Captain America #49
Written by: Ed Brubaker
Drawn by: Luke Ross
Cover by: Steve Epting
Well, they can’t all be winners. And, where Bru’s Captain America is concerned they certainly all feel like they are, especially when collected together. But, I think once I felt like Bru and company let me down on an issue of Cap. Sadly, this one feels like a letdown, too. Possibly because Marvel’s web site says, with this installment, “The most important issue of Captain America since issue 25 is finally here! “ Or, maybe because what does happen just doesn’t feel that important, even though there’s a definite teaser element in here toward what promises to be a larger story going forward. Poor Sharon Carter’s dreams are constantly haunted by her slaying of Captain America while under The Red Skull and Dr. Faustus’ mind control. Nine months later she simply can’t shake the horror of that night nor the guilt she feels that goes with it. In fact the majority of this issue focuses on Sharon, what she’s been up to and how she’s been coping, which hasn’t been very well. Her one contact in the world with which she still has some kind of relationship is Sam Wilson, The Falcon. One of my favorite characters in the entire Marvel Universe, its high time The Falcon’s made an appearance in this book again. While on the trail of the 1950’s Cap, who disappeared shortly after Bucky’s battle with him, he maintains contact with Sharon as she sorts through her life.
As her nights continue to torment her she visits her Aunt Peggy Carter who, when she was younger and in love with Captain America during WWII, was the spitting image of Sharon now. Poor Peggy is old and infirm now, and not quite in possession of her faculties. Yet another element of Sharon’s life that’s causing her sadness. But things do get worse for Sharon as one critical element of her recent past, one Cap readers know Dr. Faustus blocked her mind from remembering, comes crashing back into focus. The tip off was rather obvious and it does seem strange Sharon wouldn’t have noticed this for the past nine months. Unless Faustus’ hypnosis prevented her from seeing this, I suppose. Still, it feels like a bit of a stretch. The other vision she begins to see in her dream is far more interesting but, still, it feels like a contrived set up for the next big moment in this book.
I suppose Steve Epting is off this book now, with the exception of the covers, which I find disappointing. Luke Ross does a pretty serviceable job all the way around but it certainly looks like he’s aping Epting’s style. Plus, the way he draws Sharon crying makes her look like she spilled milk all over her face (I suppose colorist Frank D’Armata shares some of the blame for this). Regardless, I really miss Epting’s detailed and dynamic work and this book just isn’t as good without him. Brubaker always writes a great story and, while this one mostly lays track for story lines to come, this is probably about as strong an interlude issue as they come. But it is an interlude issue and, as such, feels a little unsatisfying. And, is it really the most important issue of Captain America since issue 25? Well, even with Sharon’s new visions, it doesn’t feel that way to me.
Secret Invasion Aftermath: Beta Ray Bill – The Green of Eden #1
Written by: Kieron Gillen
Drawn by: Daniel Brereton
Cover by: Marko Djurdjevic
What is it about poor Beta Ray Bill that no one other than his creator, Walt Simonson, seems to be able to write him a good story? Is he that difficult a character to write? His mini-series a couple of years back was atrocious and even Matt Fraction, who penned Secret Invasion: Thor, really didn’t make much use of the character other than having his capture by the Skrulls act as a plot device. Sadly, with this one-shot, Kieron Gillen proves that he’s really not up to the task either. The story is convoluted, poorly drawn and narrated in a most confusing way. If you want to learn more about it, even after this intro, keep reading. Otherwise, just skip to the next review at this point.
Yes, Secret Invasion has ended and, following Beta Ray Bill’s mostly unexplained victimization by The Skrulls and his subsequent teaming with Thor to drive them from Asgard, we saw Bill leaving Earth for the reaches of space. And, in the vastness of space, of all the creatures out there for Bill to encounter, who should he meet but…yes, more Skrulls. And peaceful Skrulls, at that. Skrulls looking for a new god to worship. But wait, these peaceful Skrull’s are being hunted down by more typical, war-like Skrulls. Bill who, rightfully so, has had his fill of Skrulls (like we haven’t?) is caught in the middle. And, while it was a Super Skrull that defeated him prior to the Secret Invasion, the war-like Skrulls send a new (and patently absurd looking) new Super Skrull after Bill once again. In defense of his new worshippers, Bill is ignominiously manhandled by this Super Skrull (who, based on his composite construction, shouldn’t even be anywhere near Bill’s strength class) before finally winning the day. But, seriously, I wouldn’t even have finished this book if I weren’t doing so to write this review. If you haven’t bought this book yet, please don’t bother.
Marvel promises a new Beta Ray Bill one shot in June. For me, I think I’ll just go back to my Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson trades for a more satisfying and cleansing dose of Beta Ray Bill. Sorry, Walt, your fine character seems to get no respect anymore.
Sub-Mariner Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
Written by: Roy Thomas, Mark Schultz and Bill Everett
Drawn by: Mitch Breitweiser, Al Williamson and Bill Everett
Cover by: Mitch Breitweiser
Variant cover by: Marcos Martin
This comic is the second of a series of celebratory specials commemorating Marvel’s 70th Anniversary. The first, a tribute to Captain America, came out just a couple of weeks ago and was really a fine story about Steve Rogrers’ pre-Captain America days. This issue, about Prince Namor The Sub-Mariner, is a second fine story in this series that also takes us back to the days of WWII. As an added bonus, the lead story is scripted by none other than Roy Thomas who gave us several years of great Sub-Mariner stories from the late 1960s through the 1970s. Thomas certainly knows the character and also is a scholar of this era in comics. In this story we see a young Namor save an American vessel from being destroyed by a Nazi U-boat but, much to the confusion of his lone surface friend, policewoman Betty Dean, he doesn’t turn the U-boat’s torpedo back on the Nazis. Holding general disdain toward all surface dwellers, The Sub-Mariner is not convinced he should choose sides at all in this war of the surface worldand allows an alluring female Nazi to attempt swaying him to join the Axis powers. Things certainly do look tense for a while but, of course, knowing both Thomas and Namor’s history in the war, we can guess how this encounter will turn out. Still, the dialogue between Namor and his seducer offers its own tension and uncertainty, and it’s really wonderful the way Thomas shows Namor analyzing what he’s told and, in the end, acting as only the hot headed but incredibly powerful Sub-Mariner would.
Follow this lead story is a second never-before-seen Namor story by Mark Schultz and Al Williamson, where Namor once again faces the Nazis and, once again, the influence of a strong female character comes at a critical inflection point in the story. In addition, this issue reprints Namor’s first appearance from 1939’s Marvel Comics #1 wherein we see Namor’s first encounter with the surface dwellers, learn of The Sub-Mariner’s origin and also get a glimpse into the genesis of his hatred of the surface world. Namor’s always been one of the most important characters in the Marvel Universe who, at least over the last few decades, has rarely rated better than a key guest starring appearance. Many I know consider the character a bit one dimensional and boring. I personally always liked this character. Almost more than any other Marvel superhero, with the exception possibly of The Hulk, Namor truly is alone. Sure, he rules Atlantis, but his ties to his people seem nebulous at best to us readers as we mostly see him interacting with our other heroes. The combination of his royal station, super strength, winged feet and fiery temperament to me always made him seem interesting, rather than one dimensional. And Roy Thomas, in particular, knows how to explore the depths of his character to give us a Namor who both can strike with devastating speed, strength and effect while also feeling remorse at his actions. This book is my pick of the week.
The Mighty Trade Reviews
For the first time in a while, we’ve got a double dose of trade reviews for you!
Sam Wilson’s Trade Review
Punisher War Zone HC
Written by: Garth Ennis
Drawn by: Steve Dillon
Variant Cover: Steve Dillon (way cooler than the retail cover)
Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon, to a legion of fans they are the peanut butter and chocolate of comic books. I first became a fan of theirs with their run on Vertigo’s “Hellblazer”, and of course I became a die-hard worshiper with their legendary title “Preacher”. Probably the smartest thing Marvel Comics ever did during the Bill Hemas reign, Axel Alonso, new editor at Marvel Knights, brought Garth and Steve in (as he did for Vertigo) to bring the Punisher back to his ‘80’s prominence, and bring him back they did with “Welcome Back Frank”, a mad storyline for the ages where Garth showed Frank Castle for who is us, an unrelenting stone cold killer who truly gives a flying rats fu$# about anything other than his war to punish the guilty. And punish the guilty he did, making a lifelong adversary of mob boss Ma Gnucci. Yeah, under Garth’s pen Frank made her a paraplegic and bald (hey, he did Herr Starr worse) and now she’s back for one last hurrah to pay Frank back for what he did to her. Somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen and Frank is going to fu$# her up even worse and kill a sh$#load of people doing it, but hey, with Garth and Steve running the show I’m in.
“War Zone” starts in typical Ennis fashion, a low level goodfella is about to get whacked because he let the bosses son get his c**k ripped off by an escaped monkey at the zoo and then eaten by a vulture (no, seriously). Frank Castle saves the poor sap from execution via shotgun to turn the guy into his personal inside man in La Costa Nostra. Frank isn’t happy because he has heard rumors of a Gnucci family resurgence; apparently they have an Italian side that wants to make their name in the US. Yes, last we saw Ma Gnucci Frank had killed all her men and allowed her to be rendered limbless by a giant grizzly and then burnt alive in her own house. Meanwhile, Lt. Von Richthoffen (superhot lesbian), previously assigned to bring in Frank Castle, finds herself unlucky in love and possibly loosing her mind. It only guess worse when her sometime lover, who has a boyfriend, finds all of her potential suitors being the victims of a viscous scorned-lover ass whuppin. Meanwhile, “the Elite” (vigilante crazy from the first Ennis Punisher series, whom Frank Killed) has a kid, and he dreams of killing Frank. As our story continues Frank Kills a sh$#load of mob guys at a cookout, Lt. Von Richthoffen (possibly one of my favorite Ennis characters ever) shows how much of a psychotic, possessive bad ass she is (the random scenes with her girlfriend and her boyfriend are priceless) and Ma Gnucci is probably a clone, made by that “Elite” guy who has a serious revenge issue with Frank that will probably be his undoing. The story comes to a close with Frank and Lt. Von Richthoffen holed up and surrounded by a sh**-ton of mob guys and the Elite, getting ready to go down in total John Woo fashion. And yeah, holy sh*t, they do. Frank and his newfound warrior bi**-queen (you really need to read the last few pages to understand that comment) blow the fu** out of a ton of people. Word.
Classic Ennis, and I’m damn happy with that. Quirky (and fairly twisted) supporting characters, extreme sadism and Frank freakin’ Castle with a big ass shotgun. What more could you possible want? Buy this book, now conveniently available in hardcover form.
Wktf’s Trade Review
The Avengers: Red Zone
Written by: Geoff Johns
Drawn by: Olivier Coipel with Ivan Reis
My recent read and review of the two Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps War volumes sent me back to my library for some more Geoff Johns trades and when I rediscovered this one I pulled it off the shelf immediately. I remember how much I loved this storyline when I first read it in its monthly comic book installments back in 2003, thinking “this is what an Avengers story should be about.” Reading it again I’ve gained a renewed appreciation for this story, for Johns’ storytelling and scripting and, as if I needed it after his recent wonderful work on Thor, for Coipel’s stunning artwork.
This trade begins with a deceptive Falcon one-shot story, penciled by Ivan Reis. I say it’s deceptive as it seems mostly to be a one-off story about The Falcon, his history and what drives him, as well as about his strained relationship with The Avengers’ UN liaison, Henry Gyrich. The tension between Falcon and Gyrich goes as far back as 1979’s Avengers #181 when Gyrich pushed The Falcon, as a means to force some ethnic diversity, onto the team. With this one installment the tension between these two characters is nicely played out to where they develop an understanding that, later in this trade, leads to some interesting teamwork as well as a key moment of crisis toward the trade’s conclusion. The core crisis of this tale begins with the very next issue, or chapter. A huge red cloud emanates from Mt. Rushmore, in South Dakota, which turns out to contain a flesh eating bacteria that delivers a ghastly death in moments, striking down hundreds at first and then thousands. No sooner does this biohazard strike than The Avengers are on the scene. This team consists of Captain America in his familiar post as team leader, The Falcon, The Wasp, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Jack of Hearts, Ant-Man (the now-deceased Scott Lang), She-Hulk, Warbird (Ms. Marvel again, today), Iron Man and Black Panther.
Written in a post-9/11 world, this deadly chemical attack can only appear to be a terrorist act. But by whom? Likely suspects, it turns out, are nowhere near the truth. And The Avengers must work to rescue the thousands of victims, work with the Army and Park Rangers to contain the disaster, while also venturing into the heart of the contagion and seek to determine, and bring to justice, the perpetrator. All the while our team is under fire by Secretary of State Dell Rusk who seems bent on persecuting this team even to the point of trying to use Gyrich to spy on their activities. The danger is literally all around The Avengers as they deal with Rusk, the contagion, and their own inter-team dynamics, all at the same time. Coipel’s art is just fantastic here, and the sheer terror and claustrophobia this group of heroes feels as they don hazmat suits and walk into the thick, dark heart of the red mist is genuinely nerve wracking. Johns proves, yet again, how truly talented a writer he is lending individual voices to this huge cast of characters, as he’s done so effectively more recently at DC with JSA, while creating interesting tensions among his cast. Examples of interpersonal tensions include those between Jack of Hearts and Ant-Man, Iron Man and Black Panther and, of course, The Falcon and Gyrich. The Scarlet Witch’s support of The Vision’s conflicted feelings during this crisis also is truly touching, especially with Avengers Disassembled in hindsight. When I first read the the big villain reveal it caught me completely off guard in a great storytelling satisfying way, even though a few key signs to his identity most definitely were there, and Johns’ use of this villain and the final conflict with him, not with the hero you’d expect but with the hero that makes the most perfect sense, is absolutely riveting.
Yes, this most definitely is what an Avengers story should be all about. Captain America is the awe inspiring undisputed leader that he is. This team of diverse heroes can’t help but result in brutal tensions but also come together when they absolutely have to do so. Avengers: Red Zone has some wonderful, absolutely spot-on character moments and pent up, broiling angry battle scenes…especially the final one which is absolutely jaw-dropping and bone crunching. As an added bonus, there’s also a pivotal historic moment here: the first time the She-Hulk “Hulks Out” and nearly destroys The Vision. Most people remember her doing this in Avengers Disassembled but this story is where it happened first. In the end, I absolutely loved this trade. Collecting Avengers Volume 3, issues 64-70, this one has to be among my most favorite Avengers stories. For story, scripting and art, I simply cannot recommend it enough.