Last Wednesday, as the New Comic Book Day hashtag began to flood my feed, other headlines began to trend. I realized with the dull exasperation of a casual Marvel fan that it was that time of the month again: that rat bastard (if his detractors are to be believed) Nick Spencer, had a new issue of Captain America: Sam Wilson on the shelf. People were already decrying #17 and I didn't even have pants on. Outrage of that caliber usually drives me to side with the harried artist, and I hadn't read Cap consistently since Rieber and Cassaday, way back in 2002. But a number of Marvel editors have passed down decrees that every issue is someone's first, so why couldn't I just dive in, opine on the uproar, and judge the issue on its own merits? I added to cart.
The uproar was entirely called for. What Nick Spencer has done is ridiculous. He has besmirched the good name of Falcon and there can be no forgiveness. The new Falcon's costume is puke green and he (not the costume) has big, red, disturbing bug eyes and regenerative abilities, courtesy of genetic experimentation. He's Abelardo (the Big Bird of Mexico), if Abelardo worked out a little and hung out with Captain America instead of a trash monster (or whatetever Oscar's equivalent is on Plaza Sesamo). He's what would happen if one of the guys from The Wiggles and a parrot had an abomindable baby. His name is Joaquin Torres, he's 17, Mexican, and a vampire-bird/man hybrid. What? Shennanigans! This isn't Falcon! Who signed off on this googly-eyed weirdo? Apparently, not even Sam Wilson. So, what's really going on here? Is nothing sacrosanct? Cap's a Nazi, and now Falcon is -what? Part vampire-bird guy, part symbol of immigrant heritage. Joaquin's green costume and insectoid eyes resemble a common, albeit cartoonish depiction of el chupacabra. But there already is an El Chupacabra in Earth-616, and the legendary creature itself has even reared its goat-sucking head. So, Joaquin is stuck with the sobriquet, Falcon, vampiric abilities, and a personality so strongly reminiscent of the second Robin, Jason Todd that, if not for his regenerative abilities, I would assume his brash attitude foreshadows his impending sudden demise, that I feel every bit in sync with Sam Wilson's curmudgeonly age. Joaquin isn't here for me. He's here to become part of the next generation of heroes (as El Chupacabra. That is a hill I am prepared to die on).
But enough digression, onward, to the issue itself!
The recap page is pretty encouraging. It's one of the most innovative uses of space in Marvel comics: in-universe takes on Twitter and a CNN-inspired screenshot with ticker-tape headlines set the tone of bizarre ("Misty Knight exposes Life Model Decoy sex tape ring") and politically-minded ("Is Captain America's New Partner An Illegal Immigrant?) from the jump. Anecdotal references crop up in conversations and Sam imparts exposition in narration boxes that build a similar structure around the issue and act as a scene transition device. Whenever Sam takes flight, you can expect insecure commentary and flashbacks to drop in, fast forwarding you to the next scene and enticing you to back issues for a look at the wild toy box Spencer has been playing in, while Cap fans screamed for his dismissal. One such example involves an exchange between New Warrior-alum Rage and Joaquin - "When I was fighting the Americops, you flew me away and threw me onto a radio antenna." "Yeah, okay--but then I got you free wrestling tickets." I would have rather read that issue, by the sound of it, than this one, which spends so many pages in a quagmire of superhero self-doubt and hand-wringing. Sam's narration is burdened by conscience and duty and will be familiar to anyone that's read a Spider-title, Morales or Parker.
By the time Ann Coulter stand-in (or name your favorite conservative, attractive, blonde talking head), Ariella Conner, asks a broadcast audience, "When will the new Falcon be deported?", the awkwardness of a white former-politician writing the political opinions of minority characters facing issues that mirror real world politics is impossible to ignore. But the beat passes and, instead, foreshadows the buzzword diarrhea in the third act. After the broadcast, Sam worries about Joaquin's status in the country. Joaquin assures him that he's protected, "like one of those Dreamers." What are the Dreamers, you ask? Well, I'm not going to tell you, because Joaquin doesn't know, either, and I bet five bucks Spencer suspects you've heard the term, hence its placement here.
With Rage accompanying him, Joaquin flies to Empire State University to give Ariella Conner a piece of his mind - but not so fast, Ariella's smug rebuttal- The Mary Sue comment section has arrived to wreck your shit. They're called the Bombshells (and they're what you really came here to talk about, amirite?)and what they are is the product of someone Googling "millennial fashion trends" and charting Nick Spencer's Twitter feed for the last fourteen months. They lob grenades and hashtaggable slogans, posing like Power Rangers and berating the heroes for getting in their way. Rage and Joaquin make short work of the radicals, (Ariella isn't grateful, but who cares, she'll probably turn out to be a Hydra agent, anyway), and the issue ends with Sam descending from the sky to bless the whole mess: Joaquin defended the conservative talking head from the radical college liberals despite agreeing with the Bombshells on an academic level. Joaquin's put in his place, apparently, after having chastised Sam for taking a similar position in the past. I have to wonder how often Spencer had to cross out his own name and write Sam Wilson or Ugly Bug Falcon on his script, because this is assuredly a writer taking the piss. Is it harmful? What am I, the surgeon general?
There's so much here to pique my interest: Sam can see through Redwing's eyes; Joaquin, Sam, and Redwing share a telepathic connection; Joaquin, Sam, and Rage went to a wrestling match - Rage had popcorn; the return of Capwolf, for chrissake; multiple references to the Americops, who dress like Hellboy Universe hench-Nazi Karl Kroenen, but none of that is present in this issue. Instead, we get self-referential banter -"Waah, waah, why don't white people like me," Joaquin taunts in a pretty amusing moment- and Joaquin's zeal, compelling him to retort to Ariella in person, culminating in the only linear action beat in the issue, which Spencer uses to ridicule his most vocal critics. My self-imposed goal was to read Spencer's Cap blissfully unprepared and to see how it held up. Considering how entertained I was by the absurdity and the madcap asides to other issues in the series, I can't say it wasn't a worthwhile experience. I enjoyed it, despite or perhaps because it implied so vehemently that I had just missed a really amusing anecdote or an exciting thrill. The pervasive "you had to be there" vibe is an appealing tease, but the issue felt ultimately skippable.
If you're on a budget, I'd suggest waiting for the trade or trying out #18. The last few pages of this issue lead to an abduction and the return of the jackbooted Americops, so maybe #18 will be the exciting and story-driven ride that this issue implied the previous sixteen were. As for myself, I might read the next issue, if only to see if Spencer's expended all of his aggravation on the Bombshells, or to see if the bird/vampire/man Falcon appropriates a better moniker. El Chupacabra, Spencer. Come on, it's much more fun to say.