Captain America: Sam Wilson #4
Written By: Nick Spencer
Art By: Paul Renaud
Release Date: 12/23/15
Captain America: Sam Wilson isn’t just one of the best all Marvel’s All-New, All-Different relaunch, it’s one of the best major comic series on the market right now, period. Nick Spencer has crafted a book that harkens back to some of Marvel’s earlier, weirder adventures without sacrificing the contemporary feel and cultural relevance a person like Sam Wilson can bring to Captain America. Most comic series today strive for either bleeding realism or sci-fi wonkiness. Spencer is having it both ways, and in doing so, he’s creating something truly fantastic.
Just for starters, at the close of last month’s issue, I didn’t dare hope that Sam Wilson’s transformation into a werewolf would stick around for more than one issue. In fact, I sadly predicted that it wouldn’t. So it was a truly beautiful moment when I discovered that Sam remains a 7-foot tall lycanthrope in full Captain America garb, complete with SHIELD-issue Falcon wings. I get teary eyed just thinking about it.
And that’s not even the focal point of Captain America: Sam Wilson #4! No, the big news here is that the Serpent Society have rebranded themselves as Serpent Solutions, and it looks like they’re going to be the big bad here for the next few issues.
The Serpent Society aren’t one of Captain America’s better-known foes, so here’s a little primer for the uninitiated: Mark Gruenwald introduced the Serpent Society back in the 1980s as a thinly veiled metaphor for oily Wall Street crooks. The Serpent Society all dressed in snake costumes and had serpent-themed powers, but they weren’t just a group of super villains. They were a real organization, with upper management, stock options and health insurance. While Steve Rogers represented everything good about the American way of life, the Serpent Society was a stand-in for the greed and injustice that motivates the United States’ darker impulses.
Of course, that metaphor got a little lost over the years. One prominent member of the Serpent Society, a pink-haired femme fatale named Diamondback, wound up dating Steve for a short time—which robs the concept of its satirical punch a little. But Spencer immediately makes it clear that the Serpent Solutions are back to their old Wall Street tricks again, and he does so marvelously—opening up with a excellently written speech from head Serpent Solutions snakehead: Viper. Viper waxes on about the hypocrisy in America business—how even those who hate corporate greed benefit from it—and it’s compelling stuff. I wouldn’t say Viper makes what I’d necessarily call a “good point,” but it’s a lot closer to a coherent worldview than most of us have with regards to child labor.
And that’s all before we get to Capwolf. Turns out that Sam’s not adjusting terribly well to life as a Lycan. He’s shedding. He’s flipping out at the postman. And the sight of a full moon sends him into a tizzy. But just because he’s trying to ignore his temporarily canine instincts doesn’t mean he can ignore Serpent Solutions’ rising level of activity, so he sets up a chat with Diamondback (who’s a stripper now, it seems) to get a little intel on just what Serpent Solutions might be up to.
What they’re actually up to is some financial chicanery that wouldn’t feel out of place in The Big Short, and Viper spills a few of the details on a golfing trip—and you’d better believe this is going to be my entry for this week’s Pages and Panels contest.
Paul Renaud is filling in for Nick Acuna on art duties this week, and he has as much fun as Acuna does in putting together outlandish scenarios to explore interesting themes. In this case, Sam (as a werewolf) and Diamondback (in her pink hair) stop at a diner for hashbrowns to chat about bygone days, Serpent Solutions and, most interestingly, the state of women in superoheroing. It seems Diamondback has given up on being a hero.
This is about as self-aware as a comic book can get without straight up breaking the fourth wall, but it’s a terrifically human moment—which is made all the more impressive for the fact that it’s a conversation being held between a wolf and a snake. It does feel a bit hypocritical coming from a book whose most significant female characters so far are Diamondback, a stripper; and Misty, whose outfit continues to protect every part of her body except for her cleavage and her midriff. As smart as the rest of the book is, it feels strange to not have addressed that yet.
Fortunately, this issue also brings in Claire Temple to offer Sam some medical advice about being a werewolf. To my knowledge, this is the first time Sam and Claire have interacted (strange, considering how long they’ve both been around the Marvel Universe), but she fits nicely into this book’s tone and structure. I hope this isn’t the last we see of her. From what we can tell on the final panel (no spoilers!), Sam’s gonna need all the help he can get.
In short, this series continues to feel very important, even when it’s not trying to be important. In the span of one issue, we’ve covered Wall Street corruption, the changing role of women in comic books, and genetic experimentation, all without sacrificing the plot’s forward movement. We’re only four issues deep at this point but my goodness, this series is fantastic.