This issue takes some disappointing turns that undermine the momentum of the story and cheapen some of what we have seen so far in this arc. The art remains great and there are still some clever and well delivered sequences here, but the escalating tension and narrative power that had been expertly built over the last few issues seems to have been squandered to some degree.
This issue opens with a tough scene for Sam, not a fight or chase, but rather the reaction of a random narrow-minded New Yorker (no doubt echoing the views of some narrow-minded real people) to the news that the mantle of Captain America will be taken up by the Falcon. Despite the crowded cafe, brilliantly rendered by artist Immonen, this is a powerful and intimate scene, which is thanks in no small part to the wonderful colouring by Marte Gracia who draws attention to Sam and the random guy (who wears prison orange). As the guy rails against Wilson as Cap because he feels it is unearned tokenism, Sam listens quietly and takes in the unfounded criticism; criticism that stays with him as he fights desperately against Baron Zemo. This is a powerful opening, in keeping with the various reflections on how he came to be here that Sam has had in previous issues, and it speaks to an important point – whatever your feelings about heroes being replaced and rebooted, it would be impossible to argue that Sam Wilson is unfit to carry the Captain America name or shield. Rather he has been a strong, noble, and compelling holder of the title.
Unfortunately this issue goes on to take a few unfortunate turns after this point. Chief amongst them is the startling return of Ian Rogers, until now thought dead after Zemo cut his throat and bled him dry. In one regard it is probably testament to Remender’s breathless and believable writing that I bit down so hard on Ian’s supposed death; the scene itself a few issues ago was visceral and shocking, a practically unthinkable twist so early into a new run. Which, of course, it now proves to have been. So why bother with the fake out at all? Nomad’s death was a powerful moment not just because it was surprising, but also because it was an immediate reminder that this isn’t a game, Sam doesn’t get to just put the suit on and then relax, he is fighting real brutal villains and anyone can make a mistake that gets them killed. Ian Rogers was a good man and a strong hero in his own right, and his death was a tragedy in no uncertain terms. This unproven team with an unproven Captain America, immediately taking a casualty offered so much potential tension and dramatic weight for future arcs. Instead we are treated to a classic and cliched deus ex machina.
With Cap on the ropes Nomad steps in to swing a few punches Zemo’s way. This fight has been going on for two issues, and it delivered some quality thematic resonance and dialogue, but there are two moments here that serve to weaken the entire affair; the ridiculous grab-the-sword-by-the-blade move which would have left Cap handless the rest of the issue (it deflated the tension of the fight because rather than roll with it I had to stop and think about whether or not it would work – and it absolutely not) and the afore mentioned return of Nomad. Cap’s noble battle in the face of undefeatable odds and subsequent sacrifice to concentrate on the virus-bugs instead becomes a rather stale side-kick saves the day moment, the threat of Baron Zemo is gone and everything Cap has done up to this point feels somehow undermined. And when you couple this with that opening scene and Sam’s own narration, “This was the only way it was ever going to end“, it all seems to paint an odd message – are we supposed to believe that Sam wasn’t ready to take up the shield? That he is a poor choice for the role?
And then this fight underwhelmingly ends in exactly the same way as the last one did just before Nomad died, a point that Sam even raises, with Cap having to race away on the chase whilst Nomad is left behind to hold off the bad guy. Whereas last time there was a sense that anything could happen, here there can be no tension because now we know that Nomad could be killed a hundred times over and just pop back up a couple of issues later. This whole side-kick death imbroglio is then (presumably unintentionally) hilariously spoofed by Remender himself when Redwing gets taken out by a Nazi Vampire. This plays like a curiously underwhelming rehash of that powerful death from just a couple issues ago – again is this supposed to be a point about Sam’s ineffectiveness as Cap, his inability to save anyone (Nomad, the child prisoner, now Redwing)?
There are some good reasons to read this book, Sam Wilson is an excellent Captain America and Remender writes him very well, the flashback scenes have all offered strong characterisation, and there are smart moments like the use of Sam’s ‘bird call’ to deal with the virus-bugs. Unfortunately this isn’t a particularly strong issue in the run, and a few of the narrative decisions feel a little hollow. I am sure this arc can get back on track, so hopefully next issue will do more things right.
All-New Captain America #5 // Writer – Rick Remender / Penciler – Stuart Immonen / Inker – Wade Von Grawbadger / Colourist – Marte Gracia // Marvel
Notes and Observations:
- I was sorry to see that Misty only got a single panel, even if Taskmasters betrayal of Zemo was fun.
- “I took a few minutes and read all of Bram Stoker before coming” – you literally just got done being killed Nomad, maybe not with the smug straight away.
- Also, how and from whom did Nomad get all this information about Zemo’s Nazi Vampire plan B?
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