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Captain America by J. Michael Straczynski Vol. 1: Stand
Marvel Comics

Comic Books

‘Captain America by J. Michael Straczynski Vol. 1: Stand’ delivers strong, character-driven drama

Captain America’s battle against intolerance and cruelty began even before he picked up the shield.

A fresh relaunch of the Captain America title brings a new creative team to the Man Out of Time. Stand collects issues #1-6 written by J. Michael Straczynski with art by Jesus Saiz and Lan Medina. Most recently, Captain America has been a dual-title spread of adventures with both Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson’s respective series. Now, with Sam taking his place among the Avengers, Steve becomes the sole focus of this series.

I say “Steve” and not “Captain America” intentionally, because this arc centers more around the man behind the shield than his superheroic adventures. This is captured perfectly on the book’s cover. The foreground focuses on a scrappy, adolescent Steve with his future self manifesting behind him. Such a striking image encapsulates what this new series is about before the reader has even opened the book.

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I read issue #1 when it debuted and did not find my interest captured. The first issues set up the narrative as focused more on Steve’s present-day rebuilding of his community and flashbacks to his adolescent years, with his superheroics comedically interrupting these character-driven plots. I’m a superhero fan at heart, and this opening conveyed a Steve-centric story, not the Cap-centric one I was looking for. However, after reading this first collected arc, I can see this intro effectively establishes the grounded tone that carries through this story.

Steve’s intermediate years between his parents’ deaths and becoming the super-soldier we know and love offer fertile ground to explore. Straczynski sets out to do just that. The flashback in issue #1 establishes Steve as a recently orphaned young man. We follow him as he struggles to make ends meet in 1938 New York, which lets us see his inherent determination and personal fortitude. A final page hook then reveals the insidious threat of a pro-Nazi, German American Bund movement, planting roots in his backyard. Thus, Captain America’s battle against intolerance and cruelty began even before he picked up the shield.

Captain America by J. Michael Straczynski Vol. 1: Stand

Credit: Marvel Comics

The present-day narrative finds Cap balancing his personal life against an ominous threat encroaching from the fringes of the occult.  As the conflict goes on, the present-day machinations eerily begin to mirror the plot Steve became embroiled with in his past. This mirroring of past and present plots is performed exceptionally. It deftly bounces back and forth in time in such a way one can read one side of the story and still track the developments in the other.

While past and present are interrelated here, Steve’s past exploits are this arc’s focus. It almost makes the book more of a historical drama than a superhero comic. The cast of New Yorkers Steve interacts with all read distinctively and come together to show how ordinary people can always stand against evil. This is further exemplified in young Steve as his convictions drive him to call out evil where he sees it and inspire others in his community to do likewise. The more time we spend with Steve it becomes apparent that it’s not the serum that makes him the Sentinel of Liberty, but it’s the man behind the shield.

Unfortunately, the present-day narrative does end up lagging behind the emotional investment of the past. In the past, we watch Steve struggle as a young man against overwhelming odds. He actively risks his life for what he believes in. Yet in the present, Cap is much more reactionary to the plot against him. This strikes a contrast between the iterations of his character, with his younger self conveying much more initiative against the villains. The present delivers the main action beats which are gripping and faster-paced. However, it lacks more of the nuance found in the story’s past side.

Marvel Preview: Captain America #2

Credit: Marvel Comics

Beyond the great covers, the interior artwork for each issue is solid across the collection. Saiz gives the first three issues a clean edge to the visuals that help bring out the emotions of the characters. The demonic foe Cap faces also reminds me of their work in the great recent Punisher series. Issue #3 also introduces Medina’s style for the rest of the volume. This adds a greater sense of momentum to the visuals but does drop back on the emotional side. I like that issue #3 uses the different art styles to delineate the alternate timeframes visually, but this is the only issue that does so. Doing away with this visual distinction makes me think it might have been better served to switch artists between issues, but the coloring makes up for this.

Both colorists lend the respective timelines their own tones. A more muted palette suits the past, while the present is rendered much more vibrant. This works well to distinguish the timelines in place of a consistent style shift. Cap’s suit pops off the page through the brighter colors and equally vibrant are his clashes against firey demons. The past segments end up feeling more cinematic through the toned-down color choices. These choices help provide visual consistency between both art styles.

Stand makes for an engaging arc and a refreshing change of pace. Steve’s adolescent exploits become the most compelling portion of the narrative and reveal new origins of what makes him tick. The action beats are visually compelling. The writing style reads like classic comics filtered through a modern lens. I wish more comics read like this. I also consider it a mark of praise that despite my lukewarm reaction to this book last year, revisiting the completed volume won me over. It’s also great that this volume delivers a complete story. It never feels like a stepping stone from one collection to the next. Check out Stand if you’re looking for strong character-driven historical drama accompanied by some rousing superheroics.

Captain America by J. Michael Straczynski Vol. 1: Stand
‘Captain America by J. Michael Straczynski Vol. 1: Stand’ delivers strong, character-driven drama
Captain America Vol. 1 Stand
Stand makes for an engaging arc and a refreshing change of pace. Steve's adolescent exploits become the most compelling portion of the narrative and reveal new origins of what makes him tick. The action beats are visually compelling. The writing style reads like classic comics filtered through a modern lens. I wish more comics read like this. I also consider it a mark of praise that despite my lukewarm reaction to this book last year, revisiting the completed volume won me over. It's also great that this volume delivers a complete story. It never feels like a stepping stone from one collection to the next. Check out Stand if you're looking for strong character-driven historical drama accompanied by some fun superheroics.
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Exceptional mirroring of past and present plots
Refreshing character-driven drama in the past
Coloring helps distinguish past from present visually
Present story not as fully enveloping as the past
Cap more reactionary to present-day threats
8
Good
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