Recent Captain American history is…complicated. Even beyond the Hydra mess, we’ve got dying, aging, leading S.H.I.E.L.D., touring America, and most importantly, handing the mantle off. Twice. Because of this, Sam Wilson and Bucky Barnes have a fascinating and fairly unique relationship in comics, forged through shared responsibility and history, so I’m interested when they get a spotlight together, whether on screen in a couple months or in this trade I read. So how is it?
It’s held back in some ways, but ultimately, it’s a couple of people trying to get better, and one trying to help them.
Centering on Bucky and Sam, the miniseries puts them up against Hydra, specifically one that is rebuilding. There’s a train-length fight sequence, and a skydiving one. There’s a Star Wars reference! It’s fun!
Along the fun, though, is a story about learning to live with trauma and how to move away from it. It doesn’t get to commit enough to those themes, largely because of the length, but when it hits, it really hits. Much of that has to do with this interpretation of Hydra.
It’s obvious that Hydra is a right-wing radical organization. Whether they’re (rightfully) linked to Nazis, or allowed to stand as their own group, today they work as a metaphor for people who have been radicalized to plan kidnappings of governors and incite insurrections. People who are disappointed in the current leadership, who are told that the only way to fix the problems are by joining a special club and putting their trust in one particular leader. Hydra is QAnon with better outfits.
This isn’t a new take. It was made explicit in Spencer’s run, but that link is easy to make because of the aforementioned Nazi connection. Falcon & Winter Soldier is at its best when it is playing with that connection. I think the schism at the heart of the story is interesting, and speaks to that dissatisfaction with current leadership. The work with Bucky is similarly great, drawing comparisons to people who escape radical organizations like Hydra and the de-programming that is needed after being a part of them. The way the series ends puts a really nice note on this theme, using Sam and Bucky’s relationship in a wonderful way.
As I noted above, though, the series doesn’t have the space to really commit to those ideas, spends much of its time on the standard superhero stuff, and ends just in time to feel like there are missed opportunities with one character in particular. The way it ends is pretty great, but given more time or space, and it could have landed much better for me.
The tone is another thing entirely, and I’m not totally decided on whether it worked for me or not. On one hand, I like the characters being quippy, and I don’t think it really gets in the way of the story or the deeper themes. On the other hand, it feels like the time spent on the more fun set pieces could have been used better to dive deeper into the characters here. Even then, though, the best fight in the series centers on the former Captains America beating up a prodigious fan of Cap who upholds white supremist values. It rules, and hammers home the core themes in a nice but subtle way.
I’m enjoying this weird age of Marvel minis, and this one was certainly a success.
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