After the dramatic events of SECRET EMPIRE, Steve Rogers is on a quest to regain his reputation as a hero. The first issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA from creators Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Matthew Wilson was a triumphant return and a humble new beginning for Steve. This quest is also a bit personal. Steve Rogers has spent most of his life in the New York area. Now, he’s out and about exploring the United States. CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 sets him up in the Sauga River area near Atlanta. And this time around, Cap is pitted against a new Swordsman.

The Team Behind CAPTAIN AMERICA #696

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee should be considered a dynamic duo at this point. They’ve worked together on very impressive runs for both DAREDEVIL and BLACK WIDOW. I was thrilled when I first heard these two would be taking over the creative duties for CAPTAIN AMERICA. Waid often writes very crisp and straightforward stories. This is nice, given how often stories nowadays can become so convoluted. He writes stories where the hero actually wins without getting too wrapped up in sudden consequences later on. And Chris Samnee never fails to impress. His art style is very simple, but teeming with emotion. So far, these two, along with color artist Matthew Wilson, haven’t missed a beat.

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CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 is its own contained story, start to finish. Steve arrives in the town of Sauga River. Essentially, it’s another pit stop on his cross-country journey. It provides a lot of great humor early on. Steve is trying to get around from place to place with as minimal a spotlight as he can. This subtlety he’s aiming for is immediately thrown out the diner door upon his introduction.

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The owner of the diner quickly catches on that Captain America himself is in his place. Steve had offered to wash dishes for his food upon entering, but the guy insists that Captain America gets to eat for free. Steve rejects this, of course, but before the conversation continues, pretty much every other patron in the diner swarms around him. They ask him different questions and, in unison, ask him for a picture. After the owner shoos the crowd away, the two agree that Steve can wash a single dish as payment for his food. Light-hearted moments like this can really help make a series shine. Waid’s writing is often filled with moments like these, so it’s no surprise they work so well in CAPTAIN AMERICA.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 Page 5. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

It doesn’t take long for word of Cap’s location to get out. This information reaches the ears of a new Swordsman, whose identity remains unknown. He shows up in Sauga River, killing several people and threatening to flood the town. On cue, Steve rushes off to do what he does best. Samnee’s art really shines as Cap rides off on his motorcycle to confront Swordsman. It’s easily my favorite shot of the issue. The image is bright and full of character, but it projects an urgent tone. It’s a great example of Samnee’s talent.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 Page 10. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

The New Swordsman

Captain America books often have a way of taking less threatening villains and turning them into dangerous forces. Ed Brubaker turned Batroc the Leaper into a pretty intimidating guy for a while during his run on CAPTAIN AMERICA. Waid and Samnee easily succeed at accomplishing this with the new Swordsman. In the first few moments of his arrival, he’s seen standing close to puddles of blood from the people he’s killed. He’s boastful, brash, and extremely cocky. He wields a vibranium alloy sword, which presents an obvious complication for Cap. Swordsman’s scheme is to flood the town and make a quick buck by killing Cap. This is easier said than done, of course.

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The fight between these two characters feels pretty fair. They go at it for a few pages, each fighter matching the other’s skill. Swordsman’s tenacity is short-lived, however. Soon after he starts unleashing the flood, Cap knocks him out with a mean-looking punch. Afterwards, Steve puts that vibranium sword to good use to stop the flood before it’s too late. In the end, the day is saved.

Even though his plan failed, the new Swordsman was a villain well-worth including in the issue. Waid makes him feel threatening enough that even after his defeat, his actions still reverberate ever-so slightly. And it was pleasant having a fun, colorful villain take on Cap, rather than Crossbones or Sin making some dramatic return. It works well with the lighter tone of these first two CAPTAIN AMERICA issues. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Swordsman make a return in later issues, nor would I be displeased.

Why It’s So Great to Have Steve Back

Steve returns to the diner after defeating Swordsman and speaks again with the owner. The man offers Cap food for the road. Steve makes a comment about paying for it, to which the owner responds with a stern look. Cap goes on his way with food in his hands and a well-deserved smile on his face. Again, it’s the small moments that really count for something. For every moment of well-versed combat between Cap and Swordsman, there’s a softer, more character driven moment.

In fact, one such moment comes during the fight, and I think it really highlights why it’s so great to have the real Steve Rogers back. Refer to the following page from CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 below…

CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 Page 14. Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

This is practically Captain America in a star-spangled nutshell. He stands against evil, he protects the innocent, and he fights for what he believes in. I’m sure many readers like myself have dearly missed this Steve Rogers. Of course, nothing like this would have come from Nick Spencer’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: STEVE ROGERS. He was too busy building up the Hydra Cap lore, which was fine. It led to a phenomenal event story.

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But that’s why it’s even more heartwarming to have Steve back, and why it’s so great that Waid is the one writing him. Waid had to have understood the importance of Cap’s return, yet he started off with a softer story. Cap didn’t come back shouting “Avengers Assemble!” Instead, he’s traveling around and helping people in more personalized ways. This only makes moments like this one so much more meaningful, because they have just as much of an impact on the story as they would in any other epic Captain America adventure.

Ready for More

So far, CAPTAIN AMERICA by Waid, Samnee, and Wilson has been an absolute treat. Between the colorful pages and the more cheerful tone of the story, I’m eager to see this series last for a very long time. It’s just great to have the real Captain America back.

This issue presented readers with a fun, straightforward villain. Swordsman, at face value, represents the evil that Captain America actively stands against, which is great. This early in the game, there’s no need for overblown symbolism from the villains. Waid can save that for later.

Spoiler: The final pages of the issue tease something with Kraven the Hunter coming up next. Kraven’s always been a thorn in the side of my favorite hero, Spider-Man. There’s no doubt he’ll have something interesting planned for Captain America.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #696 by Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Matthew Wilson
This is quickly becoming one of my favorite CAPTAIN AMERICA runs, and we're only on the second issue of it. Waid, Samnee, and Wilson nailed this issue. I'm eager to see what comes next.
95 %
A Star-Spangled Triumph

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