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Captain America #25
Writer: Robert Morales
Artist: Chris Bachalo

In September 2001, Captain America was in the middle of a 4 part arc called "America Lost." It pitted Cap and the Avengers against Red Skull and Hate-Monger in a story that was supposed to be about fighting bigotry, but turned out to be another big team-up involving the Cosmic Cube. It was a pretty standard Captain America storyline.

Then, in the real world, al-Qaeda rammed two jets into the heart of Manhattan.

In an uncharacteristic display of wisdom, Marvel wrapped Captain America volume 3 at issue #50 three months later and took Cap back to basics, shedding most of the elements of the Marvel Universe that made his patriotic message ring so hollow and restarting the series as a Marvel Knights title. The first issue of Captain America volume 4 was possibly the greatest 9/11 comic ever made.

But, like all things (especially those from Marvel), it wasn't to last. Cap eventually learned the terrorists he was fighting were merely pawns of a supervillain, uber-artist John Cassaday left at issue #6, and, two months later, writing duties were handed over to Chuck Austen (you may boo… now). The series rapidly descended into battles with Atlanteans and Thunder Gods, and a big "ho-hum" was had by all.

The current arc, however, has gone where no recent Captain America storyline even considered, having Cap hunting for al-Qaeda terrorists escaped from Guantanamo Bay, struggling with the Cuban soldiers assigned to work with him, and revisiting the darker side of the modern American military.

Having taken down the terrorists in the last issue, Cap suddenly found himself at the unfriendly end of one of his Cuban partners' rifle while she proclaimed al-Qaeda's local bioweapon stockpile property of the Cuban people. Cap, of course, saw things differently and set off a S.H.I.E.L.D. transmitter that would microwave the immediate area in eight minutes, irradiating the viruses in the canisters, yet at the same time giving Castro the impression that he'd nabbed a major weapons cache from right under the U.S.'s nose.

A few microwaved buildings and a hearty handshake with ol' Fidel later, Cap finally speaks with Prof. Hedayat (an Iranian-American falsely accused of being an Al-Qaida operative) and we learn that Hedayat fell into all this by supporting an international legal defense fund for Arabs that turned out to not be so innocent as he had hoped. Still, he intends to return to the United States to reclaim his citizenship; after all, America is his "homeland". The story then closes with a party and a few reflections on America the government, America the country, and America the people while Cap's new Cuban buddies bask in the glow of Telemundo.

Like so much of the "Homeland" arc, this issue struck an odd balance. The rapid ending to last month's cliffhanger with the S.H.I.E.L.D. transmitter was far too rushed (we're talking five pages, two of which are lost to a splash panel). More than this, it felt like most of the issue was trying to tie up loose ends and get the hell out of there, so it's kind of hard to imagine what will happen next in the series. Does the end result of this have any big impact on Cap? Well, he may have gotten a reminder of past lessons learned, and he may have acquired a new girlfriend (again), but, when other Marvel characters have been declaring themselves gods, taking advantage of their godhood, seeing their own deaths, or just plain dying, it seems like Captain America is treading water, plot-wise. There's no denying that Cap is tackling some tough issues lately, but will they amount to anything in the next arc?

What does seem to be building is the sense that the book is about America. Cap has been around since the Golden Age, starting life as a propaganda tool and later, in his finest hours, asking the hard questions about who we are and whether the dream he fights for is still out there or if he's just another Don Quixote chasing windmills. Yet Cap is probably one of the most mistreated major heroes out there (Hal Jordan aside), and few writers delve into all the topical material he has to offer. Honestly, in a time when our country's going nuts trying to figure out what the hell we want, should Captain AMERICA be running around fighting flavor-of-the-month supervillains? The fact that they moved the book to the Knights line suggests otherwise.

Robert Morales work on the series is the best since John Ney Reiber restarted the book, but the title needs to finally address that hard question of whether Cap should interact with the rest of the Marvel Universe. Now that the days of tight cross-continuity are behind us (unless we're supposed to believe nobody outside their own books noticed when Magneto took over New York, when Thor did the same, or what Reed Richards did in Latveria), the title doesn't need to involve the Avengers any more, and it really shouldn't. Captain America, much like Batman, works best in his own book when allowed to be what he truly is: an American who must also be the personification of America.

"Homeland" is a big step, but the trick, now, is to make it last. Cap needs to keep asking the hard questions and fighting those internal and external battles. He needs to be more than just another superhero.

Then, Cap needs to take it to the next level.

Cap needs to go to Iraq.


Jason Schachat

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