We’re coming up on the end of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and in anticipation of Sam Wilson taking up the shield, we’re looking back at a story from his tenure as Captain America!
Published by: Marvel Comics
Written by: Nick Spencer
Art by: Daniel Acuna & Angel Unzueta
Collects: Captain America: Sam Wilson #10 – 13
While The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may not be based on any one specific comic book story, it obviously does borrow fairly heavily from the comics published in the period where Sam Wilson was Captain America.
We covered the first arc of Nick Spencer’s Captain America run last year, but while that story harkened back to the zany Cap stories of the eighties, today’s pick is a much more modern and grounded take that shows similarities to the television show.
This story takes place during the larger, line-wide Civil War II storyline which sees Captain Marvel and Iron Man form teams and come to blows over the prospect of using an Inhuman clairvoyant to stop crimes before they happen. The event in question was subpar (and that’s being generous), but fortunately, this tie-in mostly keeps to itself outside of the occasional appearance from Captain Marvel and Iron Man.
The story instead chooses to focus on what Sam’s status as the new Captain America means to the black population, some insight into the relationships of black superheroes, as well as racial profiling.
(If I was smart, I might have realised this was a more timely pick to look at last year, but alas, I am not)
On top of all of that, the final threat comes in the form of a character who Marvel Cinematic Universe fans have become very familiar with other the past couple of weeks, the former Captain America who now goes by…
Real Name: Jonathan F. Walker
Affiliation: U.S. Army
First Appearance: Captain America #323 (November 1986)
John Walker grew up idolising his veteran brother, and jumped at the chance to join the military. However, having signed up during peacetime, Walker was never deployed overseas, and felt he missed his chance to be a ‘hero’ like his brother.
But that changed when Walker left the army and learned of the ‘Power Broker’, an individual who could imbue anyone with powers, for a certain price. Signing up to the process, Walker was given superhuman strength, agility, reflexes and durability, which he used as a showman and wrestler in order to pay off his newly acquired debts. As ‘Super-Patriot’, Walker built his rep discrediting Captain America and promoting himself as a true American hero, even going so far as to fight the respected Avenger.
Proving his mettle in both this and other conflicts, Walker was then called on to become the new Captain America, after Steve Rogers retired from the role. His time as Cap led to him becoming increasingly brutal, forcing Steve Rogers to take him down. Walker was stripped of his mantle, but having found a new respect for his predecessor, and still wanting to serve his country, John Walker forged his own identity as a darker Captain America: U.S.Agent.
A second superhero Civil War is on the verge of breaking out. A new Inhuman with the power to see the future has come forward, and Captain Marvel and Iron Man are at odds over whether or not they should put his gifts to good use. The conflict has already led to the death of Jim Rhodes, better known as War Machine, after a preemptive attack against Thanos.
As Carol and Tony try to bolster support for their cases, both of these heroes seek to bring the new Captain America, Sam Wilson, fresh from delivering Rhodey’s eulogy, over to their side.
But Cap has more pressing issues. Public opinion is against him, as right wing big wigs are calling for him to give up the shield now that Steve Rogers has returned to action.
Meanwhile, an outspoken former Avenger and New Warrior by the name of Rage is on the verge of inciting a riot over the deployment of the super-powered ‘Americops’ in predominantly Black communities.
While Cap tries to keep the peace, U.S.Agent is called back from the Middle East to bring him down, as many believe this new Captain America is spending more time fighting against ‘Real Americans’ than their enemies.
Sam Wilson’s tenure as Captain America came at an unfortunate time.
After his first few issues, penned by Rick Remender, Marvel’s entire line was temporarily cancelled while they published Secret Wars. Then, after only 7 issues of his second run (this one, penned by Spencer), his comic started to tie into the Avengers Standoff event, followed promptly by Civil War II, and then came to a close about ten issues later as the company began publishing the Steve Rogers centric Secret Empire.
Fortunately, for the most part, Captain America: Sam Wilson sticks to its guns, as Spencer attempts to continue telling the story he wants to tell regardless of what company mandated crossover is going on in the background.
This story is perhaps a perfect example of that, as he delivers what is a pretty strong story off the back of an otherwise lacklustre event.
The first issue of this book is the one most connected to the wider narrative, as it sees Sam attend the funeral of War Machine. As Captain America, he’s called on to give a eulogy, but what’s most interesting about this issue is what comes outside of the funeral – the reveal that several of the black superheroes come together in times of crisis to keep each other strong.
While on one hand, it could be seen as a weird play on the ‘do you all know each other’ sorts of questions that we get asked, it does make some sense that some of these characters would reach out to each other (although I’d argue not all of the choices make sense in this context). Compounding the realism of the situation is that they’re not all depicted as best friends, or even that close – that much is acknowledged by Sam in the book – but they’re aware of their place in the world in respect to the much larger community of white heroes. Plus, a throwaway line revealing the gathering was Cage’s idea was all the reasoning I needed, as that seems like a very Luke Cage idea to me.
From there, this ‘Civil War II tie-in’ mostly just tries to tell it’s own story. By keeping any further Civil War II connections to a minimum, yet embracing a facet of the ‘hero vs hero’ theme, this story thrives as it continues to examine what it would be like for a black man to be Captain America.
It’s a bit of a downer at times, but it’s a fascinating story in that Sam can never win. He’s too outspoken and liberal for the conservative characters in the book to back him, and he’s trying so hard to appease the general public that black characters like Rage see him as a sellout.
It’s an interesting examination of whether a black man can represent America while remaining true to himself and his community, and realistic in its depiction of the answer being: probably not, or at least, not at his full capacity.
Further, while the concept of the Americops (a black superhero fighting super-police) might be seen as a bit on the nose, the fact is that it is somewhat realistic (considering the context at least) and the way it invites discussion about the realities of life as a black superhero, especially one as high profile as Captain America, should be applauded.
But despite the dour goings on of Sam’s life as Cap and the heavy subject matter, the story still manages to snag those moments of triumph, as Nick Spencer really utilises Sam’s power of ‘talking to birds’ in interesting and effective ways that help him win out. It’s not the shield or the wings that are his main asset, but his wit and quick thinking that allow him to best opponents like the Americops and U.S.Agent, both of whom are physically superior to him. It’s surprising new ideas like these, paired with thoughtful storytelling that give Sam Wilson the ability to star in really entertaining stories.
On top of that, the art, as it always is when drawn by Daniel Acuna, is also great; a great mix between cartoonish, comic-booky and real and detailed. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again; I love his style and I’m always keen to read a comic that’s got Acuna involved, even if the writing isn’t that great.
Fortunately, it is here.
For those reasons, all-in-all, I give Captain America – Sam Wilson: Civil War II a…
Thanks for reading! Are you looking forward to seeing Sam kick ass as Captain America in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (presumably)? Let me know in the comments below!
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