It’s a mighty American twofer in Captain America #0, a primer issue setting Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson off into their own star-spangled adventures.
With Sam Wilson now the sole Captain America in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it makes sense that the folks on the comics side of the company would want to return him to that status quo, especially given how contentious—putting it mildly—that era was for him. Setting aside the obvious racism, it also had the misfortune of being followed by iffy creative decisions that overshadowed the whole endeavor. Remember the whole “Hydra Cap” controversy? Did you even know that happened simultaneously with Sam as Captain America? You’d honestly be forgiven if you didn’t. There was also the less-than-ideal choice to have him handled by two white writers throughout that entire process. A classic story in cape comics: good ideas marred by not-great execution.
With all that being said, Captain America #0 promises to be the start of a new run that sees Sam reclaiming the shield alongside Steve, not instead of him, and I’m fairly certain there won’t be any reality-warping Hydra shenanigans this time around. This oversized one-shot will actually diverge into two separate titles, Captain America: Symbol of Truth (Sam’s story) and Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty (Steve’s story), with the writers of both accounted for here in this quasi-crossover. Would a cynic point out that Nick Spencer also took this approach with his expanded Captain America run to mixed results? Probably. But based on this first issue, I have a little more faith that writers Tochi Onyebuchi, Jackson Lanzing, and Collin Kelly won’t steer these characters into such messy ends.
The issue itself doesn’t take much explaining: Steve and Sam respond to yet another supervillain-related crisis, who in this instance is the stalwart baddie Arnim Zola. They have to work together to take him down and save the day, which—spoiler alert?—they do. But what happens in this issue plot-wise is less interesting than the potential of this dual run starting here.
Something working in this issue’s favor is how matter-of-factly it establishes that Sam is back in the Captain America colors. There’s no real buildup or elaborate explanation as to why he’s decided to be Captain America again. (If you need that, check out this year’s edition of Marvel’s Voices: Legacy.) The lack of preamble allows the writers to cut straight to the action, demonstrating why Steve and Sam are such a great team together and how both of them being Captain America doesn’t actually undermine either because they represent different things.
Steve symbolizes the fantasy of the American dream; the platonic ideal of what America should be. Sam symbolizes the imperfection of the American dream; the reality that some Americans are valued more than others. It’s a dichotomy that shouldn’t be ignored as both creative teams proceed forward. It also seems that each title will have its own mission statement to differentiate it from the other. Sam’s looks to be more globetrotting and forward-thinking in regards to America’s complicated history in the world, while Steve’s will tackle the sins of America’s past and how they (increasingly) affect the present. If you’re going to give two characters with the same name their own monthly titles, that’s a solid way to structure it.
Instead of pooling the art of R.B. Silva (Symbol of Truth) and Carmen Carnero (Sentinel of Liberty) together for this issue, the job instead goes to Mattia de Iulis, who’s really made a name for himself over the past few years with his gorgeous, painterly art that possesses astonishing realism. It makes sense that they would seek a third option here rather than cross-stitching two separate artists, making for a more cohesive look throughout the issue, but it’s almost something of a detracting point because of how much I would’ve loved to see his art on either title. A rare case of almost being too good.