New to Comics is a segment where I look at various comic books; explaining, reviewing, and breaking them down for readers unfamiliar to the medium.
What with all that’s going on in the world, we’re taking a bit of a break from our DC comics coverage, and turning back the clock to the time where Captain America – sentinel of liberty, champion of America and hero to the people – was a black man.
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Nick Spencer
Art by: Daniel Acuña, Paul Renaud & Joe Bennet
Collects: Captain America: Sam Wilson #1-6
WHAT’S THE STORY?
So obviously there’s currently a lot of upheaval going on in the world. A pandemic has ravaged the population, and on top of that, the black community in America (and across the world to a lesser extent) has been pushed to the point where they’ve snapped back in a big way.
It’s been a long time coming, and hopefully, it will amount to real change not just in America but around the world in regards to racism and inequality.
I’m not here to share any deep thoughts on the subject, or give a rousing, poignant speech – my purview is comic books, and a lot of people on Twitter are saying what needs to be said a lot better than I ever could. Similarly, I live somewhere with a pretty small non-white population, so protests aren’t going on around here.
But I’ve encountered racism in my life. All black people have in some way, shape or form. I wouldn’t say my experiences are comparable to the sickening treatment the black community faces in the United States, but still, I feel a responsibility to help in some way.
If you feel similarly, but you don’t have the means or the words to affect change in an obvious way, you can always donate. The ‘Black Lives Matter‘ movement and the ‘National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People’ are helping fight the good fight along with all the protestors out in America.
So in honour of these real-life heroes, today I figured I’d look at the first arc of the post-Secret Wars Captain America title, which starred Sam Wilson, otherwise known as the Falcon, as the new Captain America.
The previous Captain America, Steve Rogers, was still in the picture. But the end of his prior run saw him depowered and aged up. Unfit for the front lines, Rogers became more of a tactical, background figure, and passed the shield on to his good friend Sam Wilson.
This was part of an ongoing attempt by Marvel to diversify their lineup of heroes.
Muslim teenager Kamala Khan had already become the fan-favourite new Ms Marvel; the Asgardian hammer Mjolnir and the identity of Thor were picked up by the God of Thunder’s ex-girlfriend Jane Foster; the Miles Morales version of Spider-Man was inducted into the mainstream universe; Korean teen genius Amadeus Cho managed to cure Bruce Banner and become the new Hulk; Tony Stark was ‘killed off’ and replaced by an African-American teenaged girl named Riri Williams, who became Ironheart, while X-23, the female clone of Wolverine took on the mantle of her late ‘father’.
Blade was also meant to receive a new ongoing series where he fought the supernatural alongside his daughter, but that title and character never came to fruition.
In many ways, this period of Marvel Comics history seems to be inspiring the next chapter of the MCU, as evidenced by the end of Avengers: Endgame, where Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) passed on the shield to Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).
Written by Nick Spencer, a rising star with a background in politics, the run saw Cap fighting primarily against social injustice. You had your crazy superhero capers, of course, and tons of superheroes and supervillains, but the stories were set against the backdrop of civil unrest, the economic divide and tackled issues such as illegal immigrants and racial inequality.
The run only went for about twenty-five issues, as it planted the seeds for Marvel’s then-upcoming crossover Secret Empire, which saw the restored Steve Rogers reveal himself as a Hydra agent in an attempt to take over the world.
Eventually, Steve obviously returned to the side of the angels, and Sam returned to being the Falcon.
Real Name: Samuel Thomas Wilson
Affiliation: The Avengers
First Appearance: Captain America #117 (September 1969)
One of the first modern-day African-American superheroes, Samuel Wilson‘s life was forever changed when he crash-landed on a remote island in the Caribbean. Unbeknownst to him, this was the location of Captain America and the Red Skull‘s latest battle, and the Skull used his Cosmic Cube to manipulate Sam into doing his bidding. Giving him the power to communicate with birds such as his pet falcon Redwing, the Skull pitted Wilson against Captain America, who managed to free him from his brainwashing. Together, the pair defeated the Skull and returned to the United States, where Sam became Cap’s new partner, utilising a flight suit created by the Black Panther to become the high-flying Falcon! A trusted member of the Avengers and dedicated social worker, Sam has worked to better the world in any way he can, including, for a time, taking on the mantle of Captain America while Steve Rogers was depowered.
WHAT’S THE STORY?
But after revealing his political opinions to the world, half of America hates him, claiming he’s ‘Not my Captain America’. Still, Sam wants to fight the good fight, and using his new hotline, hopes to inspire the populace by tackling missions he thinks are important to the American people, starting with a missing person case, tied to immigrants crossing the border.
However, in his hunt for the lost teenager, Captain America finds himself battling the racist organisation the Sons of Serpent, mad scientists, Wall Street businessmen and even former Captain America Steve Rogers.
WHAT’S THE VERDICT?
While, at the time, this seemed to some like a controversial move – making Captain America black – in truth, it was far from. It’s the nature of mainstream comics that change never lasts. Spider-Man will always revert to being a down-on-his-luck everyman, the Hulk will always become a savage beast once again, the X-Men will always be hated and feared, and Steve Rogers will always return from the dead/being lost in time/being disavowed/ageing up to reclaim the mantle of Captain America.
Thus, you can’t look at these things as a world-shattering status quo shift. You have to just enjoy the story for what it is, because eventually, the story will be over, and things will go back to ‘normal’.
Which, really, in this case, is a shame. I’m not saying I want Sam Wilson to be Captain America forever. I like the character of Steve Rogers. But this is the kind of fresh new direction that I really enjoy from my comics.
It allows Captain America, this symbol of hope and American potential, to mean something on perhaps a deeper level. It gives the character a new purpose, and new problems alien to Steve Rogers.
And while, unfortunately, this comic doesn’t delve into the world’s response to a black Captain America too overtly in this initial story, it is laced with realistic subtle nods that are true to the black experience (plus, things do become more race-related in later stories).
I really appreciate Spencer’s writing, both here and in general. The characters feel real and natural; they have personality, they banter, they have thoughts and feelings and opinions that shine through far more than in many other comic books.
It’s witty and well-thought-out, and although, if I were to just give you the overall themes, some might dismiss it as boring (depending on your level of interest in politics), the way it’s all depicted makes it read like a fun pre-Watchmen/The Dark Knight Returns era comic book. It’s got something to say, but it’s not afraid to get a bit goofy while it does so.
Similarly, I’m a big fan of the art of Daniel Acuña. It has a beautiful texture to it, like a vibrant, energetic painting. It’s dynamic and powerful, and it’s a real shame that he doesn’t draw all six issues in this collection.
Fortunately, his follow-ups also bring their A-game, and the artists are similar enough that even though Acuña’s style may not match Bennet’s, having Renaud in there as a bridge means the styles nicely flow into one another.
Ideally, this comic could be improved by having consistent art throughout. It would also be cool if we could see more of the actual ramifications of Captain America being a black man, but fortunately (from what I remember) there’s more of that coming down the line, even if it isn’t always evident here. But it’s still an exceptionally strong opener and shows that the coming series has a lot of potential.
Also, in the spirit of community, a friend of mine has recently taken up blogging as well. If you’re into video-games and looking for something new to play or someone to discuss games with, head on over to Black Olive Gaming!