Captain America is iconic. This staple of comics, essentially since his debut in 1941, is for many the ultimate representation of the United States and its values, even when the story takes the icon down some unexpected paths. Captain America celebrates his 80th anniversary this year and that's where The United States of Captain America #1 enters. Instead of celebrating the hero with a simple trip down memory lane or a rehash of their greatest hits, the new series examines the hero's legacy while really examining his American history and values within the context of a mystery. And despite a few flaws, it works quite well.
The series' first issue is comprised of two stories. The first, "You Brought Two Too Many," written by Christopher Cantwell with art by Dale Eaglesham, sets the stage for the series going forward. Steve Rogers reflects on his role as Captain America as the Smithsonian asks to borrow his shield for a new exhibition. However, while Steve is reflecting, he's attacked by an imposter dressed in his colors who steals said shield. He enlists another Captain America, Sam Wilson, to give chase and it quickly becomes clear this is much bigger than a single theft when, in the course of their pursuit, they come into contact with another "Captain America." The pair soon discover there are many other people across the country taking up Steve's mantle to defend their communities, and someone wants them dead.
On its face, Cantwell has crafted a snazzy caper. There's plenty of action, it moves quickly, and while some of the dialogue between Steve and Sam seems cheesy, it's still fun. What this story lifts from your average Captain America adventure, however, is not the caper nor the idea of community-based Captain Americas. Instead, Steve's opening narration confronts the very idea of America. Cantwell pulls no punches, calling out that the American Dream for being not only false, but a dangerous fabrication used against others (transforming it into the "American Lie"). In his narration Steve also addresses how he is stripped of his own identity and regularly re-purposed by others for their own agendas. While both elements are not entirely unexpected, in a comic book about Captain America, who has literally fought Nazis in the past, Cantwell approaches them with precision. It's extremely timely even within its timeless framework.
The second story, "Tracks," written by Josh Trujillo with art by Jan Bazaldua, is primarily an origin story for Aaron Fischer, the Captain America of the Railways. It's a well-written and nicely drawn character sketch, but like the first story comes with some strong critiques of America, the nation. This story hits at how society—particularly corporations and government bureaucracy—treat "others" in society. Combined with the main story in this issue, "Tracks" provides The United States of Captain America #1 with some intellectual gravity. This comic is holding up a mirror to the United States as we know it and, while the stories fall short of compelling readers to ask tough questions of themselves, the seeds are certainly planted.
Artistically, both narratives in the issue are well-done, though Eaglesham's art has a "beefier" feel that can be distracting in certain moments. Bazaldua's work, however, has a freshness to it that is perfectly suited to the story it tells. Colors and letters are fantastic across the board and, in a sense, function as a bow tying both stories together.
The bottom line is that The United States of Captain America #1 is far from your ordinary anniversary special. While readers coming to simly enjoy Cap on a classic adventure will certainly receive that, where this issue truly excels is in commenting upon America itself. While it's simplistic at time and there are moments where events feel cheesy and a bit too obvious, the two stories in this issue ask readers to really consider America and what it stands for—and how even an ordinary American can begin to improve it.
Published by Marvel Comics
On June 30, 2021
Written by Christopher Cantwell and Josh Trujillo
Art by Dale Eaglesham and Jan Bazaldua
Colors by Matt Milla0comments
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Cover by Alex Ross