Captain America: Sam Wilson 22

Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing Captain America: Sam Wilson 22, originally released May 31st, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Patrick: Thinking about the problems the United States faces on global and federal levels is daunting as hell. We’re inundated with concerns about the stability of our global leadership, about the viability of of our political system, the longevity of healthcare and other programs put in place to protect individuals. And what can you do? Call your representatives? Donate to the ACLU? Volunteer? Run for office? They’re all drops in a bucket — important drops, but drops nonetheless. In the face of a country that rejected him, Sam Wilson is forced to come up with his own answer to this question, and in so doing, brings Cap back to the vulnerable citizens that need him.

At least, kinda. We only see Sam in the Cap uniform in flashbacks, and in every one of those appearances, Sam is in some stage of quitting the role. My favorite comes early in the issue, at the conclusion of Sam’s “Where were you?” soliloquy.

Writer Nick Spencer’s language is extremely poetic here, elevating the finality of this moment, even when we can probably guess that Sam will pick up the shield again at some point in the future. I love that the window acts as its own panel, half-suggesting that we’re seeing the Cap-Falcon hybrid hero flying off into the sunset at the same time that we can see the uniform draped over some exercise equipment. There are other illuminating details in this panel — the weights representing Sam’s unending quest to better himself, and the pictures of hawks inextricably tying him to his own roots. Artist Sean Izaakse is at maximum sentiment, if only for a moment, to dial the reader into what exactly Sam is walking away from — a kind of emotional check-in that assures we’re all on the same page.

When Sam does emerge from his self-imposed exodus, he finds the world only got worse in his absence. Izaakse, like most of Spencer’s collaborators throughout this story, wields the fascistic imagery breathlessly. He’ll build up to the very comic-book-y Steve wielding Mjolnir, but the ramp up is a million times more grounded. In fact, you can swap out the specifics and you’ve got a horrifying survey of 20th century world history — a greatest hits of governments oppressing their people.

And if some of that is even too far out there for the reader to relate to, Spencer stages a scene that is all too familiar — Sam overhears someone whose political opinions are morally indefensible, and has to deal with it. Sam’s in a diner, but in my experience, it can happen anywhere. Someone says something that challenges our basic assumptions about morality, and you have to decide if it even makes sense to argue that racism is bad. Obviously. It is. But what’s the point in engaging with someone that won’t even grant the premise your argument is based on? In Sam’s encounter, he lays out the fucking facts:

“You guys are aware this is Hydra, right? The fascist terrorist bad guys?”

But the facts are useless. The diner patrons spit back the propaganda they’ve been fed about the media nefariously misrepresenting Hydra. The only proof they need that Hydra are the good guys is the fact that they have new job opportunities… building warships. It’s a not-at-all-veiled criticism of the people that ignored Trump’s connection to White Supremacists because they wanted their mining and manufacturing jobs back. (The difference here, of course, is that Hydra actually does have need to manufacture more warships to conquer the country, where Trump has no actionable way to revive dead and dying industries. I guess I’m saying, if it came down to “Make America Great Again” or “Hail Hydra,” I know which one I’d pick.)

And my goodness, that’s the incredibly dour headspace Spencer and Izaakse have me in! Then they start the hard work of digging us out of that emotional pit. Sam Wilson has been on an inspiring journey, one that’s more often defeat than victory, but his actions are always most meaningful when he can help individuals. Let’s remember that that’s how Sam’s adventures as Captain America started — at least under Spencer’s pen — protecting undocumented immigrants from the trigger-happy Sons of the Serpent. This time, Sam’s helping an Inhuman, and the distance that metaphor allows gives us the ability to plant whatever kind of marginalized person we want into that role. She needs Sam’s help, and he’s able to deliver. But that’s one person: small scale and intensely local. That’s the form Sam’s plan has to take: help one person. Then help another. And then another. Spencer and Izaakse hopefully fill a whole page with those “another”s, calmly assuring the reader that all helping is meaningful.

Of course, Ant-Man, and eventually Iron Man, all show up to blow out the scale of Sam’s heroism, but I find this simply repeated act of kindness and heroism the most inspiring.

Michael, what’d you think? Did this issue make you feel better about the little bits of good you do get to do in the world? It’s amazing how frustrating it is when A.I. Tony Stark shows up, right?

Michael: Good catch on Sam’s current border-crossing operation echoing his initial Cap missions Patrick — I can’t believe I missed that one. I’ll admit that it’s a little frustrating when A.I. Tony Stark shows up at the end, but only because I still think that it’s such a cheap way to keep him in the Secret Empire story. Clearly, I understand where you are coming from — Sam was doing his own bit of good outside of the larger Avengers-scale conflict. Now that Scott Lang outed him, however, Sam is going to be pulled back into the main fight.

Event tie-ins are typically hit or miss, but we are fortunate that the same writer who is captaining Secret Empire is writing both Captain America: Sam Wilson and Captain America: Steve Rogers. Since Nick Spencer is in charge of all three of these books there is a seamless bridge connecting them all that doesn’t necessarily make them required reading for Secret Empire, but enriches the whole experience for those of us who have been following along all this time.

In Secret Empire 2, Spencer stages an Ocean’s Eleven-esque reveal, where Sam Wilson is The Resistance’s “way across the border,” but Captain America: Sam Wilson 22 gives us the context and backstory to make this reveal more 3-dimensional. In the course of a superhero’s career he or she will succeed or fail, live or die and then stay dead or be reborn. One of the classic elements of a superhero tale, however, is when they throw in the towel and call it quits.

After everything that Sam has faced with the Americops, the “Take Back the Shield” business and Rage slipping into a coma, it’s no surprise that Sam decides to leave the stars and stripes behind. First and foremost, I love that Sam’s “getting away from it all” boils down to him hanging out with birds.

I give props upon props to Marvel for maintaining Sam Wilson’s silly connection to the aviary set. In fact, I was incredibly disappointed when Redwing made his cinematic debut in Captain America: Civil War he was a robot.

As often happens when a hero goes off in search of themselves, Sam is pulled back into the line of duty; heroes gotta hero, after all. And like any good reluctant hero, Sam defends a mother and her Inhuman daughter from a gang of Hydra loyalists and then wants to be on his way. The mother won’t let Sam go so easily however, and says the very thing that Sam needs to hear right then and there.

This is a fabulous phrasing, full of multiple meanings. In the scary new world of Hydra’s America, the name “Captain America” might as well be a dirty word. But instead of associating that title with America’s current dictator this woman uses it as a plea to Sam Wilson, the man she identifies as Captain America. Though a loud (white) majority spent most of the time decrying Sam Wilson as “Not My Cap,” Sam learns that the people who connect with him most recognize them as their personal hero. Sam is a true hero so he doesn’t back down from a person in need, but I gotta think that hearing someone labeling him as THE Captain America gave him a little ego stroke. I know that’s how I’d feel, at least.

I really admire Spencer’s portrayal of Misty Knight throughout the course of this series. Misty is a woman who is in charge of her own decisions and opinions and will not be subjugated to the role of girlfriend. While Misty and Sam do have a complicated romantic background, I recognize her as the friend who calls you out on your bullshit. Misty is the friend that holds you accountable for things that you know you shouldn’t be doing, which is why she gets such a kick out of scolding Sam in this issue.

I’m not sure how many more Secret Empire chapters we’ll get from Captain America: Sam Wilson but I do know that Spencer will maintain the quality he has on the book throughout. An event like Secret Empire is all about changing the status quo — however temporarily. But if a storyteller can work within those confines while simultaneously advancing the growth of a particular character, that is something special indeed. I worry that this might be the epilogue of Sam Wilson’s tenure as Captain America, but I really hope that it’s not because we need him right now.

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 22

  1. Michael, thanks for hammering home the constant reminder that Sam is connected to something BEYOND “America.” He’s got his own thing with the birds. We see it in that gym in the panel I posted, and we see it in his frontier escape, and we even see that Hawke fly overhead when that woman makes one last appeal to him. Even if the concept of “America” is totally corrupted, Sammy’s still got a heroic identity outside of that. Beautiful.

    • I also think it acknowledges that “America” is a complicated subject. It’s a concept that has largely been coopted by conservatives, but I think there’s a strong case to be made that American ideals (at least in abstract) embrace diversity — that Sam Wilson does represent America, just not the caricature of America that conservatives push. I’ve recently seen folks making the distinction between “patriotism” and “nationalism” and I think the confusion between the two is exactly what this issue is all about.

  2. Hillary Clinton in the Woods: I’ve struggled to work out what to say about this issue. I think the big point about this issue is that like Steve Rogers, it is exposition. Which is the problem. Sam Wilson’s story in Secret Empire begins with Scott asking for help, with Bobbi and Tony. Which leaves this issue explaining to us what how we reached the story we are at now. The classic advice of ‘Start late, end early’ is great advice, and this issue suffers from the fact that this is about starting earlier than Secret Empire. To be fair, so did Steve Rogers, but Steve Rogers used a clever framing device to building a meaningful narrative around the exposition. This… lacks that. Who would think there would be an issue of Steve Rogers better than the respective Sam Wilson issue?

    There are of course great moments. I like that Sam Wilson can’t escape being Captain America. Ultimately, he is a good person and can’t escape that. He’ll turn a trash can into the Shield. Sam’s fall, Sam’s lowest point isn’t to stop being a good person. Instead, it is to give up on the idea of large scale change. He has made the choice to fight the little fights during the time where he is seriously needed to fight the big fight. From a structural level, I like how this is represented through regression of ideas. Sam Wilson begun with illegal immigration, the hotline and a page of callers, before evolving and evolving until the climax of 21. His new start is exactly like the beginning. Exact same tool set, down to the very layouts. And hides the fundamental truth. Despite everything, he is still Captain America.
    I don’t know what Sam’s fate will be at the end of this, though I know he is losing the Shield. This story can’t end without him suiting up as Captain America, but I hope he gets to keep the suit and the name. Give him a new shield, and let him continue being Captain America alongside Steve. Because this issue makes clear that no matter what the situation, he is Captain America through and through.

    And the diner scene is a great example of the warped way the people of a nation can ignore what is happening for the sake of stability. That the lie of improvement will let people ignore the horrors of the administration. The ways the known evil of HYDRA/Trump (let’s not forget his admissions of sexual assault) are ignored is scary and real. The sort of thing I want Secret Empire to be.

    But yeah, this is just a reiteration of the facts. There is so much we can say about Sam Wilson here. To take the metaphor to the furtherest point, he is Hillary Clinton. Controversial candidate for iconic American position fails because of the people’s preference for a hateful, authoritarian bigot. And so, he retreats away, enjoying the outdoors and doing small acts of resistance, in a world that needs him to step up further. This sort of depth is what makes Secret Empire so, so great. SO much to talk about with respect to Sam.

    I just wish that this issue had something in it that the main book hadn’t adequately already discussed

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