OMG, this issue is AMAZING. Let's get right into it.
Spencer does a spectacular job of letting the story unfold through a series of flashbacks. If you've read my reviews of "Earth 2: Society," you know how difficult it can be to use flashbacks well. It doesn't always work the way that the author intends. But, Spencer uses a brilliant framing device: Sam is flying in coach to Arizona, and he's seated between two bros that recognize him. Over the course of the issue, we come to learn why he's flying coach. The answer is even better than the device!
Spencer really evokes "Captain America" history here by essentially giving us a retelling of the "Nomad" era. We watch as Sam becomes disillusioned with the increasingly adversarial nature of American politics. He struggles with this frustration, because he realizes that Steve (mostly) managed to stay above the politics. But, he feels that the current situation is more dangerous, since this divide is resulting in deaths, as people embrace violence against each other. As such, he makes a speech to the press about the need for empathy.
It's the next scenes where Spencer and Acuna really shine. It unfolds like a movie, going from cut-scene to cut-scene. People feel that Sam's speech outs him as a liberal, and he's dubbed "Captain Socialist." After he helps finally stamp out HYDRA's infiltration of S.H.I.E.L.D., he's summarily shown the door, stripped of the support of the U.S. government. He's on his own, and he decides to set up a hotline for people to report injustices. Again, Spencer and Acuna go with cut-scenes to brilliant effect. They give us two pages of people complaining about their noisy neighbors or incandescent lightbulbs. It's an amazing send-up of where we are as a society in America, and it serves to reinforce why Sam felt the way that he did.
In fact, throughout the story, Spencer reminds us that Sam comes with a different perspective than Steve. Spence alludes to the "Black Lives Matter" movement, and it makes sense that an African-American Captain America would see inequality that Steve Rogers might not see. As Spencer has Sam say, he has strongly held opinions in these matters, and Spencer makes you realize why he had to act on them.
As such, he assembles D-Man and Misty Knight as his support team and gets to work. To be clear, Spencer doesn't answer the obvious questions about these two characters. Isn't D-Man dead? Isn't Misty a traitor? We're left wonder if it's some sort of "Secret Wars" ret-con or a story that Spencer just hasn't told yet. But, either way, they're great supporting characters. When Sam wants to help a Mexican-American grandmother from Arizona to her migrant-smuggling grandson, Misty asks if he really wants to immediately weigh into the immigration debate. It's a sign that neither Sam nor Spencer plans on being shy when it comes to using the current political climate in America for inspiration. Sam asks his minister brother for help with funding and then he heads to Arizona to see what he can do.
We learn that the grandson helps Mexicans crossing the border by leaving food and water for them, and the grandmother fears that his absence might be related to the Sons of Serpents' presence in the area. Sam confronts some Serpent members as they try to stop a group of migrants, and Spencer gives us one of the most hilariously verbose bad guys in recent memory. (Seriously, whoever the guy leading this group is, please, please, let us see more of him. When Sam accuses them of arriving in a pick-up truck and the Son chastises him for stereotyping them? OMG, hilarious. After all, we learn that they arrived in a mini-van.)
It's the end that sets up the revelation of the most important aspect of this status quo: Steve arrives to arrest Sam. Initially, Maria Hill had alluded to Sam working for someone whose name wasn't allowed to be mentioned on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, but Spencer makes it clear that it's not Steve. (It also makes you wonder where Ian is.) I'm intrigued how Spencer handles this next sequence. He runs the risk of portraying Steve as a right-wing racist if he goes too far in complaining about Sam going political. It's going to be a delicate dance for Spencer, but I'm confident that he's got the skills to handle it.
Honestly, I can't wait to see where we go from here. Remender's run on "Captain America" was amazing, reinvigorating not just Cap but his entire supporting cast. I can't wait to see how Spencer handles this dispute between Cap and Sam. But, as a pretty unabashed liberal, I'm also excited to see a Captain America fighting for my values. If Spencer's good, though, he'll make me regret that feeling, as Sam realizes that the world is a more complicated place than he (and I) thought.
***** (five of five stars)