It’s fortunate Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work at Marvel Comics has reflected the real world, as in many ways, his work can serve as a learning experience for a variety of readers. Case in point, Captain America by Ta-Nehisi Coates Vol. 4: All Die Young which is out this week. Collecting Captain America #20-25, this series tackles supporting characters far more than many might assume. That helps flesh out alternate perspectives and allow Coates to hold Steve Rogers up on a pedestal from alternate perspectives. This book is mostly about the crew infiltrating a town where white men feel as though they are lesser-than, and a supervillain offers them a way to get a leg up.
Set in flyover country in Adamsville, Ohio, a supervillain known as Selene is recruiting down-on-their-luck men who feel weak and small. Why? To eat their souls, of course. Sharon Carter ends up being the main character for much of the narrative, as it’s personal for her after Selene took her youth and vitality. This book is easy to pick up and read on its own since it focuses on our heroes finding out about the town and infiltrating it. Using some Wakandan tech, Steve and Falcon pretend to be average white farmers, but soon they’re breaking up a full-on riot while trying not to hurt folks controlled by Selene.
To say the narrative hits close to home is an understatement. Scientific American ran a story recently on the case of white men, in particular why they stormed the Capitol, but in it they stated, these men “[seek] to preserve institutionalized cultural identity and societal status.” These are men who have little, or think they do, and while overt racism isn’t present, the very idea of white men who fear for their status being diminished is ever-present. This helps build on the reality of the situation–under the guise of a supervillain of course–and further transforms Carter’s transformation by the end of the book.
That’s only about half of this book. From there, Carter takes center stage, sparring with Cap to show off her new strength while Red Skull continues to rise back up. Daniel Acuña and Leonard Kirk draw the final two issues, which are cast in shadow and focus on the espionage angle of the job before these characters. If the first half was outdoorsy and open, thanks to Bob Quinn’s solid flyover country backgrounds and brighter colors by Matt Milla, the second half shows off the seedier side of the job.
Wrapping up this book is a fantastic short by Michael Cho and Anthony Falcone that opens on Captain America speaking at a funeral for an Asian man named Sung-Jin Jeong, who was kind to Cap and built a relationship with him as he worked a diner Steve frequented. The story utilizes Captain America’s speech to connect Steve’s fight for the American dream to Jeong’s. An immigrant, Jeong’s education wasn’t accepted in America which forced him on a long road to doing what he truly loved. It’s a story that gets at the beauty of Captain America, but also for those who fight for the American dream and earn it, regardless of the things that are in their way. It’s a beautiful way to end the book and to honor what Captain America is all about.
This is an interesting Captain America story in part because it isn’t focused on the character. This is a book Coates has made more about what America should stand for. Coates, together with Quinn, Acuña, and Kirk, have crafted an interesting and mature look at superheroes in a world that’s conscious of the world outside our window.
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