Panelology is a weekly podcast about comics. We talk about current books, what we're looking forward to, and how to get into reading comics in the first place.

Captain America: Steve Rogers: "Hail Hydra" (Marvel Comics, 2016; #1-6)

Hey, everybody!  Welcome to Part Two of my accidental Two-Part Focus on Nick Spencer books!  This time, let’s talk about a story that had angry villagers sharpening their pitchforks* in 2016: The Tale of Captain Steve!

Unless your own super-power is avoiding spoilers—and if it is, I'm going to need you to help me recreate whatever circumstances endowed you with such capabilities—you have probably heard that the original** Captain America has fallen in with a bad crowd.  Nick Spencer’s rejuvenated Steve Rogers now plays a more ambitious Darth Vader to the Red Skull’s Emperor Palpatine.  The result is a book that is tense and timely.

Oh, and Taskmaster is in it.  If someone had told me that, I’d have read it month-to-month.

The reason I only picked up the first couple of issues was one of pacing.  Revealing Steve’s allegiance at the end of the first issue felt unearned at first; however, having read the first volume now, that is less of an issue for me.  I was trying to read Captain America: Steve Rogers as a spy thriller; while those elements are definitely present, social commentary truly drives the book.

Spencer's primary focus is addressing the seething discontent that leads regular people to espouse dangerous, hateful values and how that festers into a movement.  It is uncomfortable, and intentionally so—it becomes metaphor for the xenophobic, supremacist politics that have bubbled to the surface in the US and elsewhere.  And in doing so, it demonstrates that if you looked for the signs they were there all along.

It can be a lot to process, but it is fascinating and engaging.  There are still flashes of Steve being human, and there are times when he does things that are unthinkable in the name of simple efficiency.  Killing becomes a first solution instead of a last resort if doing so keeps his own actions in the shadows.  Steve's representation as the best of the best becomes nostalgia; the danger of letting nostalgia override the present is that evil may triumph.  No matter who wins, victory comes with a cost, so it is hard to root for anyone.

Except Taskmaster.  For now, my money’s on the Master of Tasks.

As for the art—much like Black Widow, Captain America: Steve Rogers relies on restrained in a palette of mostly reds, whites, and blues (with grays and red highlights reserved for Steve’s new past).  The line work is clean and realistic.  Faces are particularly important; the book is one of strong emotion—fear, anger, hatred.  (Also, while rotating art teams can be distracting sometimes, this is not one of those times, so don’t worry about that.)

Unless you just can’t stomach the book’s basic premise, I recommend the book.  Yes, it’s dark.  No, it’s not necessarily what you expect in a Captain America book.  That’s okay.  Different takes on characters can be good, and this one is.  Plus, you need more Taskmaster in your life.

*If you were one of those villagers, two quick things—one:  always read the book before sharpening your pitchforks.  Two:  put the pitchforks down anyway.  C’mon, a comic book isn’t going to ruin your childhood.  It’s still as it was, and so are all the comics you read then; you can reread them, I promise.  The only person whose childhood was caught in the crossfire of this book was Steve’s.

**Don’t forget: Sam Wilson is also still Captain America in his own title, which is a subject for another day.

Collected in

  • Captain America: Steve Rogers, Vol. 1: Hail Hydra [#1-6, Free Comic Book Day 2016 (Captain America) #1]
  • I would put money on a hardcover sometime around mid-2017 that collects the first 12 or so issues.

Credits

Writer: Nick Spencer | Artists: Jesús Saiz (1-3, FCBD ’16), Javier Pina (4-6), Miguel Sepulveda (4) | Colorists: Jesús Saiz (1-3, FCBD ‘16, Rachelle Rosenberg (4-6) | Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna | Covers: Jesús Saiz (1-3, FCBD ’16), Aaron Kuder & Tamra Bonvillan (4), Paul Renaud (5-6) | Assistant Editor: Alanna Smith | Editor: Tom Brevort

Birthright: “Homecoming” (Image Comics, 2014; #1-5)

The Fix: "Where Beagles Dare" (Image Comics, 2016; #1-4)