After the events of Secret Empire, Steve Rogers, aka the original Captain America, is travelling cross-country to rediscover himself and the land he protects.
He returns to a town called Burlington in Nebraska. He protected them from an attack by a white supremacist group called Rampart. Now the town is no called "Captain America" and holds an annual celebration of the Sentinel of Liberty.
This was an excellent return-to-form for Marvel's First Avenger. Mark Waid has constructed a classic Captain America story perfectly opposing the most recent string of Steve Rogers tales. Captain America is on his motorcycle, exploring small towns, and fighting injustice and cruelty when he sees it.
Steve is soft-spoken and timid in the face of all the adoration. He wants to encourage the best in others. He feels like Captain America once more.
Chris Samnee's artwork is equally classic feeling, looking just as good as his time with Waid on Daredevil. It's distinctive, kinetic, and atmospheric. Matthew Wilson's color choice mostly lies in the pastel range, and it fits the overall spirit and aesthetic of the experience.
And yet—something feels off. This is, by all accounts, the Captain America I've been waiting for since Ed Brubaker left the title about five years ago. However, as much as this comic tries to escape the shadow of Secret Empire (I desperately want to), I'm not sure how long it will be before Steve Rogers can do that. You can say that it's my fault for not letting it go, but, well, no—that's the thing about serialized fiction: what characters do in a story affect how you view them in the following tales.
Marvel put their most altruistic and heroic character in a very morally compromising situation with Secret Empire. I want to believe that Captain America can shake that stink of fascism off of him, but I'm not sure yet.
And, as much as this comic does work, it's hard to ignore the context of all this. Captain America has one of the most critically and publicly loathed stories every published by Marvel. Older audiences are constantly pining and pleading with the company to go back to the old days. Waid and Samnee's Daredevil was easily one of the most beloved comics of its time, and it even won an Eisner. Putting these two on Captain America seems like an easy win.
Hell, Tom Brevoort personally edited this comic himself if you need any more evidence about how badly Marvel needs this comic to work.
The comic doesn't really do anything especially daring, and its focus on small-town life could easily be perceived as Cap getting back to "real America." I wouldn't blame anyone for perceiving it that way, especially with the inherit white coding of that (yes, the character does focus on some POC in the town, but "real American" small towns have been coding for white-predominant areas since at least the initiation of the Southern Strategy).
In short, the strings moving this one are really visible, and it plays it ridiculously safe. The least safe thing about it is that Cap is beating the tar out of white supremacists and touts the virtue of the strong protecting the weak. The only reason those ideas aren't as safe as they used to be is because a lot of people randomly forgot that Nazism and white nationalism are inherently evil and vile.
I get that these are comics from one of the Big Two, and they are all inherently severely compromised by their corporate backings. However, it feels a bit more visible here, especially when you have comics like Black Panther, Falcon, and Green Arrow which really feel like a passion project for creators who are given a good amount of leeway to write the stories they want to write.
And yet, in a vacuum, this comic would really work. Captain America was one of my first favorite heroes. After that Spider-Man phase everyone has at some point, Captain America became my favorite hero. Civil War showed me who this character was, and that is someone a lot of people could aspire to be.
Yeah, Civil War is a bit more maligned these days (not helped by writer Mark Millar), but it still holds up for me.
I loved Captain America for quite some time, and a part of me still does. My dad introduced me to comics, and Captain America has been his favorite hero since he first started reading comics. It's pretty much in my genes to love Captain America.
Yet, this one somehow doesn't sit right for me.
This is a weird one for me because how important it feels for me. I can definitely recommend it, and I'm certainly going to give it a good score. Maybe Marvel did it; maybe they killed Captain America for me. Time will tell. That being said, pick this one up if you've missed classic Captain America comics. It definitely harkens back to those days. However, if you're looking for anything daring or fresh, this one isn't it. Maybe Ta-Nehisi Coates can bring something new to the Captain in a few months.