Writer: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Artist: Adam Kubert, Colourist: Matt Milla, Letters: Joe Caramagna, Cover: Alex Ross.
No decade would be complete without a story that has Steve Rogers finding himself at odds with his own government.
The 1970s gave us Steve Englehart’s "Secret Empire"...the '80s Mark Gruenwald’s "The Captain"... in the '90s we had Mark Waid’s "Man Without a Country"...and in the 2000s it was Mark Millar’s "Civil War".
Here in 2019 then, the torch passes to Ta-Nehisi Coates' "Captain of Nothing".
So far this arc has been a bit of a slow burner — lots of talking heads, inner monologuing, and political metaphor — which is somewhat necessary in a story that is trying to explore the suggestion that to kill Captain America you don't attack the man, you attack the idea.
Unless you want your story to feel a little like a college lecture however, you need to inject a little action into the formula, and Captain America #11 I am happy to say, makes strides in readdressing that balance.
Framed for a murder he didn't commit by shadowy influences within his own government, and no longer trusted by a public who recently saw a man wearing the same face commit atrocities on a national level, Captain America #11 finds Steve Rogers incarcerated in a maximum security prison run by one of his worst enemies, patrolled by well-armed Guardsmen, and occupied by some of the most notorious super villains in the country — each and every one of them someone he has probably beaten up at one point or another.
This is an issue with a lot of cool little moments and that delivers on a lot of levels.
Adam Kubert's art feels kinetic, and he expertly constructs not just a mass prison riot, but also a couple of really neat individual fight scenes, as well as ensuring we get the obligatory "Cap uses something that's not a shield as a shield" moment.
There's some interesting analysis of the morality of Captain America, who — assumed by many to be a paragon of virtue — reflects that sometimes even he has to compromise between what he wants and what he can realistically achieve.
So instead of waiting for the fair trial he knows he'll never be granted, Cap is forced to choose the lesser of two evils, and act as the general for an army of rogues in a prison break, paraphrasing former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that "You go to war with the army you have, not the one you wished". He's not pure, he didn't want to win like this, but he's done it before, and he'll likely have to do it again.
There's a scene where Cap barks out a bunch of orders only to have some of his super-villain army question why they should listen to him. When one of those villains suddenly gets blasted, another repeats Cap's orders word for word and the rest of them fall in line without question. It's a scene that I would find it very difficult to believe wasn't inspired by the 2012 Avengers movie, but rather than feeling derivative, it feels delightful!
We also get to see Sharon Carter's "Daughters of Liberty" (a kind of black ops A-force) finally go into action as mysterious new character Dryad attempts to hunt down the man who set Cap up in the first place, whilst the rest of the team try to spring Cap from the clutches of Baron Strucker, including a cool scene where the Invisible Woman shows us exactly why she'll be getting her own espionage-orientated solo series in the near future!
In terms of negatives, there isn't much to grumble at. In the previous issue we had an interesting scene where Cap — drawing on his past experience of having once been a New York police officer — considers the reality that not all villains are bad to the bone, and that many of them are simply the product of bad luck, poor choices, and tough breaks.
I thought this provided an excellent opportunity for redemption for some of the crooks that Cap finds himself incarcerated alongside, so I was ultimately disappointed that having spent months watching each others backs — as well as enjoying numerous games of Uno together — that when it comes to the crunch, Cap's allies resort to type and betray him. They do it needlessly too, not even for personal gain, and seemingly out of pure spite.
No honour among thieves I guess...
Additionally, having waited five issues for this story to really explode into action, now that it finally has, it's difficult to see how it could be satisfactorily concluded with just one more issue to go, so It seems safe to assume that the theme of "Captain America: Criminal" is one that will continue beyond this current arc.
Overall though this is a good, solid issue that probably represents the best of this arc thus far.
Captain America (Vol 1) #171-175 (1974): "Secret Empire"
Captain America (Vol 1) #332-350 (1987): "The Captain"
Captain America (Vol 1) #450-454 (1996): "Man Without a Country"