In time for the eightieth anniversary of the original Captain America, Marvel is introducing a truckload more. The United States of Captain America #1 releases this week and it kicks off a plot in which Steve and Sam have to solve the mystery of a shield-stealing assassin who seems to want all Captains dead. Along the way, we’ll meet various new characters garbed in red, white, and blue, beginning with this week’s Aaron Fischer: the Captain America of the Rails, or as he’s actually been referred to in the press: “Gay Captain America”. So, does the series get off to a good start?
The bulk of the issue is devoted to the main story, entitled “You Brought Two Too Many.” Plot-wise, it largely just sets up everything covered by the solicitations. We check in with Steve and Sam, and learn about both some as yet unnamed threat as well as the Captains at large. It’s an intriguing premise as the concept of legacy heroes fits particularly well with the Captain America moniker thematically. This is a character who is most beloved as a vehicle for questioning ideas of patriotism and allegiance, so applying that moniker to new (and especially non-straight and non-white) characters introduces inherent tension and room for exploration.
Before we dive into the execution of said tensions and ideas though, we start off with Steve. Writer Christopher Cantwell’s narration in the opening scene is easily the best part of the issue. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel by any means, but it does establish the central conceits at work here: the American Dream as something untenable, in need of redefining and/or usurping with a more useful framework for analyzing our lives. Cantwell’s words on the concept of Americana are especially relevant. The rest of the actual action that takes place after this opening is fairly forgettable, but the strong start goes a long way in raising my expectations for the series.
Art-wise, Dale Eaglesham delivers solid work here. Stylistically it’s very much Marvel house style, but the care and attention put toward crafting varied layouts that effectively lead one’s eye across the page help prevent the art from getting boring even if it’s not especially distinct. On a positive note, if you’re into big beefy farm boy-looking Steve Rogers, you’ll get your fill here.
The latter portion of the issue (“Tracks”) is devoted to fleshing out Aaron Fischer’s backstory a bit. Frankly, his character is the reason I signed up to review the issue, so this was going to be the make-or-break moment for me. My verdict?
Neither fully made nor broken.
The story is drawn by Jan Bazaldua and while, like the first, it isn’t particularly distinguishable from Marvel house style, there is a lot of clear basic skill on display. The variety of angles used in showing similar scenes and moments from different perspectives makes the world feel notably three-dimensional. This is comic art that feels hyper-aware of what it’s doing at all times and how to lead the reader along. I’ve never seen Bazaldua’s work before, but it made a strong first impression here.
Josh Trujillo writes this back-up story and frankly reading it didn’t make me feel like I knew much more about Aaron than I already did from the main plot. In a way, you could say the approach is migratory like the character, never staying in one place for that long. Nonetheless, it’s difficult to care about a character without seeing them grounded. It doesn’t need to be a full backstory establishing all their roots but some specific detail, some glimpse at the core of the person would go a long way. As is, Aaron is just a generic do-gooder in temperament.
This lack of depth extends to our sense of Aaron not just as himself but as a Captain America. What led him to feel the way he does about Steve and Sam? What is his relationship to concepts of of American pride and nationalism? By taking someone who belongs to a derided class within America and draping them within the American flag, questions and expectations are raised as to what said character’s relationship to the flag are. These questions aren’t answered here, nor are they explicitly asked.
Even if there was an approach being taken about how gay and straight characters could admire the same things in Steve or Americana, that would still involve Aaron getting more development than he does here. If a company is going to run press about Gay Captain America, I’m going to want that character, not just a placeholder with little personality. This may only be the first issue of a mini, but given what the solicitations imply about upcoming issues it’s doubtful that he’ll have this much page-time again any time soon, which compounds the disappointment.
With that said, there are aspects of Aaron that are intriguing. His wanderer status is one of them, and is certainly a relevant type of a gay person’s story that Marvel hasn’t really told yet. We also get to see Aaron’s debut exploit as a Captain, and the stakes of the conflict established in that flashback are great. Frankly it had the best tension of anything in the book, but then it was sped through, with none of its potential realized whatsoever.
All in all, my impressions of Aaron and of the whole issue were fairly luke warm, if slightly warmer than cold. I was neither pumped up by the act of reading, nor was I actively offended. Nonetheless, while the art doesn’t feel particularly inventive it is skillfully done, and there is also some great narration and potential throughout. Will the rest of the series expand upon that potential? The answer to that question will likely determine its success.
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