You all know why we’re here. You know what I’m going to talk about. Let’s get it out of the way.
Steve Rogers has secretly been a HYDRA operative since he was 6 years old.
Now, instead of ranting about how stupid an idea this is, I want to remind everyone that there is NO WAY this is going to stick. It’s just a brainless gimmick to grab attention, and will likely be the product of a cosmic cube or some other such nonsense. That having been said, it still ruins what is an otherwise good issue.
So with that out of the way, let’s get right down to it.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #1
Writer: Nick “Look at Me!” Spencer
Artist: Jesus “This Book’s Real Savior” Saiz
The book opens up in 1926, (almost 20 years BEFORE the creation of HYDRA…this is probably important) with a flashback scene of an “always portrayed in flashbacks as a stinking drunk” Joseph Rogers getting angry about some trivial thing and turning to beat Sarah, as was tradition for the Rogers family back then. To be fair, it was the 20’s. I think it was ok to do horrible things to people you loved in those days. Anyway, a random woman intervenes, beating down Joseph and sending him running off while she introduces herself to Sarah and her young son, Steve. The entire scene is set in sepia tones and grayscale, except for highlights done in red. RED, people. Pay attention. I tend to think Jesus Saiz is choosing his colors very specifically.
Jump forward to present day, where Steve is doing his best to beat down a HYDRA cell with Sharon Carter and Rick Jones back at HQ helping out with logistics. Steve is narrating and right away something seems a bit off. Not in his character, that is still 100% on point (and something Spencer seems to be an expert on), but rather something is amiss with some of the facts, though I’ll dive into that with a little more depth later.
Steve’s narration is key in setting the scene for introducing the new HYDRA- now led by the Red Skull (just like in the movies!). This HYDRA is recruiting everyday people who have had a rough life. People who, like Robbie Dean Tomlin, Steve’s target, might have drug problems, or come from broken homes, or are just lost and looking for someone to blame for their bad luck. The Skull is taking full opportunity of these misfortunes and uses it to promote his hate speeches and scapegoating. Yep, that’s right. The Red Skull has just officially turned HYDRA into the Nazi party (draw your own similarities between this and the current political climate in the US- I’m staying out of that one).
We learn that Robbie is strapped with a bomb, and despite Rick working hard to separate his car from the rest of the train, Steve doesn’t want Robbie to give his life for a misled cause. Again, very Steve. Instead of letting the poor kid roll down the tracks to his death, Steve decides to try and reason with him. His plea falls on deaf ears though, as Robbie is so broken by life that he triggers the bomb and blows himself up for what amounts to nothing. There’s something really unsettling about his face when he does it, too. Saiz is killing it with the art.
During the train incident we also learn that Steve has a field team in the way of Free Spirit and Jack Flag, proving yet again that Spencer is the reincarnation of Mark Gruenwald. I’m not complaining, just noting.
Steve is very shaken by the kid killing himself, and in a tender scene between he and a very wrinkly Sharon (poor Sharon) he states that this new HYDRA has gotten under his skin. He also reveals that he’s a bit rusty, since he, for whatever reason, doesn’t feel right in his new/old body. “I used to look in the mirror and not recognize the ninety-year old, and now I don’t recognize THIS— especially when I’m moving. It’s got me…out of sorts“. Take that on face value if you will, but I believe that means a bit more. Subtext- it’s real.
That scene leads to more flashback and then an incredible scene with Rick, Jack Flag and Free Spirit swapping Cap stories. It’s things like this that make the stupid revelation at the end of the book more of a gut-punch. You want to ignore it, but since the rest of the book is so well done you just can’t. Sigh, I’m really trying not to rant about it.
When we get back to Steve and Sharon, they are meeting with the ever-infuriating Maria Hill, who drops her own bomb on our heroes- S.H.I.E.L.D. has found Zemo. See, Zemo went missing after the whole Pleasant Hill situation that went down a few months back and he’s been towing Erik Selvig along with him (hostage style, not buddy comedy style). Since then he’s been hearing all about Red Skull’s new HYDRA and, to be honest, he’s not liking it one bit. Seems he believes that HYDRA is more than just, as he puts it, “…some street gang of poorly-educated layabouts blowing themselves to bits…”. He claims responsibility for making HYDRA the exceptional organization it was (why does no one give Strucker his due credit?) and starts to assemble a new version of the Masters of Evil to take down the Skull and reclaim HYDRA.
The entire scene with Zemo gathering his new “followers” is hilarious and has a Venture Bros. vibe to it that is signature Spencer. The comedy is disrupted by Steve’s team (The Liberty Crew? Team Stripes?) who break in and just start to tear apart the new Masters, though it hardly seems a challenge. During the fight Steve contradicts himself on a single page by shouting both “Eyes on the leader! Zemo will use the fight as a distraction!” followed almost immediately by Jack asking if Steve needs help chasing after Zemo and Steve responding, “No! Focus on these three! Zemo’s mine!” Not sure what to make of that, but it just seems like something thrown in to set up the next couple pages at the expense of the momentum that was already in place.
As Zemo tries to escape in his jet (which comes complete with a “Captive Selvig” action figure), Steve hitches a ride and proceeds to beat the tar out of him. This is really where the entire story goes downhill. This entire review I’ve been pointing out things that I PRAY will be important to explaining the absolute garbage that plays out over the next 4 pages.
I’m not going to lie- at this point I’m likely to start ranting. Feel free to stop reading if you want- this might not be pretty.
So Jack Flag jumps on board to clock Zemo, who has gained the upper hand on Steve. But instead of being met with gratitude, Steve throws the poor guy out of the cargo door, presumably to his death. A very “WTF?!” moment to be sure, but it’s immediately followed by one last flashback that shows Ms. Sinclair (SINclair. THAT HAS TO MEAN SOMETHING! DOESN’T IT?!?!) handing a f***ing HYDRA pamphlet to Sarah Rogers, who passes the ominous looking Skull-Emblazoned paper to her 6 year old son! It’s immediately followed by the most perverse image I’ve seen in a Cap comic in years- Captain America saying “Hail HYDRA.”
Again, like I said earlier, I assume that this will be a “The Skull used the Cosmic Cube to re-write Steve’s history” in a similar fashion to the “Snap” Wilson nonsense from so long ago. Actually, I’m hoping, praying and begging. I outlined a whole bunch of inconsistencies between the Steve in this issue and the Steve we’ve all grown to admire. Little things he’s said, small things that I’m interpreting as hints- it’s all there, and hopefully not just because I want to see it. Hell, I’m even taking the one good Remender moment, the “Always stand up” that Steve learned from his mother, as proof that this history is different. Sarah Roger taught Steve to fight back, not HYDRA. Never HYDRA. NEVER.
The thing that really bugs me here, more than the stupid and inexcusable twist, is that after everything I’ve seen, I KNOW Spencer is capable of better writing. This ending is just shock for the sake of shock. That’s it. It’s not story-driven, it’s not organic, it’s just bludgeoning, attention-grabbing stupidity. And it’s worsened by Spencer and editor Tom Brevoort fueling the fire on social media and news sites just to gain attention. The rest of the story, hell the entire book, is great. It’s as if Spencer completely understands the characters but has no respect for them. Like the freaking scientists in Jurassic Park- he realized he could but never stopped to think if he should. I hope Jack Flag eats Spencer while he’s on the toilet.
There’s way more I could say about this issue, like how Spencer still wrote Steve as a good guy, despite the fact that he’s (now) a villain (and whatever crazy connotation that comes with), but I think I’ll limit my rage for now. Feel free to head over to his Twitter account if you want to see more.
Ok, so now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let me say that while I don’t like the twist or the direction the story seems to be heading (I didn’t sign up for evil Steve… Stevil?) the rest of the book is the same solid stuff we’ve been getting from Spencer. However, to me at least, CA:Steve #1 suffers from some of the same problems as the second Star Wars Trilogy- it doesn’t just ruin itself with a bad ending and stupid, out of nowhere revelations, but it retroactively harms the entire franchise. I can see pieces in place to fix things, but only time will tell if those are imaginary concoctions perceived by a desperate fan who is trying to make sense of a heartbreaking betrayal. Even if it’s a brief story, it’s going to take a while to repair the damage Nick Spencer has done to Cap’s credibility.