-in-point: Misty’s relationship with Sam. Since this is Sam’s book, it’s neither surprising nor offensive that Misty’s solo adventure is bookended by her interactions with our titular Captain America. One of the most interesting parts of the Sam/Misty relationship thus far has been that it’s been hard to put a finger on what it is. Up to this point, Misty and Sam have had a semi-romantic, but mostly cordial working  relationship. I suppose it’s not a shock that these two characters would end up in each other’s arms but in the scope of this particular issue it strikes me as a bit odd.

say-waht

The trajectory of the Sam/Misty relationship here is: Sam is broken, Misty sends Sam on a family retreat, Misty embarks on her own LMDNSFW mission and then Misty and Sam reconnect in a passionate embrace. Where’s the connective tissue here? How does Misty dealing with The Slug and his pervy machinations lead to the revelation that she should make a move on Sam? I’m not necessarily against the idea that Misty and Sam would end up together per se, but in this context it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Patrick, look at what you made me do!

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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3 comments on “Captain America: Sam Wilson 16

  1. It has been a long two years. I still remember the first day of GamerGate. I still remember that the first person I saw discussing it on that day mentioned that he refused to make any comment and give such a pathetic non-controversy a platform it didn’t deserve. What I thought was just the an average false controversy in video games instead proved to be something much bigger. From there, we had the Fappening, Rabid Puppies, Bernie Bros and Trump (hell, I could make a case that DC Rebirth belongs in that list, if you want to know the real reason why DC finally broke me recently), among many other things. GamerGate wasn’t the cause of all of these, just the first symptom of the real cause, but it was the beginning. And after this year, it is quite clearly not the end.

    And while those horrors were a much more complex than just misogyny, and included racism, homophobia and a wide range of other problems, it is important not to ignore the misogyny. There is a reason that the main targets of GamerGate were all woman. That Ancillary Justice is THE book that Rabid Puppies hates so much. That America is about to have an admitted sexual assaulter as President. Which is why it is horrifying that misogyny is so often ignored as a key reason for Trump’s victory, even among many that are trying not to whitewash Clinton’s loss. You will never see me argue with the idea that racism was important, but it wasn’t just racism. Misogyny has been such a key part of the story.

    Which is why it is satisfying to watch Misty Knight punch them in the face.

    Still, the complex thing about this is misogyny is a far more complex idea than a single issue can express. That is a fact. Which makes this a really complicated thing to discuss. Michael is right that there is a potential chance to explore slut shaming and rights to sexual privacy, to make this an attack on things like the Fappening. And of course the idea that a woman can have sex without being shamed or having the video go viral is an important idea. But that doesn’t mean ‘actually its robots’ doesn’t speak to a very different way that woman are harrassed.

    Fake porn is a thing, where people edit porn to put with the faces of their targets as a method of harrassement, with the goal to then make the porn so public that the porn is forever connected to the target’s name. So the fact that the twist is ‘actually robots’ doesn’t hurt the story as about misogyny. Quite simply, misogyny is such a broad industry that there is no single way for men to attack women.

    Even the fact that it is a money making venture doesn’t actually hurt underlying criticism. Because misogyny is, sadly, a massive money maker. I’m writing this on the day that Milo Yiannopolous has just received a six figure book deal. The idea that someone would decide to profit of misogyny is sadly true. I think the reason it works is that it is combined with the Slug’s entitled complaints about ‘you stuck-up teases’. It comes from that same well of entitlement as something like the Fappening, this idea that we deserve (urgh) naked pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, so that fact that it is a money making scheme doesn’t matter.

    The real problem is that the most important part, the leaking of the videos, is minimised to the point of actually not being entirely clear. THe theft of a woman’s image for pornographic content is horrible, but the true horror using that content to then attack a woman’s reputation. THere is a reason that Misty’s call to action is Callie’s response to have her life destroyed by the release of these videos (it it me, or is it also unclear how Callie ended up in hospital. At times, it feels self inflicted, at other times, it feels like a harasser being physically violent). I would have loved to have seen the Slug make a passionate speech about why it is ethically right for him to be leaking the videos. Because of all the despicable things he does as part of his plan, that is the true horror. That is where the Slug’s actions shift from exploitation to assault. And so that should have been the focus. Not on the rich men.

    In fact, that is a big reason why Misty beating everyone up is more satisfying than the Slug in the ocean. Because there, Spencer is targeting the exact right person. And that page is a thing of beauty.

    My complaints about the last issue still stand. The structure of this arc is weird. Now that it is clear that this arc is a series of one shots about the supporting cast that exists outside the main plot, this really should have happened before Herald’s death. Sam Wilson has had enough stuff thrown at him that you could keep the vacation element of this issue without Herald’s death, and as great as it is that we are spending time explaining why Sam’s supporting cast deserve to be called Captain America, it does feel like the Spencer has sidelined the most interesting story point he has until next arc.

    Despite that structural issue, though, I can’t say enough how much I love the whole Captains America thing. I remember being grumpy on this site about how Spencer had planned to bring Steve Rogers back and we were going to the white guy be the moral centre of the Marvel Universe again (how very, very wrong I was). But between us, we discussed how great it would be if Captain America was a diverse team, made up of a range of people with their own perspectives. And I love that we are getting that here. Whether you are black, gay or female, you can be Captain America.

    Also, I believe it was already established that Sam and Misty were in a relationship. They were revealed to be sleeping with each other in the first arc, I think. So this issue isn’t supposed to be a story about how they started dating. But if we treat this issue as a primer introducing Misty, this is the last piece of the puzzle. We have her backstory provided, we have an example adventure, and then at the very end (after we have dealt with everything else, so that we see Misty as a person first) we see Misty’s relationship to Sam. All three key elements, as the perfect primer for Misty in the current Marvel Universe.
    And I have to say, I love how Unzueta places Misty in the centre of the page during that kiss. Through a lot of great little choices, Misty feels like the dominant force. The kiss doesn’t say that Misty is Sam’s girlfriend, but that Sam is Misty’s boyfriend. I like that.

    • God, fucking GamerGate. It’s still surreal to me that this mainstreamifying of toxic misogyny has its roots in something so fucking stupid. But I suppose it is telling that, even in its infancy, media outlets had no idea how to address that crowd of idiots with any real efficacy. We wrote a few pieces when Janelle Asselin was put on blast for criticizing that Teen Titans cover, but y’know, we’re little and we like to think of the site as good at analysis of actual issues of comics, not trends in the industry, or social issues or other broader commentary. And I think we’ve grown into that insular way of thinking over the last two years – putting our heads down and focusing even more on the images on the page in front of us precisely because engaging the ugliness directly would mean diverting our attention from what we perceive our role to be. I honestly don’t know if that’s the right choice.

      I hope that our coverage of comics with female creative teams or with ladies and POC and LGBT protagonists have helped to mitigate this shit storm to even the tiniest degree. But like: who knows if that’s even true?

      To your points about whether this story is toothless or not – those are both good points. HOWEVER, I think both the monetary incentive for misogyny and the existence of fake porn are secondary to the more common practice of stealing a woman’s privacy and then shaming her for her own sexuality. That doesn’t make the message of the issue — or Misty’s badass vengeance — any less potent, but I think it does steer away from the point instead of directly into it. Maybe I’m just being selfish, but I’d totally read a whole series of Misty Knight vs. GamerGaters.

      Oh, and that was a point I sorta skated over in the piece. I also love seeing Misty kick the shit out of the regular Joes that are sharing LSM’s video, but it is a little weird that that’s when Kudranksi’s art kicks in (and utilizes his classic page-breaking violence). That page should be full of grace and justice, but it ends up looking horrifying. I don’t fault Kudranski — it’s his job to page the page look like it’s a page he drew — but being that he’s used SO SPARINGLY elsewhere in the issue, it gave me pause.

      • I think I may have explained my point poorly. My point was that the specifics of this plot were fully consistent with targeted harassment. To me, this story was about targeted harassment of woman, and the fact that it uses the creation of fake porn or the fact that it is used to profit the Slug is not inconsistent with telling a story about misogynistic harassment. I disagree with Michael’s statement that the ‘actual, they’re robots’ twist hurts to commentary of the comic.

        The event that the events of this comic are most similar to would be the Fappening, which is both an example of how our culture steals a woman’s privacy and then shaming her for her own sexuality AND of how our culture endorses the targeted harassment of woman (remember, the justification was that we were entitled to the nudes of these woman specifically because they were Hollywood stars). If you are use the Fappening as the basis for a story exploring misogyny, then there are two very clear takes. Nick Spencer chose the version about targeted harassment of the superpowered community.

        And it is easy to see why. It is easy to make into a story. Targeted harassment is such a big deal, that we have literally crafted literally infinite ways to do so. It generally has notable figures to act as the main villain – even the supposedly leaderless GamerGate had clear leaders. And it is also an incredible way for the perpetrator to gain power. While their crimes are much, much larger than just targeted misogynistic harassment, both Milo Yiannopolous and Donald Trump have been richly rewarded this year by, in part, targeted misogynistic harassment. Which helps make the villain especially despicable

        So again, my issue isn’t the particulars of the plans. The Slug’s plan is a perfect example of today’s toxic misogyny. It fits well within the wheelhouse of such figures as Yiannopolous. The problem is the focus. SPencer spends too much time discussing the Slug selling LMDs to rich men (which, to be grossly simplistic, is the theft of image rights) and less on the release of these videos as a way to harm the superpowered community. That is the true meat of the issue, on how the release hurts people. Yet as soon as Misty Knight gets her Call to Action, it is ignored. Regardless of the exact specifics of the Slug’s plans, and on whether the sex tape is real or fake, the important meat of this issue was the effect on the woman themselves. The confrontation with the SLug shouldn’t have focused around the sale of the LMDs services. It should have been a place to explore why Slug felt it should release the videos. Focus on the harm done by the Slug’s actions, instead of the way he profited. That is the problem, and not any specific part of the Slug’s plan

        And that is why the page of Misty Knight beating up the people who spread the videos works so well. THat is the right people. And while I agree that the page isn’t graceful, I would disagree that it look horrifying. To me, it looks cathartic. It is violent, but it shouldn’t feel clean. This is righteous rage, and making it dispassionate is wrong. Should someone actually do this in real life? No. But action stories aren’t always about that. Sometimes, it is simply about the catharsis. I think trying to purify Misty’s actions here would weaken it. When faced with such an invasive act, the idea that Misty Knight should respond only rationality and just acts is wrong. Let her be angry. Let her be mad. Let her beat up GamerGaters every month in her own comic (Hell, let’s make it twice a month. I’m not really happy with DC’s biweekly policy, but if any comic deserves to be published twice a month, it is Misty Knight beating up GamerGaters).

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