Captain America #2 treads water while delving into the title character’s anxieties, and ends up feeling overwhelming and tedious as a result.
I’m not sure I’m a fan of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Captain America. Not that it’s entirely the writer’s fault – his Cap has inherited an America that is already deeply mistrustful of him. Only a year prior, in continuity terms, he took over the country as the head of Hydra. People not unlike the face-painted Nuke clones, who were the villains in the opening issue and here again in Captain America #2, have fought and died for the country whose flag obscured their greatest enemy.
But in Captain America #2, the title character’s self-loathing inner monologue, well-written though it might be, becomes tedious – and it comprises most of the issue. You can see why a man so desperate for the adoration of others wouldn’t take kindly to their resentment of him, but he doesn’t half drone on about it. Perhaps it wouldn’t be quite so grating if anything else of note was occurring in the issue, but Captain America #2 is devoted almost entirely to bellyaching.
I get Captain America’s frustration with a world on fast-forward, and with a populace who need protection but aren’t willing to accept it from him. The issue’s underlying theme is that of a man defined by a refusal to quit being constantly met with rejection. Thaddeus Ross and the American government don’t want him; and they don’t want him running off on his own, either. What’s a man to do other than pity himself, spar himself, torture himself? Who is Captain America without an America to protect?
These are compelling questions, but Captain America #2 doesn’t answer them satisfactorily. It barely moves beyond simply presenting them. The odd panels spared for classic Cap iconography – him sitting astride the star-adorned motorcycle, say, or diving headlong at the reader, shield first – help to distract from the tedium, but they’re too infrequent to do so reliably, and the intriguing plot development in the final panel is too little too late.
All the pieces are here. I know Ta-Nehisi Coates is a good writer, if not necessarily of Captain America then in general. Leinil Francis Yu’s art style suits the material well, and an America in tacky social decline is a compelling one for Cap to inhabit. But Captain America #2 is a slow-burning second chapter that needed a real spark to give the new issue numbering some complementary new life. Third time lucky, maybe.