Captain America: Steve Rogers #2
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Jesus Saiz
Letters by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
WARNING: Spoilers ahead.
“This is how I finally beat you, Herr Rogers.”
With the world still reeling from the debut’s momentous cliffhanger, Captain America: Steve Rogers #2 reveals how Nick Spencer is playing the long game. Told exclusively through the eyes of Cap’s bitter enemy, the Red Skull, this second issue reveals how he was able to quietly turn the Sentinel of Liberty into the greatest soldier Hydra has ever known. Along with Jesus Saiz, who makes the most out of the exposition-heavy script with eerie domestic scenes and a darkly funny bit of sudden violence, Spencer reminds his audience that his opening twist was only the beginning, and that he is just getting started.
Contrary to popular belief, Captain America: Steve Rogers #2 is not a course-correction or a backpedal on the part of Marvel editorial. (Honestly, if you think comic books can course-correct in that short of a time, I’ve got a Rainbow Bridge in Asgard to sell you.) Instead, Nick Spencer spends his sophomore issue with the Red Skull, showing how he was always working behind the curtain to corrupt Steve Rogers, whether we knew it or not. Though the actual reveal of the plot could have been condensed more while moving on to other plot development, this jaunt into recent history shows that this isn’t just another fly-by-night evil plan, as Skull is working toward long-term dominance instead of short-sighted gains. By revealing that the Skull had a hand in everything from the construction of Pleasant Hill, Kobik’s turning to Hydra, and even Steve Rogers’ return to his peak physical state, Spencer presents a fleshed-out if heavily-telegraphed gambit from Red Skull. But he also does something that has been sorely needed for a while now — he’s made Red Skull a major threat again.
The promise of Uncanny Avengers #1, which ended with a gory power-up for Schmidt, was never fully capitalized on, despite his being the big bad of the first arc and the bland Axis, but thankfully Steve Rogers #2 picks up that baton and sprints with it. Though the narration, Spencer allows this entire issue to function as one of Skull’s long-winded villain monologues, but he tempers it with a dark magnetism thanks to his allowing Skull to grow bored with his powerful abilities and creepy scenes of him connecting with the naive Kobik. Though Spencer’s wordy, recap-heavy script may read as a Wiki entry for a whole other series and possibly presents Skull as a more pedestrian version of the despot readers associate him as, this second issue gives us a look at the recent Avengers Standoff mini-event and Cap titles in a whole new perspective, strengthening Spencer’s long narrative thread. But more to the point, this reveal adds a new insidious edge to Red Skull, one that once again places him as a major threat for the Marvel Universe, and worse still, a patient one with a whole new set of tactics. The Skull finally has everything he has ever wanted and I’m not sure how Steve can overcome.
While #2 isn’t as bombastic as the debut, artist Jesus Saiz still finds room to shine, particularly in the scenes focused on the Red Skull. Starting with a dinner that Red Skull finds bland and responds to by making the dinner staff turn pistols on themselves, Saiz leans into the macabre humor of Spencer’s script. This scene, which shouldn’t be funny in the least, prompts a shocked chortle thanks to Saiz starting off with a widescreen panel of six chefs calmly blowing their brains out, punctuated with a thin dialogue bubble of Red Skull sighing from letterer Joe Caramagna. After this grisly display, Saiz gets truly dark as the Skull settles into a creepy, domestic role as he molds Kobik to his will, warmly reading the history of Hydra to her as a bedtime story. Though it doesn’t have any explosions or grand set pieces, Captain America: Steve Rogers #2 will always stay with me just for the image of the Red Skull sweetly smiling and discussing terrorism with a small child.
Evil has the upper hand in Captain America: Steve Rogers, and I don’t know how the white hats can recover. As Spencer lays out his long-term narrative threads, this second issue’s biggest selling point is setting up a huge hurdle for Steve Rogers — we know he will overcome eventually, but breaking free of his newly implanted backstory feels like a challenge worthy of his time, more akin to being trapped in time itself and rather than going back to the old well of having to just punch out a racist. Nick Spencer and Jesus Saiz, though largely occupied by narrative bricklaying, present an epic problem for Cap, and a very interesting discussion about his character as a whole.