by Nick Spencer & Daniel Acuna
During the creator driven era of comics at Marvel and by extension, licensed comics at large, one of the drawbacks for the companies that own the licenses has been figuring out how to replace popular talent after they’ve left the series. No where has this been more apparent then Ed Brubaker after Captain America. Look, Captain America was created by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, in fact, Jack Kirby ended up doing three separate runs on the character spanning over three decades. Jim Steranko might have done the best Captain America of all time while Steve Englehart & Mark Waid had beloved turns on the character as well. Rob Liefeld & Mark Grunweld’s time on the book are infamous & even Robert Kirkman took a stab at the super solider once upon a time. But Steve Rogers as we know him now is Ed Brubaker’s version, the impact his run had and the time he spent on the series has eclipsed all other variations. Following Brubaker’s departure, Rick Remender tried a radically different approach up to and including switching Steve Rogers with Sam Wilson. But even with a handful of great artists like Stuart Immonen, John Romita Jr & Nic Klein, it could never transcend it’s predecessor. While the book had it’s moments, it just couldn’t follow in the steps of what’s been the definitive work from one of the greatest comics writers of this century. But with Remender stepping away from Marvel Comics, writer Nick Spencer steps into the fold and surprisingly, his style ends up working really well here.
Spencer is one of the many creative talents that made the jump from successful Image series to Marvel comics but his work didn’t click early on. After trying his hand at more traditional style Marvel work like Iron Man, X-Men, Ultimate’s or Avengers comics, the writer ended up finding his voice on the offbeat Superior Foes Of Spiderman. Free of expectations, Spencer was able to let his greatest strengths as a writer shine, that being his gift for finding humor and humanity within the mundane. Even though that would seem to be the antithesis of what you’d expect from a superhero comic, it worked wonders on Superior Foes, making it easily one of Marvel’s best comics and to his credit, Spencer has managed to continue that trend not only with Ant-Man, but more surprisingly here on Captain America. Spencer has a gift for satire that he’s able to take right to the heart of American politics in a way that is piercing and insightful in the titles debut. Fan’s of Spencer’s work on Superior Foes or Ant-Man will feel right in the groove of this book from the start as his hapless narrator, goofy dialogue and hilarious one off jokes feel in the same vein as the aforementioned work. Sam Wilson has to put his shield through the TSA checkpoint, Cross Bones claims that Baron Zemo kills him in trivial pursuit and a Kieron Gillen analogue requests for Captain America to fly him on stage to meet Taylor Swift. The same irreverence that’s made Spencer’s comics a must read the last couple years is on full display here.
Still, in spite of it’s humor, Sam Wilson manages to be insightful about American politics in a way that feels vital. Spencer captures the toxic unraveling of American ideology by highlighting how badly Sam Wilson pays for publicly standing up for his beliefs. This is where the other side of Spencer’s humanism shines, as he manages to make the struggles of everyday people like a group of Mexican immigrants trying to cross the US border feel real and personal. It becomes even more visceral when you see their opposition, Wilson standing up for them and the powers that are trying to hold him back. On art, Daniel Acuna continues to be one of the best visual story tellers at Marvel Comics. He’s a master of movement, translating action sequences and panel placement with the way that he zones in and out of details on the page. What’s most encouraging here is how he handles the comedic aspects of the book, while it’s not something were used to seeing from Acuna, the artist manages to hit those beats dead on each time.
The debut issue of Sam Wilson: Captain America is a surprising success for how well it manages to integrate the creative talents of both Spencer & Acuna. What could of been an awkward fit or something that felt forced had they leaned too far in any one direction instead feels natural and makes for an enjoyable read. The question I had coming into this was how would Nick Spencer adapt his voice to this comic, and the answer is quite easily as he has been for some time now. But at this point, I don’t think Spencer has to answer to anybody, he’s found his voice as a comics writer and if this book proves anything, it’s that he’s mastered it’s application.