Mark Waid and Chris Samnee kick off the "Out of Time" story arc in Captain America #698, which is a comic that shows what two master craftsman can do at the top of their game.
The issue's opening page alone is a lesson in how comic book storytelling works. Captain America was frozen in ice during the previous issue, and here he awakens in darkness. The use of sound effects to break into the physical darkness on the page perfectly conveys the sense of cacophony and confusion that Steve Rogers would be experiencing in that moment.
When he finally breaks through, Captain America finds himself in an unfamiliar setting. At first glance, this particular dystopian future doesn't seem all that different from other dark timelines. Society has been split into oppressors and the lessers they subjugate, fascist law keeps the lower class in order while they live in squalor.
The devil is really in the details. Waid and Samnee have created a future built on many fears that dominate real-world discussions being had today, primarily that of growing wealth inequality and nationalist rhetoric.
The latter theme is particularly interesting in a story about Captain America, who is himself a nationalist symbol. For him to emerge in a new world where the very concept of being American has been co-opted by those with enough money, power, and influence to afford it is striking enough. To discover that he himself was co-opted as a symbol used by these elite "Americans" is a horror unique to someone who runs around in a star-spangled costume with an "A" on his forehead. Still, the deepest cut comes in the realization that this dystopia isn't as far removed from the world he left behind as he expected.
Captain America's place as a man not of this time is highlighted by the artwork. Samnee positions the man frequently in such a way so that he looms over those around him, even in shadow, emphasizing his larger-than-life and frequently symbolic presence. Matt Wilson's colors also subtly spotlight this by giving Captian America a more vibrant palette than anything else on the page, making the hero stand out from his surroundings.
The book has its fair share of action, and that's a good thing, because Samnee is still among the best in the business at drawing fights and action sequences. The examples in this issue show how Samnee is able to convey the kinetic energy involved in fights and stunts while keeping these shots entirely of a piece with the page they inhabit.
An example is when Captain America charges through a brick wall. You feel the impact that Samnee conveys through Cap's body language and the placement of the rubble, frozen in mid-flight through the air, without use of sounds effects or extra lines that would clutter up the image – and again, Wilson's colors make Captain America stand out as an individual force against the multitude of muted minions he's barging in on.
Samnee is also a master at guiding a reader's eye through the use of a focal object. When he was working on Daredevil, it was often Daredevil's billy club. Here, it is – of course – Captain America's shield. As the reader follows the shield from Cap's hand to its destination, it instills a sense of velocity and impact at the same time that it leads the reader through the motions of the sequence.
Up until now, Waid and Samnee's Captain America run has presented itself as a series of delightful and more or less insulated one-shot stories. The first part of "Out of Time" makes use of certain seeds previously sown, but not in a way that will confuse anyone who picks up the issue cold. And picking up this issue is something that you definitely should do. "Out of Time" seems like exactly the kind of story that Captain America was created to tell, and the first issue is executed flawlessly.
Published by Marvel Comics
On February 14th
Storytelling by Mark Waid & Chris Samnee
Colors by Matthew Wilson