A Head-Scratching Flashback in Captain America 703

by Spencer Irwin

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

It’s a generally understood rule of storytelling that any detail included in a story should be there for a reason — extraneous plots, characters, or ideas can be distracting at best, or derail the entire story at worst. This rule goes double for flashbacks, which are so often useful, even essential storytelling tools that, nonetheless, stick out like a sore thumb when used without purpose. This is unfortunately the case in Captain America 703, an otherwise enjoyable issue that’s dragged down by an almost inexplicable flashback.

Captain America 703 finds Mark Waid and Leonardo Romero continuing the story of future-historian (and descendant of Cap himself) Jackson Rogers as he attempts to take down the secretly-Kree-infiltrated government of his supposedly-Utopian home, in this case by hesitantly allying himself with the Red Skull, the ultimate evil he accidentally released from the Cosmic Cube, who also just so happens to be the enemy of his enemy. This plot comes to a complete halt early in the issue, though, as Waid and artists Alan Davis and Mark Farmer instead launch into a four page flashback adventure from early in Captain America’s history. The creative team actually comes up with a rather intuitive segue into the flashback, cutting from Jackson’s torture at the hands of the Red Skull to Cap’s torture at the hands of Radioactive Man and Melter.

Unfortunately, this is the only intuitive element of this flashback. There’s no in-story explanation given for it — no character within the story is remembering or being told this story, which draws attention to the fact that Waid specifically wants readers to see this story. The reason why, though, is a mystery to me — the flashback has no bearing on the present-day story, neither thematically nor when it comes down to plot details. The closest explanation I can find comes when Melter refers to Cap’s Avengers teammates (Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver) as criminals, which I guess could be meant to be a parallel to Jackson working with the criminal Red Skull — but that’s a weak, weak parallel, as none of those Avengers were ever as monstrous as Red Skull, and at this point in their history have all been reformed anyway.

What’s especially frustrating is that a flashback could work perfectly in this issue. Last month’s flashbacks likewise popped up without explanation, but had thematic resonance with the rest of the issue that made their inclusion a natural fit. Moreover, Jackson Rogers himself is a historian, someone who learns from the past — tales from Cap’s era could have been a fantastic tool to help inspire and teach Jackson, but instead he’s completely unaware of the flashback, rendering it even more pointless than before.

Its placing within the issue itself is also perplexing. The flashback comes after a three page prologue, and once it’s over transitions into yet another flashback, this time told from Jackson’s perspective. It takes another two pages to pick up where the prologue left off, making the entire first half of this issue feel a bit scattered and regressive. I can’t for the life of me figure out what this flashback is supposed to contribute to this issue — it works entirely to its detriment.

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