Captain America: The New Deal (John Ney Rieber & John Cassaday)
The New Deal is a different Captain America comic from the norm. This is because of the hows and whys of it being made. What initially started as a grim and gritty Marvel Knights relaunch of the book turned into the first post 9/11 Cap comic once the horrific events of that day in 2001 took place. So instead of being a new and darker take and a well known character suddenly writer, John Ney Rieber found himself with the task of giving us Steve Roger’s reaction to the attacks, how it changed him and as a result America. A very daunting task indeed.
What we end up with is a very interesting comic that kicked-off the more politically aware Captain America of the modern age and Marvel as a whole. It could be said that the ground and ideas explored here eventually lead to the gripping run by Ed Brubaker that has only just finished and major Marvel events like Civil War that re-shaped the Marvel Universe and delved into the politics of being a superhero. It is not 100% perfect however and due to the time it came out it is very raw emotionally.
The first issue opens with a sombre Cap in equally sombre surroundings at Ground Zero after the attacks. While he was not there to try and stop the attacks he is trying his best to help with the search for survivors and the recovery. Shaken to his core Steve is working without rest as he tries to process what has happened. Nick Fury turns up and they have a confrontation over Steve’s priorities. We then get a moment that sums up this book perfectly.
The out of costume Steve sees a group of angry New Yorkers following a lone American Muslim and he decides to act before they go to far. Just as one of the group is about to stab the Muslim, Cap appears out of nowhere in full costume (and colour) and the knife breaks dramatically on his shield. The narration by Steve talks of not giving into fear but turning it into anger to hunt down those responsible for the acts of violence themselves. Not lashing out at the nearest thing you can find that is tangentially related to your pain. The attacker in question once seeing Cap breaks down realising that the embodiment of America has seen him do wrong in the name of America. It is a poignant moment that says a lot about not only the feelings of many people post 9/11. (There was a marked increase in attacks on American Muslims and Sikhs following the attacks because people just wanted to punish somebody without thinking) It also says a lot about Captain America and his place in the world, politics and Americana. He is as close as you can get to the embodiment of the American Spirit and his emotional but pointed response to 9/11 reflects the need to find and punish the people responsible rather than lashing out against your own people. Which is rather controversial considering the time it came out and majority of Americans collective reaction and baying for blood in the wake of such terrible act.
Sure Cap is angry about it for the whole book but he anger is directed into hunting down terrorists and stopping similar events taking place. It is just a shame that the rest of the book never really lives up to this promise.
Throughout the book we get Cap preaching his philosophy about fear versus hate versus war and at the time it rings true. While reading I was gripped, he says and does things you would imagine with added acts of patriotism thrown in (like using an American flag to aid him in escaping some bad guys) for good measure. Sadly after reading when you look back and think about it in detail it all falls apart. Like I said in the introduction it is very raw emotionally and it shows.
The bad guy of the book and his cronies are forgettable and interchangeable with every other white Western Terrorist group that populates comic books and American fiction these days. Their goals never fully explored beyond hating America and wanting to see it burn. Which to be honest is all this Captain America needs to start kicking ass and taking names. The story itself is a mix of ideas that never really fits together with the main thread; killer dog tags (simplifying it a bit but that is basically what they are) being completely nonsensical. Stuff just sort of happens then just as things get interesting we get a very rushed ending that does not really come to any form of a grand conclusion beyond Cap beating the bad guy and America winning because, AMERICA!
The only thing that holds the book together while you are reading it is the amazing art from John Cassaday who once again gives us a master class in comic book art. His cinematic, widescreen style fits the book perfectly and he also gets time to show emotion and pathos in the more sombre moments of the story. Despite its problems I enjoyed the book because it at least attempts to say something about a still to this day, very complex issue. It may fall flat a bit but it starts to explore ideas and places that Captain America had not visited as a comic book up to this point. It pushed things forward and laid the groundwork for the greatness of what was to come a few years down the line and beyond.