Capital Thoughts:

Captain America #25

That Sam Wilson is the new Cap can come as a surprise to few.  For months now, Yahoo and other major sites have been predicting this event. The moment, as Sam himself notes, is anticlimactic.  Appearing in Cap’s costume, he says, “All you guys knew it was me, didn’t you?  There’s literally no drama left to the big reveal.”  He’s addressing the Avengers, who have come to celebrate Sam’s new role.  But he’s not the only one getting a promotion: From now on, Sharon and Steve will operate out of the Avengers’ Mansion (Marvel’s Wayne Manor) and will assign or provide missions, logistics, and tactical support, much as Bruce does for Terry in Batman Beyond.

One of the cool things about that futuristic Batman is an upgrade to the suit; Sam’s Cap outfit also has some “improvements,” though, aesthetically, it’s a mess.  It really looks like he’s just wearing the Cap costume over his Falcon gear.  The result is that his wings, once so graceful, are now uncooperatively splayed behind him.  He also has retro red goggles, which look fine for skiing, but don’t really do much for crime fighting.

If the creative team of Remender, Pacheco, Taibo, and White are suggesting that a new Cap also means a new look, the bad outfit also suggests an ugly element—that Sam might be a bad fit.  Indeed, as word of Cap’s new identity spreads, H.Y.D.R.A. has a meeting to discuss what it sees as an opportunity: “The new Captain America, Sam Wilson… He is not up to the task. Not yet anyway.  Steve Rogers is a soldier, a warrior– this man is a community organizer. He possesses neither super-solder serum nor the experience to stand in our way.”  They then begin to plot how to “twist” Sam into a H.Y.D.R.A. agent.

The critique here is three-fold: Sam lacks super-powers– a dubious claim since Tony has already upgraded the Falcon’s flight suit, which can now absorb energy blasts; he also has Cap’s invulnerable shield and the assistance of Steve and Sharon, who will feed him intel, ala Tony Stark’s Jarvis.   He also enjoys a telepathic link with his trained fowl, Redwing.  True, Sam does not have any super-soldier serum, but if that were necessary for the job, Cap might have picked Luke Cage as his replacement.  Next up: Sam is inexperienced; “He is not up to the task. Not yet anyway.”  Yet, Sam has fought supervillains for over 40 years.  The notion seems to be, and this comes from H.Y.D.R.A., that Cap is a weapon, a warrior first and foremost, not “a community organizer.”

There is, of course, a political association here: When first running for high office, Obama’s opponents argued that he was not up to the job.  Whatever history has to say about the President, his record is an enviable one:  He cut unemployment nearly in half; doubled the stock market indices, reduced America’s dependence on foreign oil, kept inflation in check and, in case anyone forgot, won a Nobel Peace Prize. That Sam should be more interested in helping rather than killing others is not a weakness.  It is a necessary strength for the job.

The last critique is that Sam is ethically weak.  He can be “twisted,” manipulated, turned.  Yet ethics have nothing to do with experience:  it is in fact our ethics that guide us through difficult experiences.  Fifty years of helping people is apparently not enough to convince H.Y.D.R.A. that Sam is ethically sound.

In fact, I’m not entirely sure that Marvel itself thinks that Sam is ethically sound.  I am not referring here to Sam’s sometime shady past, but rather to Marvel’s plans for the new Cap.  At the story’s close, we are told that Sam’s adventures will be “high-flying spy-fi.”  We are then treated to a triptych of the new Cap in action, each panel matched with a caption.  The central image is of Cap flying up to meet two machine-gun-wielding masked men. The caption reads: “All-New Captain America:  Fear Him.”

We don’t need news from Ferguson to tell us that some “fear” a black man in power. The question here is why Sam, already possessing Cap’s power and then some, does not command the same fear or at least respect that Steve does.  When the Avengers come to Sam’s inaugural party, the tone is entirely too festive.  The Avengers mill about looking for “noshibles.”  Sure, the Red Skull and Zola are still out there threatening the world, but when Thor, Doc Strange, Spider-Man and the rest of the A-team posse meet their new leader, the only real worry is why there aren’t enough chimichangas and pizza rolls.  This isn’t a white-power issue, per se– Luke Cage is as upset by the lack of snacks as anyone. But it is still an issue.  The rebranding of Cap is a major event, not just for comic book readers but also within the Marvel Universe itself:  Sam is about to become the leader of the Avengers, but he isn’t even given a speech to mark the occasion.  He just comes out in an ill-fitting suit and shouts out “Avengers Assemble!”

Worse, the call to assemble isn’t really his call.   From the safe confines of the Avengers’ Mansion, Steve will be calling the shots.  No wonder Sam doesn’t get any respect from his fellow Avengers: Sam’s inauguration is hardly emancipation.  He just does what the rich, white folk up at the mansion tell him to do.

Am I pushing the point?  Probably.  And, as I reread these paragraphs, it seems to me that no one in Cap #25 comes off well.  But the situation is not Sam’s fault; rather, it is Steve’s.  As long as Steve remains the leader of the Avengers, its heart and soul, and now its high-tech eyes and ears, Sam will never truly lead.

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Jeffrey Kahan is a is a well-established Shakespeare scholar with about two dozen books and editions to his name. He is also the co-author of Caped Crusaders 101 (MacFarland, 2nd ed., 2010), and is a co-editor of The Dark Man, a journal dedicated to the works of Robert E. Howard, and an associate editor of The New Ray Bradbury Review. He teaches a class on superhero comics and has twice appeared as a speaker at Comic-Con, as well as at New York’s Big Apple and other comic conventions. His newest book, Shakespeare and Superheroes, will be published in 2018 by ARC Press. He works in California but lives in his own world.

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  1. Lewis Manalo says:

    I don’t think you’re pushing the topic of race in Cap #25 at all. Your comments about the Cap costume worn over the Falcon costume highlight the metaphor for this rebranding: it’s ill-fitting and forced. Most insulting about issue #25 is that no character spoke about race – as if race doesn’t exist in the Marvel universe – when the creators are clearly trying to use the recasting of Cap as statement on issues of race. Historically, race-relations have been a big political theme for Marvel (X-Men, Isaiah Bradley) and it’s a shame these usually brilliant creators couldn’t think of a better way to herald Sam Wilson as Captain America.

  2. Exactly, especially when Remember do an excellent job with Romita Jr. on the “Dimension Z” to finally do all the opposite when Jet Black is acting like a child when Sharon accused her as an spy. And besides, all these heroic stuff by Wilson on the last minute is like a cartoon finale…

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