The United States of Captain America coasted on such highs as it began only to stumble through fields of cliches and missed opportunity on the way to this average conclusion. The artwork continues to save the book and gives a lot of glimpses of what might have been had far more interesting paths been taken. In the end, the diversity bait and switch was a throughline from start to finish, a far too common occurrence with the industry.
Over the last 80 years, there have been a vast number of stories that have featured Captain America, the star-spangled shield-carrying super-soldier. Through those decades there have been many different individuals that have taken on that moniker and the shield itself, or a version of it.
This year Marvel celebrated the character and legacy by dropping The United States of Captain America which has introduced a bevy of diverse individuals who have taken up the shield and name across the country. While this was a welcome lofty goal, unfortunately, the execution hasn’t reached the peaks that it should.
It’s clear that Christopher Cantwell had good intentions, he’s a solid writer, but what should have been a celebration of these diverse characters and Captain America turned into something that was very cliché and almost cookie cutter. Writing for ongoing mega-franchise comic book companies is most certainly a daunting task that comes with a lot of hoops to jump through and paths to navigate. This is a long way of saying that it’s often hard to tell why things don’t come together for any particular project. Whether the things that didn’t gel were from the writer’s original plan or were added because they thought it was something they had to add or if the editors had notes to add things or it just overall didn’t hit the way they all hoped.
Honestly, what dragged this series down from what it could be was the overdone Nazi plotline. Yes, Captain America came from stories about World War II and fought the Nazis, but that doesn’t mean everything to do with him needs to be tied to Nazis. There are so many things that could be done with the character and legacy, Nazis should be low down on the list by now. Watching all the Captains smackdown Red Skull’s daughter Sin and Warrior Woman and Hate-Monger, foes that Captain America has beat numerous times, is almost boring.
This series opened with a really solidly written monologue-like scene with Steve talking about his place in this modern world and what the ‘American Dream’ even means at this point. It was so well done and looked to set the tone for the series but then things just petered out and went for the chase down the imposter Cap and the chaos they were creating. Even the plot of the villains “use Cap’s shield and a fake Cap to cause destruction and then use said shield to hypnotize people to make them fear the shield/flag” is uninspired.
All the diversity hype of this series was lost as the characters became almost like just background pieces meant to support Steve and the other former Caps with him, being fleshed out a bit at times but mostly in their backup stories. It truly would have been far more interesting and inspiring to see Steve and the other Caps traveling around the country to meet these other Caps and have these Caps leading the way in something, as Steve continues the threads from that opening scene, without all the forced action/Nazi stuff.
Hopefully, these new Captain America characters show up elsewhere and get far more attention, and don’t just become the latest entries in the industries’ overflowing library of half-hearted attempts at actual diversity and representation.
Character-wise it was fine, but Steve walking them into a clear trap felt off and Walker is just such an all over the place character. More often than not he’s a mid-level conservative with outdated ideas and words that dip right into the realms of sexist and racist. Here he’s more portrayed as the Cap that is willing to cross lines like torture and such and just ya know good buds with the other Caps including Sam Wilson who he was fighting against for racist reasons when Sam was the main Cap. The final new Cap introduced being a soldier just felt very “meh” and sigh-worthy.
While the overall storyline might be cliche in some cases, it’s at least very pleasant to look at. Dale Eaglesham returns, after an issue away from the series, as Matt Milla and Joe Caramagna continue their great work on the series. The depth and lightness mixed with the heaviness of Eaglesham’s artwork is a good fit for this type of story whether the quieter moments or more action-packed ones. Capturing the distinct nature of each of the Captain Americas and the settings is key for this book and would have worked so great with a book that was more about that character study than Nazis.
Milla brings a good bright pop with the colors that adds more weight to the proceeding, slipping between the light and shadowy darkness easily. They’re not too bright though, more a middle ground that matches reality in many ways. The superhero stuff still pops and looks like superheroic stuff that we would not see in our world, but the settings around it as well as those heroes’ place in it feel grounded and almost like one could see it right outside.
Caramagna is a veteran and master of lettering and makes these pages sing with the way he fits all the captions and dialogue, giving them all their own flavors and emotion. The same bright and muted colors found in the other art also help bring the variety of bold and big SFX to life as the action kicks off.
The United States of Captain America #5 is now on sale in print and digitally from Marvel Comics.