Ta-Nehisi Coates has been tabbed by Marvel to pick up the pieces of the Captain America franchise in the wake of Nick Spencer’s less than popular run on this title. Coates definitely has his work cut out for him. Spencer failed to make many readers happy with his Hydra Cap storyline for Steve Rogers.
What Captain America franchise desperately needs is a more positive and classic take on Steve Rogers’ character. Coates is definitely not the writer I would have picked for this task. I do not think that Coates’ world view works for a character like Captain America.
Having said that, maybe Coates will deliver a fantastic read. I hope so. I do feel confident in saying that Coates cannot do any worse than Spencer did with Captain America. Basically, all Coates has to do is not make Steve Rogers a Nazi and we should be good. Anyway, let’s go ahead and hit this review for Captain America #1.
Words: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Pencils: Leinil Francis Yu
Inks: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Gho
Story Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 5 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 5.5 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis: We begin months ago in the Sayan Mountains in Russia. We see a Hydra convoy driving through the mountains. In one of the armored vehicles we see a blonde woman being held captive. Steve Rogers narrates that when he got back from wherever he was trapped he was told that Hydra had conquered the people. Steve says that he wishes he could believe the official story. However, he learned a long time ago to never trust the official story.
We see a shadowy figure appear and attack the Hydra convoy. The Hydra troops exit the armored vehicles and attack the shadowy figure. The blond female prisoner says that Russia is a graveyard. Hitler and Napoleon both met their dooms here. Hydra will not be any difference.
We see that the shadowy figure has killed all of the Hydra soldiers. The shadowy figure then destroys the armored vehicle that the blonde woman is trapped in. The shadowy figure calls the blonde woman, “Alexa.” It is then revealed that the shadowy figure is Selene. (Who has forever been drawn with black hair. But, for some reason the art team went with a reddish brown. Details matter, folks.)
Alexa says that Mother Russia may have lost her heroes but they still have their winter. Selene and Alexa teleport away from the scene.
We cut to the present day at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. We see a bunch of Nuke clones running rampant and shooting up the crowd. Steve narrates that the official story is that the people rose up and destroyed Hydra. Steve says that he knows that things don’t just end. That the front always comes back home.
The Nuke clones yell out stuff like “Never forget! Our boys!” We see a father get shot. The young son cries out for his dad. Captain America arrives on the scene and begins kicking ass on the Nuke clones. Steve narrates that he is a solider at home or away. A man loyal to nothing except the dream.
Captain America tells the Nuke clones to drop their weapons. We see the Winter Soldier is on the scene and watching everything through the scope of his sniper’s rifle. Steve says that he has met these Nuke clones before. That the original Nuke respected Captain America in his own twisted way. But, so much has changed.
The Nuke clones yell that Captain America has betrayed his own country. The Nuke clones begin firing at Captain America. Steve tells Bucky to put down as many of the clones as he can.
Captain America starts kick ass on the Nuke clones. The Nuke clones say that Captain America betrayed them and fought for Hydra. Captain America answers that Hydra Cap was not him. Captain America says that he took an oath to the flag and would die before he betrayed it.
A Nuke clone is just about to shoot Captain America in the back when the Winter Soldier kills the Nuke clone with a sniper shot to the head. (God, I love the Winter Soldier.) Steve says that he is a warrior who hates war. But, that Bucky sees things differently. That evil men locked Bucky away in his own body and made him the perfect killer. By the time Bucky got out he had seen the worst of human nature and learned to accept the losses.
The dying Nuke clone says, “Why Captain? Why did you…betray us? Why let us die…nameless…” The young boy then yells out for Captain America to come help his father. The father tells Captain America to look after his son when he is gone. (Umm, why would the father ask Captain America, a complete stranger in a mask, to become the custodial guardian of his son?! Does this father not have a wife, a sibling, or anyone in his family who might make for a more logical custodial guardian for his son other than a masked stranger. This is weird.)
Captain America tells the father that he is going to be fine. We see Sharon Carter arriving along with a bunch of military helicopters. the military loads the father on a medivac copter. Steve then tells Bucky to clear the area. We see Bucky run from the roof where he was positioned and runs down the interior stairs of the building.
The military helicopters fire their Starktech field guns that fire tracers attuned to cybernetics. This knocks out the Nuke clones since they are all cyborgs. Bucky thanks Steve for warning him so the tracers wouldn’t take him out since he is a cyborg, too.
We see Steve talking to the son and father on the medivac helicopter. Captain America tells the boy that his father will be okay. Captain America says that the boy was very brave today. Captain America tells the boy to keep being brave for his father and for Captain America, too. And for all of us. For your country. (That was cheesy and heavy handed.)
We then see Captain America and Bucky helping the first responders tend to all fo the victims of the Nuke clones’ attack. Steve says that he gave a good speech. But, that there are still losses. And that what good is a speech for a mother who has just lost her two daughters? What words can explain how their government has allowed this to happen. How the killers bear the flag of their government. The same flag that Steve wears. (This has all the subtlety and nuance of a sledgehammer. A classic example of telling the reader something rather than showing the reader something.)
We see Captain America standing next to Sharon Carter. We see General Thunderbolt Ross arrive on the scene. Sharon mentions how Ross was paroled and let out of jail in response to Ross leading a cell of resisters against Hydra. Sharon says that there is an entire program that has been set up for resisters with shady pasts. That the program even got Bucky’s status all cleared up.
Ross walks over to Sharon and Cap. Ross calls Sharon by her codename Agent 13. Sharon says that there is no SHIELD anymore and that she does not go by her codename anymore. Ross says that he is well aquatinted with Sharon’s record and that she will always be Agent 13 to him. Ross then tells Steve that Steve will always be my Captain.
Ross asks what happened. Captain America says that there was a protest in the morning. Hydra nostalgics and their opposition. Things went bad. Captain America asks what Ross’ role is here. Ross says that he was put into position by Presidential appointment. That Hydra wiped out an entire generation of old soldiers. Ross survived. The President wants Ross to find out who did this.
Captain America says that he will help Ross in any way that he can. Ross says that it is not Steve’s help that he needs. Ross then asks Agent 13 to report to his office tomorrow morning. Ross says that Captain America is a damn hero. But, this is different. They need a more delicate approach.
Captain America asks if this is about him being the face of Hydra. Ross says that it is not about this. But, that they have a group of terrorist super-soldiers wearing the American Flag. That appearances matter. Ross tells Sharon to bring Bucky Barnes with her when she meets with him tomorrow morning.
We shift to that night with Sharon and Steve at dinner. Steve narrates that he feels like the entire country does not trust him anymore. That perhaps Sharon does not trust him anymore.
Sharon and Steve are holding hands. Sharon says that Steve cannot continue like this. Sharon says that this is about what was done to Steve and not what Steve failed to do. Sharon said that Steve saved them. Just as he always does. When they needed Steve most he came back and saved them.
Steve replies that it is not over. That it is never over. Sharon replied that the attack in DC had nothing to do with Hydra. Steve replied if not Hydra then who?
Sharon lets go of Steve’s hand and says that he wants her to turn over intelligence to him. Sharon says that she cannot to that. Steve says that SHIELD is gone. That Washington is in chaos. Steve asks who is going to see to this problem? Sharon replies, “I am, Steve.”
Sharon asks if Steve thinks he is the only one living out of time? Sharon says that she was stranded in Arnim Zola’s hell for years. And when she came back it was as an old woman. She did not get a new young body like Steve did.
Sharon says that then a monster impersonated the only man she ever loved. That he touched her. That she has to bear the scars of the past all over her. But, there is more to her. That she is better now. Stronger. Wiser. Sharon says that she is going to find out who did this and she is going to make them pay. (This was a really good scene. I love old Sharon.)
Steve takes Sharon’s hand and kisses it. Steve narrates that he believes Sharon. But, that Sharon is not the problem.
We see Steve in his gym. Steve says that the problem is the world he came back to. One that Hydra did not conquer…but broke. Steve turns on the news. The news report says that Dr. Selene Gallio is the chair of the new task force on faith-based initiatives. The news says that Von Strucker has been praised by the White House for aiding in the destruction of several Hydra splinter groups. Steve turns off the TV.
We cut to Alexa and Selene teleporting to Samara, Russia which has been recently liberated by anti-Hydra partisans. Steve narrates that they have all forgotten something. Forgotten how hard it is to believe in the dream. To hold onto the dream in the face of chaos.
We shift to Brooklyn, we see some muggers attacking a woman. Captain America appears and beats up the muggers. Steve narrates how hard it is to be truly America. (That’s because in a country as big and diverse as the USA it is nearly impossible to define what is “truly American.”)
Steve narrates that we have forgotten what true freedom is a problem. We see Selene and Alexis standing in front of a mass of people. Steve narrates that it is a question not an answer. Freedom from what? For what? And having lost their way in the storm they found shelter. An antidote for the chaos.
One of the muggers then yells, “Hail Hydra!” (Huh? So, your basic mugger is a Hydra supporter? This does not make much sense. But, okay.) Captain America takes out the mugger.
We cut to Alexa and Selene on a stage. There is a Hydra soldier blindfolded and on his knees next to them. A massive crowd surrounds the stage. The Hydra soldier says that Hydra is immortal. Cut off one head..Selene interrupts and says, “and I will devour two.” Selene then kills the Hydra soldier. The crowd goes wild.
Steve narrates that Hydra controls the people. That is the story that they tell. But, the people forgot. And then the people conquered themselves. Selene then says that Hydra is dead. That the future belongs to us. End of issue.
The Good: Captain America #1 was a resolutely average read. If this issue was a car it would be a used Toyota Camry. It is dependable and will get you to where you need to go. But, it will never entertain you, excite you or spark your passion. Truthfully, Captain America #1 does not elicit much of a strong response either positively or negatively from the reader. Like a piece of candy, the reader consumes Captain America #1 for what it is and moves on without it making any type of real impression on the reader.
Having said that, Ta-Nehisi Coates does shine at several points in Captain America #1. First, the character work on Sharon Carter and Bucky were both excellent. I have never been shy about how the Winter Soldier is easily one of my favorite Marvel characters. Ed Brubaker did a brilliant job re-inventing Bucky’s character and taking a lame one-dimensional side-kick character and making him into one of Marvel’s most compelling bad-asses.
Brubaker made a point of stressing how Captain America was always a symbol for American hope during World War II. That Captain America played an important role as propaganda to get the American people to support the war effort. Bucky, however, was there to do all fo the dirty work that America’s golden boy, Captain America, could not perform without ruining his image. Brubaker transformed Bucky into a bad-ass assassin who killed without remorse.
I have no idea if Coates did any research prior to taking the job as the writer of Captain America. But, it certainly appears that Coates is picking up with Brubaker’s take on Captain America’s role and Bucky’s role during World War II and continuing it into the present day Marvel Universe. I dig that Coates has Ross come out and say that Captain America serves an important role in America, but that for jobs that require dirty black operations that Captain America is the wrong man for the job. Instead, Ross turns to Sharon and Bucky.
Coates also makes a point of showing the reader during the action scene that Bucky has no qualms at all about killing in order to stop an attack. Bucky kills a Nuke clone with all the iciness of a professional assassin.
Coates impressed me with his handling of Bucky’s character. Coates gets what Brubaker was trying to do with the Winter Soldier. I am excited to see what Coates does with Bucky as we move forward. Coates’ Bucky is so good that I hope Coates plans on Bucky having a large role to play during Coates’ run on Captain America.
I also enjoyed Coates’ take on Sharon Carter. Sharon received Coates’ best character work. Coates gives Sharon some depth and texture to her personality. The reader gets an excellent sense of the emotional weight Sharon carriers with her as a result of Nick Spencer’s run on Captain America.
What I appreciate is that Coates acknowledges Spencer’s run on Captain America. Spencer’s run may have been a mess full of poor decisions and shoddy execution, but I hate it when a writer’s run on a title gets completely ignored by the new incoming writer. Coates takes Sharon’s character and acknowledges what Spencer did to her. Coates then dusts Sharon off and shows the reader that she is far stronger than whatever Spencer could do to her.
I also enjoyed Coates having Ross continually call Sharon by her codename rather than her real name. This helps to remind the reader that though Sharon may come across as an old lady that she did used to be a total badass and is still a force to be reckoned with even in her current form.
The scene between Sharon and Steve at dinner was the best written scene in this issue. This was the one moment where Coates reigned in the ham fisted dialogue. Coates delivered a subtle, yet powerful scene that resonates with reader.
Coates gives Sharon’s character a new sense of purpose and a new direction. I am excited to see how Coates continues to grow Sharon’s character. I think Sharon is going to do quite well under Coates’ direction.
The third aspect of Captain America #1 that I enjoyed the most was the quality action that Coates delivers in this issue. This is certainly not a boring or dull read. Coates starts the issue with some nice action as Selene makes her dramatic appearance. Coates then cranks up the intensity and has Captain America and the Winter Soldier engaged in some quality fighting. All in all, Captain America #1 presents to the reader 13 pages full of action.
Captain America #1 is also nicely balanced between action and dialogue heavy scenes. While the dialogue and narration may leave much to be desired, it is nice to see Coates making sure that Captain America #1 was a well balanced story.
Coates also succeeds in giving the reader the mission statement for this new Captain America title. Coates is picking up the pieces from Spencer’s run on Captain America which ran the franchise into the ground. Coates presents the reader with a basic and simple direction for this new Captain America title. This title is going to focus on international threats, political espionage, and mysterious cabals attempting to run the world and use politicians and governments as their puppets. Coates’ mission statement for this new Captain America title certainly seems heavily influenced by Brubaker’s run on Captain America. And that is just fine with me.
Coates clearly presents to the reader with a Steve Rogers who is not completely trusted by his country due to Hydra Cap’s actions. Steve is also still battling his own feelings of guilt as a result of Hydra Cap’s actions.
Coates also installs the main plot-line involving the Power Elite who are going to be Captain America’s main antagonists. The Power Elite is an interesting collection of characters including General Ross, Baron von Strucker, Selene, and Alexa. Alexa is the weakest link in this group since she is new and we known nothing about her character.
Selene is an odd choice since she is a long-time X-Men character. However, I have always loved Selene’s character so I am glad to see her back and better than ever. And I have no problem switching things up and having a villain most closely associate with another franchise showing up here in Captain America.
The Bad: Captain America #1 was certainly not awful. It was just decidedly pedestrian. Coates is not a comic book writer nor is he a screenplay writer. And this shows glaringly in his writing. Being a journalist and an opinion columnist is not a transferable skill to comic book writing. Being good at writing in one medium does not mean that a person can simply writer any medium with skill.
Captain America #1 reads like a story written by someone who is unsure of their abilities and lacks experience at their job. The story reads a but like Coates used a paint-by-numbers approach. At no point is the reader going to get blown away by the story’s imagination or creativity.
The world that Coates constructs in Captain America #1 is predictable and safe. In fact, Coates’ approach to everything from the characters to the plot lines is predictable and safe. But, after Spencer’s run on Captain America and the entire Hydra Cap fiasco I am more than happy with predictable and sage at this point.
Coates creates a world where there is an unseen threat from within the country from Hydra sympathizers and a more overt threat from outside in the form of Selene and Alexa in Russia. So, basically Coates is giving us Nazis and Russians as out enemies. This is hardly creative or innovative.
The threat that Hydra sympathizers presents seems vague and muddy. If Coates is going for social commentary then it is an attempt that feels half-baked and flimsy. At this point, the Hydra sympathizer plot line feels like a complete swing and a miss.
The threat from Selene and Alexa is equally vague. The reader has no reason to know why we should be concerned with what these two women are up to in Russia. Coates certainly gives the reader no information on what these women are up to and why the reader should be worried. Further, Coates has Selene and Alexa attacking Hydra which immediately makes them good guys in the minds of most readers. This plot line seems like a rough sketch of an idea that was never fully formulated or plotted out before being installed into this story.
While I love Selene’s character, Alexa is an entirely different matter. At this point, Alexa is generic and uninteresting. I will keep an open mind, but Coates has his work cut out for him with this character.
Coates’ dialogue and narration are two areas where he needs to really focus and try and improve upon going forward. The dialogue and narration were both way too cheesy and heavy handed at times. This leads the reader to get pulled out of the story. It also makes the reader chuckle out loud at the over the top approach of the dialogue and narration. This simply gets in the way of what Coates is trying to do with his story.
Coates definitely needs to learn how to show the reader and not tell. This is a tough skill that someone who is not a novelist or screenplay writer is going to struggle to acquire. Journalists and opinion columnists tell the reader. Novelists and screenplay writers show the audience. I know every one thinks writing a comic book is easy. It is not.
A piece of fiction is a far more immersive and compelling read if the author is able to show the reader things rather than simply telling the reader everything. Coates needs to let the reader arrive at their own conclusions rather than simply blasting a spotlight on something and yell, “Look at this!”
The themes that Coates delivers in Captain America #1 are handled in a clumsy and juvenile fashion. There is no nuance or texture to any of the themes. This makes the story a one-dimensional and uninteresting read at times.
Coates’ plotting needs some work as well. There are points in the story where Coates gets repetitious with his dialogue and narration. There are also other moments where Coates begins to wander. The plotting, pacing, and focus could all be tighter.
I have never been a fan of Leinil Francis Yu’s pencils. His style of art is too rough and sketchy for my taste. His characters’ faces continue to look like something out of a horror show. I also find his panels lack detail and tend to look too plain. The color palette for this issue is far too dull and gives the issue such a boring look. Also, the fact that the colorist could not get Selene’s hair color correct was disappointing.
Overall: Captain America #1 is a comic that neither offends nor delights. This is a debut issue that is hard to recommend that people purchase or that people should avoid. If you are a die-hard Captain America fan then you will enjoy Captain America #1. In fact, die-hard Captain American fans will probably enjoy this issue far more than Nick Spencer’s run on Captain America.
For everyone else? I would pass on Captain America #1. This title is too pedestrian and fades into the background among the crowded shelves of mainstream super hero titles. Factor in the $5.00 cover price and Captain America #1 becomes an easy comic to skip on purchasing. This issue simply does not deliver enough to warrant such a hefty price of admission.