Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

Captain America Corps

by Roger Stern & Philippe Briones

collects Captain America Corps #1-5 and Age of Heroes #4

 Why I Bought This: This was a Christmas present from my wife, but the reason I wanted this is because it has Roger Stern, who in my opinion writes the definitive Captain America, writing the character again for the first time in 30 years.

The Plot: The Contemplator (an Elder of the Universe) becomes aware of a crisis in the multiverse and recruits several different Captain Americas from across time to solve it. They are: Steve Rogers during his rookie year in World War II, US Agent (John Walker from Gru’s Cap No More run in the 80s), Bucky-Cap (from, at the time this was published, Brubaker’s current run), American Dream (Steve’s daughter with Sharon Carter from Spider Girl’s MC2 near-future), and Commander A from the year 2410–who uses dual laser-shields with a hi-tech costume.

(spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade = All New Cap

All New Captain America (1): Hydra Ascendant

collects All-New Captain America #1-6

written by Rick Remender, illustrated by Stuart Immonen

 Why I Bought This: As a big Cap fan, I was very curious to see how the Falcon as Cap story will play out, so much so I actually pre-ordered this on Amazon before it was released.

The Plot: Sam Wilson (The Falcon) has been named the new Captain America following Steve’s retirement (he was rapidly aged in some prior volume I haven’t read), giving the country an African-American Captain America. On his first case he uncovers a Hydra plot that includes most of Steve’s major foes (with the exception of the Red Skull).

(spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade = Captain America

Captain America: The Fighting Avenger

writers: Brian Clevinger, Paul Tobin and Jeff Parker

artists: Gurihiru, Chriscross, Manuel Garcia and Dario Brizuela

collects Captain America Fighting Avenger #1, Marvel Adventures Superheroes #5, and Marvel Adventures the Avengers #3 and #37.

 

 Why I Bought This: Released at the same time as the first Cap film this tells the story of Cap’s very first mission, something I don’t think Marvel has ever told before. Also I’ve enjoyed the little bit of Paul Tobin’s writing I’ve read in the past. You can grab this pretty cheap on Amazon and as I’m always looking for bargain-priced Cap stories I picked it up.

 

The Plot: The feature story shows Cap’s first mission. The book also includes several bonus reprints of Cap-centric stories from the current all-ages Avengers line.

(Spoilers below)

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Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

Avengers: The Big
Three

by Steve Englehart,
Stan Lee, Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, Kurt Busiek, George Perez, Jack Kirby and
many others.

collects Captain
America 176, Avengers 150-151, 215-216 and 224, The Terminatrix Objective 1-4,
Avengers (vol3) 21 and Thor 81.

Why I Bought This: This
was in the discount bin of my favorite comic shop and as I love me some
Avengers and this premise could be interesting (see below), why not?
The Plot: Released
in conjunction with the first Avengers movie,
this is not so much a plot as a collection of stories over the years that focus
on the relationship of the Avengers “Big Three” of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man.

(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – After the resolution of the Secret Empire
storyline in which the President of the United
States was revealed to be a traitor and killed himself in
front of Cap to prevent capture, Steve is disillusioned with America. He
considers giving up the Captain America identity and talks to Thor and Iron Man
about it first (and later to Falcon, Peggy Carter, Vision and Sharon Carter).
He ultimately decides to give up the name and mask.

Chapter 2 – It’s a changing of the guard issue as it seems
they have too many members at present. Thor quits the team. Iron Man agrees to
stay. Cap is asked if he wants to stay which leads to a long flashback of when
everyone quit but Cap and then Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch first
joined.

Chapter 3 – Cap decides to stay. Hawkeye and Two Gun Kid are
made reserve members. Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Wasp all decide to stay but
Hank Pym wants to quit and go back to being a scientist much to Jan’s
disappointment. Moondragon refuses membership on the grounds that she is a
“god.” Beast joins the team. Hellcat also accepts to join but then Moondragon
talks her out of it. Pym reconsiders to at least be a reserve member. This is
apparently the first time the reserve status is used by the team, as Thor
praises the idea and then he, Moondragon and Hellcat all accept reserve status
as well. The active members do the usual press conference but it is interrupted
by Wonder Man returning from the grave and accusing Vision of stealing his
mind.

Chapter 4 – Newest Avenger Tigra is enjoying her new found
fame. Meanwhile Silver Surfer bumps into Molecule Man in NJ and they share
origin stories. This inspires Molecule Man to want to eat the Earth ala
Galactus. He then defeats Surfer fairly easily by trapping him in the ground
though Surfer is able to send his board away for help. It finds the Avengers,
who are only four members at the time: the Big Three and Tigra. They free
Surfer and with much effort the heroes break through a force field Molecule Man
created around a castle he materialized. They send Tigra to sneak around but he
captures her easily. When the rest of the heroes arrive Molecule Man
disintegrates all their special weapons with a wave of his hand (i.e. Cap’s
shield, Thor’s hammer, Surfer’s board and Iron Man’s armor.) He then captures
the male heroes (Cap going down last) and seemingly kills them all in front of
Tigra by dropping a giant anvil on them.

Chapter 5 – Molecule Man tells Tigra she can live as his
pet. The FF arrive but cannot get through the force field. The male heroes turn
up alive as Surfer phased them through the floor at the last minute. Meanwhile
Thor has reverted to Don Blake without his hammer and thus he, Cap and the armor-less
Tony learn each other’s secret identities for the first time. Despite being
powerless Tony and Don insist on fighting alongside Cap and Surfer. Tigra
considers killing Molecule Man as he sleeps but is too scared to even try. As
she slinks away dejected, Cap finds her. Molecule Man attacks first by
disintegrating some spare tech Tony cobbled together and then nearly crushing
him in an avalanche. MM has the heroes on the defensive but ignores Blake and
as a result gets a broken nose from a punch, which causes him to flee. Blake
has to tend to Tony’s injuries so it is up to the three super powered heroes to
fight. Surfer tries the direct approach as he too can manipulate matter but
ultimately Molecule Man proves more powerful and wins. Cap however dodges
everything Molecule Man throws at him and KO’s him with one punch. Tony and Cap
debate whether to kill him or not (with Tony on the pro-side) but it becomes
moot when Molecule Man awakens and Tigra convinces him to see a therapist. As a
gesture of thanks he reconstitutes the heroes’ weapons for them. Surfer is
offered membership but declines, while Tigra decides these kinds of threats are
out her league and quits the team.

Chapter 6 – Hank is in prison and Wasp has filed for
divorce. Tony in a total cad move decides to date her as Tony when she still
doesn’t know his secret identity. Cap completely disapproves. Thor is more
understanding but he feels Tony owes Jan the truth about who he is. When he
tells her she doesn’t take it well and ends things with him on the spot.

Chapter 7 – Terminatrix, who has recently assumed Kang’s
empire while he is in a coma due to the terrible “Citizen Kang” crossover, encounters
a time traveling entity called Alioth who has an even larger time empire that
predates Kang’s. She returns to Chronopolis (Kang’s capital city outside the time
stream) to learn the Anachronauts that served Kang feel no loyalty to her and
are resigning. Then yet another female time traveler named Revelation summons
U.S. Agent, War Machine and Thunderstrike (all replacements for the Big Three
in their solo titles at one point) and sic them on Terminatrix. She escapes
into the old West and then pulls Cap, Thor and Iron Man to her through time.

Chapter 8 – Terminatrix gets the heroic trios to fight each
other. It ends in a stalemate (although you’d think the originals would route
the replacements) and then she sends a bunch of robots to attack all six
heroes. She time travels far into the future to escape but bumps into Marcus
(Immortus’s son with Ms. Marvel). The heroes defeat the robots and compare
notes. Marcus captures Terminatrix but she time jumps again only to end up in
Limbo captured by Immortus. Meanwhile the Avengers find their way to the Cross
Time Council of Kangs.

Chapter 9 – Three members of Kang’s council find the true
Kang’s comatose body, then reveal themselves to actually be members of the
Timekeepers. They note that in over half the timelines today is the day
Chronopolis falls. One of them wants to help Kang because Alioth is worse but
they have a non-interference vow and teleport away which is an awfully
convoluted way to insert foreshadowing into the story. Meanwhile the Avengers retreat
from the Cross Time Council. Meanwhile Immortus tells Terminatrix along with
several other women in stasis who are all apparently divergent versions of her
(including with absolutely no explanation Nebula and a female version of
Grandmaster) today is the day he dies of old age. Immortus has an older version
of Ravonna with him who wants to die at the same time he does and he is looking
for a volunteer to do it. Also this version of Marcus is his kid with Ravonna
(and doesn’t want to kill his mom, hence the nonsense with Terminatrix and her
counterparts). Then just to make this thing more complicated Immortus gives us
the origin of Tempus and it is yet another time loop: Old Immortus built him
now and is sending back in time to serve Silver Age Immortus, who up until
today never knew where Tempus came from. That done Immortus drops dead. Teminatrix
volunteers to kill Ravonna but uses their grief as a distraction and escapes
only to bump into Revelation. The heroes enter another wormhole and end up in
Timely, Wisconsin—an early 20th century town founded by Kang under
the persona Victor Timely that was part of the aforementioned Citizen Kang
crap. Meanwhile in a surprise to absolutely no one Revelation reveals she is a
future version of Terminatrix. She then produces a map of the time stream that
looks like an eighth grade rendition of Europe to explain how Alioth defeating
Kang would be bad for her/their own future empire in a bid to convince
Teriminatrix to revive Kang so he can defeat Alioth—plus she reveals that she
and Kang get together at some point anyway. Terminatrix agrees and is given a
potion of healing by Revelation. Meanwhile the Avengers defeat hi-tech keystone
kops and steal the car which is of course a time machine. Their time jump
stalls out in a mysterious black fog that reveals itself to be Alioth.

Chapter 10 – Terminatrix wakes up Kang. The Avengers get
saved from Alioth by Limbo Whales. Kang explains Alioth is a “primordial force”
that eats time travelers. He goes to find the Cross Time Council but Alioth has
(thankfully) killed them. Kang explains Alioth cannot be stopped by time travel
so Terminatrix & Revelation recruit the Avengers to stop it. Kang gives the
heroes environmental suits and a key and send them to battle Alioth. Thor’s hammer
does nothing but when he pulls the key out it transforms into Tempus. Kang then
sends the Avengers home and professes his love for Terminatrix. Revelation informs
Marcus this is when she and Kang became a couple but this time Terminatrix
stabs Kang and places him back in his coma pod. Then because this crap isn’t convoluted
enough she travels back to Timely, Wisconsin so she can date Kang as Victor
Timely instead. On the final page we see Tempus and Alioth engaged in a
stalemate for all time.

Chapter 11 – So now we jump to the middle of Busiek’s
classic “Ultron Unlimited” arc. UN Troops are trying to free the nation of
Slorenia from Ultron only to discover that he has killed the entire population
and outfitted the corpses with cybernetic implants to make necro-zombies. The
Avengers arrive to save the day consisting of our Big Three, Firestar and Black
Panther. Meanwhile Ultron has captured his “family”: Pym, Wasp, Wonder Man,
Vision, Scarlet Witch and Grim Reaper and plans to use their brainwaves to create
a new race of robot children. The Avengers find Ultron’s hideout and Ultron-16
confronts them. We then get an absolutely epic battle with the team doing
everything it can to penetrate Ultron’s adamantium shell–Panther throws
intangible energy daggers at him, Firestar uses microwave energy, Cap has his
energy shield and shoves it down Ultron’s jaw, Iron Man builds a electronic
disruptor—and none of it works. Ultimately Thor goes all out and manages to
blow Ultron up. The Avengers are exhausted and enter Ultron’s headquarters only
to find Ultron-17 waiting for them. They’re pretty dispirited by that and it
only gets worse when Ultron-23 shows himself; followed by Ultron 458 in the
cliffhanger.

Chapter 12 – We are in part 2 of 6 of a Thor story called Ragnarok (from “Avengers Disassembled”). Thor,
Cap and Iron Man are walking through a burned out Asgardian forest. Next they
came across a city of dead trolls. Cap finds an Asgardian child hiding in a
closet who says a Giant did this led by Loki. Sure enough said Giant shows up
along with Loki, Ullik the Troll and Fenris (a werewolf). A huge fight breaks
out with the heroes doing well against the monsters. Then Loki has Thor’s
hammer (since this is part 2 of a longer story there is no explanation of how
that’s possible) and turns it on Iron Man. Cap uses his shield to prevent the
killing blow. Thor stands alone and pummels both Loki and the Werewolf with his
bare hands until the villains retreat. The Avengers continue on to find Balder
the Brave’s funeral. Thor also learns his mother is dead. With that he sends
the Avengers forcibly home via teleportation to guard the Earth from Loki
should he fail. Thor then gives a rousing speech to the remaining Asgardians
though he believes this is Ragnarok and they are all destined to die.

 

Critical Thoughts
– While the concept is sound, the delivery is terrible. Most of these stories
are throwaways or lack context, while the story that takes up the most space is
atrociously awful. Let’s take them one at a time.

We start with Cap giving up his identity. While in its
entirety this is a legendary story and worth reading, for this book I don’t see
why it is included; especially as the opening story. Sure Cap talks to Tony and
Thor but he talks to other heroes too. Furthermore he doesn’t take their advice
so how does this demonstrate the bond between the three heroes?

Next we get the two-part changing of the guard issue. Again
the inclusion here is baffling. The basic scope of the story has no particular
connection for the big three. The Avengers tell this reshuffling of the roster
story repeatedly in their first 30 years or so of continuity so it is not a big
pivotal moment for the title let alone the big three. Furthermore, Thor doesn’t
even agree to stay on the team. Most bizarrely Marvel is so embarrassed by this
story that even 35 years after the fact they reprint the letters page of issue
151 wherein they publicly fire Steve Englehart for missing his deadline on the
previous issue thus forcing them to reprint large portions of issue 16 verbatim
as part of the 150th anniversary tale (a reprint incidentally that
focuses on Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch not Thor and Iron Man). Think
about that for a minute: I’ve never seen the letters pages of a Marvel comic
reprinted in a trade. Whether it is deluxe hard covers that sometimes have
extras like scripts, interviews with creators or rough pencils they tend not to
have letters pages; nor on the other end of the spectrum do the Essentials,
which collect two years of comics at a time in a bare bones black and white
format, include the letters page even though it would easily fit in with the
theme. But here Marvel feels the need to reprint a 35-year-old letters page
that apologizes for the preceding story—which begs the question: then why
include this story at all?

The two-part Molecule Man story is the first one that really
makes sense for inclusion. It’s a bare bones team that is primarily made of the
Big Three and it features a key moment in their dynamic as they learn each
other’s secret identities. We get to see two of them be heroes without their
powers. All in all it is a decent Avengers story. I wouldn’t consider it
great—Molecule Man’s motivations are all over the place for one thing, but I
generally liked it and it was something I hadn’t read before.

The story with Tony dating the Wasp is just sort of there.
While we do see the three heroes debate ethics a little, ultimately there’s no
action/threat and the ethical quandary does not seem as dire as the writer
makes it out to be.

Then we get to the Terminatrix thing. Now I can understand
why they included this. The only Avengers in it are the Big Three and their
replacements, whom they get to fight. For the theme of this trade including it
makes sense, especially since it has not been reprinted before in trade and was
unlikely to ever be a stand-alone trade. Of course there is a reason for
that—namely it is a terrible frickin’ story. Kang was involved in an escalating
series of nonsensical dreck from the late 80s and through the entire 90s. There
were four or five different Kang stories in that era that were all terrible in
every conceivable way. In many ways Kang was to the Avengers what the Clone
Saga was to Spider-man in that
timeframe (though at least Kang’s bad stories weren’t 45 consecutive issues
long): in that the Kang stories featured too many players, many of whom were
the same person, doing things that made no sense in badly-written,
overly-talky, poorly-paced stories bereft of any possible consequences since there
were half-a-dozen versions of the same character often dying or resurrecting in
any given issue. That Busiek miraculously untangled the mess of Kang’s
continuity in the 2000s with Avengers
Forever
is a minor miracle (note to do this he killed Terminatrix off-panel
in the first issue where she has thankfully never been referenced again). This
story in this trade represents the nadir of that era of bad Kang stories. It is
unrepentantly awful from beginning to end.

From the lowest low to the highest heights we next look at
the Ultron story, which may be the greatest single fight scene in Avengers
history. It is easily the best story in this trade and it fits the theme well.
Yet as great as this chapter is, I feel the need to point out you can find this
issue reprinted in two other trades, both of which include the entire Busiek
Ultron masterpiece (while mercifully omitting the Terminatrix story.)

Finally the Thor chapter has really nice art and camaraderie
among the three heroes. It fits the theme well, yet at the same time it is a
fraction of a larger story. I haven’t read that story but I feel one would be
better served just buying that trade than this one.

I’ll end saying given some of the questionable choices in
this volume. I’d argue at least three or four could have been replaced at no
loss to the theme, it would have been nice to include Thor 390 where Steve
proves worthy to lift the Hammer for the first time and which had never been
reprinted in trade at the time this was released. There’s also a story from the
Shooter era wherein Moondragon hypnotizes Thor and sends him to fight his
teammates of whom the only members are Cap, Tony and Wasp (along with guest
star Drax) that probably would be a better fit than several that were included.
Throw in one of the many Cap-Iron Man moral disagreements and this would have
been a much stronger collection.

 

Grade F – If this
was a numeric grade it would be a 25
rather than 0 only because the
Molecule Man story is a rare find and the Ultron story is a classic even if it
can be found elsewhere. Otherwise we have a bunch of odd choices, incomplete
stories and a catastrophically bad miniseries. There is no way in a million
years this is worth the $30 cover price. It wasn’t even worth the discounted
price I paid for it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

Captain America: No
Escape

written by Ed
Brubaker, illustrated by Jackson Guice & Mitch Breitweiser

collects Captain America
606-610

 

Why I Bought This: Baron
Zemo is the villain who killed Bucky. If you are going to bring Bucky back from
the dead then sooner or later this is the natural story to tell, and of course
I wanted to read it.

 

The Plot: Baron
Zemo (son of the original) learns Bucky is back from the dead, and he’s not
happy about it.

(spoiler below)

 
Chapter 1 – It begins with a chance meeting between Zemo and
the Ghost—an Iron Man villain who is a master of uncovering secrets; and does
he have a doozy to share with Zemo about the new Captain America. Meanwhile
Cap (Bucky) and Falcon are fighting the Wrecking Crew. Falcon’s narration tells
us Bucky has been erratic since their last mission wherein Bucky had to shoot
and presumably kill the 1950s’ Cap (who had joined the Watchdogs and become a
terrorist but was still wearing the Cap costume); and indeed we see
confirmation of the narration as Bucky’s recklessness allows the Wrecking Crew
to escape. Sam talks to Steve as he thinks only Steve can get Bucky to talk
about what’s bothering him. Meanwhile Bucky is having nightmares about killing
the 50s’ Cap. Meanwhile Zemo is recruiting old Nazi super villains that used to
work for his father. Steve, Sam and Bucky are having drinks at a bar where Cap
and Sam give Bucky advice. They leave and Bucky is drunk even though he only
had two beers. Sam offers to get Bucky’s motorcycle for him so he won’t have to
drive. When Sam puts the key in the ignition it explodes. Zemo & Fixer
watch from the roof, where Zemo reveals the bomb was not meant to kill Sam,
just injure him enough to screw with Bucky’s head. We then see a flashback from
two days earlier where Zemo breaks into a prison to meet with Sinn and get all
the information she has on Bucky. 

Chapter 2 – Falcon is rushed to the ER where Bucky is
punching walls in his rage at Falcon taking a bomb that was seemingly meant for
him. Just then Iron Hand Hauptman (the Nazi villain Zemo recruited last issue)
attacks Bucky at the Hospital, and with Bucky still being drugged/drunk lays a
beating on him. Bucky briefly turns the tide because his cyborg arm is stronger
than the villain’s iron hand but then reinforcements arrive in the form of a
platoon of Nazis wearing full-on WWII uniforms. Bucky brutally beats the foot
soldiers into oblivion until Steve arrives to stop him, at which point we see
Bucky was hallucinating and he just beat up the local cops. Hauptman also
escaped during the confusion. Medical tests show Bucky wasn’t just drugged, he
was injected with a nanotech virus that can release additional drugs into him
as needed. The Avengers use an EMP to kill the nanos. Steve and Black Widow
brainstorm with Bucky on who could be behind this. Meanwhile the news is
running with the story of Cap brutalizing cops, and asking questions about who
this is new Cap is and who he is accountable to. Bucky is about to rush out and
confront the media when Natasha stops him by noting that is what the mystery
villain obviously wants him to do. They backtrack for clues and decide to look
into the female bartender to see if she drugged him. While they investigate,
Steve calls to say Sam is out of critical condition, adding to the heroes
deducing that everything happening is meant to enrage and distract Bucky since
otherwise a bomb should have killed Sam at that range. Natasha heads up to the
apartment of the waitress and the door explodes. This time as Bucky rushes in
to help he is met with a laser blast followed the debut of a new, female
Beetle. Meanwhile in the cliffhanger Zemo meets with an ex-KGB agent and
purchases film of the Winter Soldier.

Chapter 3 – Beetle has a brief fight with Bucky and Widow
but in her own words this is her first day as a super villain so despite the
superior firepower she’s easily outmatched. She realizes this and tries to fly
away but Bucky catches her in midair and KOs
her. They take her to the Raft prison, where Fixer works as a Thunderbolt. When
the heroes go to question her in costume she calls Cap “Bucky” and he loses his
temper again. She unnerves him more by reciting his real name and history until
Widow steps in. Beetle reveals she isn’t working for herself but little else to
Widow. Zemo contacts Fixer on a secure line and he’s okay with Beetle talking
to the heroes since she doesn’t know enough to upset his plans, and besides
he’s already set the next step in motion. Widow offers Beetle a plea bargain
but Beetle laughs in her face. Afterwards Bucky notes they got the information
they needed; they just learned that whoever is targeting him is after him
because he is Bucky and not because he is Captain America. They work through the list
of villains who know Bucky’s secret identity before Natasha hits on Zemo. Just
then a horde of reporters rushes Bucky on the street in his civilian identity questioning
him on 1-being Captain America,
2-Being Cap’s original WWII partner and 3-being the soviet assassin Winter
Soldier. Furthermore Zemo leaked to the media Winter Soldier’s training films
he acquired last chapter leaving little doubt to the public that the current
Captain America
is a former Soviet traitor.

Chapter 4 – Sam checks himself out of the hospital after
seeing the news reports, and he and Steve head off to find Bucky. Meanwhile
Widow talks Bucky into going into hiding until she can decode Zemo’s next move,
but as Bucky is packing up his belongings at his apartment he finds a note from
Zemo challenging him to a fight “where he was born.” That Zemo would come into
his house is the last straw and Bucky heads out to meet him, no longer caring
if it is a trap. Steve, Sam and Natasha find the note to try and figure out
where Zemo wants to meet Bucky. Zemo sends Iron Hand to slow them down, who
bazookas Bucky’s apartment as an opening salvo. Bucky arrives at Camp LeHigh
(where he was trained to be Cap’s partner) and finds Zemo waiting for him;
though Zemo says this is not the location he meant in his note. We cut back and
forth between the two fights. Zemo uses tech to keep Bucky on the defensive,
while it takes all three heroes to eventually overcome Iron Hand; and that
fight only ends when Steve accidentally breaks his foe’s titular hand thinking
it was a cyborg hand and not an iron glove. Bucky’s fighting skill takes Zemo
down but Zemo is playing possum and uses tech to shut down Bucky’s cyborg arm.
The fight doesn’t last long after that as Zemo shoots Bucky with a laser gun
for the KO. Bucky wakes up on a plane with Zemo revealing he is taking him to his
father’s castle where Bucky originally died.

Chapter 5 – Cap (Steve) figures out where Zemo is taking
Bucky. Cut to Bucky waking up on the island, dressed in his original costume
just outside of Zemo’s castle. Zemo has thugs dressed as Nazi’s for Bucky to
fight before he enters the fray himself wielding Cap’s shield. Zemo claims he
isn’t doing this for his father, but because Bucky does not deserve redemption.
Bucky wins the fight and is about to decapitate Zemo before thinking better of
it. Zemo says Bucky is still a killer and not a hero like Steve then hits a
button activating a trap in his castle to KO Bucky. When Bucky wakes up he is
of course tied to a replica WWII airplane with a bomb on a timer. Zemo launches
the plane, and while Bucky can’t see the timer he knows it will blow up in the
same spot as last time allowing him to estimate how much time he has to escape.
Bucky escapes as the plane explodes in midair. When he swims to shore the Cap
costume and shield are waiting for him but Zemo is gone. An hour later the
other heroes arrive to take Bucky home, who despite all Zemo put him though
realizes Zemo is right about one thing—he will need to earn his redemption.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I liked this comic book a lot, which I suppose is par for the course at this
point on the Brubaker Cap trades. In
general I find Zemo to be a very interesting villain. Historically he is Cap’s
#2 foe thanks to both the killing of Bucky and the legendary Avengers Under Siege story. While still
a Nazi, Zemo is in many ways a much more interesting character than the Red
Skull. I enjoy a good Cap vs. Skull story but generally Skull’s goals are
always the same, whereas Zemo has a lot more nuance to him thanks to years of
appearing in the Thunderbolts and his
schemes tend to be more elaborate than the Skull’s. This book is a perfect
example of that as Zemo’s scheme unfolds across every chapter showing him
outmaneuver and manipulate the heroes time and again. I also like how Zemo’s
resources and allies pay heed to both his father’s continuity in WWII and his
own with the Thunderbolts. It’s a credit to the writing that this book ends in
the most obvious comic book way possible (Zemo ties Bucky to a death trap that
recreates an iconic prior story) and yet the journey to get to that point still
feels deliciously complex.

That also brings us to Zemo’s motivation. I think the
dialogue in the finale hits just the right note of harkening back to the themes
explored with Zemo in Thunderbolts—a
book at its core about redemption, and in Zemo’s case his duality with being
raised that he was “born better” while witnessing his teammates embrace that
chance for redemption in a way he never does. This is the rare story allowing a
character to pivot back to his roots (in this case as an arch villain) without
feeling like a retread. It’s always tricky when a redeemed villain backslides.
I personally still hate what happened with Sandman in the Spidey titles. In this case however I think it fits. I mean on a
surface level Zemo is a Nazi so I don’t think many readers ever bought into his
redemption anyway. Beyond that even in Thunderbolts
he never fully became a hero at any time; even when he comes closest to
that role (circa issue 100) he still kills a true hero in Photon
(Legacy/Captain Marvel v3.0) albeit for the greater cosmic good. Bucky’s
resurrection is the perfect catalyst to make Zemo backtrack given his
longstanding daddy issues. Brubaker’s writing fleshes out the details of what
should be obvious, and even so he lets Zemo depart ambiguously by leaving the
Cap identity behind for Bucky to reclaim.

As for the heroes, by this point Bru had been writing these
characters for five years so it should not be a surprise that all of them read
true. Basically if you like Bru’s prior interpretations of Steve, Bucky, Falcon
and Widow then this is more of the same. If you like his style of espionage
flavored super-heroics this delivers on that front, although not to the degree
of his earliest work on the title. I liked Bru’s take on these characters before,
and that has not changed.

One last bonus kudo is this marks the first appearance of
the female Beetle. She’s interesting enough here for a secondary villain making
her debut. The scene where she taunts Bucky in prison is a good one. But of
course the real treat is for those of us reading Superior Foes of Spider-man where she is one of
the lead characters. In the second trade of that series you get to see these
same events from a different perspective, some of which is hysterically funny
and yet the writing of both series is such that the askew view in that title
does not diminish the dramatic tension of this trade.

 

Grade: A. This
book delivered exactly what the premise promised—letting us see what happens
when the villain who killed Bucky decades ago suddenly learns Bucky is alive—in
a satisfying way.

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Secret Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

Secret Avengers (2):
Eyes of the Dragon

Written by Ed
Brubaker, Illustrated by Mike Deodato & Will Conrad

Collects Secret
Avengers #6-12

 

Why I Bought This: It
was $6 at BAM. Given the quality of Bru’s Cap run, I was interested to see what
he would do with an Avengers title, particularly one with Cap in the lead and
an espionage-based concept.

 

The Plot: Shang
Chi’s father (Fu Manchu) has returned from the dead and it is up to the
Avengers to stop him.
 

(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Shang Chi is sleeping when he is awoken by a
ninja attack. He recognizes them as his father’s ninjas, even though his father
is supposed to be dead. Shang Chi has the fight well in hand, when another
Asian hero “Prince of Orphans,” who can transform into green mist arrives to
help. We learn the Prince was sent in by Cap to retrieve Shang Chi. We
flashback to two days ago when the Prince found a temple of slaughtered monks
and a missing magic scroll that can raise the dead. Back in the present Cap and
Shang Chi come up with a plan of attack to stop Fu Manchu from being
resurrected. This leads to Cap, Widow and Shang Chi breaking into a museum to
preemptively steal some other magic artifact only to be attacked by more
ninjas. Cut to the Shadow Council, where we see Fu Manchu is indeed walking
about though he is only ‘half-alive” and we get a close up of his undead face.

Chapter 2  – ThenNinjas
overrun the heroes and manage to teleport away with Shang Chi. Cap is
surprisingly okay with this as we learn Ant Man (v3.0) is hidden in Shang Chi’s
robe and Ant Man’s helmet is linked to the Hellicarrier. The plan was to track
the ninjas but when they want to behead Shang the heroes are forced to escape.
Meanwhile Valkyrie and Orphan Prince are in China looking for more magic items
and they too get ambushed by a few ninjas. The heroes easily win and bring back
a prisoner for Cap and Widow to interrogate. Meanwhile the Shadow Council is
unhappy so they decide to unleash John Steele on Cap, whom the narration tells
us was America’s
first super soldier.

Chapter 3 – We get a little back-story on Steele and Cap in
WWII as Steele plans a distraction so he can kidnap Shang Chi. Meanwhile Beast
researches and discovers Shang Chi’s father is centuries old and his original
name is Zheng Zu (because Marvel lost the license to Fu Manchu decades ago).
Also the secret to his immortality is to drain the life of family members. Sharon alerts Steve that Zheng Zu is committing a major
terrorist attack in broad daylight in Hong Kong.
The heroes respond and once engaged Shang is suspicious if this is really the
work of his father. Cut to the Hellicarrier where Steel and Max Fury (a rogue
Nick Fury LMD) break in to attack Sharon.
Zheng Zhu blows up Steve’s plane so the heroes cannot go back to aid her. Shang
Chi fights his way to dad only to discover he is a hologram. Beast and Sharon lose their fight.
War Machine and Steve fly in to make the save but its too late Steele has
escaped with Sharon.
He’s left Steve a video offering a hostage exchange of Sharon for Shang Chi.

 Chapter 4 – We get
Cap’s take on Steele’s origin: he dates back to the Civil War and while he
doesn’t have Steve’s fighting skill he does have super strength and
invulnerability similar to Luke Cage. He’s been MIA since 1943. Meanwhile Max
Fury tries to recruit Sharon
to the Shadow Council. Meanwhile Shang tells Steve he is willing to make the
exchange. Cap & Shang meet with Steele on a rooftop. He turns over Sharon and shoots Shang
in the head. That leads to Cap and Steele going one on one and surprisingly
Steele wins, at which point the rest of the team shows up to make the save.
Steele manages to escape while the heroes are occupied with generic thugs. Back
at villain HQ Shang and his father have a moment with Fu Manchu promising to
sacrifice his boy at nightfall. In the cliffhanger we see Moon Knight managed
to sneak into the villains’ hideout disguised as one of the thugs.

Chapter 5 – The heroes crash the sacrificial ceremony. This
time Cap leaves Steele to Valkyrie while he takes on Max. Orphans materializes
and disrupts Fu Manchu’s spell causing him to self combust. Max escapes. Steele
manages to fight Valkyrie to a stalemate but when War Machine lends a hand the
heroes overwhelm him. In the epilogue the door is left open for Shang Chi to join
the team, while Cap visits Steele in prison to ask why he switched sides.

Chapter 6 – Cap uses VR to access Steele’s memories. This
leads to the usual Marvel WWII flashback tale of Nazis in castles. This time
they were trying to summon monsters. Steele becomes aware of Rogers in his brain and breaks free of his
chains in real life.

Chapter 7 – Cap and Orphan Prince subdue Steele with ease.
We return to the VR simulation and see how the Shadow Council captured Steele
and then with an occult ritual summoned the Abyss, who took possession of his
body. At the conclusion of the flashback Steele is himself again and agrees to
join the team.

 

Critical Thoughts:
This is a fairly mundane comic. It’s not bad per se, but it is rather run of
the mill in both action and characterization. There are not any major plot
twists. The threat never seems all that serious. Even the few new characters we
are given are not interesting at all. Furthermore on the latter point Prince of
Orphans is a terrible name for a superhero, while Steele is a yet another
heretofore unknown Super Soldier for Cap to deal with. I’ve complained about
this once before but the point still stands: Cap has way too many foes that are
variations of his powers and origin; one of these is fine, nearly a dozen is
ridiculous especially since no one stays dead in the Marvel Universe so you can
just use the existing ones if this point if you need to tell this story yet
again.

Also on the continuity police front,  why is Fu Manchu dead?
I’m assuming he died when Shang Chi’s 70s book ended (which I never read). But
he was alive and running his empire in the excellent 2000 era team book Marvel Knights. And since Marvel doesn’t
really own the name to the character and Shang Chi doesn’t appear very often I
find it doubtful that he died since that series’ premature cancellation. (Also
an interesting footnote is that series also had a rogue Nick Fury LMD as one of
its recurring villains, so that makes it twice as unforgiveable for an editor
not to catch this point since one could argue Max Fury first appeared in that
series too).

The only positive thing I have to say about this book is the
art in the two fight scenes with Steele is very dynamic.

 

Grade C-. Again
not a terrible comic but there is no reason to go out of your way to read this
either.


Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Happy new year all

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Captain America: Winter
Soldier ultimate collection

By Ed Brubaker and
Steve Epting.

Collects Captain America #1-9
and 11-14

 

Why I Bought This: I
mentioned this before but I actually avoided this book for a long time. I don’t
think I picked it up until 2012 or so. Because let’s be honest, the idea of
Bucky comes back from the dead as a cyborg assassin screams comic cliché/fan
fiction—on top of which I never particularly gave a crap about Bucky to begin
with. Chances are if you’ve read one flashback Cap and Bucky in WW2 story,
you’ve read them all; most of them involve old scientists in castles behind
enemy lines (according to Marvel, WWII was fought with more castles than the
middle ages). The net result is Bucky has always been just a plot point in
Steve’s backstory rather than an actual character so I’ve never particularly
cared when other writers would dig up his corpse for some flashback story or
heretofore unknown threat from the past emerging. Of course every review written
gushed over Brubaker’s run in general and this arc in particular. Being the Cap
fan I am I finally caved and bought this.
The Plot
Captain America’s world moves more fully into espionage and terrorism when a
mysterious assassin known as Winter Soldier kills the Red Skull under orders
from Russian general Alexander Lukin in a bid to claim the power of the Cosmic
Cube forcing Cap and SHIELD to investigate.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Years ago the Red Skull met Russian general
Alexander Lukin for the first  time as
Lukin sold him weapons following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Lukin also
has a frozen cyborg in his possession that intrigues the Skull, but Lukin says
he will only trade it for the Cosmic Cube. Skull notes he too is looking for
the Cube and if he got it he certainly wouldn’t trade it. Cut to the present
where the Skull has recovered an imperfect Cosmic Cube. He intends to jump
start its power by burning several cities to the ground. Steve meanwhile is
depressed about the death of Hawkeye and disbanding of the Avengers in “Avengers
Disassembled” so Sharon Carter checks in on him. She also notes his tactics
have been more extreme of late as he recently thwarted a hijacking of a train
and in the process hospitalized and killed the perps. Steve goes home and we
see the Skull has someone tailing him. Skull’s plotting is interrupted by a
phone call from Lukin who offers to buy the Cube from him. Skull turns him down
and is promptly assassinated by our mystery cyborg.

Chapter 2 – Crossbones is waiting on Red Skull to call. Cap
is having nightmares about Bucky dying in battle in WWII. Fury calls Cap to the
Hellicarrier where SHIELD has recovered Skull’s body. Their spy tech confirms
this is really Skull but Cap has his doubts. Cap flashes back to how he was
created to battle the Skull. Cap and Sharon
find some leads at the Skull’s house that lead them into the sewers where they
find Crossbones and some henchmen recruited from AIM however because of the
darkness of the tunnel the heroes never see Crossbones. After the heroes win
Crossbones overhears them talking about the Skull’s death. Fury’s forensic team
learns Skull had a Cosmic Cube and now it’s missing. Crossbones vows to burn
down several cities in memory of the Skull.

Chapter 3 – SHIELD is following more leads, while Cap keeps
having World War II flashbacks that end differently than they historically played
out. Union Jack reports Skull’s agents in London
were murdered and the firebomb stolen. Cap and Sharon track down and beat up the responsible
AIM agents, who stole the bomb because Skull’s henchmen within AIM stole it
from them first. Cap and Sharon spend some
downtime in Paris.
Meanwhile in Pittsburg Cap’s former partner Nomad is murdered outside of a bar.

Chapter 4 –Lukin’s Cube has very little power but it has
enough to help him in a corporate takeover meeting with Roxxon Oil. Cap
receives a call from Fury that upsets him and he departs immediately. Fury then
meets with Sharon
to reveal the assassin may be Nomad as his prints were found on the rifle used
to kill Skull though both feel that is awfully convenient. Cap is at Arlington Cemetery where the gravestones of two
former replacement Caps have been destroyed. Cap is attacked by Crossbones
while simultaneously having more weird flashbacks Crossbones beats Cap down but
denies destroying the graveyard, saying he got a call from a Russian telling
him where to find Cap. Bones realizes he has been setup as well and leaves. Sharon’s search for Nomad
has her find the unknown cyborg, who drops her with one punch.

Chapter 5 – Fury tells Cap the most likely Russian suspect
(based on Crssobones comments last chapter) is Lukin, who we are told heads the
international Kronas Corporation. Cap then tells a story of a WWII mission in Russia under a
Colonel Karpov whom Cap immediately dislikes because he tortures prisoners.
This is also the beginning of the Bucky was an assassin during the war retcon.
Anyway the mission goes south, Cap calls in the Invaders, and ultimately the
Red Skull is found in the village
of Kronas using a heat-beam
laser. The village burns to the ground and the weapon is destroyed but the
Skull escapes. After Cap left Karpov found the village’s soul survivor: a boy
named Alex Lukin whom he would raise and train. Of course Cap doesn’t know that
last part while Fury’s intel puts Karpov as 20 years dead. Cap heads off to
deal with his escalating weird memory problems while Fury has a classified
dossier that may “destroy Cap’s world.”

Chapter 6 – The mystery cyborg is in Philly setting a bomb
and leaving Nomad’s body behind as a scapegoat. He also had Sharon tied up in his trunk. We meet some
SHIELD agent whose been dating Sharon
and is worried she hasn’t checked in for 24 hours. Cap goes to Castle Zemo and
begins to remember being tortured with Bucky. His reverie is interrupted by
some Nazis who disappear as suddenly as they appeared. Cap begins to suspect
the Cosmic Cube is being used against him. He flashes back to Bucky’s death on
the plane with new details. He gets ready to fly home and is hit with a mental
image of Sharon
tied up. Cap arrives in Philly and easily rescues her. When he unties her she
tells him she’s seen Bucky (aka our mystery cyborg). Bucky could take a shot on
Steve but Lukin order him not to. Instead Bucky detonates the bomb just as Sharon’s new boyfriend
was attempting to deactivate it. The deaths caused by the explosion power up
Lukin’s Cube.

Chapter 7 – We see what Nomad was up to before he was
murdered. One year ago the super soldier serum in his blood began
disintegrating. As a result his powers, immune system and sanity will all fade
until he dies. He refuses to go to Cap and the Avengers for help. He eventually
tracks down Bucky v4.0 (a baby he used to dress like the original Bucky and
wear on a backpack while he fought crime in his 90s solo series) who is now in
first grade. He learns there are drug dealers operating near her school and
vows to take them down. For the most part he does pretty well except for when
he has blackouts and loses weeks and months at a time. And then one night is
waiting in a bar to meet with a source and Winter Soldier finds him and kills
him.

Chapter 8 – In 1945 a Russian submarine hears the Germans
broadcasting that they killed Cap and feel they are close enough to check it
out. In the present Fury presents Cap with photos of Bucky alive today as an
assassin and tells Cap that Bucky is the prime suspect in the firebombing of
Philly. Cut back to Philly the night before and Cap evacuates some survivors
and fights some AIM agents with their MODOC hive mind soldiers. In the present
Fury unveils the entire origin of Winter Soldier as a mythical KGB assassin
that is kept in suspended animation and only unfrozen for high profile
missions. Cut back to Philly where Cap saw a glimpse of Bucky at the end of his
fight though Winter Soldier did not recognize him and then disappeared. Back in
the present Steve flips out and breaks stuff as he accepts the truth, then
agrees to go on a SHIELD mission to capture Lukin—who they now fear has a
functional Cosmic Cube. Fury also tells Sharon
her boyfriend died in Philly. Flashback to 1945 where the Russians retrieve a
one-armed unconscious Bucky from the English Channel.

Chapter 9 – Crossbones breaks into a military base and
kidnaps a young girl. Cap and Sharon
have tension over the mission because she wants justice for her dead boyfriend
while Cap wants to save Bucky. Also this mission is off-book because Fury has
no evidence against Lukin–indeed all the evidence points to Nomad. They
assault the Kronas building on some private island off the coast of China.
When the heroes make it to the boardroom Cap loses his temper attacking Kronas
and screaming at him to tell him where Bucky is. Unfortunately the U.S. Vice
President’s Chief of Staff and the Assistant to the Secretary General of the UN
were both in a meeting with Kronas when this went down. They pull rank on Cap
and Fury who are escorted from the building. Meanwhile Crossbones reveals he
has freed the Red Skull’s daughter Sin.

Chapter 10 – Lukin is getting irritable and absent minded
and worries the cause is contact with the Cosmic Cube. At his home Cap receives
a top secret file on how Bucky was turned into Winter Soldier.

Chapter 11 – Lukin assembles a bunch of corporate heads to
auction of the Cube to, but it turns out to be a ruse and he uses the Cube to
brainwash them into signing over their companies to him. Later the Cube causes
him to have an episode and when his assistant tries to help him pick up the
Cube, Lukin goes all Gollum and murders him for touching the precious.
Meanwhile Cap, Sharon & Fury discuss the file, with Sharon still believing Bucky should be
killed. Steve leaves and recalls a mission with Bucky where they had to fight
zombie soldiers and how horrified Bucky was that American soldiers were used by
Nazis and forced to betray their ideals in life making Steve wonder if Bucky
would want to be killed after what’s been done to him. Steve’s reverie is
interrupted by the Falcon.

Chapter 12 – Steve talks over his troubles with Sam and the
two also note the Cosmic Cube never seems to grant wishes they way various
villains like the Skull expect, foremost among these examples being how the
Cube ended up making Cap and Falcon partners. Lukin meanwhile tasks Winter
Soldier with hiding the Cube. When Bucky leaves we see Lukin is hearing voices
who disagree with him. Cap, Falcon and Iron Man raid an AIM warehouse. They
capture a scientist and question him on how to track the Cosmic Cube. This
leads them to another Kronas facility, though for corporate reasons Tony Stark can’t
be part of an assault on Kronas. Cap radios where he is going to Sharon after he has
already left so the politicians can’t stop him this time. As Cap and Falcon
approach Winter Soldier gets a bead on them and despite a momentary hesitation Bucky
pulls the trigger.

Chapter 13 – Winter Soldier misses the mark when Redwing
warns the heroes to get out of the way. Cap’s shield then drives Bucky into
retreat. Sam takes on the generic thugs giving Cap a clear path to the long
awaited one-on-one showdown with Bucky. As they fight Cap tries to get Bucky to
remember. When that fails he drops his defenses to allow Bucky to pull the
trigger. Even that doesn’t work as Bucky shoots but Cap casually dodges and
then uses his Shield to take Bucky down and retrieve the Cube all in one throw.
Cap then uses the Cosmic Cube to restore Bucky’s memories. Sharon still wants justice for her friend but
Cap convinces her to drop it. Bucky tells Cap he’d have been better off dead
and in a fit off rage he grabs the Cube with his cyborg hand and crushes it.
This causes cosmic energy to pour out that seemingly disintegrates him. Cap
refuses to believe it, and indeed in the epilogue we see Bucky teleported
himself back to Camp
Lehigh. In the finale we
see Lukin talking to the voices in his head and when he looks in a mirror the reflection
that stares back is the Red Skull as their minds now share Lukin’s body.
Critical Thoughts:
If you haven’t read it, believe the hype for this is indeed as good as everyone
says it is. A good barometer is to watch the movie that bears its name. If you
liked the film then you will like this book. Best of all there are plenty of
similarities in tone but differences in details that you can watch the film and
still thoroughly enjoy this as its own experience.

The plotting is really good. One thing Brubaker does very
well is pace his reveals as he adds new intrigues or introduces additional
players so that this builds and reads far better than most comic book stories.
He is aided by Epting’s excellent cinematic art. All of the espionage elements
are plotted quite well, but it is the Bucky reveal done in stages that really
is superb. At the same time we got to see Cap’s reaction to it, so that the
second act with Steve over the edge and furious at Lukin is really good. Best
of all it feels in-character despite being new territory for Steve, which is
the best kind of character-based story-telling.

I supposed one could criticize this story by saying ‘well
it’s easy to build tension when you kill off longtime characters like Red Skull
and Nomad in the first three chapters’, but as with any story it’s the execution
that counts and in this case the way the murders unfold and reveal themselves
show much more narrative skill than simple shock value. Nomad is a character
that had not been relevant in a decade or two; and sure he is just killed in the
cliffhanger of chapter three at first, but then Bru goes back in chapter seven
and gives us a beautifully written standalone chapter on what the last few
months of Nomad’s life were like. As for killing the Skull, of course it is a
shock value up the stakes moment, but it also serves to deepen the mystery
since otherwise he’d be the de facto prime suspect in any plot with this much
scope and personal history for the protagonist.

I like the way Cap is written has having a network of
resources. Cap is often written as the most respected hero in the Marvel
Universe and an experienced soldier. So it makes sense that he would call upon
Union Jack or Iron Man or Falcon if they could be of help to him in a mission.
I think Cap’s often cooperative yet tense relationship with SHIELD is also
portrayed very consistently with established history in this volume. Certainly
the increased SHIELD presence fits into the espionage milieu Brubaker wants to
project.

One thing I don’t like is the Bucky was an assassin in World
War II retcon. It’s not so bad here, but future writers have portrayed Bucky as
borderline psychotic in newer flashback tales. I have two problems with it.
One, It undermines Cap’s character: as either he is a moron who doesn’t know
what his kid sidekick is up to, or he is complicit in letting a minor carry out
murders just so his own image isn’t tarnished—neither to me are acceptable for
Steve. Second, it undermines the impact of this story that Brubaker is telling.
If Bucky was always a psychotic killer then who cares if the Russians hypnotize
him and turn him into an assassin? Conversely, if Bucky was a superhero in the
past and now he’s been turned into a murder against his will that’s a lot more
powerful dramatically and tragic for his character.

Grade: A+.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

Avengers: Heroes
Reborn

By Rob Liefeld, Jim
Valentino, Jeph Loeb and Walt Simonson; art by Rob Liefeld, Joe Phillips, Joe
Bennet and Al Rio.

Collects Avengers (vol
2) #1-12

 

Why I Bought This: I
love me some Liefeld art and I love me some Avengers. So even though Heroes
Reborn is notoriously bad I grabbed it off Amazon after I had previously found
issue one in a $1 bin and thought this is a promising start and the art is
terrific so maybe it’s better than its reputation. Alas Liefeld only draws two
chapters and as for the writing, read on.
The Plot – The
Avengers died fighting Onslaught only to be reborn in a pocket universe where
basically their origin starts from scratch thus allowing us to see what the
Marvel Universe would be like if it had been created by Image in the 90s
instead.
 
(spoilers below)

 

Chapter 1 – Loki arrives in the Reborn Universe and notices
there is no Asgard here. Meanwhile Donald Blake is an archeologist and he finds
Thor frozen in a block of ice. Loki’s astral form peaks in on the Avengers
although he does not recognize any of them and through him we meet Scarlet
Witch, Swordsman, Hawkeye, Hellcat (looking a lot like Tigra), Vision and Cap.
Also years before the ultimate universe and movies we have Nick Fury and SHIELD
in charge of assembling the Avengers. The team is sent to Blake’s location and
frees Thor from the ice. Loki then appears and tells his brother the Avengers
are responsible for his fate and we get a fight scene. But when Cap saves Thor
from Loki’s backstab and Thor picks up his hammer he sees the truth (and almost
remembers Onslaught but takes it to have been Ragnarok instead). Thor decides
to join the Avengers. Loki retreats and recruits Enchantress who reveals
Scarlet Witch is her daughter.

Chapter 2 – Thor impresses everyone with his strength. We
meet the Pyms for the first time. Kang attacks the team and no one can
penetrate his force field. Kang’s spaceship blasts everyone. Kang then takes
the captured Avengers to Mantis as a gift of love.

Chapter 3 – Kang takes down Fury. Thor summons his hammer to
him and frees the team. Loki meets with Agatha Harkness. Kang’s force field
keeps the human Avengers at bay but they distract him long enough for Wanda to
shut down his force field and one hammer blow later ends the fight. Swordsman
wants to kill Kang but Mantis talks him out of it and this gives Kang and her
time to teleport away. Vision’s body then falls from Kang’s ship and Wanda
fears he may be dead.

Chapter 4 – Hulk is doing his usual Hulk smash thing (only
naked in this universe). Meanwhile Pym and Ultron attempt to repair the Vision
at Pym’s lab. Wanda returns home and we learn Enchantress is now masquerading
as Agatha. Thor is out drinking when Hulk attacks Avengers mansion leaving only
the three humans and Hellcat there to fight him. Hulk wins with only Cap giving
him even a mild fight.

Chapter 5 – Thor arrives and we get some epic Liefeld splash
pages as he and Hulk throw down. Meanwhile Avengers Island apparently has a
gamma reactor on site which is what attracted the Hulk and now due to
collateral damage is about to go nuclear and destroy Manhattan. Hulk wins the
fight with Thor.

Chapter 6 – So apparently this Hulk story crossed over with the
FF HR book and that issue is not reprinted here. So we open with Reed and
Banner working to shut down the reactor while SHIELD evacuates the unconscious
Avengers. Loki’s astral form contacts Nick Fury but says nothing of note. Iron
Man arrives to help with the reactor. Hellcat wakes up and sniffs Bruce realizing
he is the Hulk and tries to attack him. Cap stops her but its too late Bruce
changes into the Hulk.

Chapter 7 – So the Hulk fight was resolved in the pages of
Iron Man (not reprinted here). Iron Man has now joined the Avengers and the
Avengers have split from SHIELD, although Fury is keeping Vision’s shutdown
body claiming it is SHIELD property. Pym meanwhile is still inside the Vision
as Ant Man trying to repair him (and also wearing the ugliest costume ever) and
is running afoul of Vision’s antibodies. Tony also creates Avengers Mansion
and invites Thor inside (but there is no Jarvis in this reality). Hawkeye has a
flashback of working with a cyborg version of Grim Reaper alongside Hellcat in
the first Avengers mission to track down Zemo where apparently Reaper did not
make it out alive. Cap is sitting vigil at Swordsman’s bedside as Hulk put him
in a coma. There is a knock on the door. Thor answers and there is Wonderman
barely able to stand saying he needs help; but it’s a trick as Wonderman attacks
Thor when his guard is down. He is soon joined by the Lethal Legion which
includes Enchantress, Executioner, Ultron and Scarlet Witch.

Chapter 8 – Loki confronts Kang and Mantis and absorbs their
essence as he has discovered the nature of this reality (ergo many of these
people don’t really exist and are just figments of Franklin Richards’
imagination). Meanwhile the battle rages on and Ultron is destroyed (apparently
not adamantium here) by the mansion security system making it probably the
first time that has ever stopped anyone. As the Avengers rally Enchantress and
Wanda teleport away, abandoning their teammates who lose a panel or two later.
The Avengers turn the villains over to SHIELD. Meanwhile Loki sneaks aboard the
SHIELD prison and absorbs various villains from Captain America’s solo
title. Meanwhile inside the Vision, Ant Man finds his brain and hooks up to it
and presumably sees images of the real Marvel Universe which causes him to pass
out. Meanwhile the Avengers are attacked by the Masters of Evil (in the form
C-list Silver Age villains) and a missile explodes. In the prison Loki finds
Executioner and absorbs him. Loki reveals he knows that he himself is not real
but he has a plan to become real.

Chapter 9 – The Masters have the Avengers on the defensive
for all of two pages and then literally three of them trip over each other
breaking legs and hitting heads in the process. Iron Man and Thor punch the
last two and when the fight ends the villains can’t even explain their motives
for attacking. Thor wants to execute the prisoners but Cap puts a stop to that
and then Thor, Hawkeye and Hellcat all quit the team. Loki meets up with
Enchantress & Scarlet Witch for a new plan. Jan (Wasp) asks the team if
anyone has seen Hank who has been missing for days and for no particular reason
Iron Man deduces where he is and takes her to the Hellicarier. Loki teleports
in and absorbs the Masters. Ant Man wakes up and discovers Vision’s memories
are being transmitted back to Avengers
Island and decides to
return to the real world. He emerges just in time to meet up with Tony, Jan and
Fury—who claims he knew Pym was inside Vision all along. Vision then self
destructs for some reason and the Avengers leave while Fury rants like Jonah in
a 60s cartoon. Thor is depressed that he does not get to do Viking activities
like “reaving, pillaging and executing” in the 20th century so
Enchantress teleports in to recruit him to Team Loki by making out with him.
Cap discovers Swordsman is not in his hospital bed (presumably Loki absorbed
him since this subplot is never explained or picked up on again in the series).
Loki rants about Vision blowing up since he was the one using his memories.
Wanda returns to the mansion and is attacked by Hellcat. Wanda claims she was
an undercover agent for the Avengers, at which point Loki ports in behind her
and zaps her. He then offers to put Hellcat’s mind in Wanda’s body so she can
seduce Cap if she will join Team Loki. Cap & Tony are at the gamma reactor
and see some more old (mainstream M.U.) Avengers’ foes materializing but a
single repulsor ray stops that. This causes the energy in the reactor to coalesce
and form Thor.

Chapter 10 – So apparently this is the true Marvel Universe
Thor who assumes he has been reunited with his teammates in Valhalla
after dying in battle with Onslaught. Also Jan is now the Wasp for literally no
explained reason at all—in this entire series she’s not had powers or been on
the team or involved in anyway except as Hank’s wife and yet now she is in
costume and flying with wings. Anyway Cap and Tony have no idea what Thor is
talking about and when they tell him about the reactor Thor is like ‘in what
mad reality would a nuclear reactor be kept in Manhattan?’ and Cap is like ‘good point.’
Loki and Witch-Cat recruit Hawkeye to Team Loki. Reed of the FF comes to
investigate and discovers the reactor is actually a dimensional doorway. Fury
locates Kang’s ship and finds security footage of Loki killing Kang and Mantis.
He shows the footage to the Avengers and MU Thor leaves to investigate. S-Witch
returns and Cap indeed confirms she was an undercover agent known only to him
but then she starts making out with him so that Hawkeye can get a free shot in
with an Asgardian bow. Witch-Cat then fake reveals she liked being bad when she
was undercover so she’s turning heel permanently. HR Thor joins the battle and
starts beating down Iron Man while Enchantress takes out Pym with a sleep spell
kiss. Hawkeye defeats Wasp. HR Thor is about to kill Tony when MU Thor returns to
make the save. Tony zaps Clint as the Thors fight. Loki uses the confusion to
drain the cosmic energy in the reactor.

Chapter 11 – Loki is now giant-sized and he immediately
betrays Enchantress & HR Thor. Heroes and villains regroup together at
which point Agatha’s cat shows Witch her reflection which shows her to be
Hellcat. The mirror then draws in Hellcat’s soul and explodes. Enchantress then
turns the cat back into Agatha. Loki has put a force field around the reactor
that even both Thor hammers combined cannot break. A giant Odin confronts Loki
and they fight with Odin using a Thor hammer. A cut scene reveals Odin is
actually a mystic construct created by the combined magic of Witch, Enchantress
& Agatha. Meanwhile Stark and Pym create a science gizmo powered by MU
Thor’s hammer to break Loki’s force field while he’s distracted. Loki fatally
wounds Odin whose image dissolves into that of HR Thor. Loki takes down the sorceresses
with a mystic bolt and confronts the remaining Avengers. Wasp zaps him in the
ear and then the SHIELD Hellicarrier arrives to blast him with cannons. Loki’s
power is fading and he shrinks to normal size. Cap goes toe to toe with him for
a bit and Thor throws his hammer for the victory shot as Loki dissolves into
purple bubbles. HR Thor dies in MU Thor’s arms. Cap visits Clint in the
hospital where Clint apologizes for going bad but decides to keep the costume
Loki made for him (basically his regular purple costume as opposed to the brown
Wolverine knock off he wore the first 10 issues) as a reminder of how he messed
up.

Chapter 12 – The finale of this universe was a 4-part
“Coming of Galactus” remix. This is part 2. Part 1 was in FF in which Galactus
ate the world but Doom time traveled at the last minute. This chapter opens with
a Viking funeral for HR Thor. Doom arrives and warns everyone that Galactus
will destroy the world tommorow but the Avengers and Fury don’t believe him.
After Doom leaves SHIELD apparently has a satellite near Saturn and detects the
Heralds (Galactus has five in this reality) coming so Fury mobilizes the
Avengers, FF and Hulk. Pym kisses Jan goodbye since she is on one of the four
teams while he’s staying behind to do science. He then resurrects Vision, while
Witch casually mentions Enchantress is not her mom after-all. The FF battle
Silver Surfer. They do okay considering how outgunned they are but Doom is
taking no chances and takes control of Russia’s Nukes and launches them at
the battle site. This succeeds in killing the FF but Surfer is unharmed. Surfer
is touched by the love and nobility the FF showed in death. Another watery Herald
faces SHIELD. She wins rather easily but the Hellicarrier kamikazes the
Galactus planet eating machine on the way down—again impressing the Surfer. In Antarctica
Hulk gets his butt handed to him by Firelord. Vision and Scarlet Witch lend a
helping hand with Vision getting his staff from him. This gives Hulk time to
land a KO punch before he collapses. Vision uses Firelord staff to destroy the
Galactus engine. Banner dies in the snow and Surfer watches. Our final fight is
Avengers vs. Terrax. Terrax kills Hawkeye with ease. Cap gets some hits in.
Tony and Wasp follow up and Wasp dies too. Thor throws his hammer and takes out
both Terrax and the machine, though he is wounded in the explosion—and yes
Surfer watches this too. Then for no reason I can tell the rest of Doom’s nukes
malfunction and blow up. Galactus arrives with Air Walker. The Avengers Big
Three go to confront him but are casually blown away by Air Walker and Galactus
reveals he has a back up machine and with that he starts to eat the planet. The
heroes realize they can’t win but to save other worlds they decide to detonate
the interdimensional reactor to take Galactus with them. Surfer agrees to help
and the entire Heroes Reborn universe ends in an explosion. In the blackness we
learn Doom has time traveled again over to Iron Man #12.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The Heroes Reborn arc is a notoriously bad era for the Avengers and for the
most part this trade lives down to that reputation. Look at how many writers
and artists thing has for a one year stint. No wonder it never gels into a
solid story. The one thing I will say in its defense is Liefeld’s original
vision for this title is actually better than the jumbled throwing everything
at the sink with a side of meta commentary abomination that Simonson turns it
into when he takes over from chapter 8 on. Don’t misunderstand: I am not
arguing that Liefeld is a better writer than Simonson. What I am saying is that
Liefeld at least presented a coherent vision of a superhero team book even if
that vision was a mostly bland retread. Simonson on the other hand is bending
himself into pretzels to undo Liefeld’s story while also finishing it up and
preparing for a larger crossover to get the characters back home. Look at the
chapter recaps: Liefeld’s chapters are more or less short and to the point,
Simonson’s are big unwieldy things because he has so many random tangents in
them.

Let’s examine the Liefeld chapters first. Chapter one really
is a good setup chapter. It pays homage to the classic history by having Loki
be the first villain and having them find a hero in ice. The change of that
frozen hero being Thor rather than Cap is understandable seeing as Cap had a
solo book in this line and Thor did not. It looked fantastic and overall is a
very good first issue for a rebooted universe.

I think the subplots in that first issue all work well. We
start with Loki immediately being aware that the universe isn’t real, and that
is a good way to get the reader invested in what was a controversial reboot at
the time.  I’m pretty sure Loki’s last
prior appearance to this involved being in the Ultraverse with the Infinity
Gauntlet so it is entirely possible the real Loki could have ended up here
after that inter-dimensional mess ended, making it a nice long-term subplot to
keep the reader guessing. I think the interpretation of Thor as being out of
touch with the modern era and still thinking like a Viking is a fun take on the
character for this universe. I also like the plot twist of Scarlet Witch being
Enchantress’ daughter. This is a universe with no mutants so you need to
explain her powers and you don’t have Magneto. This concept is an alternative
that is inline with spirit of her original origins: she is still the daughter
of a master criminal who is sometimes capable of nobility for the greater good
and it later gets her on the Masters of Evil which in the original Silver Age
was very similar to the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. It was a very promising
start.

However it quickly becomes obvious that Liefeld doesn’t have
much new to say about these characters after that first issue. Now in his
defense I feel the same way about the Ultimate Universe too. If you are going
to reboot these classic characters in a new timeline are you saying anything
new to make the reboot worthwhile or are we just retelling the same stories
with better science jargon and updated technology in the peripherals of the
story? Because if it is the latter, why bother?

With that in mind let’s look at the team. In this book Cap is
fine. While his own Heroes Reborn book was god-awful, here he mostly just
serves the capable leader role that he usually fills on the team. I already
spoke that Thor and Scarlet Witch had some changes that were mostly positive
for trying something new. The other characters though are characters only in
the loosest of terms; all that is different is ugly redesigns of their costumes.
Vision has the same look and powers he usually does but all he does is speak in
weird run-on sentences and then gets blown up in chapter 3. Hawkeye has an ugly
costume with a mask that completely covers his face. It is alleged there is
some mystery there but it is never developed. In Liefeld’s last chapter he gave
a flashback that Hawkeye is responsible for the Grim Reaper being a cyborg but Simonson
doesn’t follow up on it. Mostly Hawkeye just bitches about Cap’s leadership
like it is the Silver Age Cap’s Kooky Quartet era which is a waste of the
character’s legacy given what he’s done since then. This brings us to
Swordsman: a character no one has ever cared about in the main reality, and who
is even less interesting here. He fills Quicksilver’s role of also bitching
alongside Hawkeye in the Silver Age quartet, while power-wise he is just a dude
with a sword—not even a trick techno sword like the Silver Age version or a
magic sword like Black Knight, nope just a dude with a sword who tries to fight
the Hulk. Hellcat is also just an uglier version of Tigra with the occasional
feral rage—a trope Liefeld seems to love.

Later heroes include: Ant Man, whose costume is the ugliest
thing in this book. He is never really member of the team. He contributes
science stuff before Tony joins and we get a redux of his journey inside the
Vision from the Kree-Skrull War that is not half as good as the original. Wasp
isn’t even a superhero in Liefeld’s version until Simonson has her full on
manifest her classic powers with no explanation. Tony had his own book in this
universe making him a late-comer to the team. His new armor looks good and he
does exactly what you expect him to do in an Avengers’ book: no more, no less.

As for the villains, other than the Asgardians, they are
completely interchangeable. Kang’s appearance is a shallow call-back to his
first appearance under Stan Lee. He just shows up and challenges the Avengers
to a fight so he can impress a girl; that is the extent of his grand plan. It’s
a not a bad fight by any means. It takes two issues, Kang gets an early victory—perfectly
serviceable in a surface way but there is nothing under that surface. Also no
one wants to see Kang date Mantis because it reminds us of The Crossing, which
is the worst Avengers’ story of all time. Ultron evolving every issue is kind
of cute (ergo he’s Ultron-1 in issue 1, Ultron-2 in issue 2, etc) but he joins
the Lethal Legion off-panel which dilutes the payoff. Worse his fight scene
occurs under Simonson, who has the frickin’ mansion security system blow him
up–a staggering anti-climax for the Avengers’ greatest foe. The Hulk chapters
are again typical Silver Age Hulk-smash vs. the Avengers but that kind of thing
is always fun and the Liefeld-drawn Hulk-Thor throw down is a tremendous use of
art and action: I think it ends up being the best thing in the book.

Then we come to Simonson and nothing makes sense anymore.
The villains became even less developed and defeated easily on purpose so he
can show they aren’t real. Suddenly there are two Thors for no particular
reason other than I guess Simonson is most famous for writing Thor and he must
have hated Liefeld’s take on the character so he wanted to bring in the “real”
Thor and show how he should be done, which seems petty since you’ve already
replaced the guy on the title. In fact his writing here is full of petty
touches. When Hellcat goes bad and is revealed, Cap is like we never noticed
she was missing well no wonder then (shrug). Yes Hellcat in this story is a
completely forgettable character but it feels like you’re taking cheap shots
for no reason. Ditto when he has Witch reveal the Enchantress mom-thing was a
lie, A) how would Hank Pym even know to ask that question, B) Enchantress did
not say that to Wanda to get her to join her, she said it to Loki why we she
lie about that to him? and C) the characters are going to their home universe
to be restored so who cares who her mom is in this one? It is just another petty
way to insert how much you think your predecessor’s ideas on this title sucked.
(See also MU Thor’s first sentence being ‘Building a nuclear reactor in Manhattan is the height
of folly’ when he arrives).
Grade: Liefelds’
title may have generously been a C. It was not very good as yes there were too
many characters that no one cared about or were poorly developed among the heroes,
while the villains had very basic motivations; however there were also some
decent mysteries being developed for the characters Liefeld was concentrating
his efforts on and the fight scenes ranged from perfectly serviceable to
excellent. Simmons’s run is a bunch of jump the rails nonsense, invalidating
what came before without building to anything new and is easily an F. Overall I
give the entire trade a D+ primarily
for the two chapters of excellent Liefeld art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

Captain America:
Castaway in Dimension Z (2)

by Rick Remender &
John Romita Jr.

collects Captain America
(2012) issues 6-10.

 

Why I Bought This: I
wanted the complete story of Cap in Dimension Z so I actually grabbed volumes 1
and 2 at the same time (on FCBD with a 40% discount per trade).

 
The Plot: Cap
storms Zola’s fortress in a bid to rescue his son and prevent Zola’s plan to
invade the Earth.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Jet is praying as she finds herself tempted by
Cap both physically and his ideals. When the camera pulls out we see the church
is a shrine to Zola. Cap kills the mutate guards as he gain access to the
castle. Jet and Ian debate the value of goodness. Zola is melting the Phrox
into biological clay in an attempt to grow them into clones of Steve but is
unsuccessful. Zola then talks to Ian and is less willing to debate his values
than Jet. He ends up strapping Ian to a chair Clockwork Orange style to brainwash him into thinking like a Zola.
Steve finds Jet in the shower and threatens her with a laser gun to tell him
where Ian is. She does not believe Cap will shoot her and refuses to talk and
Cap seemingly kills her. Meanwhile Ian’s brainwashing takes hold.

Chapter 2 – We get a flashback to Cap and Ian enjoying a
picnic two years ago as Steve tells Ian about Steve’s own father and promises
to always be there for Ian. Cap kills more mutates as he comes through the
hall. Jet is indeed not dead and frees herself from the ropes Cap tied her in,
then warns her father via radio that Cap is coming for Ian. Cap kills one of
his Gamma clones then comes face to face with Jet. This time they fight to a
stalemate until Cap stops to save a Phrox female. Afterwards Cap convinces Jet
to do the right thing. Meanwhile Zola’s castle has become a rocket and is
preparing to invade Earth by infecting everyone with the Zola virus. Steve and
Jet split up then Steve is shot in the back by Ian.

Chapter 3 – Cap is pummeled by the gamma-clone and believes
he may be dying but then rallies for Ian’s sake to defeat it. Ian attacks Steve
and accuses him of kidnapping him. Cap punches Ian and retreats hoping he can
escape to Earth and send the FF to rescue the boy. Ian recovers and picks up a
jagged replica shield the gamma-clone had. Meanwhile Jet frees the Phrox but is
discovered by her father. Ian presses the assault on Cap while presenting a
counter-argument to Cap’s ideals. Ian wins this fight and inflicts another grievous
wound with the barbed-shield. He is about to execute Cap but Steve talks about
how people can choose to be different than their fathers which helps Ian shake
off the brainwashing. And then Ian is shot through the neck from behind and
falls into a vat of chemicals as Sharon Carter arrives to save Cap.

Chapter 4 – A quick flashback to six years ago as Ian
catches fish and Steve paints a portrait of them together. Now Sharon tells Steve he has only been missing
30 minutes and believes Zola implanted false memories of the decade plus he
spent with Ian. Sharon
evacuates Steve and informs she has set the castle to blow with C-4. Sharon kills some mutates
and gets Steve to stand up. Meanwhile Zola is about to defeat Jet but Steve
makes the save. Cap is beating Zola to death but he launches his virus towards
Earth then throws himself and Cap off the fortress. Cap lands hard and Zola is
strangling him but Cap detonates a grenade in Zola’s bio-suit. Jet arrives to
see her father dying and in his final act he saves her from an avalanche. With
his dying words he tells her to finish his work and tells her he loved her.

Chapter 5 – Jet is bereft and when Steve tells her Ian is
also dead and that Sharon intends to blow up her
home she attacks Sharon
and steals the detonator. This leads to a sky cycle race with Steve and Sharon
chasing Jet while the mutates chase the heroes. Cap takes down the mutates and Sharon manages to talk
sense into Jet. Zola then rises up in an enormously large body to chastise Jet
for failing to avenge him. This leads to Sharon
falling into Zola’s grip with the bomb in a scene reminiscent of Bucky’s
classic death while Jet flies Steve through the portal home. Steve turns and
runs back through the portal but already years have passed in Dimension Z. Jet
pulls him back through to Earth as the portal collapses. Steve collapses bloody
and in tears in an alley as the narration calls him “man further out of time.”
In the epilogue we return to Dimension Z to see Ian has grown up to become a
freedom fighter and is using the code name Nomad.

 

Critical Thoughts:
I hate the last five pages but otherwise I really liked the story.

The positives are a lot of worked in the first volume works
even better in the second volume. JRJr’s art and splash page reveals like in
the church scene with Jet, when Ian is shot, when Cap saves Jet from her
father, when Zola is reborn, even the Ian as Nomad finale are all standout
fantastic A+ work and in some ways the art alone is worth buying the trade for.
Even some of the non-splash pages like the motorcycle race in the finale are
just terrific on a visual level.

I love the dynamic between Steve and Zola’s ideals. Ian’s
indictment of Cap and America
while he is brainwashed is terrifically written. Look no one is going to empathize
with Zola’s viewpoint. The man is both a Nazi and a sadistic mad scientist but
Remender manages to give a him a coherent voice and world view and that alone
is quite the writing accomplishment.

I like the payoff with all the flashbacks on Steve and his
father in 30s being the thing that gets through to Ian so that he chooses Steve
over Zola. I thought that was well done. Ditto I think the always stand up
mantra is used well in both the fight with Ian and when Sharon motivates Cap to evacuate after Ian’s
seeming death.

Now let’s talk about the flaws. I think argument can be made
that Jet turns on her father too easily. I think Sharon (who isn’t my favorite
character to begin with) is irredeemable for shooting Ian from behind in what
is meant to be a fatal shot. Okay yes, she doesn’t know who Ian is and what he
means to Cap but that’s no excuse. He’s a kid and even if he has a gun she
can’t think of another way to disarm him? She doesn’t trust Steve to save
himself from a child that she has to go for a headshot? I think it’s too
hardcore and I find it doubtful Sharon
would shoot a child so casually considering she once miscarried herself. I
think the cover of the issue Sharon
returns is unfortunate as it spoils her return in the issue. I think Cap also
miracle heals in that last chapter. He goes into a battle with a bleeding chest
wound, then gets shot in the stomach and in his own narration relates his war
experience to what he is feeling to assume he is dying. He is subsequently
gored by a jagged shield and then thrown off a building and yet in the last
chapter that seems to be forgotten as Cap goes into an extended sky cycle
fight. I mean there is heroics and adrenaline and then there is ridiculous
overkill and the finale leans towards the latter.

I dislike the final five pages quite a bit for two reasons. One I don’t like the
“man further out of time” narration for Cap when he gets home because I think
that element of his character needs to be over and done forever. Look when Stan Lee wrote the
man out of time stuff it was absolutely a good story challenge for Cap because
he had just woke up from a decades long freeze. But after the decade plus that
Marvel time is supposed have passed since Cap woke up Steve should be adjusted by now—really any
person should be adjusted by now but particularly Cap whose personal strength
is what makes him who he is. It is why I never like Waid’s run on the character
because he was all about playing up the Bucky loss and man out of time stuff
and I felt like ‘no Steve is over this by now;’ especially when it hadn’t been present in the prior 200 issues of Stern, DeMetteis and Gru made Waid’s use all the more jarring.
Man out of time just doesn’t fit the character anymore. Stan Lee had great ideas but his
best idea is these characters grow and change which is something the current
editorial regime is in denial about.

 As for Ian as Nomad, just Uggg!. First it feels like a
retread of a story that is less than 10 years old with Rikki Barnes as Nomad
of Cap’s young sidekick from another
universe taking on the role of Nomad and presumably Ian makes his way to earth
struggles to fit in. Personally I’d rather they just resurrect Rikki (who I really liked in that role) then give
the name to someone else, particularly someone so similar to her. But what I hate even more is Ian is now an adult.
Look it was easy to guess time was going faster in Dimension Z when the story
was jumping years at a time between chapters because Cap wasn’t going to be
lost to the Avengers and other crossovers for 10 years (which in Marvel time is
like five or more decades of stories real time), but I’d rather Cap have taken teen Ian
home and raised him as a supporting character because I DESPISE the
time-traveling instant adult children that permeates comics. Doing that once
could be interesting I suppose but it has become Marvel’s default way of
writing out children of heroes: Cyclops, Longshot and Scarlet Witch all
have children that artificially aged from time traveling other dimensional
nonsense. Heck the FF even pull it with Franklin
from time to time although he at least snaps back to childhood. I imagine there
are other examples too those are just off the top of my head. (You can also see
this trope in TV shows like Angel and
Charmed and it isn’t good there
either). Anyway I hate that gimmick in general and was disappointed to see it
show up here when the Cap-Ian dynamic as written in these trades still had
plenty of unexplored story potential left.
Grade A- .   My
qualms with the ending aside this is an excellent high stakes story that uses
art and internal narration as good as any recent story I’ve read to build the
tension in the action scenes. I will likely buy the next trade to see where
Remender goes next with Cap though I hope he has more planned than just Jet as
Cap’s next romantic interest.

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 
Avengers/Thunderbolts
vol. 2: Best Intentions

By Kurt Busiek, Fabian
Nicieza and illustrated by Barry Kitson and Tom Grummett.

Collects
Avengers/Thunderbolts #1-6

 
Why I Bought This: Having
finished Busiek’s legendary Avengers
run I discovered this existed and it was like having a bonus Christmas since it
meant more Busiek Avengers. (And I
enjoy the Thunderbolts too on
occasion).

 
The Plot – The
Thunderbolts begin taking a proactive stance on international crime under Zemo’s
leadership and announce they have a plan to save the world. However based on
his past with Zemo, Captain America
does not trust them.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Zemo & Moonstone force some fictional nation
to capitulate to their demands to shut down their reactor program and then take
their results very public. Hawkeye used to lead the Thunderbolts and feels
proud of them but Cap has the opposite reaction given their tactics and Zemo’s
leadership. We see some of the heroic rank and file Thunderbolts like Songbird,
Atlas and Vantage also have doubts about Zemo but Songbird agues it is better
to have him where they can keep an eye on him then letting him go about
unsupervised. Their conversation is overheard by Plant Man. Also
Moonstone has undergone a power upgrade lately which is making her act weird
and distant. She is however working with Zemo, Fixer and Plant Man on a
mysterious plan entitled Project Liberator. The air force of the fake country
attacks T-Bolt HQ but Moonstone dispatches them in a single panel and then in
retaliation Zemo leaks various personal scandals about that nation’s leaders to
the press. Meanwhile Cap visits the former Thunderbolt Beetle/Mach One in
prison to see if he knows what Zemo is up to. Jenkins does and tells Cap, the
Avengers are going to have to stop the Thunderbolts.

Chapter 2 – The Avengers are losing a fight with Cobalt Man
(primarily because if they hurt him he may go nuclear) when the Thunderbolts
arrive to save the day as Fixer drains the excess radiation off of him. They
then teleport away taking Cobalt Man with them. Hawkeye is suspicious that Iron
Man couldn’t invent the same device Fixer did, and his suspicions prove true when
he learns the Iron Man armor in the battle was run on remote control and Tony is
in the Cobalt Man armor and now working with the Thunderbolts undercover.

Chapter 3 – The Thunderbolts raid the Wizard’s home but not
to arrest him just to get some parts for the machine in their big plan. Hawkeye
is conflicted but decides to keep quiet on Stark infiltrating the T-Bolts.
Meanwhile the T-Bolts take over some old satellites. Moonstone is suspicious of
Cobalt Man and talks to the real Cobalt Man’s family to see if he contacted
them since coming back from the dead. Vision based on info Stark if feeding him
realizes the T-Bolts plan to drain all superhuman energy off Earth and Vision
finds a hidden protocol in the T-Bolts computer code that will store and
channel the power, which even Hawkeye concedes feels like Zemo is up to his old
tricks. The T-Bolts are ready to activate their machine when Tony intervenes,
but not to stop them permanently but because they are using stolen Stark
software and Tony realizes the outdated version will fry the satellites when
used in conjunction with the other tech. This confuses Moonstone who was sure
he was an imposter and yet now he just salvaged the plan. The Avengers are enroot
as Zemo fires up the device and it has bad effects on the Pyms, Vision and
Wanda.

Chapter 4 – Reed (of the FF) tells us the T-Bolts are
draining all nuclear, microwave, gamma and tachyon energy sources as well
including the nuclear armaments of all nations. We learn the Thunderbolts
themselves are inoculated from this power drain and their device is safely
storing the drained power. The Avengers quinjet from last issue is falling from
the sky but Songbird and Atlas catch them. Zemo is about hack into television
and address the world when Cap barges in and tells him he is under arrest.
Songbird uses a sound wall to stop Cap and Zemo from fighting. Cap tells Zemo
he can’t impose peace on the world and indeed we see various governments
mobilizing their militaries. Zemo decides to turn the stored energy over to the
Avengers to prove his motives are sincere but there is no energy in the machine
to the bafflement of both sides leading to the obligatory fight scene. Fixer
and Stark (as Cobalt Man) investigate the machine in the midst of the battle
and discover a hidden Kree code in the programming that redirects the stolen
energy thus it is not Zemo but Moonstone with the hidden agenda. Once revealed
she has a seizure but then rises up more powerful than ever. She says she only
put that code there in case Zemo tried to double cross the world but when Cap’s
shield hit the machine during the melee it caused it to activate on its own.
Now however the power being fed into her is making her go all paranoid and when
she unmasks Stark that pushes her further over the edge especially since she
assumes Hawkeye—who besides being a former team leader of the T-Bolts was
Moonstone’s ex-lover—went along with the plan to spy on the T-Bolts. And then
she uses the stolen energy to unleash a massive explosion.

Chapter 5 – The short recap is everyone fights Moonstone for
the entire issue, but if you want the play by play read on. When the smoke
clears we see only the Avengers are down. Vantage and Hawkeye try to talk her
down, while Zemo’s talk may or may not be helping. Moonstone decides she will
teleport everyone into another dimension but Plant Man stops her by literally
rooting the room to the spot. Moonstone pummels him severely for that which
forces Songbird to try and take her on. Songbird is about to win when Zemo
tackles her. Moonstone is pissed so the Avengers regroup and attack her to no
avail. Vantage joins in the assault and Moonstone breaks most of her bones in
response. This causes Atlas to grow to maximum size and he too seems like he is
about to win this fight until Hawkeye interferes with a Pym Particle arrow to
forcibly shrink him. Tony switches to his Iron Man armor as Karla decides she
wants to kill Zemo. Cap makes the save and then when Moonstone tries to kill
Cap, Zemo reciprocates although since he does not have a shield he ends up
burned and disfigured for his trouble. And then former Thunderbolt Jolt arrives
(a teen hero in the team’s early days, and the only member who was never a
villain) who Moonstone feels motherly towards. This gives Moonstone pause but
as Jolt assesses the situation she power up some gizmo Tony and Fixer built and
this rips the stolen energy out of Moonstone. Of course she still has her own
double power level. The gizmo can drain that from her too but they way her powers
work may end up lobotomizing her. Hawkeye weighs the consequences and fires an
arrow as we hit the cliffhanger.

Chapter 6 – Hawkeye’s arrow destroys the gizmo and he asks
everyone to let him talk to Karla without interference. Vision attacks anyway
and Hawkeye takes him down revealing he has an arrow for every member of both
teams. Wanda tries her powers and they interact weirdly with Moonstone causing
a dimensional rift that threatens to destroy the world. Fixer has a device that
could disrupt her intangibility power and with everything getting worse this
time Hawkeye uses it on her causing her to phase but not her stones and Vision
phases and grabs them out of her. The stress takes down Vision and Zemo capitalizes
to steal the stones. He curses Cap and Hawkeye for how this turned out and
teleports away. Hawkeye checks on Karla and she is lobotomized. In the epilogue
the Thunderbolts disband and we see where they end up (Songbird even refuses
Avengers membership). Then Jenkins gets released from prison and decides he is
going to start a new Thunderbolts team. And in the end we see Zemo plotting
with his new power.
Critical Thoughts: It’s
nowhere near the level of Busiek’s Avengers
run but it is still a perfectly enjoyable comic book on its own merits. As
always Busiek’s characterizations for both these teams is strong and if you
like fight scenes the last chapters are basically one extended fight (and for
once Wanda doesn’t just waive her hands and solve everything either).

Hawkeye is the real star of this book as he has to choose
between his loyalty to both teams and Busiek rights his motivations leading up
the climax really well. Hawkeye is one of my favorite Avengers and this is a
strong outing for him. The Hawkeye has an arrow specially designed to take out
each teammate feels a bit too much like Batman but I can’t say completely out
of character. In the West Coast Avengers it
was shown he does carry arrows specifically for longtime recurring foes like
Ultron so it’s not a total stretch he could have them for his teammates
particularly in this situation when he knew he was likely to choose a side and
fight one of the teams eventually.

The Thunderbolts also really shine hear with the differences
between those who have completely reformed and those who can never be fully
trusted. In many ways this is more of a Thunderbolts story than an Avengers
one, which is fine because you can do more with their characters than the core
Avengers who generally have their status quo at this point. I think the trade
is very successful in generating interest in the T-Bolts, as after reading this
book I purchased the New Thunderbolts trade
that the epilogue sets up.

That is not to say the Avengers get the short shrift. The
Cap-Zemo dynamic feels spot on and it leads to a rare Cap admits his judgment
may be compromised and considering what Zemo put Cap through in “Under Seige” it
is perfectly acceptable that Cap would be unwilling to give Zemo the benefit of
the doubt. I also liked Iron Man’s doubts once he is undercover with the
Thunderbolts on whether or not to let them proceed with their plan to remake
the world, as we would see in Civil War
Tony is the rare hero who believes it is okay for superheroes to institute
large scale social changes, so some ways this is a precursor to Tony’s
“futurist” persona that has become his dominant character trait for the past
decade.
Grade B

Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

 Captain America:
Castaway in Dimension Z (1)

by Rick Remender &
John Romita Jr.

collects Captain America
(2012) volume 1-5.

Why I Bought This: Of
all the Marvel Now comics this is the one I was most curious about. Yes, of
course I love Captain America
but also I really like JRJr’s artwork from ASM
so just to see him draw Cap had me intrigued. On top of that the concept is
really different particularly compared to Brubaker’s realism-based espionage
run the past 10 years so I was curious how the change in tone was going to
work.

The Plot: Captain
America
is kidnapped by Arnim Zola and stranded in another dimension filled with alien
life-forms.

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – A flashback of Steve’s childhood shows his
father was an abusive alcoholic but his mother refused to back down when he
would hit her telling Steve “you always stand up.” In the present Cap is taking
down would-be terrorist the Green Skull. Afterwards he meets Sharon for a date as it is Cap’s birthday
(and Independence Day). Sharon
apparently proposed to Cap recently and he is mulling it over as he boards a
train. Suddenly the train speeds up into another dimension and springs a trap
injecting Cap with a sedative. When Cap awakens he is strapped into a
Frankenstein-style laboratory with his blood being transfused into an infant.
Zola injects an enormous needle into Cap’s heart but Cap fights through the
pain, burst his bonds and escapes blowing up the lab in the process. Zola
believes the infant (his son) dead in the explosion but in the cliffhanger we
see Cap has taken the boy with him.

Chapter 2 – One year has passed. Cap is raising the boy,
whom he has named Ian, in a wasteland where every day is a fight for survival.
Cap is also still sick from whatever Zola injected into his chest. One day an
airship with two of Zola’s mutate servants spot Cap and Ian but the creatures
do not recognize them, they just want something to eat. Cap KO’s one of them
but the other’s weapons are too strong so Cap awakens a huge monster that lives
under the sand (think Dune) and it
eats the attacker. It then attempts to eat Cap but he slays it with the energy
weapon. Cap and Ian are then ambushed from behind by some rock men. The rock
men (actually biological but they have rocky plates covering much of their
exterior) have an underground civilization. They execute the Zola servant Cap
had KO’d and intend to do the same to Cap thinking he is also a servant of
Zola. He shouts that he is not but Ian is seemingly decapitated in the
cliffhanger.

Chapter 3 – A flashback shows how when Zola was a human in Germany in 1929
he kidnapped his maid and her dog and then sewed her head onto the dog. In the
present Zola has a young daughter whom he has given super powers. Zola locks
her in an arena filled with monsters so she can hone her combat skills. Back at
our cliffhanger, Cap breaks his hand in order to break his chains and save Ian
at the last minute. One of the rock-people who found Cap convinces the king
rock man that Cap is an enemy of Zola too as he saw them fighting as Cap
activates a universal translator Pym put in his costume. We see flashbacks of
tween-Cap fighting bullies and refusing to back down despite being scrawny and
outnumbered. Cap is talking with the rock-man (the species is called the Phrox)
who saved his life and learns their leader is a despot. Cap gives one of his
rah-freedom speeches but said despot overhears them and shoots the Phrox Cap
was talking to in the face. Cap manages to take the despot down in a hard fight
as Cap is severely wounded by a lightsaber to the chest in the process. Cap
goes to check on his wound and discovers he has a talking Zola face inside his
chest.

Chapter 4 – It is now 11 years later. Every day Cap has to
work to stop the Zola Virus from possessing him but he regrets nothing because
Ian has become his son. They are training outside when one of Zola’s mutates
comes across them and Ian is forced to kill it. Cap accesses the computer on
its hover bike accessing a map of Zola’s fortress and the location of the
portal back to Earth. Ian is not keen to go to a new planet and demands answers
from Cap on his birth parents which gives the Zola Virus a chance to flood Cap
with memories of Zola’s wife and he passes out. This leads to a flashback to
1933 wherein Cap’s mom is deathly ill and the rent is due so Cap commits a
burglary. After he pays the rent his mom reproaches him and Cap ends up
confessing to the shopkeeper and working off the debt. Cap awakens to find the
Zola Virus in his chest telling Ian that Zola is his father. Cap explains to
Ian he needs to get home to the Avengers or the virus will possess him. Zola’s
daughter is now grown and goes by the name Jet Black. She has captured the
Phrox despot whom we learn had been exiled after Cap defeated him. The exile
tells Jet and Zola that Cap is alive though they still think he killed Ian. Jet
wants revenge for her brother and is a given a squadron of Cap-clone gamma
irradiated mutates (so a cross between Cap and Hulk whom Zola cloned in the
80s) for the assault.

Chapter 5 – Cap makes Ian promise to kill him if the virus
takes over. They are flying towards the portal home when they see black smoke
rising over the Phrox outpost they had been living in; and Steve being who he
is can’t go home to save himself when others are in danger. Despite the
impossible odds Cap is winning until Jet attacks from behind. She outfights him
with ease as her powers are tachyon (faster than light) based. However when she
sees Ian she realizes who he is and while she is surprised Ian takes her down
with a punch to the throat. Cap refuses to kill her when she is helpless and
she manages to get a message to Zola. Zola then withdraws his army and attacks
Cap on his own in a giant-sized battle-suit. After Zola wins he orders Jet to
kill Cap but she is conflicted because of Steve’s earlier mercy towards her.
Zola then throws Steve from a cliff himself. Zola orders his army to kill all
of the Phrox men and children but to take the women for breeding experiments.
Cap wakes up on the cliff and to stop the Zola virus from possessing him cuts
it out his chest with a sharp stick then staggers to his feat and vows to save
his son.

 

Critical Thoughts: I
enjoyed this quite a bit. Look would I want to see Cap fighting space aliens
every single month? Absolutely not. But for a one year story arc, radical
change from the norm is a good thing to try for a character with a 75 year
publication history. I think this story is clicking really well. Romita’s art
is perfect for the alien landscapes. Using Zola for this story arc is a good
idea. He has always been a really unusual science fiction looking character so
this milieu fit him fine and I think the story is better served by making the
big bad a traditional Cap villain then it would be if our big bad was just some
new alien warlord character ruling this dimension with no history or prior
connection to the hero.

What really makes this story work beyond the bells and
whistles of the new concept is Remender has Steve’s voice down and so in that
sense this is a classic Cap story even if the exterior is completely different.
Look that first flashback of Steve’s father being an abusive alcoholic had me
rolling my eyes because isn’t that everyone’s parents in comic flashbacks
lately? But the pay off of Steve’s mom teaching him to always stand up for what
is right fits in with everything we know about Cap and his actions in decades
of great stories. Overall I found I liked the flashbacks quite a bit as they
both give us insight to Cap and serve as nice setup for how Cap would raise
Ian.

I love the idea of Cap raising Ian as a son. I’ve always
felt Cap is character who Marvel should let marry and have children.
Conceptually it would allow Cap to explore stories about the traditional
American Dream and have more of a civilian supporting cast; while from a
character perspective of course Captain America would want to have a family: he
came of age in World War II so one presumes had he not been frozen in ice he
would have come home and contributed to the Baby Boom just like every other GI
of his era. Thus the narration in this story where Cap does not regret being
stranded in an alien wasteland for 14 years because it gave him a son feels
spot on. It certainly makes for a powerful ending. You’re damn right that
Captain America, who always fights on despite the odds in a normal battle, is
going to climb up a mountain with a gaping chest wound if that is what it takes
to save his son.

Of course by making Ian be Zola’s biological son and not
just one of Zola’s many clone warrior experiments, it really ups the stakes of
the story and gives our villains Zola and Jet just as much of a reason as Cap
to fight this to the end no matter the outcome so kudos to Remender on creating
a strong character-driven conflict to carry the heart of this story. I think a
hook like that was needed to make the pulp science fiction on the periphery
more palpable. JRJr’s rendition of Zola’s rage when he learns Cap has stolen
and raised his son is also one of many fantastic splash pages in this book.

If I do have a criticism it is that Cap gets his ass handed
to him an awful lot in this story. Hey I’m all for building adversity against
the hero, especially since the intention here is to create an epic; but I don’t
think Cap wins a single fight in this entire trade. He walks into a trap on the
train, then he can’t beat two mutates without using a monster because of their
tech—Cap has fought Ultron and AIM he knows how to fight hi-tech, then he’s
captured by the Phrox, then the king Phrox nearly guts him with a lightsaber,
then he loses to Jet and then he loses to Zola. That is a lot of losing
especially for arguably Marvel’s greatest hand to hand fighter. I don’t mind
some of the losses: Jet for example is a new character with a unique power set
and you need to establish her but some of those lesser fights with mutates and
Phrox seem like things Cap could handle normally. There is too much good going
on with the overall story, art and characterization for this to bother me too
much but it is noticeable.

 

Grade: A – This
is a hell of a set up for a daring new concept and it really makes you want to
read the second trade to see the conclusion.

Waiting for the Trade Dr Doom vs the Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

Emperor Doom

by David Michelinie
and Bob Hall

Why I Bought This: So
this is an original graphic novel from the 80s that I had never seen or even
heard of until about a year ago when something on the Internet referenced it
and I was like that sounds interesting. I eventually tracked it down on Amazon
in fair condition for $15.

 

The Plot: Dr.
Doom successfully conquers the world by releasing a mind control contaminant
into the atmosphere. Wonder Man, who is made of living energy and doesn’t
breathe, proves to be immune. He has to find a way to get through his Avengers
teammates and save the day.

Spoilers below:

 

Since this is an original graphic novel there are no chapters/issue breaks but here are the
main beats:

 

Purple Man—a street level villain with a pheromone based
mind control power–is doing his thing when he is abducted by an unseen hand.

Namor, at this time apparently still an outlaw, meets with
Dr. Doom in a NY restaurant. Doom proposes renewing their partnership (from the
70s comic Super Villain Team Up). He
explains he has channeled Purple Man’s power into an amulet and proposes to
power up a larger version to conquer the world. He offers to let Namor rule the
oceans in return for his help (Namor apparently has been exiled from Atlantis
again). Specifically wants Namor to attach control discs on artificial life
forms that are immune to Purple Man’s power. Namor agrees.

At the West Coast Avengers compound Tony Stark puts Wonder
Man into stasis for 30 days so they can better understand his ionic energy
makeup.

At Avengers Mansion Namor attaches a control disc to Vision
after he uses the small amulet to threaten Wanda’s life so that Vision
surrenders. However Vision is able to get an SOS off to the West Coast team
beforehand.

Namor subsequently tracks down Machine Man and Ultron and
attaches discs to them as well.

The West Coast team storm Doom’s island where he holding
Purple Man but are unable to defeat him before he powers up the larger crystal
and takes control of their minds as well as the planet. Doom also betrays Namor
by using the smaller amulet he’s been wearing to fight the robots to take
control of him too.

We see what the Earth is like under Doom’s rule. Generally
he improves things including solving the famines of Africa,
brining an end to war and crime, ending apartheid and increasing prosperity for
many.

Thirty days later Wonder Man wakes up. He is kind of shocked
to see Tony and Cap talk about the honor of serving the “emperor.” When he sees
Doom leading a parade in New York
he attempts to alert his teammates and they attack him. He narrowly escapes
only to become a fugitive across the entire world with mobs of citizens hunting
where he goes.

Doom meanwhile has grown bored of ruling a world of people
who never question him and hopes Wonder Man will provide with a diversion.

More time passes as Wonder Man has been wondering the land
disguised as a drifter. He seriously considers letting Doom rule considering
that people seem happy and things seem to be improved. But a chance encounter
with a blind woman in the woods reminds him of the value of freedom and he
decides he has to bring Doom down.

He subsequently investigates and discovers how Doom did it
and that Daredevil and Kingpin proved in the past that those with exceptional
willpower can shake off Purple Man’s power. With that knowledge Wonder Man
decides Cap is his best bet and indeed armed with video footage of Doom’s past
misdeeds Cap frees himself. Cap suggests Hawkeye, Wasp and Iron Man are the
only other teammates that are likely to shake off Doom’s spell because all of
their powers on heightened concentration. His faith is rewarded thought Tony
proves a little harder to convince than the others. Hawkeye disobeys Cap and
tries to free his wife but she sends out an alert to Doom.

The five heroes quickly storm Doom’s island and fight his
way through various robots. Wasp sneaks into where Purple Man is held but Namor
catches her. However she is able to blast a nearby aquarium and being doused
with water frees Namor as well. Doom has a chance to flood the room with
knockout gas but decides not to because he is bored running this world. Namor
smashes the crystal killing Purple Man in the process. Doom flees before the
Avengers can stop him. As the world reverts to normal (i.e. war, crime, discrimination
and poverty) the Avengers debate whether they did the right thing.
 

Critical Thoughts: This
is a decent but not great, and I feel like it had the potential to be better. 

I was always a big fan of the West Coast Avengers book so it is nice to see them featured with
the East Coast team in the supporting role. This is also a nice reminder of how
Wonder Man was presented as an A-list player back in the 80s. He’s an
interesting character choose for the man alone against the world plot because
he is not the inspirational leader or scientific genius or even the maverick
many of the other Avengers are. He is really is something of an everyman in
terms of personality. His power-set is strong enough to fight these odds but
he’s not the guy you would typically call on and that shows in his doubts in
the middle on whether the world is better under Doom.

The 30 days in stasis and waking up to complete changed
world is also a good plot device. In fact the Avengers Assemble cartoon lifted it for an episode only with Vision
in Wonder Man’s place, and it worked there too.

I think plot with Doom being bored with victory, while
somewhat in character is sort of the easy way to go. It’s not a completely
original idea either as I’ve see it played out in other genres. I’m just not
sure I fully buy it for Doom because he has ruled Latveria for years so he
should be used to a certain amount of day to day administrative decision making
already. I also did not like Doom betraying Namor as there is a longstanding
portrayal of Doom as a man who keeps his word. It also makes the fact that
later writers have kept the Doom-Namor alliance intact kind of absurd.

I’m not familiar with Namor from this era but his brutality
is a bit surprising as he seems willing to kill a hostage in the scene with
Vision. I also feel like there has to be more than just three robots to
override on the planet—if it’s the 80s I would think off the top of my head
Warlock and Nimrod are wandering around the X-books but I understand this is an
Avengers story hence why even the FF don’t appear despite their obvious
connection to Doom, so that’s just a quibble.

Of course I like that Cap is the first one to shake off
Doom’s effects. I think it’s interesting these same Avengers are ones Busiek
chose when he did the “Morgan Conquest” arc where she conquered the world by
magic and only a few heroes had the stuff to see through—although in that story
Iron Man is the one hero unable to shake it off.
 

Grade B-. It
didn’t fully live up to the potential of the concept but overall it is worth
reading.

 

Waiting for the Trade: Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

 
Captain America: Red
Menace ultimate collection

by Ed Brubaker; illustrated
by Steve Epting, Mike Perkins, Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin

collects Captain America
15-21 and the Captain America 65th anniversary special

 

Why I Bought This: This
is the second of the Ed Brubaker Cap trades. Once I finally read the first one
I was like ‘hell yea, give me more.’ It also features the reintroduction of
Crossbones as a major antagonist and I always liked him in Gru’s run.

 

The Plot: The Red
Skull is dead but Crossbones and Skull’s daughter Sin intend to carry on his
legacy and make the world pay.

 

(spoilers below)

 
Chapter 1 – Sin has been turned into a teenager and given
false memories by SHIELD. Crossbones kidnaps and tortures her until she remembers
her origin. Then they hook up.

Chapter 2 – Crossbones and Sin are in Kansas robbing banks and killing cops when
they stumble upon an AIM agent, which apparently was part of Crossbones’ plan.
A week later Sharon Carter calls in Steve to help capture them since the
villains have been killing their way across Kansas all week. Sharon
also says they can stop by a town in Iowa
where Bucky may have been spotted. Steve and Sharon notice the town in Iowa may be a little too
perfect. The official story is an unknown drifter’s car crashed into a building
and blew up and then he stole a truck and tore out of town. Through
investigating Steve and Sharon learn Bucky as Winter Soldier fought a giant
robot in town and that’s how the building was destroyed. Steve is so happy to
learn Bucky is alive he kisses Sharon
and they fall into bed together for the first time in years. They are awoken
when AIM agents break into their room claiming to need their help. 

Chapter 3 – So the AIM agents explain this town is a front
for an underground research lab of theirs. Last week Bucky uncovered and
destroyed a bunch of their prototypes. Then on the heels of that Sin and
Crossbones arrived and took over the lab by force. They intend to use weapons
of mass destruction found therein to do bad things and the AIM guy wants Cap
and Sharon to
stop them. Sharon
radios in more SHIELD agents and they decide to raid the base. However we see
the villains were monitoring the whole thing and wanted to draw the attention
of SHIELD. We get a firefight that includes Sin turning on a group of hive-mind
soldiers known as MODOC but Cap takes them out single-handedly because he’s
awesome like that. In the aftermath Sharon
learns Crossbones & Sin did not steal a single AIM weapon but they did
kidnap a SHIELD agent in the melee. Back in the town Cap figures out why Bucky
came here: the inn he and Sharon stayed at is owned by the daughter of a woman
Bucky loved in World War II. Cap learns Bucky asked to see the mother’s grave
“before it’s too late” and realizes Bucky is going to try to kill Alexander
Lukin (the man who controlled him as Winter Soldier) and does not expect to
survive the attempt. Crossbones and Sin meanwhile torture the SHIELD agent into
revealing that Lukin is the one who ordered the hit on the Red Skull and they
too decide it’s time for payback.

Chapter 4 – A flashback World War II issue shows how Bucky
gets wounded in action and left in the care of the girl whose daughter we met
in the last chapter. Meanwhile Cap and the Howling Commandos have to stop the
Red Skull from excavating a weapon that we learn was built by a mysterious
Baron 500 years ago. The legend is the Baron came to this small German town
from a foreign land, where he ruled over them in a castle and built marvelous
farming machines, primitive flying machines and a giant robot to guard the town
from harm. Skull unearths the robot which proves to be the very first Sleeper.
Cap destroys it, blowing up the castle in the process though of course there is
no trace of the Skull’s body. In the present we see Lukin is overseeing a
similar excavation as he has the Baron’s plans the Skull stole back in the War,
and at the bottom of the plans we see the mysterious Baron was in fact Dr.
Doom.

 
Chapter 5 – FYI Lukin and the Skull are sharing a body right
now. Two months ago Skull recruited a neo-Nazi who we learn is a descendent of
an unnamed WWII era ally of the Skull. In the present Cap arrives in London to
fill in former Invaders teammates Spitfire (super speed, still young) and Union
Jack (British super soldier, a descendent of the original) about Bucky being
back from the dead and Lukin. Bucky is also in London waiting for Lukin to speak at a
charity event in one week. Cap & friends break into Kronos (Lukin’s
company) facilities for intel. Meanwhile Crossbones and Sin hijack a private
plane to go to London.
Back with Cap and Union Jack who get ambushed by security who are fast enough to
take Jack down and give Cap a serious fight and then we see they are being led
by Master Man.

Chapter 6 – Lukin is watching everything and this is a new
Master Man: the neo-Nazi recruited by Skull last issue. Lukin has also set a
bomb on his boat that Cap and Master Man are fighting on so even if Cap
survives it will like he is pursuing an illegal vendetta against Lukin. Master
Man has Cap and Jack on defense though when Jack gets punched through a wall he
finds the bomb. Cap radios Spitfire in to assist and she evacuates the entire
boat before it detonates. Lukin releases the security footage of Cap and Jack
breaking into his boat to the media. The heroes are ordered to stand down by
MI-5 until Sharon
arrives and pulls rank. Cap is shaking down leads on Bucky, who meanwhile tails
Sharon and
learns what the heroes are up to. Sharon tracks
down the security force from last night only to find the dead bodies of both
the neo-Nazis and a bunch of RAID agents along with plans for an airstrike on London. Red Skull lets
Master Man know Cap finding the plans is part of his master plan.

Chapter 7 – Crossbones & Sin arrive in London
and decide to load their small plane with explosives and crash it into Kronas Tower
during the charity event. Cap wants all air traffic in London grounded but
being the plans they found are half burned and have no date on them all MI-5 can
do is increase airport security; Cap however is sure the charity event is the
day of the attack. Bucky investigates a lead in the London subway and is horrified by what he
finds. At the Charity event Lukin has spotlights and bi-planes circling his
building which Cap says is meant to distract the heroes so they will publically
fail again. Cap decides a blimp in the Kronas air show is the real weapon. On
the blimp Master Man and his thugs have killed the crew. Cap, Spitfire and
Union Jack confront him but in the melee the blimp catches fire. Winter Soldier
is about take a shot on Lukin but when he sees the blimp going down he drops
his gun to see if he can assist Cap. Steve orders the Invaders to bail out
promising that he can take down Master Man and steer the blimp into the Thames River
on his own. Steve successfully diverts the blimp but Master Man throws himself
and Steve out of it though Cap catches the edge of a building to save himself.
Just then Crossbones and Sin arrive and Lukin is worried as their kamikaze
attack is not part of his or Skull’s plan. However he presses a contingency
button and wakes up a Sleeper robot (which is what Bucky apparently saw in the
subway last issue). The robot takes out the plane (Crossbones and Sin had
already parachuted to safety) as Cap and Bucky look on in awe.

Chapter 8 – The Sleeper starts blowing sh*t up including the
Kronas building once Lukin is out of it. Cap attempts to take the fight to the
Sleeper while Sharon
runs Master Man over with her flying car. This also totals the car and leaves
her concussed, which is unfortunate for her because Crossbones & Sin are
right around the corner. Cap asks the Invaders to take on Master Man while he
deals with the Sleeper. Winter Soldier also attacks the Sleeper on his own and
quickly realizes he’s outmatched as this one is far more advanced than the
World War II flashback one in chapter 4. Cap saves him just in time and comes
up with a plan to pit the two villains against each other. The Invaders hit
Master Man with everything they have which only succeeds in enraging him. That
however works to their advantage because when he leaps at Spitfire she dodges
and Master Man ends up crashing through the Sleeper. Bucky tosses a grenade
into the hole and that destroys the robot. Meanwhile Crossbones is about to
execute Sharon
when the Red Skull shows up and tells him that is not part of his plan. Bucky
disappears in the smoke. The Red Skull releases a video taking credit for the
Sleeper attack, while Lukin holds a press conference condemning both heroes and
villains for letting their vendetta destroy large portions of London. Cap and Sharon head home, while Bucky makes contact
with Nick Fury for a new mission. In the cliffhanger Skull introduces Lukin to
Sin & Crossbones.
 

Critical Thoughts: This
is excellent. The only thing to really be said is everyone tells you Brubaker’s
run is great. And then you read it and it’s even better than everyone says.

I love this trade. In some ways I like it even better than
the first “Winter Soldier” trade. Sure that one is the bigger more important
historical story and its pushes Cap on a personal level like few stories ever.
I have not a bad thing to say about it. But for visceral action this story is
better. Bru’s spy espionage style works so well on this title and that tone pervades
every page of this but this time its being combined with a lot of traditional
comic book action elements and Silver Age Cap foes and it all blends together
perfectly so that if you are a longtime Cap fan it feels like you are reading
a timeless Cap story that also feelis fresh and modern.

This is best seen in those two final chapters which are just
everything I would ever want in a Captain
America
comic. I think Master Man has always been a strong second tier
villain for Cap so it’s good to have him back. I love the Sleepers. My love of
Captain America
is directly tied to Stan Lee’s original Sleeper story which I had a big giant
oversized coloring book of when I was a kid. I love Crossbones. He is one of
Gru’s better creations, and Brubaker keeps the spirit of the character the
same: ruthless, brutal and if anything more deadly. Lukin meanwhile remains a
compelling new villain and the gimmick of him and Skull sharing a body works
well. The suspense of all these different players converging on London is palpable in
chapter 6 and the two issue fight scene that follows is a classic.

In the first chapter I really like Crossbones narration when
he is watching old WWII newsreels of Cap. Although I will say the SHIELD can
turn people into teenagers thing is a WTF moment, especially since it is just
casually mentioned as something that happened off camera.

The two follow up chapters in Idaho with AIM are another really good use
of Bru’s espionage style. Sharon
also has never been written better than she is by Bru.

The WWII flashback adventure does nothing for me, but then I
don’t think I’ve ever read a Cap and Bucky in WWII story that I’ve liked from
Stan Lee through Mark Waid. In a lot of ways if you’ve read one, you’ve read
them all and none of them are very interesting. Though I will say I like the Dr.
Doom time-travel twist. I think that’s a fine way of explaining how the Skull
later built his own Sleepers at the end of the War.

 

Grade: A    Nuff Said.

Waiting for the Trade – Cap 2 movie review and top 10 list

So I saw Captain
America: Winter Soldier
on Saturday but figuring Sunday was WrestleMania
day and no one here would care I held off writing the review for a couple days.
So as the local comic book reviewer I figured I’d post a review of the film and in honor of the movie’s awesomeness throw in a countdown of the best Captain America trade
paperbacks out there.

Anyway for once no spoilers below except for mentioning
one of the villains in the movie.

 

The Film Review

I loved it a lot. I might go so far as to say it is the best
of the solo-hero Avengers movies. Certainly the best since the first Iron Man.

First of all the action scenes are among the best in any of
the Avenger films and are the biggest improvement over the first Cap film. Look
I really enjoyed the original Cap movie–I think they absolutely nailed Steve’s
character and his origin was told in just about the best way possible–but the
action scenes felt very by the numbers. They were mostly short and to the point
and in many cases done in montages without any feeling of danger. This film is
all about the hand to hand combat that Cap excels in and all the fight scenes
just feel rougher and more visceral than really any of the Avenger films. So A+
there.

In terms of characters Chris Evans again nails Cap through
and through from his idealism and innate goodness to his ability to inspire
others around him. Falcon was an amazing surprise. In the comics Falcon is
something of a lackluster character but in this film he’s fantastic both as a
badass cool superhero and as a partner to Steve. I also liked the set-up for
Crossbones in this movie, showing through his fighting style the character’s
innate viciousness. Finally Winter Soldier, what a great action movie
performance as he just radiates danger in ever scene he’s in. Overall there
isn’t really a bad performance in this.

The plot: I liked it a lot. Without getting into spoilers I
thought the superhero movie as Bourne style spy thriller really worked. In fact
I enjoyed this more than any of the Bourne films. This is a film with a large
cast of players and a lot of twists and yet everything comes together
seamlessly with the characters staying true to themselves.

Finally I liked the theme of pitting Cap (and by extension America’s
idealism) against some of the modern security controversies of the day like
drone strikes and the Snowden-NSA scandal. The last Star Trek movie explored some of this stuff too, but I think this
movie does it better with Steve really just eloquently nailing the essence of
why people object to these things.

So overall an absolutely excellent film. Highest possible
recommendation.

 

And now my list of the 10 Best Captain America trades

10 – Secret Wars
– Yes I know this is a major crossover. But 1) I will always stand by this as
an excellent story—possibly the most fun comics can be, and 2) from a Cap
perspective this is the moment where he was first elected to be the lead hero
of the entire Marvel Universe; a position he’s held in just about every major
crossover since, and 3) the conclusion basically boils down to Cap vs. Doom
with Doom even admitting that of all the heroes–even more than Reed Richards–Cap
is the one he has to be careful of because damn right!

9 – Essential Captain
America
vol. 4 (
or if you prefer color Captain
America & Falcon: The Secret Empire
) – This is the famous Secret Empire
story that is used to explain the Watergate scandal in the Marvel Universe.
While some of it is dated and there is a weird subplot with Peggy Carter going
on in the background; most of the story still works well. You have to admire
the boldness of Marvel at the time to incorporatie major current events into
one of their stories. The Essential volume will also give you the follow up
story where Cap is so disillusioned he gives up his costume (found in color in Captain America & Falcon: Nomad) which
ends with a fairly famous Red Skull fight. Plus prior to the big Secret Empire plot
you have another fun grand conspiracy involving Yellow Claw that’s worth
reading.

8 – Captain America:
Hail Hydra
– This was a miniseries released when the first movie came out
written by horror novelist Jonathan Maberry (in fact this comic was so good I
picked up some of his novels and I’d recommend them too). Anyway Maberry crafts
a decades long conspiracy involving Hydra with each chapter taking place in a
different decade (real time) so you have Cap stumbling across it in the 40s,
following up when he wakes up in the 60s, running into it again with Falcon in
the 70s (between the pages of the Essential volume above), then again in the
80s when during Gru’s Cap No More story and finally in the modern era. The
story works fine on its own but is even more fun for the longtime Cap fan to
see how Maberry fits it into the different eras. Hydra’s origins also get a bit
of a retcon but for my money they have never been more effective as villains
than in this story.

7 – Captain America:
Streets of Poison
– This is an examples of how doing something different
can sometimes be really effective for a short term story. Here Gru basically
takes Cap’s entire cast and sticks them into Daredevil’s playground as Red
Skull attempts to takeover Kingpin’s territory and the result leads to all
sorts of action and unexpected fights: Cap vs. Bullseye, Cap vs. Daredevil,
Bullseye vs. Crossbones, Black Widow vs. Diamond Back. Just a lot of good stuff
that is surprisingly effective since DD is not usually high on my list of
heroes usually.

6 – Avengers: Under Siege
– Cap is such an integral part of the Avengers I felt at least one Avengers
story should be on this list. This one makes the cut not only because it is one
of the five best Avengers stories ever written but also because at its core it
is a Captain America story. The plot is Baron Zemo Jr. seeks to avenge the
death of his Nazi father at Captain America’s hands years ago and to do
that he hires an army of super villains to take down the Avengers for the
express purpose of getting to Cap and making him suffer. It’s excellent stuff
by Roger Stern, who is a legendary Captain America writer anyway so I’m
counting it as  a Cap story.
 
5 – Essential Captain
America
vol. 1
– This is Stan Lee writing the first Cap solo stories since World
War II. While Cap had already been thawed out in the pages of Avengers this is
where so much of the Cap mythos is created. We have the first appearances of
Cap’s current love interest Agent 13 Sharon Carter and his flashback World War
II love interest Peggy Carter. We have the whole Cap dealing with being a Man
Out of Time and joining SHIELD to find a place in the world that is a big part
of the new movie. We have flashback stories of Cap working with the Howling
Commandos that was in the first movie. We also have the return of the Red Skull
and the first appearances of Batroc the Leaper, MODOK and AIM. More than all
those famous firsts we have two really good stories in here. The first one
involves the first appearance of AIM, which is for my money the best of the
Captain America conspiracy stories. In a real rarity for the time period Stan
Lee crafts this year long story arc where Cap and SHIELD stumble onto this
shadowy group out for world domination. At first referred to only in whispers
as “Them” and “They” the threat and scope of their schemes continues to grow.
And as Cap begins to thwart their plans AIM just keep upping the stakes in the
things they throw at Cap—creating the Super Adaptoid, MODOK and ultimately the
Cosmic Cube. They are also the one who revive the Red Skull as they seek a way
to bring Cap down. Of course the Skull turns on them the first chance he gets and
steals the Cosmic Cube for himself in another famous story. The second big
story that I love in here is Cap vs. the Sleeper robots which is one of the
best examples of Cap facing a big high stakes end of the world type fight where
he is out of his depth power-wise and yet doesn’t slow down for an instant.

4 – Captain America:
Death of the Red Skull
– J.M. DeMatteis
had a really strong run on Cap that is often forgotten about because it took
place between Stern and Gru but his stuff is just as good as theirs. This is
best Cap vs. Skull fight of them all. Again almost a full year of story build
as the Red Skull is dying so he enlists his daughter and Baron Zemo to
orchestrate his grand revenge on Cap including kidnapping every civilian Cap
knows and poisoning him to goad Cap into a final battle. This is also the
origin of the Red Skull.

3 – Captain America:
Winter Soldier
Ultimate Collection
So this is the start of Brubaker’s run where he takes an idea that on paper
could have been such an obvious cliché and instead turns it into one of the
most gripping character driven yet action packed stories in Marvel history as
Cap deals with the Bucky’s return from the dead. The art is stunningly
cinematic, the stakes are high and the writing is rich (that Nomad chapter is
hauntingly effective). If you enjoy the new movie grab this one.

2 – Captain America:
The Captain
– (also known at the time as Cap No More). This is probably my
favorite Cap story because it more than any other shows how Cap is more than a
costume, a shield and some superpowers. Rather it is Steve’s strength of
character that makes him Cap. For those who don’t know the government orders
Steve to return to active duty, he refuses so they take his costume and shield and
give it to someone else. We then get almost two years of parallel stories
following Steve and all his former partners as freelance crime fighters while
John (US Agent) Walker
becomes the new Cap. My only quibble with this trade is I wish it started with
issue 327 (Walker’s
first appearance) and not 332 but it is still a masterpiece.

1 – Captain America:
War and Remembrance
– I’ve often said if I had to pick just one trade to
explain why Captain America
is my favorite A-list superhero this is the one.  And yet it is not even a story in a
traditional sense. It’s just eight issues of Cap by a short-lived creative
team. It doesn’t even have the Red Skull in it. So why is it number 1? First,
Roger Stern gets Steve’s character completely, utterly, perfectly. Secondly, it
is a sample platter of all of Cap’s best beats. Like World War II Cap? We have
the definitive version of Steve’s origin in the past and we have him fighting a
Nazi vampire in the present that is seeking revenge on Cap’s now senior citizen
World War II era teammates. Like traditional superhero action? Cap goes up
against Mr. Hyde and Batroc the Leaper in as good a traditional superhero story
as you will ever read (and what it is also probably Batroc’s defining moment).
Like the “never say die” Cap who fights foes out of his league? He takes on Dragon
Man in this story. Like spy Cap? Well then enjoy Cap and SHIELD taking on
Machine Smith while Cap uncovers some secrets from his origin. Like character
driven stories? Stern creates a real good civilian supporting cast for Cap and
shows the way Cap inspires the man in the street leading to the centerpiece of
this volume when Cap is asked to run for President of the United States.
This is perfection and comics rarely get better than this.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Death of Cap

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

The Death of Captain America:
The Death of the Dream

By Ed Brubaker, Steve
Epting and Mike Perkins

Collects Captain America #25 –
30

 

Why I Bought This: I
actually checked this out from the library. It will probably surprise a lot of people
here that for as much as I love Cap, I avoided the Bru run until last year when
I got the first two trades and yea, holy cow is it ever awesome! Anyway, now
I’m making my way through volume by volume and my local library branch has a
huge collection of Cap trades in stock at all times making it easy to read
these on a budget.

 

The Plot: Captain
America
is assassinated and we see how the fallout affects Sharon Carter, Bucky, Falcon
and Tony Stark while Red Skull and Dr. Faustus pull the strings from the
background.

 

Chapter 1 – In the aftermath of Civil War Cap has been arrested and is about to be publically
arraigned when he is shot four times by a rooftop sniper on the courthouse
steps. Bucky was staking out the court from a rooftop as well and is mistakenly
believed to be the sniper by Falcon. They briefly fight until Nick Fury radios
in with intel on the location of the real sniper: Crossbones. Bucky captures
Crossbones and has Falcon turn him over to SHIELD while he makes himself scarce.
Cap shares a few words with Sharon
then dies in the ambulance. As Sharon mourns Steve in the hospital bathroom an
agent of Faustus triggers her memory, and she realizes that while Crossbones
fired the first shot, she fired the next three—which were the fatal ones.

Chapter 2 – Sharon
quits SHIELD once Tony is appointed the new director. We see some conversation
between Sharon,
Falcon and Rick Jones at Steve’s wake. We learn Arnim Zola is working with the
Skull and Faustus. The New Avengers also mourn Steve. Bucky picks a fight in a
bar after watching coverage of Steve’s funeral on TV. Bucky then decides he
wants to assassinate Tony Stark.

Chapter 3 – Tony holds a press conference saying there will
be no new Cap and a museum is opened in his honor, which Bucky visits. Sharon wants to commit
suicide but Faustus’s post-hypnotic suggestions won’t let her just as they
won’t let her tell anyone that she killed Cap. Fury learns Bucky wants to kill
Stark and asks Falcon and Sharon
to take care of it (This is the era where Fury is off-camera in all titles as
he investigates Secret Invasion).
Bucky spooks SHIELD into moving Cap’s shield from where they are storing it and
then makes his move only to be intercepted by Black Widow. We learn they had a
forbidden love affair in Russia
years ago. In the present Bucky wins the fight and retrieves the shield as
Falcon and Sharon
watch from above without interfering. In the aftermath Widow tells Stark of her
past with Bucky and anticipates he will try to assassinate Stark.

Chapter 4 – Bucky suspects Skull was involved in Steve’s
assassination but to get proof he needs to break into the Hellicarrier. Cut to
said Hellicarrier where Prof. X is trying to read Crossbones mind for details
on Steve’s assassination without success. Meanwhile Red Skull’s daughter Sinn
is now leading a new Serpent Squad with members Cobra, Eel and a new (male)
Viper and they kill a bunch of stock brokers then blow up the building. Fury,
Sam and Sharon have lost Bucky’s trail so Sharon
decides they should investigate the Skull instead. We see Faustus is
hypnotizing more SHIELD agents. Tony receives a letter from Steve’s estate
lawyer. Bucky takes down some AIM scientists and shakes them down for
information on the Serpent Squad, whom we see have successfully infiltrated the
Hellicarrier thanks to Faustus’s hypnotized agent letting them in.

Chapter 5 – We see the aftermath of the Serpent Squad’s
attack via Tony and Maria Hill watching a recording of them killing bunches of
people before freeing Crossbones and making good their escape. Meanwhile Widow
is still trying to track down Bucky with little success. When Bucky learns of
Crossbones escape on the news he is unhappy and decides to investigate a
possible connection between Kronas Corporation (his most recent handlers as the
Winter Soldier when he was still under mind-control) and Red Skull. We see Red
Skull is gaining more control over the body he shares with Kronas CEO Alexander
Lukin. Falcon and Sharon shake down some AIM
agents, though Sharon’s
guilt over Steve is making her physically ill. Widow spots them departing and
deduces that they too are looking for Winter Soldier. Bucky confronts Lukin
wondering why he would work for the Skull only to learn too late that Lukin is
the Skull.

Chapter 6 – Tony pieces together that all of his agents who
were seeing SHIELD’s in-house psychiatrist have disappeared then learns the
psychiatrist himself is dead and has been for some time. (This is the man
Faustus replaced and impersonated though Tony does not know who is responsible).
Bucky takes down both Crossbones and Sinn as the Skull watches then Skull uses
a failsafe codeword Lukin left in Bucky’s brain to shut him down. Widow meets
with Falcon and offers to team up, while Sharon
learns she is pregnant. Bucky awakes as Faustus’s prisoner, and he’s preparing
to brainwash him. Tony goes through the records of the dead doctor’s patients
and finds Sharon’s
name and Tony pieces together that she killed Steve. He attempts to relay that
info to Widow but she and Falcon have just arrived at Sharon’s
house where Faustus’s conditioning again kicks in and Sharon shoot both heroes at point blank
range. We end seeing the letter Steve left for Tony in which he asks for two
things: that the Captain America name live on and that Tony makes sure Bucky
doesn’t fall back into darkness.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
is excellent. First of all these chapters are densely plotted by today’s
standards. Each chapter is filled with both rising action and character beats
as we follow a fairly big cast in the wake of Cap’s death. It’s amazing how
good this book is even though the protagonist is dead. Just an amazing bit of
ensemble writing that pays off in spades each time the stories from the
different groups intersect.

It’s funny I avoided Bru’s run for a long time because it
was centered around Bucky returning from the dead and let’s be honest on paper
that sounds like such a contrived comic book plot. Plus to be honest I never
cared about Bucky to begin with. It’s why I never liked Waid’s run because he
constantly had Cap dwelling on WWII and Bucky and I’m of the opinion that Cap’s
been thawed out long enough (probably 10 years Marvel time) that he should be
over that by now. (My favorite era of Cap is from roughly issues 250 – 350 by
Stern, DeMatteis and Grunewald; and each author told barely one Bucky story
each as they kept the focus on Cap in the present.) But what Bru’s run shows is
that any idea can be valid if you execute it right, and boy does he. Bucky’s
decision to assassinate Stark is a fantastic plot twist I didn’t see coming
that feels right inline with how Bru has recrafted the character. The
subsequent reveal of a long ago connection between Widow and Bucky also plays
out really strong in these chapters and adds a whole new layer to Bucky’s
revival. Good stuff all around on the Bucky front in this trade.

It’s become clichéd to call Epting’s art during this run
cinematic. But it is a cliché for a reason. The art is so visually fabulous and
fluid. When you combine it with Bru’s writing you get a really intense
espionage noir story that has just a dash of the superhero milieu. Anyway this
is book is fabulous with characters like Sharon
and Falcon having never been written better than they are here. (Sharon is another
character that I’ve had very little use for historically but she carries the
story here). The same with Faustus, a villain I’ve always found to be very
unconvincing as a threat to Cap in the past and yet here because of the
espionage overtones his psychological mind control shtick has never been more
effective.

I can come up with a few criticisms but they’re mostly
small. As a fan of Crossbones I don’t like how easily Bucky takes him down in
their two fights. Under Gru Crossbones was shown to be very close to Steve in
fighting skill on several occasions and also matched up pretty well against
Bullseye in “Streets of Poison.” I also doubt that Cobra would rejoin the
Serpent Squad after leading the Serpent Society, particularly if it meant
teaming with a new Viper since the true Viper (a.k.a. Madame Hydra) tends to
take revenge on those who try to usurp her place and Cobra has been shown to be
wary of her in the past. It’s a case where Bru is clearly paying homage to
Englehart’s Serpent Squad, and while I understand that impulse, I don’t know
that it fits the characters.

The only other criticism I would add is the cliffhanger in
the last chapter is off. Sharon
shooting the heroes is clearly where the chapter should end and not on Steve’s
letter, but again that’s a quibble. The scene where Sharon shoots the heroes
just as Tony is trying to warn Natasha plays out perfectly and makes me want to
rush to the library to get the next chapter and see what happens next.
Grade A.  Nuff Said

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers vs. Thunderbolts

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Shadowland:
Thunderbolts

By Jeff Parker, Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey
Collects Thunderbolts
148-151

 

Why I Bought This:
It was in the discount bin of my favorite local comic shop and has a hell of an
intriguing cover of the Avengers big three taking on Juggernaut, Crossbones and
Ghost. Those first two villains can usually both be counted on for a good
story, and even though he hasn’t been used since the 80’s Ghost was presented
as a serious threat back in the day during Michelene’s Iron Man run. Throw in The
Avengers
have always been my favorite title and sometimes you just buy a
book because the cover looks like it promises a fun fight.

 

The Plot: The
Thunderbolts, now a group of inmates working towards parole by taking
government missions under the supervision of Luke Cage, are sent into the
Shadowland. Then in the main event for issue 150 three of the most unrepentant
members of the team: Crossbones, Juggernaut and Ghost escape and have a throw
down with the Avengers big three.

 

Chapter 1 – A cop friend of Luke Cage’s has gone missing due
to whatever the hell is happening in the Shadowland
crossover (haven’t read it and it’s not high on my list to bother with but the
short version seems to be Daredevil gets possessed by a literal demon, become
leader of the Hand ninjas and then builds a castle in Hell’s Kitchen.) Cage
calls in the Thunderbolts to rescue a cop friend who was last seen in the sewers
under the Shadowland castle, while he deals with the main Shadowland story. Apparently this is the first time the crooks have
been given a mission without Cage accompanying them. Cage has Songbird and
Fixer of the original reformed Thunderbolts put in charge of supervising the
criminals, who include: Crossbones, Moonstone, Juggernaut, Ghost and Man-Thing.
The Thunderbolts get attacked by scores of ninjas. For the most part the
criminals aren’t in much danger as Juggernaut’s invulnerable and Moonstone and
Ghost can both go intangible. While they can hurt Crossbones, he is skilled and
viscous enough to kill anyone who comes near him. Man-Thing is also okay since
swords can’t hurt swamp muck and anyone he touches catches on fire. The wardens
on the other hand aren’t nearly so lucky with Fixer getting stabbed from behind
and then Songbird falling to superior numbers while Moonstone looks on without
helping.

Chapter 2 –Songbird is safe in her force field but she’s
also pinned down and can’t move. The ninjas manage to cut Man-Thing into pieces
so Moonstone joins the fight. Songbird lets out a sonic scream to clear the
Ninjas off her force-bubble while Juggernaut and Crossbones become even more
lethal so that whatever ninjas are left retreat. Songbird uses her force field
to carry Fixer to the nearest hospital and now the criminals are completely
unsupervised. Juggernaut plows through walls until he finds ninja-central and
then just wades right into an army of them. The Hand has a dragon on their side
but Moonstone alone takes it out pretty easily. Ghost uses his intangibility to
slip away so he can find and free the Hand prisoners including Cage’s cop
friend. Crossbones is out of ammo but then in desperation he manifests some
sort of fire breath/heat vision. (It was mentioned last chapter he was exposed
to the Inhuman’s Terrigen Mist on a prior mission not in this trade and then
kept that secret to himself.) When Crossbones is done with the Hand the
prisoners show up but since he is alone he kills Cage’s cop friend just cuz;
although he wasn’t actually alone Ghost secretly witnesses everything. When the
other Thunderbolts arrive Crossbones of course blames the cop’s death on the
Hand.

Chapter 3 – Cage is thinking about resigning from overseeing
the Thunderbolts program as he feels the criminals he has on his team will
never be reformed. Cap, Iron Man and Thor arrive to talk with Cage (and also
because a female Asgardian troll is in the prison and Thor wants to meet her.)
Thor offers her friendship but she bites him. Meanwhile Cap has some tense
words with Crossbones, who you may recall killed Cap in Brubaker’s run. Iron
Man and the Ghost also get reacquainted with some hostile threats. As the
heroes get briefed on a new mission, Ghost reveals he has discovered a way to
partially override the teleporter used by the Thunderbolts. When it’s go time
he does just that, transporting himself, Crossbones and Juggernaut to another
dimension. Cap, Thor, Iron Man and Cage follow and take in the scenery (a
talking frog, a lake with magic reflections, etc). We end up with a massive
fight scene that eventually splits into three individual fights along the old
rivalries of Cap vs. Crossbones, Iron Man vs. Ghost and Thor (& Cage) vs.
Juggernaut. Iron Man is able to talk Ghost into surrendering, then Tony joins
the fight against Juggernaut and uses a sonic weapon to stun him long enough to
get him to surrender (with a little help from the magic lake). The
Cap-Crossbones fight is excellent playing off their history and then when Cap
is winning Crossbones unveils his new superpowers to turn the tide for a bit. But
Cap finally lets out his rage for Crossbones killing him and just beats the
crap out of Crossbones. Cap then holds him under the lake but of course lets
him up before killing him. The heroes then use Man-Thing to teleport them home
and Cage agrees to continue supervising the program, although Crossbones is
kicked off the team once Ghost reveals what he did last chapter.

Chapter 4 – We get the origin of the Ghost. He was a
computer programmer. He invented a revolutionary software thing. His bosses
tried to kill him and keep it for themselves. They failed because of his
intangibility tech and then he killed them all and used his computer skills to
erase his real name from all databases.

 

Critical Thoughts: For
what I paid for it I enjoyed the hell out of this. Issue 150 (chapter 3) was
everything you’d want in an anniversary issue. Honestly this could have been a Captain America anniversary issue as
having Steve confront Crossbones for killing him was a pretty big dangling plot
thread from Bru’s run. Their fights have always been pretty good anyway, but
this one takes the cake as the best fight between these characters because it
is so personal and because Crossbones has a surprise power upgrade. So as Cap
fan this issue alone would be worth full cover price let alone $6-off and
everything else is just gravy.

However I was pleasantly surprised with the other two
stories. Yea I have no interest in reading the main Shadowland stuff but the Thunderbolts cast of villains is generally
interesting from top to bottom and the way they each take advantage of the
chaos feels right, so as a standalone story the first two chapters are still
engaging enough to be worth a read.

Ditto the Ghost origin story. Ghost was a major player once
upon a time and his origin to my knowledge was unrevealed up to now. Yea, we’re
not really breaking new ground here with the whole evil corporation double
cross theme, but within the confines of that genre the specifics of this story
are well told.

 

Grade A. I won’t
say this is an all-time classic but I still giving it an A because I honestly
can’t think of a single criticism I have of the stories told here. True, not
every story in it is world changing but they all do what they set out to do
well. And it’s not like it is a total throwaway set of issues: the
Cap-Crossbones fight feels like it has some weight to it, as a major Cap fan it
played out note-perfect to me; and to the extent the Ghost matters we now have
his origin. So all in all I’d recommend picking this one up.

Waiting for the Trade – Nomad

Waiting for the Trade

By Bill Miller

 

Nomad: Girl Without A
World.

by Sean Mckeever and
David Baldeon

collects Nomad: Girl
Without A World 1-4 and material from Captain America 600.

Why I Bought This: The female Bucky
(Rikki Barnes) was far and away the best thing about the Heroes Reborn 90s
reboot of The Avengers line of titles:
Indeed she was probably the only good thing from that era aside from the art.
So the idea of having that character come to the main Marvel Universe as the
new Nomad is pretty inspired—particularly the “Girl Without A World”
catchphrase as a play on Cap’s “Man Without A Country” arc when he was the
original Nomad.

 

The Plot: For the
10th Anniversary of Heroes Reborn Marvel did a series called Onslaught Reborn that much like the original
Onslaught crossover made little sense. It did however have very nice looking
Rob Liefeld art. Anyway that series saw Onslaught chase Franklin Richards into
the Heroes Reborn Universe where that world’s version of the Avengers, FF and
Masters of Evil united to take him on and in the end Bucky sacrificed her life
to stop him: only instead of dying she emerged in the main Marvel Universe just
in time to witness the death of Captain America post Civil War. This series focuses on her efforts to find a place in
this new world as both a superhero and a teenage girl.

Chapter 0 – Rikki, in her Bucky costume, tracks down Patriot
of the Young Avengers. After she convinces him she is who she says she is.
Patriot tells her that he doubts the new Cap (Bucky/Winter Soldier) is going to
want a sidekick. He does offer her friendship and they go to a vigil in Steve’s
memory together.

Chapter 1 – In researching her new world Rikki learns she
doesn’t exist here (i.e. there is no counterpart for her unlike the other Avengers/FF
heroes). When the police radio tells her Bucky-Cap is on a mission nearby she
decides to introduce herself. Black Widow intercepts her and reveals she knows
all about Counter Earth. Widow advises Rikki that this Cap would not react well
to meeting a Bucky and shoos her away. Meanwhile we see Rikki is attending high
school where she has found the dimensional counterpart for her brother. She has
befriended him to feel closer to home. Next we see the student government
elections where some blond kid named Desmond Daniels gets the crowd to go wild
for him and his message of better manners and increased civic responsibility.
Rikki gets suspicious of how some of her fellow students are so quickly buying
into Daniels’ spiel so she investigates as Bucky. In the basement of the school
she encounters what appears to be a werewolf and it kicks her butt good,
shredding her costume in the process. When she gets home she finds a suitcase
on her bed with the Nomad costume inside.

Chapter 2 – We get a flashback to how Rikki first became
Bucky. (Her brother joined a skinhead cult headed up by the Red Skull and tied
her to nuclear missile until Cap arrived on the scene.) Rikki talks to her
pseudo-brother John about her suspicions of Daniels and the kids at school but he
blows them off. He also reveals that in this universe his mother and sister
both died in childbirth, which blows Rikki’s mind. Furthermore his dad died in
the terrorist bombing of Philadelphia
that kicked off Brubaker’s Cap run. And then the diner they are in blows up as
Flag Smasher attacks. Rikki switches to Nomad—the costume includes the Jack Monroe
Nomad’s stun discs as well as a version of Cap’s old energy shield from the
Mark Waid run. Nomad defeats Flag Smasher and then runs into Falcon, who was a
fellow partner of Cap’s in her world, and they briefly compare notes. Back at
ground zero we see John was injured in the explosion. Back in school we see
Daniels influence continues to grow, and then the reader learns these events
are being orchestrated by the Secret Empire while the werewolf looking dude is
Mad Dog (A d-list villain with dog-like powers who has worked for them before).
Rikki goes to visit John when he gets out of the hospital and he hits on her
assuming what most teenage boys would when some random new girl singles you out
and makes an effort to get to know you. Of course Rikki wigs out and says she only
wants to be friends and thinks of him like a brother. John sends her away and
then that evening goes off to meet with Desmond’s supporters where we when he
takes off his hat we see the explosion made him lose his hair thus causing him
to look like the skinhead John from Counter Earth.

Chapter 3 – It’s now a week later and John is now being mean
to Rikki. The Secret Empire is hypnotizing kids by using lasers. Nomad gets
attacked by a mystery villain with laser blast powers and Mad Dog and together
they defeat her. They then hook her up to a brainwashing machine. Back at the
student election the Secret Empire has Nomad endorse Desmond and then unmask
before the entire high school. The Secret Empire is plotting to expand their
program to other high schools. Desmond wins the election and the students begin
to riot. Rikki is still chained up below the school where she learns the
mystery villain is Professor Power.

Chapter 4 – Nomad uses her energy shield to free herself and
takes down the two super villains. Riot police arrive at the high school. John
and two other students realize things are out of control and try to quell the
riot but it seems to be too late. Just before the police open fire Nomad
arrives with the Young Avengers. Meanwhile the super villains recover, cut
their ties with the Secret Empire, and blow up their lab under the school and
escape. The heroes subdue the rioters as Desmond resigns as student president
to get the teens to disband as he himself was not involved with the Secret Empire;
it was the first five kids who supported his candidacy. However the most
fanatical of those original supporters has a gun and he ends up shooting John.
Nomad takes him down but its too late as John is dead. We cut to Rikki at
John’s grave where Bucky-Cap pays her a visit. He gives her a pep talk and
ponders her last name but does not reveal his real name to her (It was implied
in the Heroes Reborn universe that she is Bucky’s granddaughter). We see agents
of the Secret Empire capture the Professor. Finally we see Nomad vowing to take
down the Secret Empire.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
is very good comic all around. Rikki remains a very likeable protagonist and we
get to see her be resourceful and a face a much deeper level of adversity than
she ever did in her original appearances.

All of the stuff with her pseudo-brother is fantastic. The
conversation where she learns how she and her parents died in this world is
written to hit like a punch to the gut. John misunderstanding her intentions
and the subsequent reveal of him possibly turning out like the original
skinhead John is a fabulous cliffhanger, where the art really pulls the reader
into thinking that is where the story is going. And they actually fooled me, I
didn’t see John turning it around and ending up a hero again at the end; and I
certainly didn’t see him dying. Rikki’s story really feels like a tragedy here
and yet the reader buys that in the end after her pep-talk with Bucky-Cap that
she manages to respond to it in a determined productive way while remaining
upbeat.

Credit McKeever’s writing, which is top notch throughout. In
general I’m starting to like the little I’ve read of McKeever as he wrote a Gravity miniseries that I grabbed in
trade for a few bucks on a whim due to the low price that was quite good too.
Based on this story I wouldn’t mind seeing him write Cap one day because just
in the few scenes they have in this story he writes Widow and Bucky really
well. This story feels like its part of the larger Cap mythos even though at
the end of the day Rikki herself is only a footnote in that mythos. The
implication that Widow is the one who gave Rikki the Nomad costume is also a
nice touch that feels right after it plays out.

The same can be said of the Young Avengers and their
presence here as Ricky feels like she’d be a really good fit on that team. In
both cases this is a really good example of how to use guest shots to explore
the sense of being part of a wider Marvel Universe without distracting from the
primary hero’s journey. I will say however that Rikki tracks down Patriot way
too easily in the opening beat. She basically does some Internet research and
figures out who he is. If secret identities are that easy to solve than most of
the heroes of the Marvel Universe should be dead by now.

I thought the Secret Empire was a very good choice as the
main villains of this story as the Secret Empire were the villains who first
caused Cap to assume the Nomad identity. Admittedly their plan to rig a high
school election seems awfully low key from their usual plan of world
domination, but at the end of the day you can let it slide because it’s not
like they’ve done anything important since that Englehart story 40 years ago and
they make good foils for Rikki. I also liked Flag Smasher showing up, as he was
one of the better villains from Gru’s run on the main Cap title. Again bombing a diner is insanely beneath him and his
usual M.O., and he’s defeated byRikki way too easily as back in Gru’s run he
defeated the John Walker Cap (U.S. Agent) and was a serious threat to Steve.
I’m also not sure why Professor Power is alive when Walker beat him to death years ago. So yea
overall I suppose one could criticize the use of the villains in this story,
however; I will not because the villains are clearly secondary to a strong
character piece that is needed to establish Rikki in the main Marvel Universe
(of course that they later killed her off just two years later makes one wonder
why they bothered to bring her over in the first place, but I’m not going to
criticize this story for the failings of a subsequent story.)

Finally I want to praise Baldeon’s art quite a bit. It is
exactly what this story needs. I already mention how good the art is in the
cliffhanger for chapter 2. His art works both in the quiet moments of dialogue
in Rikki’s civilian life and in the big action scenes. Plus I really like the
ultimate design of the Nomad costume. The final splash page is inspiring in the
way the best Captain America
stories are.

 
Grade B+. I
enjoyed this. It’s a quick yet compelling read and you can find it online in
the $5 price range making it worth checking out even if you are unfamiliar with
the main character. I should add it is digest-sized for those who are concerned
about such things.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 by Bill Miller

 

Avengers Assemble
by Brian Michael
Bendis and Mark Bagley

collects Avengers
Assemble #1-8

Why I Bought This: Created
in the wake of the film, this features the team from the film taking on Thanos.
Despite my distrust of Bendis, I couldn’t wait to read this and as soon as it
was collected in trade earlier this year, I ordered it from Amazon. That it
also features Mark Bagley’s art and the Guardians of the Galaxy is just gravy.
The Plot: Thanos hires
the Zodiac to steal items of cosmic power found on Earth and it’s up to the
Avengers to stop him.

Chapter 1 – We see a new version of the Zodiac exists. Tony
has built a new Stark
Tower and the Avengers
celebrate. In the desert Hulk is watching an Army convoy that suddenly comes
under attack by a water elemental. Hulk tries to help, although the Army
assumes he is attacking them too. They fight for a few pages with the Elemental
winning by drowning Hulk enough to pass him out and then stealing a mysterious
item from the convoy and escaping. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Black Widow are
tracking terrorists in Latveria. When they see what the terrorists are stealing
they call in the Avengers for back-up. Hawkeye and Widow manage to hijack the
terrorists’ jeep they loaded the item on when Taurus attacks. Thor and Iron Man
arrive to assist but Taurus defeats them both in physical combat.

Chapter 2 – In flashback we see a mysterious benefactor task
the Zodiac with recovering items of power off the Earth in return for power
upgrades. In the present Hulk arrives at Avengers Tower
and asks Jarvis to get Cap. In Latveria, Taurus gloats over defeating Thor
giving Iron Man and Hawkeye a chance to go on offense. They manage to force him
to retreat and then when Thor recovers he sees the mystery object and even he
is shocked by it. The four heroes meet up with Cap and Hulk on the Hellicarrier
and compare notes, deciding the water elemental was Aquarius. We also learn
that Hawkeye and Widow recovered the Ultimate Nullifier prompting Cap to decide
the stakes are so high that the mission should be classified to the six in this
room. And then the entire 12 members of the Zodiac attack the Hellicarrier.

Chapter 3 – The Avengers try to hold the Zodiac off so Widow
can escape with the Nullifier. She is pursued by Aquarius. Tony tries to bribe
the Zodiac into leaving in a funny moment. The fight gets more intense with
some of the villains throwing jets on the Hellicarrier at Thor, until Hulk gets
his mad on and finally manages to defeat one of them. This causes his power to
flow off into space and Tony is able to analyze it. He then builds a jamming
device which reverts the Zodiac to human. The Avengers attempt to question them
when Thanos arrives promising to destroy the Earth.

Chapter 4 – In one of the cooler moments Tony immediately
broadcasts an emergency signal to the White House as the Avengers have
instituted a planet-wide We’re f*ck*d contingency in case Thanos ever comes to
Earth. Thanos possesses the Hulk and sics him on Thor. Hawkeye manages to take
Hulk down with an exploding arrow to the mouth but then Thanos repowers up the
Zodiac at which point the President blows up the Hellicarrier in mid-air.
Apparently Tony has a force field now that can surround the entire team to save
them. The explosion also distances them from Thanos so Hulk is freed of his
control. Cap interrogates the one of the now-Human powerless Zodiac members as
we learn none of them were anything special before Thanos found them; their
mission was to gather objects of power for Thanos and in return he would give
them power to rule the Earth. The Avengers wonder why Thanos would need lackeys
(although he’s used lackeys plenty of times in the past including in his
earliest appearances), at which point the Guardians of the Galaxy show up
offering to help.

Chapter 5 – We see a flashback to a few days ago where the
Guardians were fighting the Badoon on some alien world, and after winning and
interrogating prisoners learned the Badoon were in league with Thanos and that
Thanos had designs on the Earth. The Guardians think Thanos may be after the
Infinity Gems but Cap and Iron Man dismiss that, and Gamora confirms it is not
the Gems in a cool bit of logic. Meanwhile Hawkeye and Widow make out in the
med lab. The Guardians inform the Avengers that the galactic council has deemed
Earth off-limits which is allegedly why Thanos was using lackeys instead of
attacking outright as the lackeys are a loop-hole to that ruling; as if Thanos
would ever care about galactic law (although Gamora suggests that’s exactly why
Thanos is interested in Earth again). Cap and Hulk then question the military
to learn what the Zodiac took for Thanos in chapter 1 and it is a new Cosmic
Cube designed by the U.S.
military. Realizing Thanos has the Cube the Avengers and Guardians head off
into space to find him.

Chapter 6 – Maria Hill briefs the New Avengers, Secret
Avengers and FF on the events of the last few issues and Reed is tasked with
coming up with a line of defense in case the Avengers and Guardians fail. In space
we see Thanos promise the Badoon an empire larger than the Kree and Skrull if
they eliminate the Avengers for him. Shortly thereafter the Badoon fleet
intercepts the Avengers and Guardians. Thor and Iron Man breech the mother ship
followed by the Guardians and just as the Badoon seem like they are about to
defeat Thor, Iron Man’s armor explodes to reveal Hulk inside as Banner was
piloting it as a “Trojan Hulk” ruse. The other Avengers except Widow follow
inside, when the Badoon blow the airlocks sweeping all the heroes sans
astronaut gear into Outer Space. Meanwhile Thanos successfully activates the
Cosmic Cube.

Chapter 7 – Thanos summons the Elders of the Universe,
Stranger and Inbetweener to him and then obliterates them with the Cube,
however the Cube energy then begins to spike out of Thanos’ control. Back in
space Widow gets a space suit and retrieves the other heroes though Tony and
Clint are not doing particularly well from space exposure. Thor is unaffected
by space and continues to attack Badoon ships, while Star Lord has his old
element gun and uses it take on a raiding party of Badoon foot soldiers. Hulk
joins Thor in the fight while Rocket uses undefined space technology to bring
Clint and Tony back from the brink of death. Thor manages to rupture the warp core
of the Badoon Mother Ship and then the Guardians leap to hyperspace to make
good the heroes’ escape; only for the heroes to be confronted by Thanos, who
has once again shed his physical form though this time the Cosmic Cube seems to
be the heart of his universal energy form.

Chapter 8 – Thor tries to fight Cube Thanos, while Tony
analyzes him and learns the Army was not able to build a true Cosmic Cube but
rather a “dark matter energy conduit” in a cube shape. Cube Thanos disintegrates
the Avengers. On Earth Reed and the President prepare for the worst. The
Avengers and Guardians discover they are not dead but have instead been
transported to the Cancerverse from Realm
of Kings.
They also find the Elders of the Universe are here as well and
form an alliance with them. Cube Thanos arrives on Earth and Reed plans to use
the Ultimate Nullifier to stop him when the Avengers arrive on the scene. Thor
uses some weapon Collector gave him to shatter the Cube, which returns Thanos
to normal at which point the heroes of Earth lay the smack down on him and turn
him over to the Elders for imprisonment. In the epilogue the Guardians invite
Iron Man to join their team, while the Badoon declare war on Earth for what the
Avengers did to their mother ship a few chapters back.

 
 Critical Thoughts: I liked the story’s momentum but it is flawed,
as most Bendis stories are. If you look at this as a story designed to appeal
to casual fans that saw the movie and want to see this cast in another
adventure with aliens it succeeds admirably. However, if you know anything
about Marvel continuity this story makes little to no sense.

We’ll start with the Elders power levels being way off.
Other than Grandmaster none of them have ever been shown able to manipulate cosmic
energy on their own; and even he wouldn’t be part of the cosmic pantheon with
the Stranger or Inbetweener. As we saw in Thanos
Quest
Thanos is more than capable enough of handling these characters at
his base power level. Let me also add Thanos should clearly know the difference
between a real Cosmic Cube and an imitation at this point. Groot’s power level
also seems off as he seems to be a peer to Hulk and Thor in the final battle,
and while he is a powerhouse he is still made of wood and nowhere near the
league of upper cosmic level threats like Thanos or Magus as the last Guardians series made clear.

Speaking of which there are several characters who died in
the last Guardian series who are back
alive with absolutely no explanation. Most notably Star Lord, who is human and
if you are going to resurrect him you need to explain how. Thanos, Drax and the
Cancerverse were all dead as well when last we saw them. At one point Star Lord
is asked point blank how he escaped the Cancerverse (a key plot point since it
was permanently sealed and then collapsed in upon itself when last we saw it)
and Bendis just has him stare at the Avengers blankly instead of providing an
explanation. It also seems to imply that the Guardians work for the Galactic
Council now, which isn’t a bad idea, but is a change in the status quo of their
last series (and this begs the question of what happened to the Annihilators).
I can live with a revolving door to death in comics but at least give the
reader the courtesy of an explanation when you use that door.

Reed’s plan to use the Nullifier also seems ill-advised
since we’ve seen in the past the Cosmic Cube trumps the Nullifier (Infinity War) and that using the
Nullifier can cause planet-sized collateral damage (late 90s issues of Silver Surfer involving Morg and
Tyrant); although I guess we can assume Reed’s intellect is such he could
contain the collateral damage.

We also have the whole Avengers blown into space scene which
makes little sense. Cap is shown to be barely harmed by the vacuum of space,
which Bendis attributes to super soldier serum—showing yet again that Bendis
fundamentally misunderstands what the Super Soldier Serum actually does. This
even more bizarre in that a fully armored Iron Man is nearly killed by the
vacuum of space, when I’ve seen Tony in space in numerous other stories. Tony
also claims at one point the Avengers are not prepared to deal with cosmic
threats; but I think Korvac, Nebula, the Elders of the Universe, the Kree and
the Skrull would all beg to differ. Plus this team of Avengers dwarfs the
Guardians in raw power.

I’d also add the Hawkeye & Widow makeout scene is
completely arbitrary. I guess it is supposed to be a nod to the pseudo romantic
tension between the two in the movie, but it has no story value at all here.

On the positive front I really liked the idea that the
Avengers and the President have a cosmic level protocol specifically for
Thanos. I also liked the presentation of Gamroa’s character a lot, particularly
the use of her history as Thanos’ foster daughter. For the future the use of
the Badoon could be interesting, as DnA were clearly building to a major event
with them during the entire run.

Also Mark Bagley’s art is fabulous with lots of beautiful splash pages. And he draws a heck of Thanos,

 

Grade: B-. A
pretty fun story if you don’t mind the cosmic continuity gaps.

 

 

Waiting for the Trade – Captain America

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Captain America:
Operation Rebirth

By Mark Waid & Ron
Garney

Collects Captain America 444-448
and 450-454

Before I start I just want to take a few words to honor the passing of Roger Ebert. Anyone who writes any kind of review about any form of popular entertainment owes Ebert a tremendous debt. I’ve read Ebert regularly since high school, own several of his books, and have tried to follow his example of looking at art both intellectually and as entertainment when crafting a review. RIP.

 

Why I Bought This: I
didn’t it. I saw it at the library and based on some feedback from Doomers who
consider it one of the better Cap stories, I figured as a Cap fan I should read
it if it is sitting there in front of me for free.
The Plot: Captain
America
had died at the end of Mark Gruenwald’s long run on the title. Now he finds
himself revived by the Red Skull and fighting alongside his long dead
girlfriend Sharon Carter.


Chapter 1 – Terrorists take the President hostage and demand
Captain America
surrender himself in exchange. The Avengers arrive instead and save the day but
feel the need to explain to the public why Cap didn’t show and hold a press
conference announcing his death. In an undisclosed location we see Cap’s body
in a frozen block of ice.

Chapter 2 – Cap is resurrected and runs into his long time
dead girlfriend Sharon Carter. She explains how she and some non-characters
saved Cap. Cap finds he doesn’t have his Super Soldier strength at the moment
but Sharon
insists on taking him through a teleport portal to “save the free world”
anyway. They fight some guards as Cap’s strength slowly starts to return before
running into the Red Skull. Cap goes to attack him when Skull reveals he is the
one who saved Cap’s life. With Skull around Cap doubts Sharon is real, when suddenly a flash of
light changes the building they’re in front of into a Nazi fortress.

Chapter 3 – Skull reveals that a group of Nazi’s got their
hands on a defunct cosmic cube in which he had trapped Hitler’s consciousness
(back in the 1970s in Super Villain Team
Up
). Now they are powering the Cube back up and Hitler is using it from inside
to change history so that he won WWII. Skull doesn’t think Hitler will
appreciate having been trapped by him all these years and is aiding Cap to save
his own hide. Cap takes on the Nazis while Skull makes for the Cube. Cap stops
the Skull which gives the Cube time to teleport away. While the trio flies to
the next location Sharon
reveals how she is alive (it boils down to spy stuff: her death was faked and
she was left behind enemy lines). The Cube is inside an American military base.
Cap tries to talk their way in but Skull attacks and Cap is forced to follow.
He runs into the general commanding the base and is ordered to stand down. Cap
decks the general and proceeds where he finds Skull and Sharon battling the Nazis. The Cube activates
and changes the world, and then Sharon
disappears with the Cube in the confusion.

Chapter 4 – Cap and Skull battle side by side with Cap at
one point saving Skull’s life (thus making them “even”) and Cap remarks he is
finally up to full power. Cap finds Sharon who is trying to use the Cube to
reverse the reality warp but with Hitler inside it cannot be overridden
externally. She volunteers to let the Cube absorb her so she can deal with
Hitler, but Cap takes it from her. He ponders using it when Skull tries to
steal it. Cap stops him and is joined casually by Bucky to celebrate his
victory, at which point we cut away and see Skull has the Cube and has put Cap
inside it in a dream world.

 

Chapter 5 – In the real world Skull’s Cube still has no
power so he and Sharon retreat. In the Cube we get a long 1940s-ish adventure
with Cap and Bucky fighting Nazi saboteurs that occasionally has glimpses of
the modern era breaking thru. What it comes down to is Skull needs Cap and
Hitler to neutralize each other in the Cube so he can use it, but Cap figures
it out from the inside, frees himself and takes the Skull down in a near
murderous rage. Skull tries for the Cube again and Cap literally disarms him
which causes the Cube to explode and presumably kills the Red Skull. Cap and Sharon then leave to get
answers to her spy stuff.

Chapter 6 – Sharon
is at Steve’s apartment when armed men in suits burst in. She escapes and we
learn they are not after her. They are federal agents here to charge Steve with
treason. After they arrest him they learn he’s Cap and take him to President
Clinton. Clinton
lays out the case against Cap. First, that he attacked a military base
alongside the Red Skull and a rogue SHIELD agent. Second, that Machine Smith
has shown up with an anti-aircraft laser cannon that allegedly only Cap and Clinton had the
blueprints to. They believe Cap sold the blueprints to Skull in exchange for
his life. In order to spare the country a public trial, Clinton
strips Cap of his costume, shield and citizenship and exiles him to England. Once
there he meets up with Sharon
and vows to clear his name.

Chapter 7 – Sharon gives Steve a new costume, a replica of
his old one sans stars and stripes (so blue with red boots and gloves) and the
energy shield that is probably the hallmark of Waid’s run makes its first
appearance. They attempt to take a train into Moldavia (the country with the
laser cannon) and are attacked by three low level Iron Man types. The heroes
win, jump off the train and attack another U.S. military base where Cap steals
a fighter jet. He flies right into Moldavia where the laser cannon
promptly shoot him down.

Chapter 8 – Cap saves Sharon
on a single parachute in a scene reminiscent of Terminal Velocity (a highly underrated action film btw). He has a
general idea of where the laser cannon is based on the angle of the blast that
shot their plane down and so he and Sharon storm another military base where
Cap destroys the cannon. They are then captured by Machine Smith’s agents. We
learn Machine Smith has dozens of robot bodies he can jump his consciousness
into and when Cap was mostly dead he managed to read his mind and back it up
onto CD so that he knows everything Cap knows. Then to demonstrate he uses Cap
security codes to shut down the Hellicarrier in mid-air, sending it hurtling
towards a mountain. And finally we see he has sent a robot duplicate to meet
with Clinton in
the form of the Moldavian ambassador.

Chapter 9 – Cap busts free. He leaves it to Sharon to hack into Machine Smith’s system
and save the Hellicarrier while he heads off to save the President. He goes to
the Latverian border and surrenders himself to Doom. Cap then convinces Doom to
make him an ambassador so he can go back to America and Doom gives him a ship
and supplies. At Camp David, Machine Smith
makes his move and seizes the nuclear football. He intends to Nuke the world (I
guess leaving only machines alive ala Terminator).
And because he is a super-villain he also reveals to Clinton how he framed Cap right before he
presses the button. And then in a fabulously drawn set of panels Cap arrives in
the nick of time in his classic costume and emerges through flames to save the
day. In the aftermath Clinton
reinstates Steve’s citizenship and identity as Cap.

Chapter 10 – Cap and Sharon
liberate slaves in a fake Asian country and Cap retrieves the CD with his
memories on it.

 
Critical Thoughts: I
like the second story a lot more than the first, but overall I think time has
been kind to this.

I say time has been kind because that first story arc with
Skull and the Cube is the story that caused me to drop Cap’s monthly book back
in the day. My main problem with it at the time was it felt so retro compared
with what Gruenwald had been doing. It’s like Sharon is back with no reason and then when
Skull wants to trap Cap in a dream world it is with Bucky’s memory. Neither of
those two are characters I’d ever cared much for to begin with. With Bucky in
particular I felt Cap should be over his death by now. In Marvel time Cap’s
been awake 10 years when this story is occurring and that’s plenty of time for
Cap to have made his peace with Bucky’s death. And other writers had agreed as
we hadn’t seen Cap whine about Bucky for more than a decade prior to Waid. Yet here
Cap comes out of the Cube in an absolute fury that Skull would use Bucky’s
memory; but the Skull has done scores of things much worse than that to Cap in
the past. And then it ends with Cap’s Shield ripping the Skull’s arm off, and I
was just like I’m done. It’s not that I don’t think Cap wouldn’t do whatever it
takes to stop the Skull from creating a Nazi apocalypse with the Cube but it’s
gratuitous for no reason and doesn’t jive with what we know of the shield and
Cap’s skill with it. I conclude by noting we’ve never seen an errant throw of
the shield sever limbs before or since; and with good reason.

I’ll also add it really irked me at the time that Waid flat
out refused to address any of Gruenwald’s lingering plot threads like the fate
of Jack Flagg and Free Spirit, who were his current partners at the time of his
death. He doesn’t want to write about those characters fine, but at least
dedicate a panel to Cap thanking them for handling his hotline calls (the fate
of which was also never addressed) during his death and then send them on their
way. By contrast when Gruenwald took over the title he clearly didn’t care for
his predecessor’s supporting characters like partner Nomad and fiancée Bernie
Rosenthal; but Gru didn’t have Cap just wake up one day and forget they existed:
rather by his third issue he had Nomad solve a solo case and decide he was
ready to strike out on his own and six months later Bernie went to law school
and left the title as a character so that a little while later Cap and her
could break up citing long distance relationship stuff. A writer has to follow
their own story inspiration but in a serialized title like this the switch
between writers should still be a smooth transition for both readers and the
integrity of the central character.

However, those criticisms are grounded to the moment.
Looking at this story in a vacuum as a trade, I think the first arc is an
average Cap vs. the Skull story. I still feel the tone of the Bucky chapter is
flawed but certainly the idea of a Cosmic Cube with Hitler inside of it is very
high stakes and gist for a classical Cap story. Sharon’s return also doesn’t feel as
flagrantly retro reading this now as it did then since now everyone comes back
from the dead (and in the long term her return has worked out pretty well for
future writers). Skull’s motivations certainly make sense as well in this
story, i.e. self preservation with a hidden plan to the seize power for himself.

The second arc is actually something I was reading here for
the first time. Again there are parts that are ludicrous. Cap gets stripped of
his citizenship way too easily, but I can let that slide realizing this was
issue 450 and the writers of Cap tend to explore big ideas that are fundamental
to the character in Cap’s anniversary issues, and so in that sense this is a
challenge that would affect Cap on deeply personal level and that usually
translates into a good story idea for any character. So how we get to that
point isn’t so important, although the idea of the laser cannon being the
MacGuffin that triggers this story is deeply nonsensical. First of all given
the state of technology in the Marvel Universe, this isn’t much of a state secret
in the grand scheme of things to trigger the reaction it does from the
President. But even on its own terms the plot device fails logic 101, in that
neither Clinton
nor Cap could build or design that laser cannon thus the idea that only those
two men have seen the plans for it is fundamentally flawed.

However, I did like that story as it has some really nice
Cap moments in it. On the quiet moment front his romantic tension with Sharon feels a lot more
natural in this arc than the first one; as is his range of reactions to being
exiled. I also liked the interplay between Cap and Doom; two major Marvel
characters that I think really should interact more often than they do. On the
big moment front, I love that Cap triangulates the location of the laser cannon
by deliberately getting his plane shot down—it’s a totally ballsy move that
feels absolutely right for the character’s confidence that he can do that and
survive. Plus the moment where Cap saves the day in the climax is so well
drawn, it practically makes you want to get up and cheer “f*ck yea!”
Grade C+. I still
don’t particularly love Waid’s take on Cap, but I can absolutely understand why
that second story arc is held in such high esteem by so many.
 
 

Waiting for the Trade: Captain America & Hawkeye

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 

Captain America &
Hawkeye

by Cullen Bunn with
illustrations by Alessandro Vitti and Matteo Buffagni

collects Captain America and
Hawkeye 629-632.

 

Why I Bought This: Cap
and Hawkeye are my two favorite Avengers so if you stick them in a series
together you are going to get my money. Throw in Stegron, who is one of the
more enjoyable C-list Spidey foes and that’s just extra incentive to pick this
up.
The Plot: Cap and
Hawkeye go to New Mexico
to investigate the disappearance of some environmentalists only to discover an
army of symbiote dinosaurs.

Chapter 1 – We start with Cap and Hawkeye (now dressed in
his Avengers movie costume) battling
some paramilitary mercenaries while engaging each other in semi-hostile banter.
After they win the fight they learn the mercenaries have a government contract
and meet the female director of the program Kashmir Vennema. Hawkeye flirts
with her but she flirts with Cap, as Cap briefs her on the missing environmentalists
which is made up of families with children. Vennema shows Cap and Hawkeye
around her HQ and notes the mountain is littered with dinosaur bones. Also she
has the corpse of a bug creature, which she reveals is a mutated human.
Apparently the paramilitary group has been fighting the mutants for months, and
when the mutants capture members of her team they make them one of their own.
Cap and Hawkeye go into underground caves to investigate and are attacked by a
velociraptor. When it shrugs off Hawkeye’s electric arrows the heroes realize
something isn’t right. Then when Cap hits it with his shield the skin jumps off
the bone and we see the creature is actually a symbiote animating dinosaur
bones. Once the heroes realize it isn’t a mutated human, Hawkeye using a flame
arrow to kill the symbiote. However the noise of the explosion brings out a lot
more creatures.

Chapter 2 – Cap and Hawkeye are able to hold the creatures
at bay until a pterodactyl swoops in and snatches Cap. Hawkeye tries to hitch a
ride with a cable arrow but the creature shakes him off leaving him alone in a
new dark cave. Back at the lab the mutant corpse from last issue pops up and
its symbiote possesses an old man that was performing an autopsy. Vennema
however shoots him in the head to put him down before that goes any further,
which causes the symbiote to go dormant. Cap wakes up in Stegron’s lair.
Stegron explains these caves were part of an underground city of dinosaur men
called the Saurians who were exterminated by the Dire Wraith. Stegron came here
to use his magic wand that usually reanimates dinosaur bones in museums to try
to resurrect the Saurians but accidentally created the dinosaur symbiotes
instead. Stegron apologizes for his actions as a symbiote drips off him. In the
tunnels Hawkeye comes across Cap who now has a velociraptor symbiote for a
head.

Chapter 3 – Raptor-Cap has Hawkeye on the defensive until
Cap manages to regain control long enough to give Hawkeye an opening, allowing
Clint to use a sonic arrow to drive the symbiote away.  Cap and Hawkeye then re-engage the lesser
mutants, while the main symbiote finds the bones of an enormous snake. After
winning off-camera, Cap and Hawkeye banter some more until they find Stegron.
They have a brief fight that ends with Hawkeye pulling a gun to Stegron’s head
to get him to surrender. Stegron claims he was seeking Cap out to help him as
his original goal of resurrecting the Saurians is impossible, apparently
because their remains are infused with Wraith DNA (The Dire Wraith are kind of
like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers
aliens). The three of them are then
confronted by the mutated children of the environmentalists and Stegron agrees
to fight them, so Cap and Hawkeye can handle the main threat. Back upstairs the
paramilitary group is starting to evacuate with their research when Cap and
Hawkeye confront them. They attempt to draw guns on the heroes but the
stand-off is interrupted by the Wraith-Queen-symbiote-dino-snake monster.

Chapter 4 – The soldiers open fire on the symbiote snake and
when the bullets prove useless they run away. Alas it does them no good because
they run into the horde of mutants. Stegron then shows up and actually makes
the save. Meanwhile Cap decides to crash the Quinjet into Dino-Snake but even
that doesn’t slow it down. Hawkeye wants to try a sonic arrow on it but he only
has one left so Cap tells him to use it to separate the symbiotes from the civilian
hosts instead. Hawkeye does so and then terminates the symbiotes after they
separate. Hawkeye and Stegron come up with a plan, while Cap continues to
battle the dino-snake in a well-rendered fight scene. Ultimately, Clint uses
dino bones as arrow heads and shoots the creature and then has Stegron
reanimate the bones causing dinosaurs to burst out from the snake (ala Aliens) thus  killing it. In the aftermath both Stegron and
Vennema escape and she offers to put Stegron on the payroll of her mysterious
employer.

 
Critical Thoughts: This
perfectly entertaining little comic book. Certainly not world changing but hey it’s
Cap and Hawkeye vs. Velociraptor versions of Venom, which has a fun superficial
appeal.

On the critical level, the Cap and Hawkeye banter is
probably a little harsher than it should be considering how long these two have
been working together, but if you have only four issues to let these characters
play off each other I can understand pushing their differences to the forefront
for a little bit.

The existence of the symbiotes makes little sense in this
context since the symbiotes have long been established as their own alien race,
and these symbiotes clearly have the exact same two weaknesses as the ones we
see in Spider-man all the time, yet
here they are somehow created as a side-effect of trying to magically resurrect
corpses infected with Dire Wraith DNA. I’d complain but at the end of the day
the Symbiotes are 1 million times more interesting than the Dire Wraith in the
pantheon of Marvel alien species, so while it’s a plot hole it results in a far
better story than the alternative.

I’m also not sure I buy Stegron’s motivations. I can see him
not wanting the Symbiote-Wraith hybrids to run amok as its counter to his
long-standing motivation of brining back the dinosaurs to rule the Earth. But I
don’t believe he would care about human children or soldiers (Indeed Stegron’s
second appearance saw him take a child, Billy Connors, hostage).  Furthermore I don’t believe Cap would trust
Stegron to take care of the possessed children while both he and Hawkeye run
off to deal with the problem, he’d be much more likely to have one Stegron
accompany one of the heroes and have the other hero save the kids.

However overall I like Cap’s characterization in this story.
Telling Hawkeye to use his last sonic arrow to save civilians instead of defeat
the monster very much feels like Cap. I also like that he’s able to shake off
the symbiote’s influence long enough to give Hawkeye an opening and his
determination in taking on the big snake in the final battle.

On the flipside, it seems Bendis’s mischaracterization of
Hawkeye is now spreading to other writers. He carries a gun now? (Sigh). He
wants to casually kill Stegron (double sigh). Still it’s not all bad, Hawkeye
does come up with the winning plan after all and it’s fairly unconventional
one, which in that sense is classic Hawkeye.

 

Grade: C+. We’re
not changing the world, but this is a fun enough team up story.