Generations: Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers #1
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Paul Renaud and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 3 out of 10
Our long national nightmare is over, but Nick Spencer still has one more time at bat with Generations: Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers #1. Fully leaning into the Twilight Zone-esque story capabilities of the Vanishing Point, Spencer ends his run with a mournful, maudlin take on Sam Wilson getting to live a life unburdened by the shadow of Steve Rogers. While that may sound like a novel idea, in the hands of Spencer, who has also just finished turning in one of the more tone-deaf comic runs in recent memory, the tale reads tinny and clashes wildly with the Sam Wilson he had delivered before now. Couple that with hazy, low-impact artwork from a usually stellar Paul Renaud and you have a Generations issue that amounts to little more than a star-spangled dud.
That all may sound a little harsh, but Nick Spencer does manage to mine some genuine pathos out of his man-out-of-time story. For all his missteps, Spencer’s Steve has always seemed remarkably grounded, all things considered, and his Generations story delivers more of the same. When Sam and Steve meet in this special, Sam finds not the legendary super-soldier, but just a scared kid from Brooklyn, barely holding it together in the face of World War II. This also reveals another layer of emotion to Sam as he gets to live in Steve’s time and see how irresistible the call to action really was in the face of encroaching fascism.
But Generations: Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers’ problems are far too deep for some character moments to be able to fully fix. Just as a concept, Spencer’s story is clunky at best. While other heroes got to join their legacy counterparts on breezy adventures or 'teachable' moments disguised as splashy comic book action, Sam Wilson is, for some odd reason, turned toward a more peaceful life; one that somehow makes him bear witness to Cap’s highlight reel of a life, completely away from the action and a complete reversal of both the Sam Wilson we all know as well as the characterization Spencer had established thus far.
The time travel mechanics of the story I can gloss over, as this is comic books, but the abrupt about face in Sam Wilson’s personality is a little harder to justify, as is Spencer’s decision to turn him into a stock black character from a schmaltzy war-time tearjerker. Not only does Sam get to serve with an all-black regiment, but he also retires to become a preacher, and wouldn’t you know it, he also gets involved in the Civil Rights movement. Now I 1,000% agree that Sam is one for social activism, but not activism that betrays his character in service of getting him to give up the shield. Nick Spencer’s Captain America run has courted controversy since the jump as it’s been less "Star-Spangled Banner" and more collection of red flags, and this Generations issue keeps the streak alive right up until the bitter end.
Even more damning is the muddy, rigid art from Paul Renaud. Though given a stony warmth from colorist Laura Martin, who thrives in the 1940s setting, Renaud’s art never really comes to life fully when it needs to, making the quieter moments of the issue fall even flatter. In the trenches however, Renaud’s talent is on full display as he delivers powerful tableaus throughout Cap’s career, including the first Civil War and a cameo from the Invaders. Unfortunately, that’s where Generations’ spark ends as the lower-key scenes reveal a blocky stiffness to Renaud’s artwork making the rest of the issue’s vignettes feel wooden and hollow; the problems of the script drifting into the artwork. Paul Renaud and Laura Martin are fantastically talented artists, but no amount of pulpy action, warm colors, and Namor cameos were going to save Generations: Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers, even as I do admire their efforts.
But in many ways, Generations: Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers does feel representative of Nick Spencer’s Captain America run as a whole, in the fact that it’s a story that has the best of intentions, but one that is brought down by the shakiest of executions. And that doesn’t even begin to cover the other loose threads this issue leaves hanging: if Sam has been around since the ‘40s, why didn’t he stop any number of disasters? Or even the first superhero Civil War? Or even Cap Wolf?! And did he think so little of his life that he was able to just abandon being a superhero in the present and the family he left behind in the past? As far as capstones to an entire run of comics, this finale can’t help but be a little mind-boggling. Generations: Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers #1 won’t be for everybody. Hell, it may not be for anybody, but at least now Sam and Steve can dust off their old costumes and see what the future holds for them beyond the Vanishing Points, Secret Empires, and Hydra-Steves of the world.