What happens when Cap becomes king?
It’s easy to dismiss Mark Waid and Chris Samnee’s short Captain America run as a mere palate cleanser, helping to bridge the gap between Nick Spencer’s Secret Empire epic and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ upcoming series. But while it certainly fulfills that purpose, it also tells an enjoyable, tightly crafted story about a hero getting back in touch with himself and his country. Captain America #700 delivers a rousing finish to this story and serves as one more reminder that Waid and Samnee are among the best teams working in comics today.
The relatively short length of this run belies the fact that there’s a real scope and ambition to Waid and Samnee’s latest collaboration. The 30-page lead story in this issue is nothing less than an exploration of what happens when Cap is elected king of a war-torn United States. It’s easy to picture that premise forming the basis for an entire six-issue story arc on its own. Instead, Waid and Samnee trim the fat and deliver a fast-paced, emotionally engaging look at a hero trying to hold his fractured country together through sheer force of will. Entire weeks pass in the blink of an eye as Cap and his dwindling band of allies fight what appears to be a lost cause.
Waid’s script maintains a key, delicate balance throughout this story. This issue maintains the optimism that was so apparent in earlier issues while also forcing Cap to accept that hope and will alone aren’t always enough to save the day. Cap makes some difficult, weighty choices over the course of this issue. In the process, Waid and Samnee are able to bring their narrative full circle and tie back to the earlier Rampart conflict. That helps this entire six-issue arc feel more unified, whereas before it felt like two tenuously connected halves. And despite this story’s nebulous place in current Marvel continuity, there’s a real sense of weight and gravitas to the climax.
Samnee paints a very compelling portrait of a near-future Marvel Universe. His work is sleek and elegant, with expressive figure work that emphasizes emotion and expression over sheer detail. The more the passage of time accelerates, the more it falls on Samnee to drive the story forward while Waid’s prose takes a backseat. You really need two creators capable of working in sync in order to cram this much information into a story without it collapsing under its own weight. And colorist Matthew Wilson proves equally pivotal. Wilson enhances the drama of the conflict through color and shadow, while at times also managing to highlight the beauty of a land trying to climb its way out of darkness.
In addition to the main tale, this issue features a previously unpublished Cap tale originally drawn by Jack Kirby and with dialogue from Waid. The sheer novelty of seeing one of Marvel’s best current creators joining force s with the King is enough to propel this tale along. It’s a little rough around the edges. Kirby’s original art clearly wasn’t 100% completed and refined at the time, but this backup serves as a fun throwback to a simpler time in Marvel’s history.