Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates & Leineil Francis Yu
Artist: Gerry Alanguilan
Colors: Sunny Gho
Cover: Alex Ross
Published: September 5, 2018
There’s a thread from the first issue of Captain America that wasn’t mentioned in the discussion of those two issues in favor of more thematic and contextual discussions, but requires attention as things unfold in issue #3. The opening scene of issues #1 takes place in the Sayan Mountains of Russia. A Hydra convoy is transporting a Russian political prisoner (Alexa) when another woman with some sort of psychic powers (Selene) blows a few of the trucks up with her mind and rescues Alexa. At the end of the issue we return to Alexa and Selene who have made their way to the Russian town of Samara which has liberated itself from Hydra. The entire town has gathered, and in front of them Alexa drains the life from a captured Hydra soldier until he is nothing but bones. At the end of issue #3 we see a repeat performance of her powers and discern their purpose. The final scenes of issue #1 are intercut with Captain America rescuing a woman from a mugger as he wonders (via narration) what it is that America forgot. This specific scene was discussed in that first review in the context of Steve’s narration from previous pages, where he said that freedom is not a solution. It’s a thing that requires constant work. Work to protect it from ideology that would see it limited to a few, work to protect it from those who would manipulate it for personal gain, and work to never stop imagining how it can be justly extended to all people. The juxtaposition of the Russia and America panels, the strength of the crowd versus the fear in woman’s eyes, suggest that Russia wasn’t broken/divided by Hydra. Steve is still figuring out what happened in America (the whole first half of this issue), but he also needs to find out why didn’t the people fight back?
That question is answered early in issue #3, which sees Steve undercover in small town America, the fly over states, ‘real America’ as the man (Joe Evers) he’s talking to puts it. The concept of ‘real America’ or even the idea that such a thing exists is the (and I think political rhetoric in 2018 supports this) domain of people who believe something has been taken from them by the changing cultural, ethnic, and ideological makeup of the U.S. They believe this has lead to jobs lost, deteriorating schools, and drug epidemics. But it has also lead to a loss of belief in the dream (although this is a different dream than the one from our previous discussion). If we think back to that discussion of the first two issues when we talked about what broke in America, what broke belief in the dream, to that discussion we could add the capitalist’s decision to send send jobs oversees where labor is cheap and margins are big. Loss of faith in the dream and forgetting that freedom requires effort converge when the lost jobs and drug epidemics are blamed by ‘real Americans’ on people who don’t look much like those you find in ‘real America.’ Those who don’t look like those found in the panel below.
If you look closely (and please do really look) there are no people who present externally as anything other than white. There’s a range of hairstyles, body types, and ages, but they all appear white. They are the people supposedly done wrong by a changing America. Their jobs have moved, their politics are no longer the priority, and their monopoly on cultural is slipping. Hydra, didn’t need need to break these people as their belief America, that they would always be okay and never be on the bottom, was already gone. What hydra needed to do was give them it back. In the form of jobs, schools, and health care. They needed to make them believe that, “it’s morning in America.” This is the final thing Joe Evers says to Steve who doesn’t respond (and then returns to Okoye and T’Challa). But perhaps he should have asked Joe, who exactly it is morning for? Morning in America was a slogan used by Ronald Reagan during his 1984 campaign (and was referred to by Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz during the 2016 Republican primary) that was meant to invoke the return to a previous version of America where people were happy and employed. It ignores institutionalized racism that millions of people marched against only two decades prior. The racism that fueled redlining in America’s cities, that supported the creation of unfair drug laws in the 80’s and 90’s, and lead to the creation of the worlds’s largest prison population filled disproportionately with African American and Latinx people. This slogan ignores the lives of so many people and is a part of America’s pattern of erasing from history and consideration those who are not white.* This slogan is not used lightly here. It, and the accompanying panels/pages, underscore that dream was was not meant for all, and it is this divide that Hydra exploited. They gave ‘real America’ back something that they thought they’d lost, and to everyone else made obvious the lie they knew was there all along. Surely Steve can figure out why people didn’t fight back.
When Hydra fell a new group moved in. This is the group that Steve, Okoye and T’Challa are investigating, Power Enterprises. Together they’ve discovered a mine, the same mine these people are back to work in, full of dormant nuke clones potentially created by Zeke Stane. The three of them infiltrate the mine, deactivate the nuke clones, and manage to capture Stane. But in the process they learn that Sharon Carter/Agent 13 is in danger. This is where we return to Selene, who has stopped and killed the agents that were accompanying Sharon’s convoy. The government agents with Sharon had just made an attempt on her life and she is holding the remaining agent at gun point when a withered old woman (Selene) in a cloak steps forward. Selene drains the life from the agent before revealing her restored self to Sharon. Selene’s destructive capabilities are still not clear, but in order to keep a youthful presentation she must drain the life from others. Her plan and how her resistance in Russia parallels/has anything to do with what is happening in the states is unclear. We’re left wondering what type of leader this city in Russia has given itself over to. In the first issue Selene appeals to their national identity and reminds them that Russia is where Napoleon’s armies fell and the Germans froze. But is a national myth enough to sustain a people?
Daniel Acuña and Sunny Gho’s art continues to match the heavy subject matter that Coates and Yu are taking on in this book. Like in the last issue there are some really interesting and dramatic uses of shadows. When Steve is talking to Joe Evers at the beginning of the issue, his face remains almost completely obscured beneath a brimmed hat and a hood as he learns about small town America. You don’t fully see his face until he is out the town and back in his Captain America suit, which is where he feels most comfortable/useful right now even if that’s not where people want him to be. And in these panels when he gets back in the suit the background is a watermark image of enraged Nuke clones. The heavy darkness contrasts the holograms that Steve, Okoye, and T’Challa stand around, bathing each in eerie blue light as they plot their infiltration. The final standout moment is a splash page of these three engaging dozens of identical clones who are muscular beyond belief. Steve says that they were made to hit softer targets which contrasts with how strong these clones look. But that is part of the ruse, the appearance of strength in a weakened country is enough to prevent people from fighting back. It’ going to be great to see how Acuña’s art develops and continues to reinforce the narrative themes as this series continues.
*Ta-Nehisi Coates (who wrote this comic) discusses this slogan and the idea of erasure specifically (and much more) in his essay The First White President
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8