What impresses most in the early going of Marvel’s deluxe hardback Captain America By Ta-Nehisi Coates Vol. 1 is that Coates seems to have a clear and distinct vision for what he wants to do with the character — and it’s clearly not to make him a mouthpiece for his own ideas and opinions, much to the probable consternation of those who assumed that was exactly what he had in mind.
On the contrary, when a battle-scarred and psychologically adrift Steve Rogers engages in combat with an army of cloned copies of his old villain Nuke (a fight which began in the pages of a Free Comic Book Day giveaway number that is presented as an introduction here and continues in earnest in the first issue proper), his one anchor is his resolute belief in his country not as it is — divided after Hydra occupation and ideologically, economically, and culturally up for grabs — but as it should be. This is a guy who knows the US constitution like the back of his hand, and still believes in his ongoing mission to uphold both it and the people who live by it at all costs. Yes, even those who are nostalgic for the Hydra “glory days.” It’s a tough spot to be in, sure, but he’s unwavering.
In short, then, he’s still pretty clearly learning on the job as far as this whole comics writing gig goes, and would do well to study the work of old pros like Archie Goodwin who were expert at shifting the tone, style, and even substance of their stories to not just play to the strengths of their artistic collaborators, but to “up their game,” as the kids say. Yu, Alanguilan, and colorist Sunny Gho (whose intentionally subdued palette stands well above much of today’s wretched and lifeless computerized coloring) do a superb job with what they’re given, no question, but it would be so much better if Coates had given them more — instead, what we’ve got are six issues that allow them to showcase their skills just fine, but that never push them to expand their horizons.
Most of the time, at any rate. Occasionally his sparse scripting actually blunts the impact of key moments, such as at the end of the fifth issue when a major baddie is revealed to actually be an even more major baddie (a revelation which, frustratingly, is never followed up on in any appreciable way by the end of this book — I get that Coates is playing a proverbial “long game” here, but come on), but on the whole his narrative and pacing sensibilities are pretty well spot-on in terms of letting the pictures well and truly say a thousand words.
By the end of the sixth issue, Cap’s in a tight spot — framed for murder, fallen from grace, headed for the big house — but all is not lost, both because he’s been down this road before, and because he has just as many friends operating in the shadows as he does enemies. But we’ll get into all that in part three. Suffice to say, while these first six issues didn’t knock my socks off, they definitely left me wanting more, and in the mainstream comics racket, that’s the working definition of “mission accomplished” right there.