Generations Sam Wilson Captain America & Steve Rogers Captain America 1: Discussion

by Patrick Ehlers and Ryan Mogge

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

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Patrick: One of the harsher truths of Secret Empire is that America was always run on an engine of hatred and fear. Racism, sexism, classism, fascism — neither Hydra Cap nor Donald Trump invented these things. They didn’t even popularize or legitimize them, they’re simply high profile embodiments thereof. It is increasingly easy to read the totality of American history as ugly and hateful, filled with crass opportunists, liars, and mass murderers. That can make the USA a hard hero to root for. With Generations Sam Wilson Captain America & Steve Rogers Captain America 1, writer Nick Spencer goes back in time, giving both Sam Wilson and his readers a lifetime to reconsider the value in fighting for what may, at times, appear to be a lost cause.

I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit that I needed something of an unambiguously happy ending to the Hydra Cap story, and thank goodness we got such a thoughtful version of that here. Perhaps “ending” isn’t totally accurate: between Secret Empire 10 and Secret Empire: Omega 1 the series has already definitively ended. But with Marvel Legacy incoming, the emotional slate needs clearing in a holistic way. Smartly, Spencer focuses almost exclusively on Sam Wilson, sending him back in time to the moment of the original Captain America’s inception, and making him live an entire life.

And Sam, proving his mettle once and for all, lives one hell of a virtuous life. Sam tries to keep a low profile, afraid of messing up the time steam, but that lasts for all of a page before he enlists in the army. Spencer artist Paul Renaud hit the poetry of 194os America hard, and play it pretty straight to boot.

There’s no Hydra here. No Red Skull, no Baron Zemo. Sam’s narration says “I was history unfold in front of my eyes.” That’s the history of the character’s world, but (to this point in the issue) it is also the history of our world. That means Hitler, Nazis, a Swastika. Once we actually get to the theatre of war, Spencer and Renaud lean more into the fantasy of World War II in the Marvel Universe, but steering away from the villainous side of things. We don’t ever see the telltale skull and tentacles of Hydra, but we do get the Invaders kicking ass together.

For his part in the fantasy, Sam soars above the battlefield in some kind of wholly anachronistic winged jetpack. It’s all part of the useful fantasy about the greatest generation. And because Sam’s an old pro at this kind of thing before he ever got bounced back to the 40s, he gets to act as an inspirational figure for a young, queasy Steve Rogers. During their conversation, Steve says words that should true to anyone attempting to do anything difficult:

“I just — I don’t want to let anyone down. They want me to be this symbol, something that gives everyone hope. I’m trying, but so far it just feels like I’m faking it.”

Steve’s wrestling with the idea that he has to be this paragon of American virtue, and of course he’ll have to fake that. Sam then says the magic words which help define Steve’s MO going forward and which dictate the rest of this issue. “You’re gonna lead these men to victory. And then another victory. And another.” Sam is focused on the process, trusting that the results can only flow from that.

And that’s exactly what we see from the remainder of the issue. Sam goes home and serves as a pastor in a church, raises a family, marches, demonstrates and goes to jail for civil rights. There’s this pervasive sense of inevitability to all of it, and Sam never fails to involve himself in any of it. Even when Cap comes out of the ice, he positions himself as a spiritual and moral advisor to Steve Rogers. The rest of his life plays out as you would expect… at least, if you’ve been reading Captain America for the last couple decades.

Someday, that panel of Tony blasting Steve’s shield at pointblank range will stop being so powerful, but it’s not today.

Sam get older and the whole “vanishing point” portion of this story ends with him getting into bed, presumably to die. Did he fix everything in his long, hard life? No. But he fought to make things better, and that has to be enough. Every victory is another step in the march of progress, and no one lives to see where that march ends.

That segues into Sam handing the role of Cap back to the never-Hydra’d Steve Rogers. Ryan, I think that’s where the metaphor starts to cut the most deeply. Sam has sacrificed and fought as a symbol of American exceptionalism for a life-time and a half, and kicking the shield back to Steve feels like a call to arms, doesn’t it? The generations before us already made their sacrifices, and anything that is better now is because of them. Comics, like history, will always barrel forward. Are you ready to see Steve behind the shield again? Are you ready to see Sam move on? You think anyone else — besides Thor, who seems to be able to sense it — has any idea that Sam experienced like 70 years all at once? Also, will someone tell Miles to get the hell of the table?

YOU’RE AT A RESTAURANT SHOW SOME RESPECT.

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Ryan M: Cut Miles some slack, Patrick, he is just trying to get the server’s attention since it’s been a while since her last table touch and empty waters are no one’s friend.

Slacking waitress aside, the diner scene functions as a transition between Sam’s interrogation scene and the gift he offers Steve at the end of the issue. The no-look catch of the shield is pretty badass, but the sentiment in Sam’s note is what drives the power of the moment. It’s time for Steve to return to his role and for Sam to identify his own.

The seventy years that Sam spent as Paul Jeffries allowed him to live a combination of the worlds that he had experienced. He is a soldier, a pastor like the men in his family, a father and grandfather and Captain America’s confidante. He does all of this because of the “pull” that Spencer uses as a refrain in Sam’s story. The pull is who Sam is and it exists outside of time period, politics or what outfit Sam is wearing. It’s intrinsic to him.

The first time Spencer writes of the pull, it’s connecting Sam to Harlem. Later, the pull brings Sam to the ministry and into the Civil Rights Movement.

Spencer and Renaud build to the moment perfectly. The page before begins with Sam calling Cap his best friend over an image of the ice. Then Captain America surrounded by the Avengers, looking first disoriented and then ready to fight. Finally, he is walking through the streets of New York at a parade in his honor. Each of these panels focuses on very familiar images of Captain America, but it’s Steve Rogers who notices his old friend Phil in the crowd.

Sam is there to see his brother in arms and best friend through two lifetimes again.

The upper left panel above is where I started tearing up. Renaud places Sam among a sea of people who only know the image and not the man. When Spencer writes that this visit is to see Steve “one more time” we are reminded that Sam is now in the twilight of his life. He isn’t part of the super-club and so the acts that he has done in his seventy years will have to be enough. Thus the turn, both of the plot and of Sam’s shoulder to the crowd, makes it all the sweeter when Steve does recognize him. Their embrace begins another chapter of their friendship.

The dynamic here, where Sam can counsel Steve with two lifetimes of experience, is what makes me most encouraged about Sam’s role in this story form here on. He is no longer carrying the shield, but the shield was never the source of his righteousness. He is more than that. It’s not clear yet why Kobik made the choices that she did, but in Sam’s case, she gave him a chance to live a heroic life as his own man, separate from the super hero world.

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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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6 comments on “Generations Sam Wilson Captain America & Steve Rogers Captain America 1: Discussion

  1. Want to start with some quotes. First is one I’m sure I’ve used before. The ending is the conceit. Essentially, the point of your story is the ending. It defines everything.

    Second is something about learning. A person retains approximately ‘75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned’ and approximately ‘90% of what they learn when they teach someone else’

    This idea about learning is important, because that is what Sam gets to do. From the very beginning, Sam has been struggling with two challenges. How does she follow Steve Rogers’ example and be Captain America? How can he best use his platform for activism? Though ultimately, this is the same question, asked in two different ways. One as metaphor, one literal.

    And so, Sam is launched back in time, to get the chance to truly learn. In the main book, Sam constantly struggled to find the right way to resist the Americops, to find the solution that will best. To find the right balance. To best be Captain America. Breaking from the Generations structure to tell the story of a life gives Sam the time to truly learn everything he has struggled with.

    For the man who has always struggled to be the activist, the Captain America he wants to be, he is given a canvas to truly commit. As an activist, he manages to become a meaningful part of the Civil Rights movement, and use his pulpit to advocate for community engagement. And as Captain America, he sets such an example, that Steve Rogers himself feels trapped in his shadow.

    It is here that it all comes together. He can do it. A life time as an activist, successfully helping create social change, is exactly what what Sam needed. Living proof of his ability to create change, living proof that his work is meaningful.

    Which is why the ending truly hurts this. Quite simply, however you look at Spencer’s run, it all ends with the same flaw. It all comes back to Steve Rogers. Quite simply, the story cannot escape his shadow. And as Sam is the heart and soul of Spencer’s work, the moment Sam gets subsumed by Steve’s shadow, the book shrivels up and loses itself.

    Now, getting Sam to go back to the Falcon was always going to be hard, because I don’t think there was an easy way to do so, in a book that was all about the importance of a black man being Cap. It was going to be hard to pull off ‘I have learned I have great ability to affect change as an activist and create a legacy that others will struggle under as Captain America. Now I will return to relative obscurity as the Falcon’. But this was not a successful approach. Surely seeing how Steve was inspired by his example, seeing how Sam’s ability to be an activist has assisted in major civil rights victories (even if this only applies to the imaginary Vanishing Point) is proof that Sam should be Captain America. Hasn’t he just proved how useful it would be for him to hold the shield? The influence he could have? If he could inspire Steve freaking Rogers as an invisible soldier who kept himself secret, surely it follows that he would have an even greater effect as the most visible superhero in the land? Why not be Captain America?

    The entire book, especially in the context of Spencer’s greater run, seems to argue that Sam should be Captain America. That he can step up. BUT, it is possible to write a version where he becoems the Falcon. If you pull it off.

    Except, let’s look at the ending. Because as I said, the ending is the conciet. And I can’t help but see the ending be all about Steve. All about what Steve needs to do. What he needs to be.

    Spencer’s question throughout the run has been ‘What does Sam need to do to be the best Captain America?’

    Unfortunately, the answer is ‘Get out of the way so that everyone can see Steve be awesome’.

    A disappointing ending.

    • Honestly, I think I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t like Spencer’s run, as a whole. There are a lot of good parts, but too much of it is greatly flawed. Sam Wilson was generally a really good book, especially but it moved past Capwolf jokes. And Secret EMpire was, for the most part, a really good event. But Steve ROgers was a pretty terrible book, consistently failing to live up to the promise of its potential by never committing to being anything other than set up for Secret Empire. And the simple fact is, no matter which subset of his run you look at, it all ends really, really disappointingly. Whether it is Secret EMpire 10 or the final pages of Generations, Spencer has so consistently and so spectacularly failed during the last few yards I don’t think I can call this a great run. Maybe a good one, if I’m generious.

      It is certainly an interesting run, and deserves praise for that. But I don’t know how much more praise I can give the run, as a whole

    • I don’t think Sam returning to being Falcon was Spencer’s choice — he created his OWN Falcon, after all, and speaking of which, I’m wondering if we’ll ever see Joaquim again now that Sam is returning to being Falcon and teaming up with the new Patriot in his solo — I think the decision was far beyond Spencer’s paygrade, and the command to write Sam handing the shield back to Steve was handed down to him. Cause you’re right, Matt, it’s an ending that doesn’t really feel like the right conclusion for the rest of Spencer and Sam’s run, even if this issue makes a strong argument for it.

      • Yeah, I’m pretty sure Spencer had no choice about Sam becoming Falcon again (I really wish he stayed. Wish he just stayed Captain America, then give Sharon Carter her own shield. Let’s make Captain America a team, representing a diverse range of viewpoints of what America is). But I think he could have done a much better job in this issue in making the transition. Because I don’t think the issue did a good job at justifying it.

        I think it was possible for Spencer to justify it, if he did that ending properly. If the ending was about focused on Sam. That after going through a life and truly understanding his own power to enact change, the choice was about him. If the ending related to the issue itself. Instead, the ending was all about Steve Rogers.

        I think there was another way Spencer could have ended it, though. Instead of ending with Steve catching the shield, with Steve in a heroic pose and a letter about how important it is that Steve is Captain America, how about we make it about Sam?

        Sam throws the shield to Steve, just like in the book. Steve catches it, and opens the letter, just like in the book. All we change is the last panel, and the letter. In the letter, we read about Sam discussing the honour of being Captain America, but that he needs to be the Falcon. Maybe a line like ‘When you handed me this shield, you said you had a mission for me. But I’ve realised that if I’m going to succeed at that mission, I can’t do it following your foot steps. I have to do things my way, as my own person.’ Then, in that final panel. You have a hero shot. Just like the final panel of this issue. Except instead of Steve, standing there holding the shield, it is Sam, up on the rooftop, in his new Falcon costume*

        I said that the question in Spencer’s run was that ‘What does Sam need to do to be the best Captain America?’, and that unfortunately, this issue’s answer was ‘Get out of the way so that everyone can see Steve be awesome’. But I honestly think there was a way to answer that question in a satisfying way while making Sam the Falcon. The answer would be ‘the best way to be Captain America would be to embrace my own, individual perspective. To build my own iconography with my own ideology, and represent my own values, despite everyone else’. Have the answer be that the best way for Sam to be Captain America be to become the Falcon again so he can be Captain America His way. That was what I tried to do above.

        Obviously, I would have preferred Sam to stay as Captain America. He is the one Legacy Hero is Marvel’s stable at the moment that I honestly wanted to be permanent. But I think there was a way to make Sam the Falcon and act as a real finale to Spencer’s run. Instead, Instead, it is all about how Steve Rogers is the one true Captain America, and it all comes down to the idea that Captain America is all about making it as clear as possible that Steve Rogers is awesome. How the best thing Sam can do is get out of the way so that everyone trusts him again/recognises that Steve is awesome. Which is a disappointing ending to a run all about the dangers of idol worship over meaningful engagement.

        And I hope Joaquin doesn’t disappear, as he was a great foil to Sam and I think he had some great potential. Especially as I don’t have a lot of hope for the new Patriot, considering he will be written by the guy who did an incredibly awful job with his origin. But I think Joaquin is going to be swept under the rug now that the real ‘Falcon’ is back.
        I still want Joaquin to join the Champions, as part of a team made up of Kamala, Amadeus, Viv, Riri, Miles and Nadia. That would be the perfect Champions lineup, and if you get a better writer than Waid writing the book, I would read it in a heartbeat.

        ______________________________________

        *since this is me making things up, let’s pretend that the they also redesign the horrid new Falcon costume at the same time. Why they didn’t take more inspiration from the fantastic Captain America design amazes me. Why not incorporate the shapes on his chest into the new design amazes me. Al you have to do is get rid of the stripes, change the colour scheme and maybe replace the star with a different emblem, and you’d have a really good design. Much better the the horrid new one

  2. Also, Patrick, while Miles being on the table is certainly disrespectful, I’d say that Amadeus remaining in his Hulk form in the restaurant is far worse. Also, Kate, c’mon — standing at a restaurant AND bringing in arrows? You weren’t raised in a barn girl, c’mon.

    • Eh, at least being Hulked out gives Amadeus an excuse to be shirtless. At least you have an excuse for that. Probably be more disrespectful not to be Hulked out, and walk in as a pasty shirtless dude.. Riri is the real problem. Does she really need to be wearing a billion dollar battlesuit?

      But Kate Kate Kate, what are you doing? It was your idea to go out, and all you are doing is standing there pretending to be cool. And hell, if anyone should know good etiquette, it should be Kate

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