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'Captain America: Steve Rogers Vol. 3: Empire Building' review: an anxiety-inducing page-turner

Comic Books

‘Captain America: Steve Rogers Vol. 3: Empire Building’ review: an anxiety-inducing page-turner

The latest volume in Nick Spencer’s controversial ‘Captain America’ run is quite the page-turner.

Before I get started with my review of Captain America: Steve Rogers Vol. 3: Empire Building, there are two things you should know:

  1. I believe the online hysteria surrounding Hydra Cap was an extreme overreaction, and…
  2. I’m experiencing it all on a delay, because I’m only following this series (and eventually Secret Empire) in collections.

While I read the first arc of writer Nick Spencer’s controversial Captain America: Steve Rogers series in single issues, I wasn’t hooked enough to keep reading on a monthly basis. To be honest, I viewed the Hydra reveal as just another sales gimmick from Marvel, following an endless string of sales gimmicks.

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However, in my time away from the series, Spencer continued to throw new twists at readers. Comic news sites ate it up and readers lost their minds. AiPT!’s own David Brooke continued to heap praise on Spencer’s run, and long-form interviews between Spencer and Word Balloon host John Siuntres piqued my interest.

With all that said, for storage and monetary reasons, I resisted the urge to buy Captain America and eventually Secret Empire on a monthly basis. I would wait for the trades. Which brings us to this review…

This is a good series. Spencer is a good writer. But part of me wishes I had made the decision to read this comic monthly, because the comics press has ruined it. The never-ending quest for website views means the second Spencer throws readers a curveball, someone has to spoil it. Then, the readers begin to debate (even if they’re not reading the series) and before I know it, I’m aware of what’s going on in every issue of Captain America.

It’s a bit ridiculous how few surprises there are in this collection as a result. It’s like watching Citizen Kane for the first time – you know it’s great, but you also already know all the twists.

Anyway, I’ll shelf my latest rant about the current state of online news and get on with my actual thoughts about this book.

Empire Building is where Spencer and his artistic collaborators begin to knock down the dominos they set up earlier in this run. Collecting Civil War II: The Oath #1 and Captain America: Steve Rogers #12-16, this volume is essential reading for those who plan to read the Secret Empire collection.

'Captain America: Steve Rogers Vol. 3: Empire Building' review: an anxiety-inducing page-turner

I remember reading The Oath when it was released – it reads much better in this collection than it did on its own following Civil War II. And that makes sense, as it was more focused on Steve (who really didn’t play too big a role in Civil War II until the end) than the Inhumans. Following the glimpses of the dark, Hydra-controlled future we’re now seeing in Secret Empire, we return to the Captain America series, where Spencer continues to reveal secrets from Steve’s new past and cement Baron Zemo’s place as Cap’s BFF.

While the subject matter in this series is pretty heavy, Spencer manages to insert some comedy via supporting cast members (Rick Jones and Maria Hill, for instance). Without a doubt, the funniest characters in this particular collection are Taskmaster and Black Ant. Through these characters, Spencer is able to call back to the type of writing he did in the fan-favorite series The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. The comedic duo has stumbled upon a video that proves Captain America has switched sides, and they want Hill’s help in making it public… so they can get rich fast, like those “idiots” in War Dogs.

Meanwhile, you have Zemo, wearing his insecurities on his sleeve, up to no good behind Steve’s back, and Cap constantly manipulating Captain Marvel. I know Carol is very popular, but Civil War II made her into a very unlikable character in my book (Tony was no saint either). And sadly, Steve with Hydra on his mind actually makes a lot of good points about Carol.

He’s right – her dream in House of M was to be the world’s greatest superhero, adored by the world. And he’s right in thinking it is pretty sad to have to seek approval from others rather than find it within herself.

Maybe so many people are angry when they read these current Captain America stories because they aren’t black-and-white tales of good vs. evil. Steve is doing terrible things to beloved characters… while also making the occasional good point. In The Oath, for example, he tells an unconscious Tony:

You see, you all get to live in your suits of armor or hide out in your fortresses–even when you die, you really get to live–but these are real people, Tony, they’re not so lucky. And maybe they don’t want this forward-thinking, futurist utopia you’re building. Maybe they don’t want to move so far, so fast.

Very interesting. Spencer is making valid points about the Marvel Universe, and kind of makes you dislike “heroes” like Iron Man. At the same time, apply what Steve is saying to the real world. Maybe Donald Trump’s supporters thought we were progressing too much under Barack Obama. Maybe what forward-thinking Americans view as social progress, Trump voters view as a threat to their way of life.

As I am not a Trump supporter, I have to question Steve’s thinking. It’s complicated, right?

'Captain America: Steve Rogers Vol. 3: Empire Building' review: an anxiety-inducing page-turner

Personally, I don’t mind being challenged by the comics I read, but I can see how for many – especially those who are displeased with the current direction the country is taking – opening a Marvel comic and having to be reminded of that can be too much to take.

Still, no matter what your politics are, it’s hard to deny Spencer is weaving a complex Marvel tale for the ages. One that, I hope, many years down the road, people in a less emotional time will look back on with new appreciation. And yes, I realize it’s very possible we will all be obliterated in a nuclear holocaust by year’s end.

Just trying to be optimistic!

I managed to read this collection in one sitting, mostly because I couldn’t put it down. While one too many artists made the visuals a bit inconsistent, and despite the fact I knew all the big reveals, I still found myself anxiously turning each page to see what Captain America was going to do next.

'Captain America: Steve Rogers Vol. 3: Empire Building' review: an anxiety-inducing page-turner
Captain America: Steve Rogers Vol. 3: Empire Building
Is it good?
If you can put personal politics and emotions aside, you'll find the story Spencer is telling to be one for the ages.
It's fascinating to watch Steve manipulate the Marvel Universe
Hard to hate a collection that hooks you with each passing page
When will Taskmaster and Black Ant get their own funny book?
Too many artists make for one too many visual changes
A book with so many twists always gets spoiled by the comic press before it hits the shelves as a TPB

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