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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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