None other than Nick Spencer himself, the author of the Pleasant Hill books, penned the week’s sole entry into the ongoing Avengers Standoff saga. But in addition to taking a long awaited step forward in the Standoff narrative, this issue pulls double duty, serving as the celebration of 75 years of Captain America. The homage to the First Avenger’s history begins with the cover illustration, a controversial re-imagining of Cap’s first cover, and ends with three short stories contemplating the ideals that are represented by Captain America. In between, there’s an extra-long story that has all three men who have wielded the shield exploring what it means to be Captain America. Spoilers for Captain America: Sam Wilson #7 begin after the jump.
The narrative opens with Sam Wilson arriving at Pleasant Hill. Rather than rely upon a recap page, this issue handles its exposition by issuing it through Sam’s caption boxes on the first few pages. This establishes the situation effectively enough, with a minimum of chunkiness, especially once Bucky arrives and gives Sam someone to speak with and ask questions. The story immediately sets Sam and Bucky up as foils for one another, having Sam’s captions note that last time Steve was absent, Bucky wielded the shield.
Although at first the pair fights awkwardly alongside one another, soon they have garnered some information from a disguised S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and once again become comfortable battling alongside one another. After they’ve overcome the plethora of super villains who have apparently gathered at the Pleasant Hill circus, there’s a few important lines exchanged between the two men.
First, they each express empathy for the villains, since they both have personal experience being brainwashed and forced to act like someone beside oneself. But the story builds off this moment and arrives at one of the more interesting exchanges in the book, as Bucky reassures Sam that even though Sam and Steve may disagree, Steve still respects Sam. “Doing things your way, doing what you think is right — Steve may not always alike it, but I can promise you he respects it.” It’s the reassurance that Sam clearly needs: as Captain America, he has faced opposition from not only villains, but from the people he seeks to protect, to say nothing of his disagreements with Steve. This reassurance is just what Sam needs, and coming from Bucky – who knows what it means to stand as Captain America – the words have weight. As Sam’s captions tell us, although all three men have their differences and agendas, all three men share the indelible bond of being Captain America.
This more or less concludes Sam and Bucky’s presence in the narrative for this issue, and after the title page we join an already battered Steve as he contemplates his impending morality. And contemplative is probably the best way to describe this issue: as Crossbones issues Steve a serious beating, Steve spends a lot of time in his head. He considers Sam and Bucky, his relationship to each of them, and how they came to wear the mantel of Captain America. Next, he thinks of his own history. Each of the three Caps is given a full four-paneled page, duly tracing their accomplishments and the circumstances under which they accepted the shield.
From here, the story slips into a flashback that lasts a few pages, and explains what happened to Steve and Hill since the last time we saw them. While this is necessary for the narrative, and accomplished competently, it is almost entirely overshadowed by the revelation of Father Patrick’s true identity. While it is obvious from the first panel he appears in that he is not as he appears, the story wisely teases the reader for a few pages before revealing that the “priest” is none other than the Red Skull. It’s an exciting revelation, and should lead to exciting developments in the back half of the Standoff narrative.
Those developments will have to wait for a later issue, though, as the story quickly catches up with itself. After locating Kobik in a bowling alley, Steve is again awed by her powers – but realizes that despite her power, she is in fact only an innocent child. So Steve does what Captain America does: he tells her to hide in order to protect herself, and begins a fight against Crossbones he believes he will lose.
As Steve takes a righteous beating from Crossbones, he returns to thoughts of his life. In one of the best lines of the issue, he thinks of his most righteous moments of battle, and explains, “You remind yourself of these things to convince you have one more in you.” The flashbacks continue with the punches, culminating in my favorite page of the issue: just as Steve prepares to shuffle off this mortal coil, he declares that the last thing you see before death aren’t your victories or your regrets, but the people you loved and who loved you back. The art on the beautiful two-page splash, showing Steve’s finest moments and the people he loved, highlights what has always made Steve Rogers Marvel’s premiere hero: not his superhuman abilities, but his humanity.
This would be a good death for Steve Rogers. By his own account, he can die proud, happy, and know peace.
But Kobik extends her hand and tells him that that he doesn’t have to go, and that she can make him strong again. Steve was content to go down in battle, to die at the hands of a bully while attempting to protect an innocent. But this is Captain America, and while he may be willing to go down fighting, he’s only content with it if there isn’t another way.
The return of Steve Rogers as Captain America has seemed inevitable since the start of Avengers Standoff, but thanks to the stellar storytelling involved with Steve’s glimpse of death, it still feels like a surprise when Steve finally arrives in the final panel of the story. Whether the return of young Steve will be permanent or not remains to be seen – after all, the former inmates of Pleasant Hill were able to shed their Kobik-bestowed alterations, and the same might apply to Steve. For the moment, the reader can’t help but grin and agree with Steve when he declares, “It’s good to be back.”
Next up: Uncanny Avengers #8 and New Avengers #9 will be published on April 6th, and you can expect the continuation of the Avengers Standoff review shortly thereafter. Stay tuned for some non-Standoff material in the meantime!