Ensley F. Guffey Reacts to Captain America: Steve Rogers #1

 Cover for Steve Rogers: Captain America #1. Art by Jesus Saiz.

Cover for Steve Rogers: Captain America #1. Art by Jesus Saiz.

I don’t usually write about superhero comics, or add my two cents to the internet outrages, controversies, and speculations that the comic book industry produces like Campbell’s makes soup, but I think this might be a good time to make an exception. Biff Bam Pop! readers may know that I’m something of a Captain America fan from my two-part look at Cap and historical memory, which you can read here and here. What you may not know is that these days, the only comics I collect are Our Army at War/Sgt. Rock, and Captain America. Those are the only two titles that will never be sold and replaced with trades, or donated to a library book sale, or whatever, that I bag and board using archival materials, and that I occasionally take Smaug-like glee over just possessing. I also occasionally like to take a pile of them out of their bags and curl up and binge-read them, reveling in the smell of old comics, looking at the ads, old-school lettercols, back matter, backup stories, etc. – you know, enjoy them as comic books.

I still get other comic floppies every month, and I have a closet full of long and shot boxes of others, but eventually those will be sold and replaced with trades, or donated, or whatever. Lots of good stuff there, but not the comics of my heart that OAAW/Sgt. Rock and Cap are. With Captain America my goal as a completist collector is to own Strange Tales (vol. 1) 58 – 99, and Captain America (vol. 1) 100 – 454. That’s the complete, consecutive run of the title from 1964 – 1996. Do I want a nice copy of The Avengers #4, and do I own other CA volumes, one-shots, series, etc.? Yes, of course, but that volume 1 run – that’s the prize right there, to have a complete run from the days before Marvel and DC began relaunching their titles every 12 – 24 months to cash in on the sales-spike associated with #1s.

My desperately-in-need-of-organizing comic closet.

My desperately-in-need-of-organizing comic closet.

All of the above is basically just to let you know that Cap is one of my absolute favorites, and a character I have devoted rather a lot of time, effort, and money to. Which is why removing both of Marvel’s current Cap titles (Captain America: Sam Wilson [CA:SW] and Captain America: Steve Rogers [CA:SR]) from my pull list this week was a small emotional ordeal for me. Now don’t get all eye-rolly on me here. I’m not calling for a boycott, and I don’t think the loss of my $8 a month will send a “powerful message” to Marvel or anything like that. I’m just tired. Yes, I know the whole Cap is and has been a Hydra agent is a gimmick, and I know that within 6 or 12 or 25 issues Cap will be Cap again and the character’s status quo will have been restored. I also don’t think Spencer, et al.’s storyline is some kind of insult to Kirby and Simon, or that it ruins the previous 75 years of Cap stories.

I certainly don’t think that a comic book story, of any kind, is cause to send death threats to the creative team. Let me be really clear on this: if you’re sending death threats to Nick Spencer, Tom Brevoort, or any other member of Marvel’s crew, then you – not Marvel or anyone associated with CA:SRyou are the one with absolutely no understanding of the character of Captain America, and you are the one sullying everything that Cap has come to stand for in the hearts and minds of generations of readers, and you are the enemy. Got it? Good.

Long-time Cap readers know that, from time to time, we’re going to go through some rough patches, with storylines that are just downright awful (Rob Liefeld, anyone? How about even the generally awesome Gruenwald’s “Streets of Poison” and “Man and Wolf”?). In all honestly, readers know that the truly great runs are few and far between. That’s just the nature of the beast with a character that’s been in constant publication for as long as Cap has, so I know that Nick Spencer’s time will pass as have all of those who came before him. I disagree with Glenn and Andy when it comes to Spencer’s writing, and certainly when it comes to his understanding of the characters of Sam, Steve, and the rest. CA:SW has consistently been the least enjoyable, most eye-roll inducing part of my pull list since issue #1. For my money, Spencer is simply the wrong guy to be writing Cap titles, and I was disappointed with the announcement that he would be helming CA:SR as well. Even before the Hydra reveal, Spencer was delivering a mediocre issue, which, judging by his work on CA:SW, is about the best that can be expected from him with Cap. I don’t like his style, or his take on the characters. I had toyed with the idea of cancelling CA:SW for several issues now, but held on out of a collector’s and fan’s loyalty, wanting to see what he would do with Steve back to full power.

Yeah, this happened. Panels from Captain America #375 (1990), Mark Gruenwald (w), Ron Lim (a).

Yeah, this happened. Panels from Captain America #375 (1990), Mark Gruenwald (w), Ron Lim (a).

Now I know. I personally think that this storyline is an incredibly tone-deaf and stupid choice on Marvel’s part, and I certainly don’t think Spencer has the chops to pull it off in any case. But that’s not why I took the book off of my pull list. I did it because the whole damn thing is hackneyed. The entire purpose of the whole stunt was to get Brevoort into Time and on CNN and the BBC, to up the #1 sales-spike because the usual variant covers push and “ALL NEW ALL DIFFERENT ALL NOW ALL CAPS” shtick is not producing the sales numbers it used to. And you know what? It’ll work, and Marvel is a for-profit business and good for them. Yet this has now become SOP, and summer events, relaunches, twists, and changing everything while changing nothing has become Marvel’s idea of storytelling. I mean, Rick Remender had to trap Cap in Dimension freaking Z just to be able to tell a story without having it blown apart by some reboot or event. And you know what, The Dimension Z storyline was awesome, a fitting successor to Brubaker’s run, and capable of standing beside any of the great runs before. Once Cap returned in issue 12, and the editorial team got its hooks back into it, Remender’s run began to falter rapidly, until the last few issues felt like he was just doing what he had to do to put some kind of finish on the story and get the hell out.

 Panel from Captain America #234 (1979). Art by Sal Buscema.

Panel from Captain America #234 (1979). Art by Sal Buscema, script by Mark Gruenwald.

That’s my problem, and that’s the straw that broke this reader’s back. Not the Hydra thing (that’s been done before, after all. Anyone remember Captain America #234?), but the sheer exhaustion brought on by Marvel’s cycle of event-reboot-character twist-return. It’s also the reason that the only other Marvel title I get every month is Ms. Marvel, because New Jersey is apparently a whole different dimension, and they leave G. Willow Wilson & Co. pretty much alone to tell some of the best stories coming out of Marvel today. I’m skipping the rest of Spencer’s runs on the Cap titles. When the writer changes, I’ll drop back in and check it out, and maybe I’ll pick up Spencer’s run in a trade when it hits the bargain bin or used bookstore. Because I don’t have time to read comics that I don’t enjoy, and I can use the $8 elsewhere.

On Greg Rucka’s upcoming run on Wonder Woman over at DC, for example. Which is exactly what went on my pull list when Cap went off.

Cover for Wonder Woman (Vol. 5) #1. Art by Liam Sharp.

Cover for Wonder Woman (Vol. 5) #1. Art by Liam Sharp.

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About Ensley F. Guffey

Ensley F. Guffey is an author and historian of american popular culture. His is the co-author with K. Dale Koontz of Wanna Cook? The Complete, Unofficial Guide to Breaking Bad (ECW Press 2014), and is currently working on their second collaboration, Dreams Given Form: The Unofficial Companion to the Babylon 5 Universe (forthcoming, fall 2016). Ensley has also published academic articles on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Breaking Bad, Marvel's The Avengers, Farscape, and Babylon 5. In between books, Dale and Ensley lead the carefree lives of pop-culture scholars, speaking at academic conferences, fan conventions, and otherwise obsessing about TV, Joss Whedon, comics, books, and films while forging their own version of "happily ever after," which generally involves buying more bookshelves.

Posted on May 29, 2016, in Captain America, comics, Ensley F. Guffey, Marvel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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