Steve Rogers used to be Captain America. Then a dramatic plot development made him old and he passed the mantle on to his best friend and superhero partner Sam Wilson. You'd think they'd still be cool after that. But, nowadays, the man who used to be known as The Falcon is on frosty terms with the original shield-bearer. This week, we found out why.
Spoilers follow for Sam Wilson: Captain America #1 & #2.
When the first issue of Sam Wilson: Captain America came out two weeks ago, readers were shown how the newest Sentinel of Liberty differed from his predecessor. Sam Wilson is being written as a Captain America who's taking sides on hot-button political issues and series writer Nick Spencer has gotten tons of blowback in the real world for his interpretation. The end of issue one teased a showdown.
The first hint that Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson weren't friendly anymore came this summer in a preview of the new Avengers team. Sam Wilson: Captain America #2 marks the first time we've seen the two men talking after the big universe-altering Secret Wars event. At first, after an ethically problematic secret S.H.I.E.L.D. operation gets exposed, it seems like they won't be that far apart. Sam want its shut down and Steve agrees.
No, the rift between the two Captain Americas has more to do with how they feel about the way the government will handle those who upend the flow of sensitive information. Sam's been getting intel from an informant called The Whisperer. This character's off-screen and in hiding for most of this issue; they're clearly meant as a stand-in for Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose leaks exposed just how much surveillance the United States points at its own citizens. S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a line on The Whisperer's whereabouts and sends a team to apprehend him. Sam thinks that's a bad idea.
The new Captain America winds up fighting the S.H.I.E.L.D. team sent to capture the Whisperer, buying the secretive figure time to get away. Like his battle against the isolationist Sons of the Serpent in issue #1, that moment is a metaphor for how much has changed since Steve Rogers was Cap. Years ago, the public might have been able to believe that a Snowden-like informant who broke the law to serve a greater good would have gotten a fair trial. Now, when it's clear in a myriad of ways that authorities can abuse the power they have been granted, no one can be sure that due process would be honoured. This Captain America is still a symbol of optimism but, in 2015, he has to be more cautious.