Issue #1 of Captain America: White was supposed to come out seven years ago. It’s out today.
Back in 2008, Captain America: White was the next hotly-anticipated project from writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale, who’d become a fan-favorite team on the strength of their moody Batman projects. Loeb and Sale went on to make character-focused, color-themed series for Marvel’s biggest characters. They created Spider-Man: Blue, Hulk: Gray and Daredevil: Yellow. A zero issue for the Cap series came out to whet readers’ appetites but then years went by without any sign of an issue #1. Until today.
Unexpectedly, Captain America: White is a great reminder of how much things have changed for Marvel’s patriotic adventurer. The Sentinel of Liberty has become one of the cornerstones of Marvel’s super-successful cinematic universe, alongside Iron Man and Thor. In the comics, Steve Rogers isn’t even Captain America anymore.
Given the character’s mythos, it’s kind of fitting that Captain America: White was missing in action for so long. The passage of time is part of what makes the Captain America concept work. He’s a 1940s superhero who got resurrected in the 1960s and, no matter how many decades march on, he remains a touchstone to World War II and the early days of superhero comics. Captain America: White carries on that tradition at a particularly interesting time.
Latter-day visual interpretations of Captain America have focused on making him look more “real.”
His mask becomes a helmet. The wings on the headgear are re-imagined as painted adornments. The chainmail shirt becomes armor-plating. Form-fitting pants get military-style cargo pockets. The buccaneer-style foldover boots become lace-up combat footwear. While some of this is creative license, the militarization of Cap is also probably informed by the urge to make superhero fiction “mature,” “realistic” and “grown-up.” That urge has changed the way that superhero costumes gets created and re-imagined. Artists took to drawing Cap as a soldier—tougher and near-impenetrable.
Loeb and Sale’s vision of Captain America in White is sadder, more romantic and vulnerable. He’s mourning his long-dead junior partner, and the story flashes back to a WWII adventure that shows the two learning to trust and work with each other.
These story beats have long been a staple of post-WWII Cap stories, but it’s notable that Loeb and crew were working with them way before Bucky Barnes returned as the Winter Soldier in the comics and movies. Bucky was still a symbol of loss, then, and using him as a focal point was a way for the creative team to differentiate White from villain-of-the-month stories that happened in other Cap comics.
There’s a throwback tone to the type of action and characterization in Captain America: White. Sale channels the big, bold figurework of Cap co-creator Jack Kirby often, but does it in conjunction with a mercurial watercolor palette. The dialogue and pacing also pay homage to the style and rhythms of Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and other old-school writers, too.
In current Marvel continuity, Steve Rogers is an cranky old man, no longer benefitting from the super-soldier serum that made him a peak physical specimen. His successor is having different kinds of adventures and is a different sort of symbol. With its Nazi-punching bravado, Captain America: White is lush nostalgia for a character with whom it’s okay to indulge in such fare. Captain America: White doesn’t feel like what’s happening in comics now and, this time, that’s a strength.
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