A year and a half ago, Steve Rogers spoke those two words that changed the Marvel Universe and launched a secret empire... but more on that later. Suffice it to say our hero was not the same, until he was.
Today, with the release of Captain America #695—renumbered a la "Marvel Legacy" to include most of the previous issues of Captain America with the notable exception of the run of Steve Rogers: Captain America that featured the Hydra version—Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Matt Wilson, and Joe Caramagna return the Sentinel of Liberty to his past glories.
The issue reads more like a re-introduction of the character and a reminder of what he stands for than the start of a new arc, and serves well as a standalone issue meant to re-assure loyal readers that this is the Steve Rogers we know and love. The story has its own sense of legacy as well, as Steve Rogers, fresh from his defeat of the false Cap, visits the site of a decade-old battle from the days soon after he was defrosted. Few remembered him then, but he is now well-known—and at least in this town he is celebrated, despite the recent experience with his doppelgänger. (One assumes the rest of the first arc will show him encountering a bit more caution and hostility from his fellow Americans, as should be the case.)
The fervor that we see surrounding Captain America in this town, and Steve's discomfort with it, reminds me of the "Cap-mania" from the beginning of Waid's "Heroes Return" run, and this is just one of the meaningful character touches in this issue. If you miss Cap saying typical Cap things, this issue will not disappoint, especially the sentiment expressed on the final two pages, always one of my favorite aspects of Captain America. It isn't just Waid's words that restore our faith in this Cap, but also Samnee and Wilson's depiction of him in his simple, classic, three-colored costume, along with Samnee's characteristic clean lines and Wilson's bold color choices. Back are the cavalier boots and the wings on his head, so his fellow Avengers can once again call him "Winghead." (Sometimes it's the little things that make comics great, after all.) No need for a combat helmet or chinstrap for this Cap, who recognizes the symbolism of simplicity and the confidence it inspires in those he's saving—as well as those he's inspiring to help others.
I look forward to seeing where Waid, Samnee, Wilson, and Caramagna go in exploring more of Captain America's trip through his country to help restore his name and legacy, but I appreciate that they took this first issue to simply celebrate who Captain America is and will always be.
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So... about the last year and a half...
I'm hesitant to talk about "Hydra-Cap" and Secret Empire, especially because it's over, and there's little reason to dredge up the past. (See also: Civil War II.) But I do have some thoughts, and I guess it's only appropriate given that my last post was on the occasion of the first issue of that story.
In that post, I defended what I thought Nick Spencer was trying to do. As the story progressed, I admired how he spun out the story little by little, even after the second issue abruptly revealed the secret behind Cap's transformation. Even after the storyline blew up into A Marvel Event, I appreciated how he seemed to go all in, pushing the premise as far as it could go, even having Hydra Cap lift Mjolnir, suggesting that he night be worthy in some sense even if he had evil ends. (Let me give a shout out to my friend Armond Boudreaux, who wrote a number of excellent posts about this storyline over at A Clash of Heroes.)
The Secret Empire series started exceptionally well, with an amazingly multilayered roll-out and perfect pacing in the first half, but then collapsed in the second half as the creators seemed to be pressured to come up with an ending that put all the pieces back in the box and restored Captain America to his former glory. (We all remember the assurances from Marvel Comics that everything would be fine and it would all be over soon, not exactly a sign of confidence.)
The final issue of the main series (Secret Empire #10) was when the creators dropped the ball. As I wrote about the first issue, I hoped that Spencer and the rest of his term were setting up "an epic redemption story":
And when Steve recovers from the brainwashing, false memories, hypnosis, or Cosmic Cube shenanigans, even though he shouldn't hold himself responsible, he will. He tortures himself much more than anyone else could when he is forced to compromise his principles, even if he could not control it, because he feels he should have been able to control it.
I'm not upset by this comic because I see it as Steve Rogers' greatest test ever, a test I'm confident he'll pass, but not without going through hell first. And that could be a truly amazing story.
But that isn't what happened. As we now know, Steve didn't battle back as I'd hoped, the essence of who he is overcoming Kobik's reprogramming to reassert his true character by sheer force of will. Instead, a new Steve Rogers formed out of Kobik's memories emerged to defeat Hydra-Cap, who is the Cap we see in the new comic. This familiar Cap didn't struggle to come back, unless we consider the version we saw in Kobik's dream-like memories, but that Cap was never corrupted in the first place. He bears no personal responsibility at all for what happened, although he will still have to work to get his good name back after it was usurped by the imposter.
In the end, there was no redemption story at all, and that is the greatest disappointment of all.
(To be fair, the Secret Empire: Omega issue that served as the story's aftermath was excellent, especially when Hydra Cap explained that he didn't force anything on the America people—instead, they handed him all the power he wanted, which made the real Steve Rogers question what the American people really want from their government and from him. Perfect, and perhaps Spencer's most spot-on political statement in the entire story.)
I like to think that, had Spencer kept the story within the pages of the two Captain America comics, it would have had a more satisfying resolution. Perhaps it got away from him when it was blown into an event and had to change to fit that model and get ready for Generations and Marvel Legacy. We'll probably never know, and... that's fine. As I said above, it's behind us. If nothing else, at its best the storyline was a fascinating reflection of the political situation we find ourselves in. Was the damage to a beloved character worth it? I don't think so, but I also think people will forget about it soon enough, and we'll think of it like we think of Teen Tony Stark, the Invisible Woman's 90s costume, or One More Day. (Unfortunately, we're still living with the last one.)
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The quick answer is I've been working on other things, some of them related to superheroes. This includes writing a chapter for Wonder Woman and Philosophy, available now, edited by Jacob Held; editing Doctor Strange and Philosophy (out in early 2018) and writing a chapter for it; and writing an entire book on a superhero and philosophy, which I'm currently doing final editing for (and is planned for release in 2019). All of this, plus my non-superhero writing and my day job, has kept me busy. (If it helps, I haven't blogged much on anything for a long time, other than my monthly-ish posts at Psychology Today.)
The longer answer has to do with my state of mind about current comics, which isn't entirely positive. I may have more to say about this in a later post, but I'm largely disenchanted with new comics, with rare exceptions such as Dan Slott, Mike Allred, and Laura Allred's recently-concluded run of Silver Surfer, which is one of the most satisfying and emotional reading experiences I've had in a long time. (The last issue, shown to the right, was so magnificent that I'm still thinking about it, and probably will for a long time.) But most of the comics I buy these days—usually about 50 a month—I'm just not enjoying, despite the craft and devotion being put into them. There is fantastic work being done, but the quarter of my monthly pull that blows me away doesn't make up for the three quarters that don't.
I've been thinking a lot lately about diving back into the past comics I love, whether Captain America, Batman, the Fantastic Four, or others, and blogging in a more systematic way about them, taking each issue or storyline and writing about what I love about it, whether there's something of philosophical interest there or not. Maybe I'll just geek out about how cool the art is, or how a moment made me laugh or cry. Maybe I'll even do a podcast about them, something like The Fantasticast or the Nerdsync podcast—not that I can do that any better than Stephen and Andrew or Scott do, but I'd do it my own way, whatever they may be. Just an idea I've been knocking around, something to get excited about.
And don't we all need that?