As I sat down to write this, I threw my mind back to Secret Empire, an event that shook the Marvel Universe and its fan base to their very core by asking a fatal question: What if Steve Rogers sided with the bad guys? Nick Spencer took us on a rollercoaster of a journey and one thing I was left with following its dramatic conclusion was an intense desire to see how the true Steve Rogers would carry this awful legacy with him. Can even a man as strong as Steve Rogers bear this immense burden?
Thus, I decided to give Captain America a go. I went into #695 with high expectations: Not only was I hoping for an exploration of the impact Secret Empire would have on ol’ Steve but Mark Waid and Chris Samnee would be guiding him through his journey (For those less familiar with this dynamic duo, I would recommend giving their Daredevil run a go. I place a huge amount of gratitude on their work for getting me into comics). With their first arc complete, where is Steve Rogers now?
First a summary of the arc. Following the transformative events of the past year and a bit, Steve Rogers has decided to hit the road on a quest to redeem his name. On his travels he comes toe-to-toe with the likes of the Swordsman, Rampart and Kraven the Hunter. With innocents’ lives on the line, can Captain America be the hero the people need once more?
I am, to some extent, on the fence with Home of the Brave. At face value, it struck me as story that was simply pandering to the more… Upset, let’s say, with Captain America’s apparent betrayal of his core values and beliefs. What Waid and Samnee present is a story which reminds fans exactly the sort of man Captain America is: Noble, Courageous and Humble. It was, in effect, an apologetic love letter to Cap’s long term fans who hadn’t quite been on board with the whole Secret Empire “nonsense”, as some may like to refer to it as.
My biggest issue with this that it feels somewhat spineless. Secret Empire was, in my personal opinion, an epic that explored what it meant to be a hero and the perspective of those deemed evil by society. Having read Home of the Brave one can’t help but say “Secret What?” Sure, it is vaguely brushed upon here and there but for all intents and purposes it may as well not have happened. However, I have an incredibly biased view on all things Secret Empire and an equally poor background knowledge of Captain America’s indisputably rich history in which many find strength and hope. In that respect, I can accept that perhaps this isn’t necessarily the story I wanted but one that, just maybe, was needed.
Steve Rogers has taken off on a tour of the country he has nobly served for much of his adult life. It’s on this tour that we see him actually connect with the public outside the Manhattan circle that he spends a fair share of his time in alongside his fellow heroes. In that respect, we are reminded that he is very much the people’s hero, an idea conveyed in the sweet, if somewhat corny, recounts of civilians who Cap has saved at one point or another (Perhaps my favourite part of #695, truth be told). He is, for all intents and purposes, a man doing his gosh-darn best with the gifts he has to serve others: a noble cause if ever I saw one.
After months of controversy, I can also appreciate the need to take one of their flagship characters back to his roots (The whole ‘Legacy’ theme further supporting this). If it’s taking on villains or rescuing civilians, Steve Rogers has always been the moral compass of the Marvel Universe and that idea was challenged to the extreme. One of the more enjoyable aspects of this new run is the accounts of the creative teams feelings towards Captain America. Titled “What does Captain America mean to you?” one can’t help but smile at the impact this character has had on so many, something that again reminds why this sort of story is perhaps needed. For long-term fans who felt cut off from their beloved icon, this is definitely a story worth getting into.
Samnee’s art, as always, is simply sublime. Every time I see his name on the cover I know I’m in for a treat. His more simplistic style of illustration is simply awesome but, being quite as uneducated in art commentary as I am, that doesn’t really convey the true wonder I have when flicking through pages carefully drawn by him. He captures key moments perfectly, helping the already seamless writing of Waid come to life.
Secret Empire had some real-world parallels that made it such a delightfully uncomfortable read but I think their is similar merit in in the message Home of the Brave tries to convey. It is, at its heart, a reminder of what it is to be a decent human being. From the get-go Steve reminds us to that “The strong protect the weak”, a message he plays out in the following issues whilst saving those in peril (Somewhat clichéd but, again, sort of necessary). You can take this one way or another but I believe the intended message is that it is our responsibility, our duty if you will, to look out for those worse off than us. This can come in a great multitude of forms but at it heart it is just about helping those in need. Whilst he may be Captain America, his message should speak to us all.
Overall, if you’re a long-term fan of the character, I believe you’ll find solace in what Waid and Samnee have crafted with their first arc. If you are a fan of Secret Empire looking for an effective ‘Trial of Captain America’, I would argue that you should read this anyway but prepare for something that may not be what you were expecting. In these more what-I-can-only-describe as rather sombre times, Home of the Brave is a reminder that the power to make a difference lies in us all. Who better to remind us than the ol’ Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty himself?