Captain America has had a slow start to its new ongoing series. Ta-Nehisi Coates has decided to use the aftermath of Secret Empire to analyze who Captain America is and how he can operate in a world that saw him as the face of an evil organization that took over the country. That has led to an interesting look into what Captain America’s status quo is now, though part of that development has felt like a year too late. What does need improvement is the presentation of the villains of this story, Alexa and Selene Gallio, who have had very little development. That is something that will hopefully changed with this new issue of Captain America. Let’s find out if that is the case with Captain America #4.
Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Artist: Leinil Francis Yu
Inker: Gerry Alanguilan
Colorist: Sunny Gho
Story Rating: 8 Night Girls out of 10
Art Rating: 6 Night Girls out of 10
Overall Rating: 7 Night Girls out of 10
Synopsis:Above an abandoned military base in Alberia Captain America quietly parachutes in. When he lands Captain America is able to take out several security guards roaming outside the base.
Inside the base Alexa explains to a captive Sharon Carter that when the war with Hydra took place Russia was ready for it. She talks about how Russians aren’t afraid of their power. She then prepares a syringe to use on Sharon.
Outside an entrance tunnel Captain America contacts Black Panther. Black Panther apologizes for not being able to directly help since Wakanda and Alberia have treaties they have to honor. Captain America tells Black Panther not to worry since thanks to his help he knows where Sharon is being held and that General “Thunderbolt” Ross is responsible.
Inside the base Captain America carefully makes his way, using his shield to knock out several guards along the way. When he reaches a staircase Captain America cannot avoid the guards. They begin firing on Captain America. Though outnumbered Captain America is able to block and dodge all the gunfire and knock out all the guards that get in his way.
In the control room while watching Captain America work Alexa remarks to Sharon that when she explored the USA she found a heartland of beating nobles and red as her home of Russia. Seeing these people made her believe that they would be embraced in America as liberators.
In another part of the base Captain America walks alone, giving him time to think how the latest war with Hydra forced Alberia to possibly align with Russia. This makes him think if there is any meaning to the word “country” anymore.
Captain America is suddenly hit by an arrow to the shoulder. When he turns around Captain America sees Taskmaster. They begin to fight with Taskmaster gaining an early advantage. After putting some space between them Captain America is able to take the arrow out of his shoulder and focus on the fight.
Back in the control room Alexa reveals that her full name is Alexa Lukin, wife of Aleksander Lukin who Sharon killed. Sharon tells Alexa that she killed Aleksander because she kidnapped her and turned her into his personal assassin. Alexa says she doesn’t want to continue recalling blood debts.
Alexa then calls in Selene Gallio to make sure Sharon pays for her actions.
Back at the fight Captain America is barely able to keep up with Taskmaster. He realizes that his slower movements must be due to the arrow he was hit with earlier. Taskmaster eventually knocks Captain America to the ground and prepares to kill him with his sword. End of issue.
The Good: Captain America #4 continued the upward trajectory of this series and turned in the best issue to date.Ta-Nehisi Coates accomplishes that by making the weaknesses of the previous issues and turns them into strengths. He does that by carefully using past creative teams work on Captain America create a connection between the past and present.
There was a lot made about how problematic Nick Spencer’s run on Captain America was. It certainly wouldn’t have been unexpected that Coates would avoid it as much as possible. That is not what Coates does at all. Instead he embraces everything that has happened to make the story he is crafting much stronger.
With an event such as Secret Empire taking place it created a divide on many angles. Coates actually using that divide that was created works well to integrate real world sentiments into the Marvel Universe in a way that works within continuity. And with Captain America being the face for why this happened it positions Steve Rogers in a place where he has to climb out of. In the process Steve must discover what kind of symbol he can be to help his country and the world recover from all the damage Hydra caused.
The concerns that Steve internally struggles with is nicely balanced out by how we get to see him still be a badass as Captain America. Seeing how he tore his way through the military base in Alberia. Even with all the thoughts in his head it is not stopping Captain America from fighting at the best of his abilities in order to save Sharon. This set the stage for that drive makes you believe that he will overcome anything, even in a weakened state that Taskmaster put him in.
While the aftermath of Secret Empire is a major factor in this story so is the continuity established back in Ed Brubaker’s Captain America run. During Brubaker’s run Aleksander Lukin was a key player as he shared a body with the returning Red Skull. Bringing that back into play, specifically Sharon being the one who killed him, was a excellent way to build an instant connection to Alexa Lukin’s motivation.
This is exactly what Alexa’s character needed because before this she was an antagonist who lacked depth. But in revealing that Alexa was the wife of Aleksander Lukin, Coates was able to wipe away her previous weaknesses as a character. Through this motivation we clearly understand why Alexa targeted Sharon Carter over Captain America or Winter Soldier. It added an extra layer to Alexa’s villainous speech about how she is using the Russians power to invade the heartland of the United States.
In creating this connection Alexa ends up looking more like a Sharon Carter villain than a Captain America one. That was a smart way to twist things for this series as Sharon is a character that Coates is looking to re-establish as a badass super agent. Even though she is much older now Sharon has not stopped being the Agent 13 we know. Coates shows this by how she does not automatically try to sympathize with Alexa since she knows that is not what this situations calls for.
Now that we have this established personal connection between Alexa and Sharon made the former employing Selene Gallio and Taskmaster work well into the story. Coats continues to do a great job creating an aura of danger anytime Selene appears on screen. Even without any dialogue there is a sense of fear as she is about to kill Sharon. This in turn creates a greater sense of urgency in Captain America saving Sharon from her situation.
It was also great to see Taskmaster utilized in to further Alexa’s plot as well. Taskmaster is someone that does not care who he works for. As long as the check clears and the money reaches his bank account Taskmaster will take on any job. Coates does a great job emphasizing this part of the character and showing how big of an obstacle is with how Taskmaster was prepared to take on Captain America.
With Captain America’s mission to save Sharon taking precedence over everything else Coates does a good job not forgetting sub-plots he has established. Captain America thinking about how General Thunderbolt Ross was responsible for Sharon being kidnapped by Alexa continues the slow burn for this sub-plot. As a character that is easy to hate General Ross can serve as a great long-term antagonist. Captain America’s attitude shows this as he knows that he can’t take down General Ross by just punching him. That thinking creates an intriguing sub-plot for Coates to have Captain America to deal with in future issues.
On a smaller note, it was good to see how Coates quickly was able to explain why Black Panther was not with Captain America. Black Panther speaking about treaties that Wakanda has with other countries is a reminder of how while he is a superhero T’Challa also is the face of a country. With Wakanda gaining more recognition within the Marvel Universe it is logical to think that Black Panther would not want to lose power by acting recklessly against allies.
With this issue being more action heavy it play in well with Leinil Francis Yu’s strengths. With Captain America forced to constantly be on the move Yu makes all of his movements flow well. The fight between Captain America and Taskmaster was the standout in this as Yu was able to put both fighters skills on display during their battle.
The Bad: The one problem with the story structure of Captain America #4 is Coates continued use of internal monologue. Though some of it works to get inside Steve Rogers head there are times that it sounds like Coates is the one talking directly to the reader. When those instances, such as when “Steve” explains who Taskmaster is, it makes you wonder if Coates has been talking the whole time. That blurring of lines takes you out of the experience as a reader. Hopefully as Coates gets more comfortable writing Captain America he pulls back on the inner monologue and lets his artist help tell the story more.
Though Yu’s artwork is solid there were instances that his was overly inked. This made certain panels look less detailed than others. Also, with how dialogue heavy the scenes between Alexa Lukin and Sharon Carter was it was tough to tell who was talking because Yu drew both characters so similarly. There were even times that Yu drew them exactly the same as Alexa and Sharon had the same facial features which was not helped by their identical hair style.
Overall: Captain America #4 was a strong read that furthered the plot that Ta-Nehisi Coates is crafting in a positive direction. After several issues of little development Coates finally makes Alexa a compelling character by tying her into a big event that happened during Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America involving Sharon Carter. That connection elevates everything that has been going on in this story, creating more questions for Captain America and Sharon Carter to have to deal with. If your a Captain America fan I recommend checking Coates run out as he is bringing in a lot of past continuity into in a great, logical way.