A review by immovabletype
Captain America: Allies & Enemies by Kathryn Immonen, William Harms, Kieron Gillen, Rob Williams, Kelly Sue DeConnick


Technically 2.8 stars when you average them out, but whatever, I'm happy to round up on the strength of Kelly Sue DeConnick alone.

Spikes (i.e., the one with Falcon) — This is my first time learning any of Sam's backstory, and that's just in the "previously on" portion of this issue, and guys, comics are wild. The following story, however, is fairly lowkey. I was struck quite a bit by how it actually hit a lot of the same beats as a subplot that's come up, I think, a couple times now via Netflix's Luke Cage, of the hero returning to Harlem to be prevailed upon by a worried mother whose son has become involved with the borough's criminal element. I do love the idea of our black hero trying to balance his status as a hero with his attachment and obligation to the marginalized community and place he came from, but perhaps because I've seen it done with so much atmosphere and pathos via Luke Cage, I didn't feel that this comic with fairly average-to-decent writing and art had anything particularly new to say on it. (3 stars)

"Cherchez La Femme!" (i.e., the one with Peggy Carter) — Oh boy, this was a disappointment. Kathryn Immonen wrote one of my favorite single-issue standalones ever, the 2013 Avengers Annual, which is admittedly a fave in part because it does seem to borrow a lot from the films both in characterization and in the makeup of the team, and the films are my preferred iterations pretty much across the board. However, she also hit a lot of beautiful notes for me in Avengers Annual aside from that similarity, and that can't be achieved just by copypasting. It was a fun and beautiful story written with skill. So even though I wasn't expecting the same characters here, I was at least hoping for good characters and good story. Instead I found the story to be really confusing, like it was supposed to be part of a larger arc. Maybe this feeling came partly from side characters that seemed oddly placed and superfluous, but there was also just a lot of pacing issues and in media res occurring that added to it. And the main characters! Sigh. Well, Peggy had some hints of the character she would become in The First Avenger, and I can't really fault Immonen for not being ahead of her time in that complexity of her qualities in a one-off like this. But it's also the one story in this volume where Steve plays a significant role, and it kind of broke my heart what a leering, patronizing, misogynistic dick he was, in a way that only undermined the strength of the female characters — not just as women but as driving forces within the narrative. He sexualizes their skills at every turn, he questions their competence, he has no remorse for literally breaking the face of an ally (I embrace Cap's violence and think there's a lot to be said on it and find it irritating when he's characterized as a pacifist, but this was just repugnant to me). Basically, if Peggy showed hints of a character I would come to know and love, Steve showed none. None of which is to say that Steve in the films is a model of right-thinking male behavior unconstrained by the social constructs of his time. He says some problematic shit to Peggy in The First Avenger! But she checks him, and his attitudes are put to bed. He proceeds to have incredibly deep and meaningful relationships with her and the other women who come into his life, and these relationships are so, so important to me. Peggy tries to check him here and just . . . fails. She might as well be talking to a wall. It's the difference between presenting a complex character capable of change and . . . not doing that at all. Guess which one I want to spend my time with.

Hi, I have a lot of feelings about Steve Rogers. (1 star)

U.S.A. Super-Hero (i.e., the one with Crossbones) — This one is definitely the standout here in regards to the art. Just some really beautiful stuff in the way it renders flashbacks through the coloring and line work, as well as the rain that pervades the present day. I also appreciate that the writing doesn't shy away from Rumlow being a bad fucking dude while also creating a clear motive for his investment in the plot. There's a clear course of action for a heroic character to take here, but it's ultimately resolved in a way that's complex but not at all heroic, which is just a really good example of how to write a villain as your central character. Ultimately, though, I'm just not a big Rumlow fan, so there was only so much it could land for me. (CW: gendered insults and racial violence.) (3.5 stars)

Captain America and the Secret Avengers (i.e., the one with Black Widow & Sharon Carter) — And this is the standout when it comes to writing. Kelly Sue DeConnick just brings it, man. I love her so much. She gives her ladies all the complexity and humor and truly puts them and their humanity at the center — I was struck by the letter a female victim writes at the open of the story, how immediately and easily I assumed it was being written to a male superhero (Captain America, perhaps), though this isn't the case at all. DeConnick really nails Natasha's compassion and Sharon's ruthlessness, and their relationship and interplay as friends and colleagues is easily the highlight here. There's also just enough Steve to make me happy. The only reason it's not getting a full five stars is because of the art, which is pretty flat in spite of the ample T&A — never have I felt such a stark disconnect between reading a story so clearly written by a woman and looking at a story so clearly drawn by a man. (4.5 stars)

Traceur (i.e., the one with Batroc) — Features some nice poetic language and pacing but ultimately has a very old school art style — the men are hyper masculine and the woman are naked or nearly naked. Not incidentally, both female characters are prostitutes who are only there to be prostitutes, one to be frightened away after sex in a deliberate show of male rage, so. There's that. On the plus side, Bucky did fall on his face once, and that's always entertaining. (2 stars)