Monday, 23 January 2017

Captain America: Steve Rogers, Volume 1: Hail Hydra Review (Nick Spencer, Jesus Saiz)

Following Avengers Standoff, Steve Rogers is young and hunky again thanks to the cosmic cube kid Kobik – except Kobik, secretly coerced by the Red Skull, not only made Steve young again but made another major change that fundamentally altered his character. (Hail Hydra.)

I can’t really talk about this one without going into spoiler territory so: SPOILSIES AHEAD!

That said, the first issue of this book caused a helluva lot of hubbub for Marvel when it came out last May so some of you might already know what’s up. Cap is now gay for pay part of Hydra. Hydra being Marvel’s version of the Nazis, the choice was largely considered in poor taste given that Cap’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, were both Jewish. Turning Cap into a Nazi and on his 75th birthday?! Marvel were desperate to offset some of the attention from Geoff Johns’ DC Universe Rebirth #1 (which was released on the same day as Captain America: Steve Rogers #1), and, while it worked, this seemed to be going too far for some.

Though I can understand the criticism behind the choice, I wasn’t getting my knickers in a twist over it. It’s just superhero bullshit, it doesn’t mean anything – it’s just cynically designed to grab headlines and generate sales (check and check), and there’ll be a reasonable-ish explanation over what happened (also check) before the status quo is restored. The premise was actually the only part of this book that I thought was interesting – my main problem was how most of this volume is plain boring!

Nick Spencer weaves a ponderous and rather unexciting story from Cap’s secret Hydra roots. Sharon Carter (who’s suddenly old for some reason) is on Capitol Hill trying to expand SHIELD’s powers while Maria Hill waits to go on trial for Pleasant Hill (see Avengers Standoff). Meanwhile Steve is secretly furthering Hydra’s resurgence while also plotting against Red Skull.

There are extensive flashbacks to Steve’s new past as a kid in 1920s Brooklyn when Hydra first took an interest in him which had the stereotypical drunk/abusive father figure and an unexciting entry into Hydra’s world. Is it necessary to go so in-depth into this fake history if it’s only going to inevitably get retconned? It doesn’t even have entertainment value.

Factor in Spencer’s usual verbosity and overwriting (several pages are devoted to a single Hydra stooge’s autobio only for him to kill himself immediately after – what was the point??) and it’s a slow-moving, dull read.

Things go from bad to worse halfway through when Civil War II intrudes and steps all over the Hydra storyline. I am so fed up with stupid events fucking up neighbouring books like a mushroom cloud of shit! Bah. Anyway, if you don’t want to be spoiled before reading that event book, avoid this one as it gives away two major character deaths. It’s amusing to see also that this is the second Civil War II tie-in that references Minority Report, which is basically what that story is ripping off – Rick Jones incredulously asks something like “Really, has no-one seen Minority Report?!”

Jesus Saiz’s art is solid and I like Cap’s new shield, an appropriate callback to his original WW2 shield given his 75th anniversary. His famous circular shield is with Sam Wilson who’s currently sharing the mantle of Captain America, hence the “Captain America: Steve Rogers” distinction in the title. 

The story has a couple of interesting moments and it has the potential to be good but very little happens in this one, despite the extra-long issues, making for a largely dreary comic. The Civil War II sidetrack was an unwelcome divergence too. Captain America: Steve Rogers, Volume 1: Hail Hydra is a disappointing celebratory book for this iconic and beloved character. Happy belated 75th (76th this year), Steve – you deserved better!

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