Captain America: Sam Wilson #3 “Howling Commando”

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Captain America: Sam Wilson #3

Written By: Nick Spencer

Art By: Daniel Acuna

Release Date: 11/18/15

Where to even begin with this issue? The first couple issues of Captain America: Sam Wilson were well-written, socially relevant and contained enough biting political commentary to warrant the scorn of Fox News. As someone who appreciates sharp political discourse and the intersection of comic book culture and mainstream pop culture at large, I was completely on board.

But this issue goes so all-out bonkers on just about every front that I had to read the whole thing through twice just to get my bearings. If the first two issues of Captain America: Sam Wilson felt inspired by CNN’s homepage (the subplot on immigration feels even more relevant given recent events), this issue feels inspired by The X-Files. Last month, I said I was surprised this title was open to using a concept as awesomely weird as Wilson’s canonical psychic connection to birds. In this issue, an avian psychic connection is about the most normal thing going on.

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To be honest, it took me a minute to catch up. Of late, Captain America titles have been so associated with comic book gravitas that I wasn’t really ready for a campy throwback to Marvel’s pulpier days, though in retrospect, I should have been. Nick Spencer has always had an affinity for the bygone days of flat-out gonzo comic book storylines.

And although it’s not often associated with his current iteration, Captain America has some mighty strange history. While Ed Brubaker’s iconic run pretty definitively established Captain America as a grounded, political title, earlier iterations (and even Rick Remender’s subsequent one) dove into some wonky sci-fi plots. The issue at hand deals with one of the wonkiest: Cap-Wolf. See, back in 1992, the villainous Nightshade injected Steve Rogers wi …you know what? Who cares. Captain America spent four issues (4!) as a werewolf.

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(“SVIIIIKS!” indeed.)

That storyline can be chalked up to the early ’90s being a weird time, but Spencer subjects Sam Wilson to same thing via Dr. Malus’ genetic experimentation. Sam, hot on Malus’ trail after learning that he was behind the immigrant kidnappings from last issue, busts into Malus’ lair expecting an easy fight. What he doesn’t know is that Malus survived a tussle with Carnage a few years ago, and took on a few of the Symbiote’s most meddlesome traits. Daniel Acuna crafts some genuinely disturbing imagery out of this.

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(Dr. Malus: A man who knows what he wants.)

Cut to Misty Knight breaking in, looking to rescue Cap from Malus’ clutches, only to find Malus gone and Sam incapacitated, in full command of his senses, and transformed into a lycanthrope.

The conceit works for one reason and one reason only: the creative team’s willingness to treat it all with tongue firmly in cheek. Misty, in particular, is unabashedly delighted by the entire affair, and it’s a joy to behold. I mentioned in my last review that I was anxious for Misty to get in on more of the action, and Spencer delivers in a big way here. She’s clearly acting as the reader’s stand-in, both unable to quite believe what she’s seeing but more than willing to enjoy it while she can. By entirely bypassing the tiresome horrified shrieks and fretting about how they’re going to get Cap back to normal, Spencer’s able to get right to the good stuff. Upon witnessing Sam’s transformation, Misty’s first words are “If we don’t get you onto the court, there’s no way the Beavers win the big game” and if I could, I’d drive over to Nick Spencer’s house and shake his hand just for that.

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(Marry me, Misty.)

From there, it’s off to find Malus, free the kidnapped immigrants and, most pressingly, save a captured Redwing. This is Acuna’s time to shine, and he has a ball drawing the freshly lupine Sam soaring over New York City (when life gives you a chance to draw a werewolf Captain America who can also fly, you squeeze every last drop out of it). Acuna also gets to show off his knack for with bizarre with some of Malus’ other genetic experiments.

Spencer matches Acuna’s very fun artwork with his sharpest dialog yet. In an issue filled with diabolical scientists and werewolf superheroes, the banter still stands out as a highlight. Malus is a surprising treat as well, deploying some deliciously self-aware quips (he gets peeved when Cap addresses him without the honorific “Dr.” “You’d like it if I went around calling you Sam America?”)

It’s all over in pretty short order—almost too short, given how much time the first couple of issues devoted to setting all this up. Scientists assure Sam that his werewolf condition is “temporary,” so he’ll probably be back to his old self by the next issue. But then again, if Marvel is feeling brave enough to transform one of their flagship characters into a werewolf on the third issue of his new run, why not stretch it out a little?

It’s all just fun, and although it edges the overarching plot forward only incrementally—we learn that Malus was actually working for one of the oldest thorns in Steve Rogers’ side—it shows that Spencer and Acuna are more than happy to continue toying with convention. Three issues in, and they’ve already gone political thriller, sci-fi throwback and even intimate drama, but it all feels like part of the same book. This is a title that wants to keep you guessing and even though most of me is anxious for Sam and Steve to get in the same room and start working through their differences, a big part of me hopes the next issue opens with Sam still being a werewolf. And what I love most of all is that neither scenario would surprise me.

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