Kurt Busiek has been curating some incredibly grounded superhero tales with the Marvels Snapshot format, and this week, the long-awaited Mark Russell and Ramón K Pérez one-shot is finally here. I had the chance to interview Russell on the AIPT Comics Podcast about this comic, which got into working with Busiek, the timeframe of the story, and how sometimes society abandons people. The Fantastic Four and Sub-Mariner have gotten their due, and much like these previous one-shot stories, Captain America gets a resoundingly powerful story this week.
This story opens in a run-down part of New York City in the South Bronx. A boy named Felix works in his dad’s repair shop when suddenly, the city is struck with a madness. People start attacking one another with a rage they cannot control. Captain America and Falcon are there to attempt to slow down the mayhem, but lives are affected and lives are lost. This leads to a further economic downturn in the bad parts of the city and further destruction of Felix’s world.
A large part of this story is about how the downturn affects Felix, who was already at a disadvantage being Black, but now things are even worse. Russell writes incredibly thoughtful and impactful captions, putting you in Felix’s shoes and reminding us the world isn’t fair. One key caption that stuck with me was Felix lamenting how poverty isn’t only about being poor, and about missing out on life, but feeling blame for it. Russell puts us in Felix’s shoes, which plays a big part in understanding why he goes the route he does.
I won’t spoil at a thing, but Felix makes a choice for himself and his family that may not be the right decision, but it’s the only one he could have made to get out of the rundown neighborhood. It’s a position he’s in that many will relate to or know someone who has, which plays into the superhero turn later in the issue. Felix’s adventure and the lessons he learns culminate into a message about what this world needs. In a broken world, do we need superheroes, or something else? You’ll likely agree with the direction Russell takes the narrative.
The art by Pérez is strong with a deeply human and realistic feel for the city and the people. Colors by Rico Renzi are great too, and in a particularly chaotic double-page splash he separates foreground and background well with his color choices. The most important part of this book is believing in what is happening and how it could easily happen in the real world. It’s a feature in all the Marvels Spotlight books, and Pérez continues to add to that. When you see bad guy henchmen waving to Felix, for instance, you gather their positivity and humanity in their body language. Little details like this help cement the fact that good and evil don’t necessarily exist, which is a big part of this story.
The letters by Joe Sabino are quite good too–he was my favorite letterer of 2019 after all–doing well to make the captions flow nicely. The intense moments are heartfelt thanks to some well placed finer lettering too.
My only gripe is a minor one in how Captain America defines himself. He says he’s good at “hitting things” and I’d argue he’s shown he can do so much more. He can stand for something, fight with his mind, and do more than punch bad guys. I get that Cap’s self-proclaimed purpose in this story works to hammer home its point, but I didn’t believe it given the great stories that disprove it elsewhere.
Captain America: Marvels Snapshot is an important story and comic book. The series of one-shot tales continues to impress as it connects superheroes to a reality that is not so far off from our own. Most importantly, it’s a reminder that storytelling, even with superheroes, has an important part to play in educating us about what is really going on around us.