You know the drill — the comics gods giveth, but they also taketh away. And so it is that the back half of the deluxe hardback Captain America By Ta-Nehisi Coates Vol. 1 — a six-part storyline titled “Captain Of Nothing” that ran in issues 7-12 of the still-current volume of the monthly Captain America series — offers some significant steps forward, but also some irritating steps back.
For one thing, Cap spends nearly the entirety of this “arc” in prison, awaiting trial for a murder he didn’t commit, but it is, as you’d likely expect, not just any prison — no, The Myrmidon (Coates’ love for mythological names really comes to the fore as this series goes on) is a “big house” for super-powered inmates run by one of Cap’s most notorious nemeses, Baron Von Strucker, who was “gifted” with the job of warden of his very own “superjail” in exchange for snitching out his former Hydra buddies after the fall of their short-lived global fascist regime. Some people, it would seem, always land on their feet.
Speaking of, the color duties on this leg of Coates’ long-form epic are split between Frank Martin and Matt Milla, and neither does much to distinguish themselves from either their colleagues in the field of computerized comics coloring or from each other — which is fine as far as uniformity of the book’s appearance goes, but again represents a fairly significant step down from Sunny Gho’s “huesmanship” of earlier issues. No bold choices here, no interesting new shades to spend any extra time “oohing” or “aahing” over, just workmanlike competence. Things could be worse, sure, but damn — they could also be a lot better.
Enter a rather impressive and dare I say intriguing bit of on-the-fly “retconning” as Sharon Carter is revealed to be part of a group known has The Daughters Of Liberty, who have not only always been fighting on America’s behalf throughout its history, but have pretty much every female Marvel “A-lister” (Sue Storm, Spider-Woman, Misty Knight, Mockingbird, etc.) included in their ranks — we’d just never been aware of the outfit’s existence before. Add to the mystery of just what this sisterhood (think The Daughters of The American revolution, only with super-powers) has been up all this time the further mystery of who their cloaked operative known as The Dryad (told you about those mythological names!) really is, and you’ve got a juicy enough enigma to suck in even a reader like myself, who barely pays attention to the capes-n’-tights game. Coates hit it out of the park with this hiding-in-plain-sight idea.
Okay, sure — there have been better Cap runs than this one. And, perhaps surprisingly, there have been far more overtly political ones — certainly Steve Englehart’s original “Secret Empire” and Mark Gruenwald’s “Captain America No More” were more informed by Watergate and Iran-Contra, respectively, than Coates’ story (at least to the point this book leaves off on) is informed by Trumpian neo-fascism. And the shifting art teams, while a fixture of contemporary “Big Two” comics, don’t seem to be doing this series any favors on the whole. But as volume one closed, I was left with a very definite sense that enough key elements are in place for Coates to craft the Captain America storyline the world needs now and that, to answer my own question, he may just be the right man at the right time for the job.