How does Steve Rogers handle an America that needs him to save the day but doesn’t want him to?
Ta-Nehisi Coates’s highly anticipated writing debut on a new “Captain America” series, complete with a Fourth of July release date and cover art from the legendary Alex Ross, arrives in print and digitally from Marvel Comics with the No. 1 Avenger unsure of the country’s trust in him.
Doubts and determination are established in Coates’s first issue of “Captain America,” beautifully illustrated by Leinil Francis Yu. The vibranium shield is still indestructible, but the reputation of an all-American hero? Not so much. (That’s not to say we don’t see Rogers in action: The Captain and his shield come to the rescue multiple times.)
Coates places Captain America with familiar allies when he’s on the battlefield (which, in issue No. 1, is Washington), teaming him up with his former sidekick Bucky Barnes/the Winter Soldier and Sharon Carter.
Some Americans still feel betrayed by Cap after a look-alike took over the nation with an iron grip in the Secret Empire story line. Coates uses Rogers’s voice in narrative captions to take us inside the mind of a hero determined to erase the doubts of a country.
In this issue, Captain America is on the front line of a terrorist attack in Washington, showing the compassion of a hero who is willing to negotiate with those putting people in harm’s way. Quick moments of attempted reason are followed by hard battlefield decisions. While Captain America attempts the options that have less bloodshed while diving into a cell of evil, he’s not afraid to unleash retaliation via the trigger finger of Barnes, who is always heavily armed and looking over his partner’s shoulder.
A highlight of the issue is the brief moment when we discover the effects that war has had on Captain America and his former sidekick: Cap always looks for a brighter and more inspirational way to do things in a fight. Coates paints Barnes, a former brainwashed assassin, as someone who has seen the worst of humanity and is numb to lethal decisions in battle.
Gen. “Thunderbolt” Ross arrives for some added tension and gives an authoritative yet respectful pep talk that lets Captain America know he hasn’t yet earned the license to lead the way in saving the day (although any Ross plotline is followed by hopes that an appearance from the Red Hulk isn’t far behind). That the government is more comfortable with someone who has been a gamma-radiated monster and not a superhero doesn’t sit well with Captain America.
Coates seems to have found his Marvel writing groove. He’s also currently taking Black Panther, the character that brought him to Marvel, on a futuristic sci-fi journey with “The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda.”
But while the Black Panther adventure is out of this world, Coates is giving us a Captain America that is out of place.
Now, equipped with an all-time Avenger, we can look at this new run by Coates and get a sense of what he feels it means to be an American superhero in these divisive times.