‘Captain America’ #695 a textbook example of essential superhero storytelling
By Don Alsafi. Just over a year and a half ago, Marvel Comics launched a new Captain America comic with a final-page twist revealing that the Steve Rogers we knew had secretly been a Hydra agent since the 1940s. To put it lightly, the readership was largely outraged.
Yes, anyone could see that this was a temporary storyline, with the real deal destined to eventually return, but the Cap that readers were given in the meantime was such a perversion of the hero’s ideals that many found the very concept offensive. (Imagine if the X-Men embarked on an 18-month storyline in which they literally exterminated those who were different from them.)
Ever since then, Marvel has seemed in a state of damage control. Fortunately, when launching a revamped Captain America book in this new and hopeful era of Marvel Legacy, they made the smartest and most canny decision they could have done: They simply hired the best-suited creators for the job.
Written by Mark Waid.
Art by Chris Samnee.
Colors by Matthew Wilson.
Letters by VC’s Joe Caramagna.
Marvel Primer Pages by Robbie Thompson, Valerio Schiti & Frank D’armata.
As if they were born to make this book. Mark Waid is an award-winning writer, and sometimes editor, who has been creating comics for over three decades. With acclaimed runs on The Flash and Daredevil, as well as creating the blockbuster Kingdom Come miniseries with Alex Ross, he’s rightly famed as a writer who intrinsically understands character. The action heroes under his pen aren’t just there for hitting bad guys; he intuitively gets that these icons are so beloved because at their core they stand for something, and he’s skilled enough to let those ideals come to the fore without ever seeming corny or trite. He began reading comics as a child in the 1960s, and his own writing often bears an appealing Silver Age tint of hope while yet feeling incredibly modern and relevant.
Though artist Chris Samnee has only been working in the industry for about a decade, by contrast, he’s undeniably a veritable superstar in the making. His art eschews the hyper-detailed, overly-rendered style favored by many modern artists, instead preferring clean, bold lines which seem to give his heroes a quiet and awe-inspiring strength. He’s perhaps the most perfectly-matched collaborator for Mark Waid, delivering iconic visuals with an almost Silver Age veneer, somewhat reminiscent of the works of the sadly departed Darwyn Cooke. Samnee’s Captain America is one that can still inspire today’s most jaded adult reader, yet with an artistic style of such simple quintessence that you could easily give the comic to the youngest, most voracious Cap fan. (Remember that Samnee first came to real prominence after winning the 2011 Harvey Award for his work on the all-ages Thor: The Mighty Avenger.)
The Cap you know and love is back! If the unstated mission of this new launch was to unambiguously present readers with a Captain America firmly back on model, this debut issue knocks it out of the park. It begins with a one-page origin recap which (in just five panels, no less) already shows that Waid and Samnee share an innate ability to boil down a protagonist, and a page, into their most essential parts. In fact, this origin page is so astonishingly well-done that it makes the three Marvel Primer Pages at the end of the comic feel not just superfluous, but largely pale in comparison.
The meat of this done-in-one story concerns Cap’s two visits to a small Midwestern town – the first time just days after he awoke from his decades-long slumber on ice, then again in the present day – battling, both times, a supremacist group calling themselves Rampart. Upon his return, he’s a bit flummoxed to find that in the wake of his first visit, the town overwhelmingly voted to rename itself Captain America, Nebraska (!), and has held an annual town-wide celebration of the hero ever since.
The Steve Rogers portrayed here is a character strong in his beliefs, but never one who sees himself as better or more worthy than anyone else. As such, he’s more than a bit self-conscious at all this adulation lavished on his heroic alter ego, even when moving among the crowd out of uniform. And yet when he nears the outdoor stage at the heart of the festival, he gets to hear from the people whose lives he has saved, inspired, or otherwise influenced, as they each get up one by one and tell their incredibly heartfelt and personal stories. The dream of Captain America is of a nation whose people always care for each other, always protect and watch out for each other, because at our most basic level we are all of us brothers and sisters. After this past year’s Hydra storyline, these varied and individual testimonies of what Captain America means to the people who look up to him is perhaps something he needed to hear – and so do we.
In today’s frantic and oft-divisive world, one might ask, is there still a need for a Captain America? And the comic is sure and absolute in its answer: YES! And maybe now more than ever before.
Heart and soul. Mark Waid has had two celebrated runs on Captain America before this, in the late 1990s. His second tenure was sadly cut short by differences with editorial, who famously told him “Captain America doesn’t have to be about America. Spider-Man isn’t about spiders.” (Cue the sound of Waid’s head exploding.) As a writer, he’s smart enough to understand that a superhero story without themes or ideals is, when you get down to it, just a big dumb action movie. You can do that, if you want, but the results aren’t pretty.
Captain America #695 is a comic that’s not afraid to be about something – and that’s a good thing. It’s been rumored that the creators might only be around for a half-dozen issues before a new creative team takes over with issue #700, but hopefully that’s just unfounded hearsay. This first issue of Cap’s brand-new era is nothing short of masterful, and the idea of this creative team being on for the long haul is a joyous thought indeed. Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are the dream team for Captain America, and what they provide us in Cap’s first post-Legacy issue is a vision to behold.
9.5 out of 10