In the wake of the “Hydra Cap” storyline and “Secret Empire’s” uh… decidedly mixed reception, it’s safe to say that Marvel felt Captain America’s image could use a little rehabilitation. But what creative team could be trusted with the task of getting Cap back to his old heroic standard? That would turn out to be the team supreme of Mark Waid and Chris Samnee. While Waid is responsible for what was probably best received run on “Cap” back in the 90’s, it was his work with Samnee on “Daredevil” and the underappreciated “Black Widow” that showed they can do no wrong while working at Marvel. So it’s no surprise that they were given “Captain America” both to let fans know that they’d be getting a take on the character they could believe in and to mark time while Ta-Nehisi Coates prepared his run with Lenil Yu.
“Home of the Brave” is an interesting result because it’s basically a book of two halves. The first involves Cap doing the kind of superhero stuff you’d expect him to. He visits a town he saved from a paramilitary organization ten years ago only to wind up saving them from a new and improved version of it again, matches wits with the latest incarnation of the Swordsman, and takes part in the Most Dangerous Game with Kraven the Hunter.
All of this falls perfectly within the genre confines of your average superhero comic of the “Captain America” variety. What keeps it from being boring is the effortlessly stylish art of Samnee and Waid’s attention to detail. Samnee has always shown that he knows how to lay out a comic in a way that’s easy and intuitive to follow and how to frame the action in a panel for maximum effect. Whether it’s a little girl stepping in front of Cap to try and protect him from a bad guy or Cap watching in horror as a dam’s floodgates open, Samnee knows how to get you invested in the action on visuals alone.
Fortunately he doesn’t have to do it by himself. Waid’s been writing superhero comics for a very long time and he knows the genre’s conventions as well as any writer. He doesn’t really try to subvert them here, but there are enough interesting details here to make these first three issues a fun read. Whether it’s the bit about the “icers” and the conspiracy theories surrounding his origin in the first issue, the Swordsman’s already-in-motion plan and Cap’s way to stop it, or the fact that we’ve never had a Cap vs. Kraven story before, these bits display some welcome cleverness and imagination that’s lacking from most Marvel comics I’ve been reading as of late.
That Kraven fight does lead into the volume’s second half as Cap winds up encased in ice and is revived to see that America has become a dystopia. After most of the superheroes died containing the fallout of a nuclear war, the paramilitary organization known as Rampart was able to seize power. Their leader, Maximillian Babbington, keeps his chosen elite in power while leaving the rest to subsist on scraps and state-run media to keep them all in fear. Cap is shocked to hear this and vows to lend his strength and, what he feels is most important, his knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights in order to help bring freedom back to all. That is, until we get the best twist of the story and he finds out just how far into the future he is.
Suffice to say, if it weren’t for the presence of Cap, and later Hulk and Thing, I’d have no problem believing that this story is offering a credible look into the near-future of America. If you’d rather not believe that, that’s an option as well. While Waid has made his thoughts on the current administration quite clear elsewhere, the political commentary here is kept entirely between-the-lines. If you want to read this story as one where Cap saves a future America from a fascist dystopia without any real connections to our current political climate then it’s really easy to do that.
Well, “saving” America is probably going a bit too far as the final issue makes it clear that for all of Cap’s skills even he has his limits. Sure, he can win any battle he’s up against, but he can’t fight them all at once. He’s a super-soldier, not a super-leader and the final act of this storyline is basically a tragedy as he comes to realize that and winds up taking the only way out he can. It’s not the happiest “Cap” story by a longshot. Yet it’s one that will stick in my mind for a while because of how it shows that he can fail while still remaining true to his character.
If you’re looking for an uplifting “Cap” story in the wake of “Secret Empire” then only half of “Home of the Brave” will fit the bill. Those of you looking for one that does full justice to all aspects of the character will definitely want to have this volume in their library.